Beyond the Boxscore
Kevin Sumlin loses respect for the classless way he handled job search, butTexas A&M gets a great coach
Kevin Sumlin looked his players in the eye, the guys who worked so hard for him, the young men who made his dreams of coaching advancement come true, and pretended everything was normal. He talked like he'd be coaching the University of Houston in its bowl game against Penn State.
Sumlin knew better of course — he was set to become the next head coach at Texas A&M and only a monumental breakdown in negotiations could change that. Still Sumlin feigned that his heart was all in at UH.
He did it at a team meeting Wednesday night, at practices, even at Houston's joining the Big East party on Friday. It made sense from a financial standpoint (you don't formally give up your old job, and any leverage in negotiations with the new job, until a deal is finalized). But that doesn't make it right.
No one leaves these major college football job searches without a little blood on their hands — but Sumlin's are caked in Cougars red.
After doing nothing but winning at the University of Houston, the way Sumlin leaves only can be describe as a great loss.
And not just for Houston. For Sumlin's reputation too.
No one leaves these major college football job searches without a little blood on their hands — but Sumlin's are caked in Cougars red. He should have been more upfront with his team, the 12-1 one he's leaving behind for someone else to coach in the TicketCity Bowl.
Sumlin's looking out for himself is hardly unique in the world of college coaching searches. They all lie, all deny, all claim they cannot imagine leaving their current school — right until they do. And sports writers bear some fault for always being so eager to believe. I'll always remember how when I broke the story of Tommy Amaker bolting Seton Hall to become the head basketball coach at Michigan (having uncovered a clandestine meeting at the Philadelphia airport between Amaker and the U of M athletic director) so many other beat writers tried to deny it.
Less than 24 hours later, Amaker had been officially announced as Michigan's new coach, having sped away from Seton Hall in an SUV with tinted windows, with the airport interview getting acknowledged as part of the public record.
Ten years later, little's changed in the way these major coaching searches go down.
Like Briles before him, Sumlin's actions spoke much louder than his words, revealing he thought of UH as a stepping stone.
Candidate and athletic director meet in a neutral location, hopefully one the press will miss (in Sumlin and Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne's case, it happened to be New York City last Monday night), work out the framework of a deal and then deny, deny, deny until the lawyers are sure everything is all right. Just because it's standard practice doesn't make what Sumlin did right though.
He used UH in his final week on the job. It's absurd to suggest that Sumlin didn't do everything he could to beat Southern Mississippi in that Conference USA Championship Game gone bad. No coach wants to lose a BCS berth. But it's hard to begrudge Cougars fans of feeling more than a little bitter about the whole thing.
Like Art Briles before him, Kevin Sumlin left Houston for a better job. And Texas A&M is a much better job than Baylor. Like Briles before him, Sumlin's actions spoke much louder than his words, revealing he thought of UH as a stepping stone.
Until something more dramatic than a spot in the desperate Big East and a new stadium happens, this is the University of Houston's lot in college football. And the UH staff seems smart enough to deal with that reality. Houston athletic director Mack Rhoades didn't pull a Dan Gilbert. He didn't stomp his feet and cry over Sumlin's departure.
He simply classily thanked Sumlin for his four years, named special teams coordinator Tony Levine as interim coach for that anti-climactic bowl game in Dallas and set about contacting the candidates on that next coach list you know he kept handy.
UH players still love Sumlin
In many ways, the college-aged athletes who play for these schools are much more realists than the middle-aged fans who cheer them on. The players are part of the system in which everyone but them is allowed to pull in big bucks above the table, part of a system in which the national champion is not determined on the football field.
No one has to tell them that it's a business.
And Sumlin's UH players are largely standing behind him even as he walks out the door and leaves Cullen Boulevard in his rear-view mirror.
Sumlin has a way of making his players believe. It's one of of his strengths, one of the reasons he'll be wildly successful at Texas A&M.
Running back Michael Hayes immediately tweeted: "Anyone who has something negative about Coach Sumlin don't be ignorant please! No one understand how hard it was for him!" and followed that with, "& he made the best decision for his family & him! Couldn't be happier for Coach Sumlin!"
Wide receiver Patrick Edwards was equally appreciative, tweeting: "S/o To Coach Sumlin !! Best Coach I've Ever Been Coached By.. Proud Of Him And His New Transition #Much Love"
Case Keenum, the quarterback who's meant so much to Sumlin's career, weighed in with, "What Coach Sumlin has meant to me and this university cant be put into words, much less 140 char. Great man, Great coach. I've been blessed."
Sumlin has a way of making his players believe. It's one of of his strengths, one of the reasons he'll be wildly successful at Texas A&M. Those waiting for Sumlin to fail big in the SEC are going to be waiting for a long time. This sudden notion that he's not good at in-game adjustments because of the Southern Mississippi loss is nothing but sudden stupidity.
The critics are conveniently forgetting how Sumlin's halftime adjustments completely changed the game at Tulsa and turned it into a blowout UH's way just the week before.
The 47-year-old Sumlin is a difference maker as a coach and all those Aggie doubters will be converted once Sumlin starts annoying Nick Saban with his offense (and that day is coming). Texas coach Mack Brown should be extra thankful Texas A&M is no longer in the Big 12 now.
None of this excuses the way Kevin Sumlin left the University of Houston. Sumlin got the big job, but he had a bad week. UH and his players deserved better — he has to know that.
Kevin Sumlin's reputation is not so spotless anymore. He has Cougar blood on his hands.