Texas A&M plans to fire Kevin Sumlin after LSU game
Victory over LSU in finale wouldn't be enough for coach to save job
Brent Zwerneman | on November 21, 2017
Photo: Rogelio V. Solis, STF
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Kevin Sumlin started fast at A&M but never matched his 11-win first season.
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Nov. 10, 2012: No. 15 Texas A&M 29, No. 1 Alabama 24
Kevin Sumlin's best win came in his 10th game with the Aggies. This pushed the Aggies into the Top 10 and made Johnny Manziel the Heisman Trophy
COLLEGE STATION - Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin will be fired following the Aggies' regular-season finale at LSU on Saturday night, multiple people with knowledge of the situation said.
Sumlin is expected to be dismissed in the day or days following the A&M game against the Tigers. The Aggies are a double-digit underdog to the Tigers, and an A&M victory wouldn't save his job at this point, the sources said.
At his weekly news conference on Tuesday, a resolute Sumlin said he expects to be A&M's coach next season.
"Why wouldn't I?" he said in response to a question from the Chronicle about his future.
Told that the Chronicle had learned he wouldn't be back next season, Sumlin responded, "I haven't heard that."
The Aggies have been good but not great under the sixth-year coach, failing to reach double-digit victories in the last five seasons after finishing 11-2 in Sumlin's first season and A&M's first year in the Southeastern Conference in 2012.
Even that season, A&M finished third in the SEC West behind Alabama and LSU, and the Aggies haven't come close to competing for a division title since. Sumlin has two years left on a contract that pays $5 million annually, and the two sides are expected to negotiate a buyout in the range of $10 million.
The Aggies (7-4, 4-3 SEC) have finished 8-5 in each of the last three seasons and would need an upset of LSU and a bowl victory to better that mark by a game this season. LSU has won all five of the teams' prior meetings as SEC opponents, a tidbit particularly irking to A&M's fan base, as the Aggies have tried establishing the Tigers as division rivals.
Asked if he would have been thought of differently at A&M had he won a few of those games against LSU, Sumlin replied, "It would probably be different if I won a couple of games against other people, too."
A&M invested about a half-billion dollars in rebuilding Kyle Field and expanding its capacity to more than 102,000 a few years ago, and attendance was down this season as A&M lost at home to division foes Alabama, Mississippi State and Auburn. A&M chancellor John Sharp, an unyielding force behind the Kyle Field rebuild, has been adamant about producing a program that will compete with Alabama and others for SEC titles.
The Aggies' top target is Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, according to people with knowledge of the school's plans. Fisher won a national title following the 2013 season with the Seminoles, but FSU is 4-6 this season, easily his worst showing in eight years as head coach in Tallahassee. He has won at least 10 games in a season six times at FSU, something Sumlin has managed once at A&M in six seasons.
Fisher's name first surfaced to the Chronicle as a candidate in September, after the Aggies blew a 34-point lead at UCLA in the season opener. Fisher, who is 82-23 at FSU, has said late this season that he will not address other jobs, including A&M. A&M athletic director Scott Woodward, brought onboard in part in 2016 to systematically evaluate Sumlin's tenure, and Fisher have a prior relationship from working together at LSU in the early to mid-2000s.
Sumlin is a solid 51-25 at A&M, but his program's losses to division foes - especially late in the season - are what finally caught up to him. Sumlin has a losing record overall against the SEC West (16-19) and has finished no higher than fourth in the five seasons since 2012.
A&M will go at least three years without a division victory at Kyle Field, considering the Aggies last won an SEC West game on their home field in October 2015 and won't play another division game at Kyle until November of next season. Last weekend at Mississippi, the Aggies won their first November game against SEC West competition in more than three years.
Sumlin, who had the reputation of running a soft, freewheeling program early in his A&M tenure, tried toughening things up with the addition of defensive coordinator John Chavis from LSU prior to the 2015 season. While the Aggies' defense has shown signs of improvement here and there over Chavis' three seasons - along with an occasional big step backward - it hasn't been enough to save Sumlin's job.
Sumlin also had to deal with the high-profile transfers of not one but two starting quarterbacks in December 2015, when Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray exited the program within about a week of each other.
Sumlin's response on Tuesday that he expects to be A&M's coach moving forward was reminiscent of that of one of his mentors, R.C. Slocum, 15 years ago at A&M.
"It's my intent to coach the team next season and for many seasons to come," Slocum said immediately following a 50-20 loss at Texas in late November 2002.
Slocum was fired two days later and and soon replaced by Alabama coach Dennis Franchione, whose A&M tenure was largely considered a failure. Franchione was replaced a decade ago by Mike Sherman, who was replaced six years ago by Sumlin.
A&M, which will go at least 20 years between conference titles considering the last came in 1998 when the Aggies played in the Big 12, is in search of its first national title since 1939.