Kevin Sumlin and the Texans: Buyer Beware
Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin may one day be a great NFL coach. He's a strong leader with an innovative offense, glowing personality and enormous local buzz -- all at only 49 years old.
Is Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin the right choice to lead the Texans?
It's easy to see where the hype comes from. There's also the concern, however, that Sumlin isn't even among the current elites of college football. Is theoretical upside enough for an NFL team to turn over the keys of its franchise to an unproven commodity?
That's what owner Bob McNair and the Texans have to weigh out over the next six weeks or so. Sumlin and the Texans have long been a potential match, and chatter has increased of late with the almost-certain dismissal of Gary Kubiak after this year's awful season.
Along the college coaching lines, there has been plenty of chatter about Coach Sumlin as a potential fit with the Texans ...— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) November 24, 2013
As I wrote in this column this weekend, Texans would consider Sumlin prime candidate (if gig opens): http://t.co/jmLl3HXVzy— Brent Zwerneman (@BrentZwerneman) November 11, 2013
In many ways, the timing is problematic for the Texans. In an ideal world, they would have let Kubiak remain in place through the end of his contract in 2014 while continuing to watch the development of Sumlin's program at A&M. But given this debacle of a season still in progress for the Texans, that's not a luxury they can afford.
They have to make a move now, and with regards to Sumlin, it's a tough call to make in December 2013 and January 2014.
Sumlin's defense, or lack thereof
Most of the concerns start with the defensive side of the ball. Through this past Saturday, the Aggies statistically rank 107th out of 123 Division I teams in yards allowed per game (460.1) -- a mark that ranks dead last in the SEC. They're only a shade better in scoring defense, where they're 88th in the country at 31.2 points allowed (13th out of 14 SEC teams, leading only perennial doormat Kentucky).
It's also not a matter of the dynamic Johnny Manziel-led offense working too quickly and skewing the volume. The Aggies come in at 6.0 yards/play allowed, No. 102 in the nation.
Of particular concern is that Sumlin's defense doesn't seem to be improving as the season progresses. LSU trucked the Aggies on Saturday, scoring 34 points on 517 total yards (including a whopping 324 on the ground). Even in a win two weeks earlier against Mississippi State, the Bulldogs -- a team with a losing record that ranks No. 76 nationally in scoring offense -- put up 41 points and 556 yards, in College Station!
A&M's defensive struggles in September were expected, given a handful of new (and young) starters. But the thought was that they'd likely improve throughout the season and become a better unit by November. If anything, they've gotten worse.
It's true that Sumlin has only had one full recruiting cycle to bring in his own players. Nonetheless, the Aggies have no excuse to be this bad. According to recruiting Web site Rivals.com, the last five A&M classes came in at No. 11, No. 15, No. 27, No. 17 and No. 22 nationally. Those included 39 (!) players evaluated as four- or five-star prospects.
Sumlin gets a pass for his lack of defensive development at the University of Houston, where it can be difficult to recruit the necessary talent. That's not the case with the enormous resources of Texas A&M. It remains to be seen what happens with "his players," but as of now -- which is what the Texans have to evaluate -- A&M's actual defensive performance under Sumlin is clearly underachieving for its talent.
It's also not a one-year trend. Even with more veterans, Sumlin's Aggies ranked No. 62 in yards allowed and No. 41 in yards/play in 2012 -- rankings almost identical to the No. 62/No. 35 split in those categories in his final season at UH in 2011.
From a team standpoint, those deficiencies have proven critical. The Aggies, despite having one of the greatest players in NCAA history in Manziel, are only 8-3 and seem likely to finish at 8-4 (their finale is at No. 5 Missouri). They've surrendered an average of 42.7 points/game in those three losses. In 2011, perhaps Sumlin's finest year as a coach, a historic season for UH unraveled at home in the Conference USA title game when Southern Miss steamrolled the Cougars for 49 points (on 486 yards).