Texas A&M's Sumlin has given team a spark
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Monday, December 31, 2012
12/31/12 at 5:37 AM
ARLINGTON, Texas - Kevin Sumlin marched five steps into the Texas A&M locker room, took a sharp left turn to where his players were already celebrating, and went a little berserk.
He flailed his army wildly, shoved defensive lineman Jonathan Mathis playfully and ran toward the back wall to bump into more Aggies. He turned right, skipped into the next room and sped around another set of players with his arms still flying and his fists now pumping.
By this point, every player was going berserk with him. Every player jumped up and down as water and Gatorade sprayed about the room.
It was Oct. 6 and the Aggies had just rallied to win their first SEC road game at Mississippi. Sumlin, their first-year head coach, wasn't about to let the moment pass without deepening his imprint on the program.
"I came to this school to play for Mike Sherman," Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M's Outland Trophy-winning left tackle, said in referencing the man Sumlin replaced. "But I'm so happy with the team right now. I'm so happy for Coach Sumlin. He's a great guy to play for. He's an incredible head coach.
"He's changed the environment for our team. He's changed the environment at Texas A&M."
The 10-2 Aggies enter Friday's Cotton Bowl a favorite over Oklahoma. They are the only team to have conquered Alabama. They boast the Outland and Heisman Trophy winners.
Before Sumlin's arrival from Houston, Texas A&M could barely break even in the Big 12 Conference. Sherman went 25-25 in four seasons before his firing. Dennis Franchione went 32-28 in the five seasons before Sherman.
It was an underachieving program marked by blown leads in Sherman's final season. Now it was headed for the remorseless SEC.
The Aggies didn't just need Xs and Os, they needed TNT. They needed someone to light a fuse after languishing for so long.
Enter the 47-year-old Sumlin.
"Shoot, you'll see it when y'all do your (press conference)," A&M defensive tackle Spencer Nealy told reporters Sunday at the Cotton Bowl's media day. "Right when he walks in he brings a presence. You're like, 'Dang, dude, this guy is cool.' He'll walk in and you'll be like, 'I like this guy.' "
The Aggies liked their new coach straightaway. They trusted him, too.
"A lot of coaches will leave you in the dark about a couple things. They'll kind of keep secrets," A&M linebacker Sean Porter said. "But he'll tell you exactly what he's thinking and exactly what's going on. I appreciate his honesty and his attitude, the way he is."
There was a lot of potential here. A young, energetic coach with a young staff, implementing a crowd-pleasing system that worked so well at Houston, catching an unsuspecting SEC off guard.
Sumlin needed to instill one important thing to make it work, however.
"Confidence," Joeckel said. "Last year, losing so many games in the second half ... We never even thought that way this year. He brought so much confidence to us."
It was visible throughout the season, whether in that comeback at Ole Miss or in one-sided surges at Auburn or Mississippi State, or when the Aggies refused to let go of their lead at Alabama.
How confident have the Aggies become? Listen to cornerback/punt returner Dustin Harris talk about Sumlin: "He's led us where we are right now, which is 10-2. Well, we're gonna be 11-2 ..."
The Sooners know what kind of fight they're in for Friday. They have known for some time what kind of difference Sumlin can make, given he was an OU assistant from 2003-07.
"He's bright. He's got an excellent offensive mind. He's a great worker. He relates with kids well. He's competitive. All those things," OU coach Bob Stoops said. "Kevin has all of the great qualities you need."
He put them to use over five successful years at Houston. Now he's doing so at Texas A&M.
"Coach Sumlin just has that winning mentality," Aggies wide receiver Ryan Swope said. "He really prepares us well during the week. He knows how to get us right for a football game. He's a competitor, just like we are.
"It's been a privilege playing for him."
Oklahoma (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (10-2)
7 p.m. Friday
At Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Radio: KMOD fm97.5, KTBZ am1430
Original Print Headline: Sumlin has given A&M new life
Guerin Emig 918-581-8355
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin laughs after defensive lineman Spencer Nealy tried to interview him Sunday during media day for the Cotton Bowl at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. LM OTERO / Associated Press