Brown: Kevin Sumlin’s 50th win at Texas A&M feels a bit empty
Clearly, Texas A&M’s 55-14 victory over New Mexico on Saturday didn’t mean much in Aggieland.
In the days leading up to the nonconference rout, a picture went viral of a local hotel that welcomed fans of New Mexico State, which the Aggies hosted last season. Yell leaders and fans alike shouted “Beat the hell out of New Mexico State!” through half of Midnight Yell Practice before they corrected themselves.
No, Saturday night at Kyle Field didn’t have much importance.
And quietly, head coach Kevin Sumlin reached a new plateau.
Eclipsed by the pomp and circumstance of Senior Night and the tediousness of the Southeastern Conference’s late-season, nonconference yawner was Sumlin’s 50th win at the helm of the Aggies. He now sits two shy of Jackie Sherrill’s 52, which is fourth-best in program history.
The milestone is juxtaposed by the fact that it could also be Sumlin’s final win at Kyle Field as the head coach of the Aggies.
After athletic director Scott Woodward issued statements prior to the season claiming that Sumlin needed to win more games this season than the eight-win streak the Aggies have strung together the last three years, the pressure has been at a boiling point for Sumlin and his staff. Many believe it boiled over after consecutive home losses to Mississippi State and Auburn the past two weeks.
While a 41-point throttling of a now 3-7 Mountain West teams gains little in the grand scheme of Sumlin’s career, it proved one important thing that will be weighed at season end: This team has not quit on its head coach and his staff.
“Getting him that 50th win is definitely special,” A&M wide receiver Christian Kirk said. “I’ll personally say that there is not another college football coach that I would rather play for in the whole, entire country. Coach Sumlin has given so many dudes opportunities to come here and make their dreams come true. I know that’s what he did for me, and he’s been the same dude since he came in December and sat in my living room and told my parents how I was going to be treated and what was going to happen. Everything he said has happened, and he stayed true to his word. I can’t thank him enough for that. To go out there and to be able to go to war for a guy like that, it makes it that much more special.”
And for Kirk, he has done that. In a quick three seasons, Kirk has become one of the hottest names in college football with first-round potential in the upcoming NFL draft. He’s also been right beside senior safety Armani Watts, a team captain whose roller-coaster A&M career saw plenty of highs as well as the lows of a junior season riddled with injuries.
“There’s one part of coaching, but there’s another part of being in the room with a guy that has been through adversity, a guy who plays at a high level no matter what,” Sumlin said of Watts. “He’s had a hell of a career here.”
For everything that Sumlin has done for many players in the program, it hasn’t necessarily reflected in his record. Sumlin has never posted a single-season winning record against SEC opponents at Kyle Field in his six seasons in Aggieland. The Aggies haven’t notched an SEC West win since Oct. 3, 2014, a 30-17 win over Mississippi State. Overall, Sumlin is 8-14 against SEC opponents at Kyle Field.
This season will also mark the first time a Sumlin-led team did not break the AP Top 25 poll since his 2008 Houston squad.
Kirk says Sumlin hasn’t let any of it affect the team this season.
“Obviously, I know it’s hard, him having to hear all the speculation and what not, but he still comes to practice smiling,” Kirk said. “He’s still a player’s coach at heart, and we just have fun with him all the time. He’s the same dude. He’s never going to change.”
Before Watts took the field during the pregame ceremony, Sumlin told only him among the Aggie seniors not to say anything because he didn’t want to cry in front of 90,000 people.
Had Watts uttered a word of thanks to his coach, it would have been the only emotion Sumlin showed on what could be his final home game at Kyle Field.