HOOVER, Ala. — Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was first on the podium among the SEC coaches at SEC Football Media Days on Tuesday. The Aggies’ first-year coach was poised and well-spoken and said the word “excited” a lot, which was to be expected.
“This makes it real,” Sumlin said to a ballroom packed with media. “What first made it real for me is when we had our first head coaches meeting back in March. When you closed that door behind you, you knew it was real then. But walking into this room and seeing the number of people in this room, you know the kind of league you’re in. It’s a different size and scope for football.”
Sumlin, who turns 48 on Aug. 3, has enjoyed a rapid rise through the head-coaching ranks. He comes to A&M from Houston, where he coached for four seasons. That was his first head coaching job and he led the Cougars to a 35-17 record and three bowl games. They were 13-1 this past season, narrowly missing a BCS bowl only because of a 49-28 loss to Southern Miss in the Conference USA championship game. His Houston team beat Penn State 30-14 in the TicketCity Bowl, but Sumlin had already left for College Station by then.
Before Houston, Sumlin had held assistant’s jobs at Oklahoma (offensive coordinator) and Texas A&M (assistant head coach/receivers), Purdue, Minnesota, Wyoming and Washington State. He played linebacker at Purdue.
Since taking over as the Aggies’ coach on Dec. 10, all Sumlin has heard is how tough the SEC is going to be. Even LSU coach Les Miles sent out a public warning, saying Texas A&M and Missouri “better strap it up. They’re going to really not enjoy their welcoming to this conference.”
Sumlin is not discounting such advice.
“I didn’t see that as derogatory,” Sumlin said. “That’s a fair statement. I think he says that to about everybody he plays, doesn’t he?”
Sumlin pointed out that he gets the honor of playing the last six national champions in his first season as an SEC head coach. But he went on to say he’s not shocked or overwhelmed by the task at hand for the Aggies. He knew what he was getting into.
“My realistic expectations are to win,” Sunlin said. “Everybody talks to me like I didn’t know what I was getting into. I knew we were heading to the SEC when I took the job. I also knew what A&M had to offer and what the program is capable of. . . . We know we have to play a lot of Top 10 football teams. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We know that. But we need to worry about ourselves first. We have a lot of other things we have to fix first before we start thinking about our SEC schedule.”
A&M’s players are definitely ready for the challenge.
“The whole team is excited,” senior linebacker Sean Porter said. “We feel like we’re competitors. My team loves to compete and this league has some of the best players in the country. So we want to be able to gauge ourselves against those guys and compare ourselves to those guys and be on the field with them at the same time. I want to go against the best tackles in the country, the best quarterbacks, the best running backs. That’s what we were looking forward to about the SEC. Now we’re a part of it.”
The Aggies return 14 starters — including eight on offense — from a team that finished 7-6 last season. Sumlin’s primary task will be in identifying a starting quarterback. He said the plan is to determine that with no less than two weeks remaining in the regular season.
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