Kevin Sumlin was never ever able to recreate his wildly successful first season at Texas A&M so even though the winning continued it wasn’t enough.
Sumlin was fired Sunday after six seasons in College Station, Texas. All of them earned bowl trips for the Aggies and finished with above-.500 records.
The first black head coach in program history was 51-26 and 25-23 in the Southeastern Conference. But his first year at A&M was his best, and he never could come close to matching it.
In 2012, Sumlin had a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in Johnny Manziel and ushered in the program’s move from the Big 12 to the SEC by going 11-2. That earned him a new contract and $5 million annual salary, but the Aggies have not won more than nine games since.
The Aggies ended their regular season on Saturday by losing to LSU . They dropped to 7-5 overall, and finished 4-4 in the SEC for the fourth time under Sumlin.
Athletic director Scott Woodward, who was hired by the school in the summer of 2016, said in a statement that Sumlin made Texas A&M “a better all-around football program and led our program with dignity and character.”
“Our expectations at A&M are very high,” Woodward said. “We believe that we should compete for SEC championships on an annual basis and, at times, national championships. I believe that we need a new coach to take us there.”
Special teams coach Jeff Banks will be interim coach.
Sumlin, 53, had two years left on his contract, which calls for a $10 million buyout to be paid within 60 days of his termination. Texas A&M said the terms of the deal would be honored. Sumlin leaves with a .662 winning percentage that ranks only behind R.C. Slocum (.721) among A&M coaches since 1930.
Stuck behind powerhouse Alabama in the SEC West Division, Sumlin never won a division crown. He also faced enormous pressure this season to deliver big results. After Texas A&M blew a huge lead and lost the season opener at UCLA, a school regent publicly called for Sumlin to be fired.
Texas A&M has long been seen as a potential powerhouse that has not maxed out its huge resources. The Aggies haven’t won a conference championship since winning the Big 12 in 1998, but A&M led all of Division I in athletic revenue in 2015-16 .
During Sumlin’s tenure, new football facilities have been built and Kyle Field was renovated and expanded to seat more than 102,000. But it didn’t translate to a level of success that Aggies supporters and school administrators had hoped.
A former Texas A&M assistant, Sumlin was the head coach at Houston when the Aggies brought him back to energize a program that was bolting from the Big 12 and traditional rivals like Texas to join the SEC. He set the expectation that a program flush with cash and grounded in some of the most fertile recruiting territory in the country should be able to do more.
In 2012, Manziel and the Aggies beat top-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa for the program’s first road win over a No. 1, and Texas A&M finished ranked in the top five, the first time the Aggies had done that since Bear Bryant was coach in 1956.
Sumlin, Manziel and the SEC had the entire Aggies program swaggering through Texas. Sumlin even had a “Swag ‘Copter” helicopter that A&M used to fly him around the state to woo recruits. When a big name recruit would commit, Sumlin would tweet “Yessir!”
It was living up to the hype that proved problematic.
With Manziel, the Aggies fell to 9-4 in 2013. Signs of trouble began when Manziel had to sit out part of the season opener in an autographs-for-cash scandal — and the Aggies would find eight wins to be their high point the next three seasons.
The pressure to win more was mounting well before the first kickoff this season. Back in May, Woodward raised the temperature when he said Sumlin “knows he has to win and he has to win this year and we have to do better than we’ve done in the past.”
Things got ugly this season when Sumlin’s wife reported to the university and local law enforcement that her family had received racist and threatening messages at their home.
The Aggies rebounded from the embarrassing blown lead at UCLA with four consecutive wins. But three home conference losses followed and Sumlin’s program was right where he could no longer afford it to be: stuck in the middle of the SEC west with no path to clawing its way to the top.