Kevin Sumlin has been a dead man walking for three years. But after Sunday night, the only place he is walking is out of his job.
Yes, his quarterback got injured.
His defense fell to shreds.
UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen is highly regarded as one of the best quarterbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft, and he turned in an unbelievable fourth quarter performance, the likes of which you rarely see at any level of football. The junior turned a sluggish first half performance into a final tally of 491 passing yards and four fourth quarter touchdowns.
But of all the culprits for Texas A&M losing 45-44 to UCLA after having a 44-10 lead with under three minutes to go in the third quarter, Kevin Sumlin should be squarely under the gun. Ultimately, the buck stops with the head coach of any football team, but now so more than ever.
Progression is the goal of any program. A lack of it is what claimed Mark Richt at Georgia in 2015, and that same ‘death by a thousand cuts’ process is probably what will oust Sumlin in College Station. He was regarded as an offensive mastermind, but after the honeymoon period he failed to regain that status.
Kevin Sumlin’s time at Texas A&M unofficially ended on October 18th, 2014. His Aggies rolled into Tuscaloosa to try to beat Alabama in their stadium for the second time in a row. The Crimson Tide ran out with a 59-0 win, and Sumlin was never the same. His offensive code has been cracked, but in hindsight it was never much of a code. In the 2012-2013 seasons, Sumlin had Johnny Manziel playing the best football of his life, Mike Evans at wide receiver, and Jake Matthews studying up the offensive line.
He built his offense around moving Manziel all around the pocket, and sometimes out of it to find Evans and company with open space. Having a duel threat quarterback and extremely talented vertical receivers opened up all kinds of lanes in the passing game, and Manziel could just play pitch and catch with his wide outs.
Once he lost the NFL talent, it was just him trying to replicate his same schemes with players that weren’t as good. Kyle Allen, Kenny Hill, and Trevor Knight all showed some capability to run the offense Sumlin needed, but not with enough consistency to move forward. It all came to a head when Alabama shut them out on that autumn afternoon three seasons ago, and since then it has been a slow trend downwards that you can officially say has almost no chance of ever recovering.
364 days later his career received another warning shot against that same Alabama defense. Allen threw three pick sixes in a 41-23 loss. His offense yet again proved to struggle without elite talent again with the number three playing a big role. If the A&M faithful wasn’t awake yet to the shortcomings of their head coach, they definitely were after only scoring three points in Oxford against Ole Miss. 17 combined points against LSU and Auburn in November of that season all but confirmed that 2016 would be his most crucial year yet.
Nothing got better. When an offensive coach has an average offense, his team won’t get far. But it went to an ever worse level when he had the NFL talent on defense in 2016 that he had on offense in 2012, and the defense leaked points. He got about as little as he possibly could have out of a defense with three future NFL players, including the #1 overall draft pick Myles Garrett in it. His third consecutive 8-5 season resulted in loud callings for his head during the offseason, but he managed to stay at head coach for 2017.
College football in the modern day requires coaches to be well rounded with their teams. Everybody and their brother knows what Nick Saban has done with his defenses at Alabama, but coaching a true freshman quarterback to a perfect regular season last year was a major accomplishment.
Kevin Sumlin is painfully unable to muster anything out of his defenses when he needs it the most. Being outscored 35-0 in 16:23 of game time is beyond unacceptable. UCLA got the ball five times after the Aggies extended their lead to 44-10, and they scored a touchdown all five times, pulling off 12 plays that gained at least 15 yards.
After falling behind by 34 points, the Bruins ran 37-plays resulting in 396 yards of offense in just 7:39 with the ball. They had the ball for seven and a half minutes, and scored five touchdowns. When you add that with everything else that has happened to his program in the last few seasons, that is a fireable offense.
Kevin Sumlin might still have a career somewhere as an offensive coordinator. He could do damage a school with a lot of talent with receivers that can get down the field, and has a steady stream of quarterbacks that fit his scheme.
But it’s crystal clear that his days as a head coach at a major program are numbered.