Kevin Sumlin Says the Texas A&M Aggies are Still Playing Catch-Up in the SEC

When Texas A&M joined the SEC there were many detractors. Not only was Kevin Sumlin making the leap from the University of Houston in Conference USA but he was bringing a wide-open, high-scoring offense to the toughest and most physical conference in all of college football. After the first SEC game, a loss against Florida at home, it looked like the Aggies’ detractors might have been on to something. However, by the end of the season, everyone was talking about Texas A&M, and rightfully so. Quarterback Johnny Manziel became the most exciting player in college football and won the Heisman Trophy and the Aggies won 11 of their final 12 games, including a win over Alabama to put the rest of the conference on notice. Kevin Sumlin joined KILT in Houston with Nick and Lopez to talk about National Signing Day, whether he would be OK with an early signing date when it comes to recruiting, if he thinks Johnny Manziel has been treated unfairly in the media since winning the Heisman Trophy, changing the perception at Texas A&M and if he thinks A&M was the best team in college football at the end of the season.

On National Signing Day:

“Despite everything else in regards to college football right now, it’s become a bigger deal than it really is. The process for families, for prospective student-athletes, is a big deal and with everything that goes into it the whole time, you have to respect the process. After that for us, recruits come down the road and you’re excited for the families and those particular kids because at a certain level they have many choices, and there’s a lot of things that go into that decision-making process, it’s really a relief for both sides. A lot of work goes into that and I think somebody said it best yesterday, for football coaches it’s just like Christmas.”

Whether he would be in favor of an early signing date when it comes to recruiting:

“I’m a proponent for an early signing date. I think there are a lot of coaches that want that but for whatever reason it’s not headed that way. I think the early signing period would alleviate a lot of stress and drama and be a cost-cutting measure. You take our class this year and we probably had about 20-something guys committed by mid-year during football season. You look at our 2014 class right now and there’s already six guys committed. From November to that first Wednesday in February, we’re flying around, going to see them, babysitting them and just keeping guys away from them. From a cost-cutting measure it’s a big deal. The way things are right now with communication, unofficial visits and families getting to know and make decisions and it’s a good thing. We talk all the time about guys knowing what they want to do, knowing where they want to go to school and  then enjoying their senior year and helping their team win without traveling every weekend. High school coaches appreciate that and we appreciate that, but we still have to keep recruiting and the people that do the work early aren’t rewarded for that the way the system is now.”

Do you believe Johnny Manziel has been portrayed fairly since he won the Heisman?

“I don’t know about that. We live in a different time right now. The media, there are professionals and there is social media, which now is part of the media. Everybody has a camera phone; everybody has got pictures, Instagram and Twitter so it’s just different. We’re embarking on a new age. For most people the Cotton Bowl would’ve been their last game … or they would have one more season, but Johnny has three more years. He turned 20 the night before he won the Heisman, so it’s a whole different deal now and we’ve got a system in place with a great way of communicating, as a University, with him. We’ve got the support systems in place so everybody can say what they want about where he is and what he is doing in life, but winning the Heisman should not be a punishment, it should be a celebration, and obviously it hasn’t hurt his ability to perform.”

On changing the perception at Texas A&M:

“It’s changed. It’s amazing, 13 months ago we were going to get our brains beat out, we’re going to the league and when we took the job, it’s like I didn’t know we were going to the SEC (according to some). … We had a bunch of detractors (who said), ‘Who are these coaches?’  We’re running an offense that won’t work in a traditional and physical line-of-scrimmage league like the SEC and we understand that, but those guys, that’s why I have so much respect for the first class that we signed and then the guys who were early commitments, because it was true faith that we were going to get it done. As we started to win and started to compete in the SEC, we won some big ball games and finished up with a big Cotton Bowl win, our phones were ringing off the hook. We understand that and, as you said, it started with, ‘They’re going to get their brains beat out’ and now people are saying, ‘Don’t go there because they’re loaded.’ We’re not loaded. We’re still playing catch-up in the SEC. You look at our class [Wednesday], as good as it was, I was sitting in my office and before I went downstairs for the press conference, we’re eighth in the country according to ESPN and we’re fifth in our own league and fourth in our division. We still have a ways to go and I think players and parents understand that, but I think they also understand the direction we’re headed.”

Whether he thinks Texas A&M was the best team in college football when the year ended:

“I don’t know. Shoot, we came out of nowhere. We were unranked at the beginning of the year. I will tell you this, I don’t know what the stat is but has there ever been a year in college football where the No. 1 team in the country in preseason ending the year unranked, and then going into the national championship game an unranked team was No. 1? Have you thought about that? Games are won on the field, teams catch fire and do different things and you look at the way the system is set up right now, we still wouldn’t have been in the playoffs the way it’s proposed right now, so that’s OK, you have to earn the right to be there. College football right now is set in a way that it’s very, very hard, without a traditional program that has won for a long time, to start in the top 10 and remain there. You’ve got pieces in place to do that and I think we’re headed in the right direction with a playoff system. I’m a proponent of the bowl system because there are people that work very, very hard. Student-athletes work hard; coaches do, too. I don’t know if six wins is right or seven, eight wins, but to go somewhere and play a different opponent and enjoy that week is a big deal. I think as discussion continues, four- or eight-team playoff system would be right. … Towards the end of the year, you look at some of the teams in college basketball that get better every week and peak, and I think there are coaches that coach that way and get their team ready for a playoff-type system, I think you’re going to see a difference in scheduling and see a difference in coaching.”

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