Discuss 126
March 30, 2012
Kevin Sumlin lays out Texas A&M's new blueprint
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Kevin Sumlin: Part 1
Sumlin: Part 2
 

Aggie football's new head coach sits down with Billy Liucci

Billy Liucci: You've been here since December. At what point did you think, 'I might honestly be the head coach at Texas A&M some day'?
Kevin Sumlin: "It's something you put in the back of your mind. I've been so many places. My family really enjoyed it here last time. Jack, my oldest son, was born here. Being as close as we were at Houston, we've got a lot of friends that are happy we're moving back to College Station. But it's nothing you really think of. You do the best job you can do, wherever you are. That's been the way I've done things. Fortunately, this worked out."

BL: It's been a dream job of yours for a long time. Why Texas A&M?
Sumlin: "I've been in both locker rooms at Kyle Field. I know what the game day atmosphere is like. The tradition, the pageantry, everything that surrounds Texas A&M. It's really a unique place. I left my alma mater to come here the first time. I really saw this as an opportunity to be at a top ten program, when it comes to the resources to really impact a top-level football program. We have that. Almost 50,000 students, the largest student body at any venue in the country, one of the loudest places to play, great degree programs and the Aggie network speaks for itself.

"So you have all those things plus great location. Most people say any business is about location, location, location. To be in arguably the greatest high school football-playing state in the nation and have access to guys because of our league affiliation is a great combination for me."

BL: Since you've been here, any surprises? Anything you weren't expecting here?
Andrew Kilzer, TexAgs Sumlin took over a historic program mired in a slump, but he intends to bring a new flair. {"Module":"photo","Alignment":"right","Size":"large","Caption":"Sumlin took over a historic program mired in a slump, but he intends to bring a new flair.","MediaItemID":16387}
Sumlin: "If everything was perfect, you wouldn't be here. Usually as coaches, you come in to a situation where the coach before you either left on his own for a better job or he was asked to leave. So there's always issues. And you start to try to iron those out as you go. What was not a problem for the previous coach might be a problem for you and your style. We're working our way through that. You can't forget about the players. Transition is most difficult on them.

"We walked into a situation and basically asked the players to trust us. That, to me, is a big deal. We moved spring football back for strength and conditioning. We wanted them to trust us for more than coach-to-player, and we wanted to know them as more than '#55.' We're probably the last team in the country to start football practice this year. But because of that, it's given us a chance to get our coaches on the same page, particularly our defensive coaches, and get used to me. Give Larry Jackson a chance to impact our program, and give our players a chance to know us. To try to develop some friendships and bonds and trust and not just telling them to do stuff. They understand a bit more and they know us."

BL: What's been the message that you've wanted your players to receive? What have you guys been trying to hammer home?
Sumlin: "You know, the transition part of what we're doing, from a strength and conditioning standpoint, is pretty serious. That can be difficult on people. We've had a couple 6 a.m. workouts where our coaches were involved in some agility stations and really trying to stress guys out mentally and physically, just so they can see that they can go past that. We had our last one on Monday. I think that we've learned that our biggest deal — and at Houston, it was the same thing — it's about us. Our concern right now is not the schedule or road games, it's us.

"We've got to deal with our mental toughness, the ability to close out games and the ability to cut down penalties. Most penalized team in the Big 12 last year. And our turnover ratio. All those things, coaches don't control that. Players do. We've got to work through that over 15 practices, the summer and two-a-days. Becoming a more disciplined football team. Hanging onto the ball and getting less penalties."

BL: If and when you ever got a head coaching job, you told me, the first call you'd make was to Larry Jackson. Why?
Sumlin: "There's a lot of strength and conditioning guys out there. But Larry's different in that he played the game at the highest level, he understands it ... he attacks guys in different ways. He's not a cookie-cutter. We don't lay on our back and see how strong we can get. We don't get under the squat rack and see how much we can squat. Since I've been with Larry, I don't think we've ever 'maxed out' with one rep and so-and-so. We do what's called a 'calibrated max' — three or four reps at this weight equates to this. That's basically the way football is played. There's not one time you have to use one gigantic lift and then rest. It's a lot of repetition and core work.

Those guys will be here for eight weeks in June and July. Larry goes back to the four-days-a-week conditioning program. He told me that the test is him. 'If they're not in shape, let me go.' That's a pretty good endorsement. - Kevin Sumlin on Larry Jackson {"Module":"quote","Alignment":"right","Quote":"Those guys will be here for eight weeks in June and July. Larry goes back to the four-days-a-week conditioning program. He told me that the test is him. \u0027If they\u0027re not in shape, let me go.\u0027 That\u0027s a pretty good endorsement.","Author":"Kevin Sumlin on Larry Jackson"}
"You don't see a bunch of guys at our place with huge necks. You sacrifice a bit of that, but our guys are extremely fit. It helps from an injury standpoint and you can't argue with the results. Matter of fact, we don't even have a conditioning test before we start fall practice. Right now, our players go to school year round. We bring in our freshman right after they graduate. Those guys will be here for eight weeks in June and July. Larry goes back to the four-days-a-week conditioning program. He told me that the test is him. 'If they're not in shape, let me go.' That's a pretty good endorsement. We've been together at Oklahoma, at Houston, practicing. It's really had an impact on our success. I know it has, talking to other coaches."

BL: I asked Kliff (Kingsbury) this today and I know the questions that'll dig at you ... how difficult is it going to be for SEC defenses to stop this offense during a season when they have a few days to prepare?
Sumlin: "We'll have a lot better feel through the year. One of the advantages is that what we do, from week to week, what we do is very hard to duplicate. Not just the plays, but the rate it comes at you and the ability to substitute things really quickly. It really slows the game down for us offensively. There's so many talented teams in the SEC and the first thing everyone says is, 'You're going to notice, Coach, there's a size and speed difference.' On the size issues, we'll see where that is, but I feel like our team runs very, very well. We're always going to err on, if we make a mistake, the guy's always going to run fast. He may not catch or tackle (well), but he can run.

"It's just my philosophy. We've got to get bigger, particularly on the D-line, but I'm pretty happy with where our team speed is right now. We'll see where it is. The other issue is depth. In a league that's so physical, you're going to get down to second- or third-team guys, and that's where we're going to get better."

BL: So you're an opposing defensive coordinator preparing for Texas A&M and its offense. What makes it so difficult?
Sumlin: "So just tell them how to beat us? Why would I do that (hearty laugh)? It's matchups, execution, not doing a whole lot of things but doing a few things really, really well. And everyone being on the same page. I'd much rather have 20 plays that everyone knows than 300 you have to explain. Football is a difficult game because you can have 10 guys do everything right and one guy screw up and the whole play is dead. Execution becomes the key. As a coach, you give your guys a chance with scheme. That's our job as coaches. We want to give our guys an opportunity to be successful. You owe it to your team and the fans to give yourself a chance to win every game. We've got to get a grasp of our players, not just our quarterbacks, but our team and offensive personality. We have to grasp what we're trying to accomplish on each and every play."

BL: What are you looking for with your quarterbacks?
Sumlin: "First of all, you've got to get a grasp of the offense. You watch guys and, whatever the offense, you know where you are and what a QB starts thinking. When he sees things and reacts and comes to you, you think you're headed the right way. I don't think we can get there in 15 days, but it's possible. We also have a ways to go. It won't bother me if we haven't named a guy going into two-a-days. We named Case (Keenum) during two-a-days in the first year, and it worked out. That doesn't bother me. There are so many intangibles at quarterback. The ability to be a leader. Where I see guys change a little bit is the ability to handle success or failure. Some guys can't handle success and the pressure that comes with it. Some guys can bounce along. All players are different, but I think the competition is really going to help us."

BL: Your last couple stops, Joe Tiller and Mike Price were the guys you came into your own under. And Bob Stoops and R.C. Slocum. How did Bob Stoops change you as a coach? You were different when you came out of there.
The type of people that were at OU at the time, a bunch of guys had just left to become head coaches. There were strong egos in that room but he managed it and that attitude carried onto the field and the players felt that. - Sumlin on Bob Stoops {"Module":"quote","Alignment":"left","Quote":"The type of people that were at OU at the time, a bunch of guys had just left to become head coaches. There were strong egos in that room but he managed it and that attitude carried onto the field and the players felt that.","Author":"Sumlin on Bob Stoops"}
Sumlin: "Dealing with Joe, I'd known him since I was 18. I played for him, I coached with him at Wyoming and Purdue, and it's just doing certain things. R.C. was one of the first real OC-type coaches. He did a lot with the media, community, fundraising, outside of football. Oversaw the program and was really the face of the University sometimes. How you manage the program, I learned a lot from that. Bob puts you in a whole different category. The type of people that were at OU at the time, a bunch of guys had just left to become head coaches. And he surrounded himself with those type of guys. There were strong egos in that room but he managed it and that attitude carried onto the field and the players felt that."

On the coaching staff he has put together…
Sumlin: “You look at my job description as a coach; you have to be able to recruit, you have to be able to coach and the pool of those guys that are really good at both are able to go in the classroom and teach, get on the field and coach and then get on a plane and sit in a living room and sell the program to a recruit. The pool of those guys is not very big and sometimes when you’re at a school that is not a BCS school, quite frankly you don’t have the resources to hire guys that are like that. In many places across the country you’ll say, ‘Well he’s a good coach, and that guy is a good recruiter’ but it’s kind of split up and I didn’t want to do that.

"Where we are right now, I think we’ve got so much ground to cover that we can’t afford to have one guy who can’t recruit. But we can also not afford to have one guy who is a weak coach and so the ability to go out and hire these guys, our administration understood what I was saying. We were able to raise salary levels and be competitive in the marketplace because these guys had choices. There were a bunch of these guys that were either going to an interview or coming from another place or getting a raise where they were, so we had to be competitive and that’s credit to our administration. They agree with the vision that I have and they know deep down inside what Texas A&M is capable of and want to be a part of it.”

On offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury…
Sumlin: “Everybody looks at Kliff [Kingsbury] and they just think about Tech and about Mike Leach. They forget about the fact that he did play in the NFL and he was with the Patriots. He’s been around those types of offenses and he’s done more than just [play at Texas Tech]. He’s been around football all his life. He’s a coach’s kid and he was a great player in high school. He has great name recognition in the state and he does a great job with the quarterbacks. Everyone knows that the hardest position to coach is the position the head coach played or coached, so I’m usually on the quarterbacks and receivers coaches and linebacker guys all the time.

TexAgs Kingsbury's meteoric rise through the coaching ranks has been widely noted; Sumlin believes in his intuition. {"Module":"photo","Alignment":"left","Size":"large","Caption":"Kingsbury\u0027s meteoric rise through the coaching ranks has been widely noted; Sumlin believes in his intuition.","MediaItemID":13690}
"He’s great with the players and he knows what he wants to do, has seen it and knows what it looks like, and is a great developer of quarterbacks and is a great evaluator of quarterbacks coming into programs. He’s got a tremendous future and we’ve got a number of guys on the staff that are like that.”

On what he was looking for when putting his staff together…
Sumlin: “That’s what we’re looking for, guys who have aspirations to [be a division I head coach]. We also like to give them the opportunity to talk to the national media and be able to not only sell our program, but sell themselves as well because both of those are important in recruiting.”

On his defensive scheme…
“I’ve always been a 4-3 guy and then when I went to Houston we were in a 4-3. Playing in the league we played in with Mike Price, June Jones and Todd Graham, we were in the nickel and dime all the time and we’re recruiting the wrong players. We moved to a 3-4 which made more sense for us from a recruiting standpoint and also we couldn’t get bigger guys. Having a six-man defensive line rotation as opposed to eight and getting more linebackers on the field made sense at Houston. I think that going into the SEC and the type of offenses you’ll see, it’s such a heavy run league with bigger athletic running backs, a 4-3 makes more sense.

"Now, we’re pretty flexible looking at our playbook and our packages, we have some 3-3 stack in there and can jump around in some different fronts. We’ve got to figure out what players can fit where and when you move from a 3-4, obviously some of those linebackers are going to have to be five-techniques and fortunately Mike [Sherman] recruited some bigger outside linebackers that can be defensive ends.”

On the players he has to work with…
“I’ve met with a bunch of the guys and it’s a new deal and a new day, whatever has happened in the past has happened. One of the reasons I didn’t watch video, and people laugh at that, is because I didn’t want any of the preconceived notions about the players. It affects your decision making and it was more beneficial to me to watch practice because half of the guys who were on the field in the video aren’t here anymore. Guys graduated so in order for me to get a real feel for the talent level, I watched practice. With the receivers, besides [Ryan] Swope and Eazy [Nwachukwu], who else is out there? There are some guys you are surprised at when you remember they are here and the ability to watch them practice probably had a bigger impact.

"We’ve challenged all of these guys and I think the offensive line is the strength of the team without a doubt. After that, guys need to find an identity for themselves. I don’t know if there are many other players on the team, except for probably Christine Michael, that has really defined themselves. Well Swope and Sean Porter, too.”

On convincing Ryan Swope and Sean Porter to come back for another year…
Andrew Kilzer, TexAgs Swope's return will aid an Aggie offense transitioning to a more open, fast-paced style. {"Module":"photo","Alignment":"left","Size":"large","Caption":"Swope\u0027s return will aid an Aggie offense transitioning to a more open, fast-paced style.","MediaItemID":13606}
“I met with them after the bowl game before they went through the NFL analysis and if they would have been higher, it would have been time to go. I’m a guy who experienced that at Oklahoma and even at Houston. We do our analysis and sit down with GMs across the country and say, ‘Hey listen, where is this guy? Is he a first rounder?’ and if it’s time, he has a hard time looking a guy in the eye and saying that they need to come back next year. Moving up three rounds is a lot different than moving up three spots, and if the opportunity is lost, you’ll never get it back.

"The NCAA has a great thing going now where guys are able to come back to school and get their degree after they are done playing football. Right now, we are challenging guys as a team to be better and it starts individually, just making sure you take care of yourself first before you start pointing the finger at somebody else.”

On Ryan Tannehill’s Pro Day…
“I couldn’t believe how much better he had gotten. I thought he had really improved. I had a conversation with Texans GM Rick Smith and he thought [Tannehill] was really impressive, too. He’s gotten a lot bigger and stronger over the past four or five years and has turned into a fine quarterback. The interesting thing about him is that he only started 16 games, so the improvement he has made in the last year and a half makes you believe that his best football is ahead of him which is why there were NFL head coaches out at his Pro Day. The quarterback coaches were also saying that he has really come into his own and is the kind of guy that you want on your roster. He’s the kind of guy who has potential to be a starter in the league.”

On if the SEC move has helped recruiting…
“It’s hard for me to say, because I was here ten years ago and not the last couple, and to make the comparison of how much the SEC has helped us is hard to say. I know it hasn’t hurt us at all. I think it is something that separates us, and instead of having someone decide between Norman, Austin or here, there is another piece to that decision now. People want to play in the SEC because it’s without a doubt the toughest league there is, our division in particular. There are a lot of guys who want to play in that environment. Our game day experience here is fantastic. One thing the fans have to remember though is, now everywhere we go is going to be like that, too.

"It’s a big deal and it’s the highest level of football you can play without being a professional. More draft picks come out of the SEC than any other conference in the country. I know that it has really separated us when you start talking about kids who want to play at that level and stay in state. That kid doesn’t have to go 500 miles away to play in the SEC.”

On negative recruiting…
“We know [negative recruiting] is out there. I’ve had too many guys say, ‘Coach so-and-so says you’re going to get your brains kicked in.’ We’ve had a number of different programs say that and that’s fine. It’s all part of it. Guys who come on a visit and see our plan and facility updates understand where we are headed. They also understand that they don’t have to go that far away to [play in the SEC]. They are able to have the people that got them to where they are come an hour or two hours away to see them play and that’s important to them.”

On the current facilities A&M has…
The majority of quality players are going to come here and then get in a car and go to Austin, Baton Rouge, Norman and Arkansas. They’re going to drive around and see other places and make a comparison. When it’s all said and done, what’s going to be the difference? Is it going to be that I like you and you like me, or is it going to be ‘What are you going to do for me’? - Sumlin on recruiting {"Module":"quote","Alignment":"right","Quote":"The majority of quality players are going to come here and then get in a car and go to Austin, Baton Rouge, Norman and Arkansas. They’re going to drive around and see other places and make a comparison. When it’s all said and done, what’s going to be the difference? Is it going to be that I like you and you like me, or is it going to be ‘What are you going to do for me’?","Author":"Sumlin on recruiting"}
“We’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to do and some people can’t believe that facilities or uniforms or exposure is that big of a deal, but it is a huge deal. There are a number of student-athletes that want to come to Texas A&M, and the majority of quality players are going to come here and then get in a car and go to Austin, Baton Rouge, Norman and Arkansas. They’re going to drive around and see other places and make a comparison. When it’s all said and done, what’s going to be the difference? Is it going to be that I like you and you like me, or is it going to be ‘What are you going to do for me’?

"This whole area we are building right now speaks to what’s important to a prospect. The things he wants to know are where he will work out, who is going to help him academically, and where he is going to study. We’ve got a fantastic academic services center and have a tutorial program that really helps our guys, not only stay eligible but work towards a degree as well. The weight room and player development center is the second piece. They want to know who will develop them and make them bigger and stronger and who will be coaching them. The nutrition center is another piece of that. You don’t want a player doing all of that and then be eating fast-food all of the time. That’s an investment in our program and all of that works hand-in-hand.

"The Bright building is a fantastic building. The meeting rooms are great and the player’s lounge is great, but the problem is that aesthetically, it’s not competitive with what guys see when they leave here. We’ve got to do some things in that building that make it more recruiting friendly, create more energy in recruiting and create more energy with our current players. They need to be excited to be in there and it needs to be more than just a place to get dressed.”

On meeting with the other coaches of the SEC…
“There are a lot of guys [in the SEC] who don’t like each other. Last year one guy flipped another one off on national television. There are some big egos in there too. There are a lot of guys I’ve known forever from being an assistant coach. There are some younger guys in there who have done some things, and then there are other guys that are some of the winningest coaches of all-time. Nick [Saban] is a guy I almost worked for after I left A&M.

"It’s a little different from that standpoint but the best part of it is that there is a real direction in this league. Mike Slive is a very forward-thinking guy, and you would think that with the way the SEC is positioned now, he would just sit and watch people come in-and-out. He actually sat down and talked with the coaches about having the media days in New York or Bristol, Connecticut to keep the SEC out in the forefront of the media. I was shocked that he would say that. I was extremely impressed with the issues that we talked about as a staff and how he was engaged in those conversations. He even wanted to know what we as coaches thought on issues like multi-year scholarships.

"I don’t know if he agreed with it all, but he actually wanted to know. He wanted to get a general feeling of how the coaches felt, and I was surprised by that.”

On the practice schedule…
“We start practice this Saturday and practices will be closed. We’ll go Saturday and Monday in shorts, get in pads on Tuesday and Thursday and then give them Easter weekend off. The next Saturday we’ll have an opportunity to have a scrimmage and that will be at Kyle Field. What I’m trying to do is create an atmosphere that when we go into the stadium there will be fans, coaches will get off the field and we’ll let them play. In two weeks, we hope to have the majority of the base part of the plans offensively and defensively in place. Guys will have enough reps to be comfortable in what they’re doing so we’ll be able to get the coaches off the field and let them play in front of people that will keep pressure on them.

"Some guys play pretty good when there is no one around and some guys go in the stadium and you never see them again. Some guys go into the stadium and you wonder where they’ve been.”

On Friday Night Lights…
Friday Night Lights will give us an opportunity to have some national recruits in with it starting at eight and it being on a weekend. You’ve got muster on Saturday, so there will be some people in town and the merchants are pretty happy about this whole thing. - Kevin Sumlin {"Module":"quote","Alignment":"left","Quote":"Friday Night Lights will give us an opportunity to have some national recruits in with it starting at eight and it being on a weekend. You’ve got muster on Saturday, so there will be some people in town and the merchants are pretty happy about this whole thing.","Author":"Kevin Sumlin"}
“Friday Night Lights is a great situation for us. We won’t start until eight and it will be a regular scripted scrimmage, it won’t be a game, but we’ll work some special teams and put the ball in different areas. It will also give us an opportunity to have some national recruits in with it starting at eight and it being on a weekend. You’ve got muster on Saturday, so there will be some people in town and the merchants are pretty happy about this whole thing. It will be good to be under the lights and get some recruiting done, but it will also be a different atmosphere for our guys.

"It’ll be a chance for the fans to bring the kids and come out to the stadium on a Friday night in the spring when there is not a whole lot else going on. We ought to have a few people there and we’ll do some recruiting in that six to eight o’clock slot.”

On keeping the players on the team through transition…
“I don’t know that you are ever pleased with where you are as a head coach. In the past eight weeks, with all of the transition and Larry Jackson changing the strength and conditioning program, these guys have done a great job of accepting us as a staff. The fact that we haven’t had one guy quit with all of the transition says a lot about them and Mike Sherman and the kind of guys he recruited. It’s a lot about our staff and the fact that we haven’t had any attrition has been good. Football is very different now than it used to be when you just ran guys off and grab another one.”

On the scoring system of the spring game…
“People might get upset about this, but we are probably going to have a “crazy scoring” spring game. People don’t understand why that is. It used to be 100 and something scholarships and then it went down to 85. We signed about 20 guys, so you can do the math and see we are down to 60 or so players. Because of that we can’t split a team up and have a quality scrimmage. As coaches, we are still trying to get something done and from a continuity standpoint, I don’t want our quarterbacks throwing the ball to a guy without a name on the back of his jersey.”

On what the team needs to develop during the spring…
“Going into the spring, we have got to develop a little bit of an attitude and get back to being who we are and not worrying so much about what is going to happen, but be more concerned about ourselves. Not from a team perspective, but we need to develop some individual confidence and then the team confidence will come with that. When you build individual confidence, that’s where the word playmaker comes from and once those guys start showing themselves you start building the team confidence and chemistry.

"That’s where we are right now; getting guys to know what we’re doing and trying to create a confidence level in players individually because ultimately that’s what the game comes down to. Teams win games but individuals make plays and you’ve got to be able to have play makers offensively and defensively when it’s time to win a game. We’ve got to be able to do that and be confident in our abilities to do that, so that’s the developmental process the team will be working on this spring."
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