By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
HOOVER, Ala. – As the elevator descended to the second level of the Wynfrey Hotel, site of the annual Southeastern Conference Football Media Days, first-year Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin wasn’t expecting the media rush that descended upon him as he made his way to the main media room.
“Don’t worry about me,” Sumlin joked as the doors opened on the elevator. “Nobody knows who I am anyway.”
The statement typified the humble nature and the quiet confidence that seems central to Sumlin’s personality. But on the point of his star-power on Tuesday, he was quite wrong.
The more than 1,000 credentialed media members packing the hallways of the Wynfrey followed the coach’s every move throughout the three-hour-long rotation from the media podium to network television interviews to live shots to casual interviews.
“I thought we’d be here forever,” Sumlin said. “It was very professional and handled on time. Everything that the SEC has done today has been very professional with the large number of requests and people that are here. To move it through quickly and get all of that done in a short amount of time has been very impressive by the SEC staff.”
Impressive would also be a great description of Sumlin, who came to College Station after a highly successful tenure as the head coach at the University of Houston, where he led the Cougars to a school-record 12 wins and was named Region 5 Coach of the Year. In his final season with Houston, Sumlin led his team to a perfect 12-0 regular-season record, while leading the nation in passing, total and scoring offense.
Still despite Sumlin’s accomplishments – he also had an impressive career as an assistant coach and co-offensive coordinator at the University of Oklahoma – he knows the Aggies will need to adapt in order to be successful in the highly competitive SEC.
Finding a way to make it work has always been one of Sumlin’s strong points. He expects to do the same at Texas A&M.
“We need to be bigger and faster against the SEC defenses,” Sumlin said. “We’ve been able to adapt to do things, whether we were at Houston or other places I’ve been to utilize our personnel. We’ve been able to utilize our talent. We’re certainly comfortable with how we do things in the system we have in place.”
“I’m going to earn some major brownie points for this,” Sumlin exclaimed.
Texas A&M’s longtime media relations director Alan Cannon affixed an SEC lapel pin to Sumlin’s stylish gray pinstripe suit, as he made his rounds throughout the Wynfrey.
It was symbolic for a coach who has been thinking about the SEC for quite a while.
Even though Texas A&M didn’t officially join the SEC until July 1, Sumlin has been planning for his program’s move to its new conference for some time. It is with that transition in mind that he has made each and every decision.
“There’s things about the SEC that you recruit to, the players you attract, how you do things, the expectation level; we’ve always approached it that way,” Sumlin said. “For us, we’ve hired a staff that way and we’ve recruited players that way.”
As Sumlin winds his way through his various obligations on Tuesday, he is asked by numerous media members about his team’s Sept. 8 home opener against Florida. It will mark his squad’s first-ever SEC game.
There’s no doubt Sumlin and his team will be ready when the Gators head to College Station on the second week of the season, but it’s his reasoned approach that doesn’t allow him to look ahead to that contest.
“Our most important game is our first game,” Sumlin echoed many times on Tuesday. “Anybody who has seen them play a year ago knows that’s a good football team. There is no doubt our fans are extremely excited about our home opener against Florida. For us as a team or me as a head coach, to have your home opener at Texas A&M be an SEC game is a big deal, there’s no doubt about that. But like I said, for us, the first game is the biggest game.”
Sumlin has coached in a lot of big games, he was involved in two national championship games with the Sooners and has had a wide variety of coaching jobs during the course of his career. He knows that focusing on the Aggies, before anything else, will result in long-term success.
“We talk to our team all the time about two things,” Sumlin said. “We don’t need to worry about our SEC schedule, the team’s we’re playing, Florida, LSU, Alabama yet. We need to worry about us first. We’ve got enough things in our own program right now that we’ve got to get fixed before we start worrying about playing those football games.”
Sumlin may not have coached a single game at Texas A&M yet, but he exudes a great deal of passion and pride for his new program.
Central among those are the experiences of the students of Texas A&M University. He, on many occasions, Tuesday pointed out that the Aggies feature one of the most unique student body experiences in the country.
“We have a huge tradition as far as our student body,” Sumlin said. “We have the largest student body at any venue, college football game, in the country. Thirty-thousand students students standing, the home of the ‘12th Man,’ one of the loudest places in the country. Our fans take pride in it. Our former and current students take pride in it. So do our players.”
And so does Kevin Sumlin.
“We’re looking forward to it,” he said.