Wednesday, November 11, 2009

the replacements: Kevin Sumlin

Was going to get to this one last week, but a surprise verbal commitment got in the way. Don't you hate when that happens? No?

Kevin Sumlin

Main qualification: Doing great things at Houston.


1988-1990: Washington State (grad asst.)
1991-1992: Wyoming (WR)
1993-1997: Minnesota (WR '93-'96; QB '97)
1998-2000: Purdue (WR)
2001-2002: Texas A&M (WR/OC)
2003-2007: Oklahoma (ST/TE '03-'05; WR/co-OC '06-'07)
2008-present: Houston (HC)

It's a little bit unfortunate the way the media deals with black head coaches. Perceiving a dearth of black head coaches in the country, the media attempts to somehow close this gap by highlighting the skin color of every successful one such as Sumlin. Thus, the stories tend not to focus on his coaching style or his philosophy or his past - it's as if being black is his number one achievement and the rest is gravy. Just take note of how many black head coaches are currently serving in D-IA, throw in a quote about the "courage" it took to hire him, and there's your story. (As if hiring someone off the Bob Stoops coaching tree is a major risk.)

So we don't get to hear about what tenets of coaching Sumlin took from Stoops. We don't get to hear about his adaptable coaching style on offense. We don't get to hear about the disciplined style Sumlin brought to Houston, how he's cut down their penalties by a third. And I have no idea if, given his history of coaching wide receivers, if he's as hands-on with those guys as Al Groh is with the linebackers.

But we can tease out a lot of this other stuff. Sumlin is occasionally credited (including by me, in one of my less researchy moments) with having a wide-open, pass-wacky spread offense that's innovative and tough to defend. This isn't the coach bringing the offense to Houston, it's Houston bringing the offense to the coach. They have a little bit of a history with stuff like this - remember Andre Ware and the run'n'shoot? (Well, I remember Andre Ware as a megabust of a pro QB rather than a studly college one, but you get the point.) Sumlin was hired to replace Art Briles , who'd bolted for Baylor, and Briles - a Mike Leach disciple - had already installed a very successful Texas Tech-style offense. Sumlin decided not to fix what weren't broke, and poached another Leach assistant for his offensive coordinator, with the result that Houston now racks up nearly 600 yards per game. Whether Sumlin, if hired at UVA, would decide to continue running something similar to what we run now or would attempt to install that version of the spread is a question I don't know the answer to.

As for the disciplined approach, that is another success. Briles had sort of a "boys will be boys" approach to penalties. It took Sumlin a while to get that out of the Cougars' system, but they're now the second-least penalized team in the country behind Navy. (I'd settle for second in that case too. Navy's guys are taught to stand still at attention by USMC gunnery sergeants. I doubt they false-start much.) Now, it's not like Al Groh runs a loose ship, and we always do pretty well for ourselves in the penalty department. Sumlin may not really be any more disciplined than the average college coach, but you can't argue much with the results.

Here's what troubles me: Houston's defense. Like 99.99% of new head coaching hires, Sumlin promised an aggressive defense and talked a bit at his press conference as if the defense was holding Houston back. It wasn't, really. In 2007, Briles' last year, they had one of the top defenses in their conference. I don't know what the full circumstances are behind Houston's defense, but I do know we have one of the better defenses in our own conference, and I'd like to keep it that way.

Bottom line here: despite Houston's sudden emergence in the higher levels of the polling world, I don't really see Sumlin as a miracle worker. He had a strong foundation to work from when he came in, and I don't think we'll get the best gauge on his coaching skills until he has to replace his quarterback next year. Clearly he's been around long enough and produced good enough results already to avoid any "bust" labels. Quality coach and that's the truth. I'd be pleased with the hire if it were him - still, not as pleased as I could be. There are stronger candidates out there. Sumlin would make me happy, but not as happy as with a Tuberville, Strong, Kelly (wishful thinking) or London.


Anonymous said...

"He had a strong foundation to work from when he came in, and I don't think we'll get the best gauge on his coaching skills until he has to replace his quarterback next year."

If there was such a foundation, there would not be as many as 13 freshman getting playing time and some starting. Also, Case Keenum, Houston's QB declared his return for his senior year.

Brendan said...

Yeah, if I were smart I would have bothered to check and see if Keenum had redshirted.

But I stand by the "strong foundation" comment. Only once in five years did Houston fail to go to a bowl under Briles, and they won a conference championship as well. There aren't an inordinate number of freshman - or for that matter, sophomores - starting on Houston's depth chart. No more or less than the average team. It was Briles that dragged that program out from the sewer. Sumlin is building on what Briles left behind.