COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has led one a top-five offense in four of the five seasons since becoming a head coach.
If not for a push from Mike Price 23 years ago, Sumlin might have ended up focused more on how to stop offenses rather than creating them. Sumlin, after all, was a college linebacker and began his coaching career on that side of the ball.
Price, the UTEP coach who is retiring after this season, gave Sumlin his first job as a graduate assistant at Washington State. He summoned him to his office one day and told him he'd be coaching Washington State's junior varsity team as it played area junior colleges — and that he needed to learn the offense.
Sumlin was confused and asked Price why.
"You need to move the offense and you need to learn what we're doing here," he said Price told him. "Because if you learn what we're doing here with this offense — it's a little bit different. You'll have a job the rest of your life somewhere."
Sumlin was sold.
"I said: 'That's sound pretty good to me,'" Sumlin said with a smile.
Sumlin enjoyed his foray into offense and never had a job on defense again. From 1991-2007, he made various stops as an assistant working mostly as a receivers coach and then offensive coordinator. In 2008, he nabbed his first head coaching job at Houston, inheriting a quarterback named Case Keenum, and the pair used his high-flying offense to help the Cougars to heights they hadn't reached in decades. Sumlin left Houston with a 35-17 record.
Keenum, who became the Bowl Subdivision's all-time career passing leader under Sumlin's watch, was stumped to pick just one reason why his former coach has been so successful.
"There's probably a million reasons why," Keenum said. "He's a great guy. He comes on strong at first, but once you get to know him he's a players' coach. I loved him. I loved playing for him. I don't know why you wouldn't."
That, people say, is a big reason why Sumlin has done so well in his first season at Texas A&M. The nine wins he has led the Aggies to this season are already a record for a first-year coach at the school, and they still have two games left. A win over Missouri on Saturday will give Texas A&M its first 10-win season since 1998.
"I had no doubt that he'd be successful and no doubt that those guys would do a great job of coaching," Keenum said. "What maybe has been a surprise is how well the players have adapted to him. I think everybody knows how difficult it is to go into a program first year as a head coach and change things and change the way little things are done."
Sumlin gives much of the credit for the team buying into his plans to the seniors who led the way. The group also helped the Aggies focus when their opener was postponed because of a hurricane, forcing the them to play their entire schedule without a break.
"The biggest thing to me is how this team has come together and accepted this coaching staff from the beginning," Sumlin said. "There was a lot of tension then to now where there is some ease in talking with guys about a lot of things that have nothing to do with football. That's what makes coaching a lot of fun."