Is Kevin Sumlin an Offensive Mastermind?

Since Kevin Sumlin’s original time at A&M he’s always been credited with being an outstanding offensive coach.  It makes sense in a way because since taking over the play calling duties at A&M he seems to have been part of very productive offenses.  Last week when speculation of Chip Kelly being a candidate at A&M got tossed out there I heard many Aggies say they’re opposed to Chip Kelly because the Aggies already have an offensive mastermind in Kevin Sumlin.  Do the Aggies have an offensive mastermind like his reputation presents itself?  Let’s take a look.

I went back and charted some variables with Kevin Sumlin’s career since taking over the play calling duties after A&Ms third game in 2002.  Prior to that Kevin Sumlin had only ever been a normal position coach with no play calling duties or any responsibilities to play calling.  I charted Sumlin’s position, if he had play calling duties, the related offensive coordinator, and quarterback.  I also looked at season record, the average total yards per game that season, average passing yards per game that season, touchdown to interception ratio totals for that season, and finally where that team’s offense ranked in all of college football for points scored.

So let’s take a look:

(You can click on the image to see larger and then backspace to return from image)

First off, let’s start with his year as offensive coordinator at A&M.  He took over after the third game when A&M had a totally miserable offensive showing against Virginia Tech.  That’s the game where R.C. Slocum famously said, “It always puzzles me that I’m the one that gets the blame for being conservative.  If I were calling the plays, I’d throw that sucker 40 times if you played me like that.”  I guess R.C. wasn’t involved in watching game film and seeing the offensive game plan each week in addition to having a head set where he can hear the play calls while knowing he had the authority to actually throw that sucker 40 times if they’re stacking the box.  I mean he IS the head coach and his staff reports to him.  That’s probably my favorite R.C. quote of all time even above the famous half the teams lose every week quote.

Back to Sumlin – when he took over that A&M offense it did get much better.  He did go to a much more balanced offense increasing the pass.  Those teams never scored less than 20 points which was actually a rarity for Aggie offenses under Slocum.  Sumlin’s offenses had the following scoring outputs of 31, 47, 41, 47, 31, 23, 30, 27, and 20.  Despite the 4-5 record with Sumlin as OC that’s actually a pretty solid output.  That Aggie offense still only ranked 49th in points scored that year so it wasn’t a true juggernaut.  Needless to say 2002 was the year the Wrecking Crew officially died as those scores would have won 10 games with the real Wrecking Crew.  Sadly we haven’t seen it since other than a few glimpses in 2016.  With the death of the Wrecking Crew R.C. Slocum got fired and Sumlin went looking for work.

He wound up in Oklahoma based on the fact he had beat Stoops that season as offensive coordinator.  Sumlin spent three seasons just as the wide receivers coach where OU had Chuck Long and Kevin Wilson as co-offensive coordinators.  Sumlin didn’t have anything to do with calling plays during those three years at Oklahoma.  After the 2005 season Chuck Long took the head coaching job at San Diego State and Kevin Wilson was promoted to sole Offensive Coordinator while Sumlin got the “Co-Offensive Coordinator” position.  That’s right, Wilson had the title of Offensive Coordinator and Sumlin got the Co-Offensive Coordinator title.  I think this is where people get confused on Sumlin being part of an offensive juggernaut that was the Oklahoma offense during his time there.  Based on everything I’ve read Sumlin was just the “passing game coordinator” and nothing more.  Kevin Wilson called the plays.  It’s weird Sumlin was a “co” coach with nobody else.  I think they do that for titles related to pay.  Either way I don’t think Sumlin had any major inputs on those offenses as it was Chuck Long and Kevin Wilson clearly calling the plays while Sumlin was on staff.  He really can’t get credit for those Oklahoma offenses in my mind.

In the 2008 season Kevin Sumlin headed to Houston to be the head coach based on his time at Oklahoma.  He inherited a great team from Art Briles including Case Keenum.  Sumlin made a really great hire in getting Dana Holgorsen from Tech to run his offense.  If you know anything about Holgorsen you know he’s an offensive mastermind that learned under Leach.  With Holgorsen and Keenum those Houston offenses for Sumlin’s first two seasons were flat out potent.  Sure, they were playing in a weak conference but they averaged 563 yards per game and put up 70 TDs a season.  The 2008 offense ranked 10th in total points scored and the 2009 offense ranked 2nd in total points scored.  Impressive no doubt.

Holgorsen left after the 2009 season to go run the offense at Oklahoma State.  Jason Phillips was promoted to OC and there was this guy named Kliff Kingsbury who was also promoted to quarterbacks coach.  Case Keenum went down in Houston’s third game which was against UCLA.  Prior to that they lit it up in their first two games.  After Keenum went down true freshman David Piland (who ironically enough I’ve played golf with) took over the reins as quarterback.  The offense took a step back but it didn’t truly struggle.  The 2010 UH team struggled to a 5-7 record but the UH offense still averaged 480 yards per game and scored 54 touchdowns which was still good enough or 13th in points scored that season.  The offense definitely took a step back with a true freshman under center but it wasn’t horrible.  The worst part about that season was the number of interceptions which is expected with a true freshman under center.

In 2011 Keenum came back and Kingsbury was promoted to co-offensive coordinator and that UH offense hit on all cylinders.  It averaged almost 600 yards per game that season and scored 88 touchdowns.  That was good enough to be the top ranked scoring offense in college football that year.  I don’t know how much input Sumlin had into that offense but it sure seems like it was all Keenum, Phillips, and Kingsbury.  I’m guessing Sumlin just sat there with the headset on and watched the magic happen all season.  I don’t blame him.

Sumlin got the A&M job for the 2012 season and we know how that turned out.  Manziel and Kingsbury rocked that Aggie offense to average 558 yards per game even in a tough SEC West.  That offense scored 74 touchdowns which was good enough for 5th in the nation for points scored.  Once again I think Sumlin stood there with the headset on watching the magic happen and once again I don’t blame him.  Meanwhile Kingsbury cashed in that season for the head coaching gig at Tech where he hasn’t had much success in the terms of wins and losses but he puts points up.  The last two seasons he’s been ranked in the Top 5 of scoring offenses thanks to Pat Mahomes.  Outside of Mahomes under center he’s been 24th and 54th ranked while letting Baker Mayfield go to Oklahoma.  Just some nuggets of info there.

In 2013 Sumlin promoted running backs coach Clarence McKinney to offensive coordinator and the reins to Johnny Football.  That offense barely took a step back as it still averaged 538 yards per game but it was really just Johnny and Mike Evans playing backyard ball.  That offense still scored 73 TDs which was basically the same as the previous season and once again it ranked 5th in points scored that season.  At the end of the season Sumlin demoted Clarence McKinney as offensive coordinator.  I always thought it was because the offense seemed to slip.  However the more I see Sumlin’s tenure I wonder if it was because McKinney didn’t want to call plays anymore.  I mean this is the same head coach that kept Spavital way longer than he should have but yet he didn’t even let McKinney call the plays in the bowl game.  That was his only season as offensive coordinator when he really wasn’t horrible even if he did have Johnny Manziel.  When Sumlin made that move I thought he was a stone cold head coach and expected excellence from his offensive coordinator.  His next hire would prove that theory wrong.

For the 2014 season Sumlin promoted Jake Spavital from quarterbacks coach to replace McKinney.  You now my thoughts on Spav so I don’t need to go in depth on his time but statistically that Aggie offense dropped off dramatically by almost 100 yards per game to 455.4 yards per game.  In addition it scored 15 fewer touchdowns to drop to 28th in points scored.  Kenny Hill regressed to the point he didn’t see a snap after the Alabama game and left A&M.  Some of that’s on Hill but I don’t think Spav should be off the hook for the lack of his development during the season.  What started with a major show against South Carolina wound being a dud by the time it was all said and done.

The 2015 season is EASILY the worst offense of Sumlin’s tenure.  The offense averaged 427.5 yards per game and only 36 touchdowns to rank 71st in points scored.  How that team went 8-4 in the regular season is actually a big surprise when you look at how anemic that offense was when it came to scoring.  Maybe John Chavis needs a lot more credit for the defense in 2015 as opposed to what he really got credit for.  A lot of people were down on that defense but they really bailed out that anemic offense a lot more than people realize.  Spavital got to coach the bowl game which boggles my mind but he was let go shortly after that.  I think he even got to stay through signing day which is borderline criminal in my mind as everyone knew he was going to be gone so why deceive recruits.

Noel Mazzone was hired as the offensive coordinator for the 2016 season and Trevor Knight transferred in from Oklahoma.  Together they improved the offense from 2015 as last year’s offense averaged 467 yards per game and scored 53 touchdowns which ranked it 34th in points scored.  Still not a juggernaut and I shudder to think what would have happened without Trevor Knight.  We saw it in the Mississippi St, Ole Miss, and LSU when Jake Hubenak started QB.  Outside of the Alabama game those games against Mississippi schools were the lowest offensive output totaling 382 and 342 yards per game and scoring 28 points.  That’s basically 100 yards a game off the average.  Somehow against LSU we totaled 472 yards and scored 39 points with Hubenak under center.  I still haven’t the foggiest how that happened along with everyone in Vegas who had to pay out the people that wagered on the over.  Either way that 2016 offense would hardly be considered a juggernaut.

Considering what’s happened the last 3 seasons without Johnny Manziel under center I think it’s safe to say Sumlin is no offensive mastermind.  I mean it’s pretty clear Sumlin is only as good as his offensive coordinator and quarterback.  His one season at UH without Keenum is actually pretty impressive considering he started a true freshman QB that never did anything beyond that season but I can’t help but think his success at UH was centered around Keenum, Holgorsen, and Kingsbury.  This is classic Mack Brown and Les Miles where you’re only as good as the talent on your staff and on the field.  He’s just the puppet master with no real clue how the strings move everything.  He’s not a horrible coach because he can recruit but he’s no offensive mastermind for sure.  If he was the last three seasons wouldn’t have dropped off without Johnny and we wouldn’t have so many questions headed into the 2017 season from an offensive standpoint.  Maybe the offense finds it’s magic in 2017 but I just don’t see it happening.

As for Chip Kelly when he was the offensive coordinator for two seasons at Oregon they ranked 12th and 7th in points scored.  In his four seasons as head coach they ranked 8th, 1st, 3rd, and 2nd in points scored while winning 3 conference titles.  He also did that in those six seasons with 4 different quarterbacks with only one of those getting a shot in the NFL in Marcus Mariota.  Now that’s an offensive mastermind.

PS – I work with some Tech guys and they said the shine is off Kingsbury and he could be out at the end of this year.  Amazing to think if Sumlin and Kingsbury are out their jobs and Johnny is still looking to get back to the NFL.  The magicians of the 2012 season will all be looking for work at the same time.  Meanwhile they each banked at least 30 million dollars over the last 5 years for that season.  Kingsbury is probably too expensive to buy out so I doubt he’s out but would be ironic if he, Sumlin, and Johnny are looking for work based on that 2012.

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