|FILE - In this Nov. 19, 2011, file photo, Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, center, leads his team onto the field for an NCAA college football game against SMU in Houston. Houston celebrates its upcoming move from Conference USA to the Big East amid continued speculation that coach Kevin Sumlin could be leaving for another job. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)|
Sumlin named Texas A&M coach
HOUSTON—Texas A&M has hired Houston's Kevin Sumlin as its new coach.
A&M athletic director Bill Byrne announced the decision Saturday. He says he believes Sumlin "is the right person to lead our football program into the Southeastern Conference."
Speculation intensified that Sumlin would move about 100 miles northwest to College Station when A&M fired Mike Sherman after he went 25-25 in four seasons. Sumlin was an assistant coach at A&M under R.C. Slocum in 2001-02.
The Aggies (6-6) are scheduled to play Northwestern (6-6) in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston on Dec. 31, with A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter serving as interim coach.
It will be the Aggies' last game as a Big 12 team before moving to the Southeastern Conference next season.
"I am very excited about the opportunity to serve as the head football coach at Texas A&M University," Sumlin said in a statement. "Having coached there before, I understand the culture and embrace the commitment by the 12th Man regarding Aggie football. Aggieland is a special place and I look forward to working with the young men in the football program and recruiting the type of players we need to be successful in the SEC."
Sumlin told the Cougars that he was leaving in an emotional meeting on Saturday afternoon.
The Cougars (12-1) play Penn State (9-3) in the TicketCity Bowl in Dallas on Jan. 2 with assistant Tony Levine serving as the interim head coach.
Sumlin, 47, went 35-17 in four seasons with Houston, and the Cougars routinely ranked as one of the nation's highest scoring teams.
"When you have a head coach, the one thing that you ask is that you leave the program in better shape than what you inherited," Houston athletic director Mack Rhoades said. "And there's no question that Coach Sumlin did that."
Houston won its first 12 games this year and was in line for a Bowl Championship Series berth this season until losing at home to Southern Mississippi in the Conference USA championship game.
Despite the loss, Sumlin remained a hot name to fill just about every high-profile coaching vacancy available. Reports linked him to Mississippi, Illinois, Arizona State and UCLA, in addition to Texas A&M.
The Aggies entered this season with 18 returning starters and a top-10 ranking. They were expected to contend for the Big 12 championship and be a factor in the national title hunt, but then lost early games to Oklahoma State and Arkansas after holding double-digit halftime leads.
A&M won three in a row after the first skid, but a three-game losing streak, which included two overtime losses, ensured the Aggies of a mediocre season. The low point of the season came when Texas A&M ended its more than century-old rivalry with Texas with a 27-25 loss at home on Thanksgiving.
Sherman was fired on Dec. 1 and Byrne and school president R. Bowen Loftin started seeking a new coach.
We began this search process a little over a week ago and spoke to many worthy and qualified candidates," Byrne said in a statement. "But my decision, which was made in consultation with President Loftin, kept leading me to Kevin."
Byrne said he met with Sumlin on Saturday morning to finalize the offer. Details of his contract were not announced, pending approval by A&M's board of regents.
"I believe he is the right person to lead our football program into the Southeastern Conference," Byrne said. "First of all, Kevin is a terrific person. He is also one heck of a recruiter and he will put together a great staff."
An Indianapolis native, Sumlin played linebacker for Purdue in the 1980s before beginning his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Washington State in 1989. He worked as an assistant at Wyoming and Minnesota before returning to his alma mater to work as an assistant coach under Joe Tiller while Drew Brees starred for the Boilermakers.
Sumlin moved to Texas A&M in 2001 to work for Slocum as an offensive assistant. Slocum was fired after the 2002 season, which included a victory over then-No. 1 Oklahoma.
Sooners' coach Bob Stoops then hired Sumlin in 2003 as a special teams coordinator and tight ends coach. Sumlin was promoted to co-offensive coordinator in 2006, and a year later, Oklahoma ranked fifth in scoring (42.3 points) and 19th in total offense (448.9 yards per game) on its way to the Fiesta Bowl.
Houston hired Sumlin as its first black head coach in December 2007, and Sumlin vowed to use what he learned from Stoops to build up the Cougars' program.
Case Keenum was already here when Sumlin arrived, a diamond-in-the-rough recruit from Abilene lured by previous coach Art Briles. His accuracy made him an instant fit for Sumlin's spread offense, and Keenum led the nation in total offense (403 yards per game) and ranked second in yards passing (386 per game).
Rhoades became Houston's athletic director in June 2009 and immediately launched efforts to raise funds for a new football stadium and renovations to run-down Hofheinz Pavilion.
The program's trajectory hit a snag in 2010, when Keenum sustained a season-ending knee injury in the third game. The season collapsed, and the school desperately petitioned the NCAA to get Keenum one more season.
Sumlin called Keenum personally to tell him that the NCAA had granted the request and the Cougars instantly became a favorite to win Conference USA in 2011.
After the loss to Southern Miss, Rhoades shot down a media report that Sumlin would be hired as the next coach at Texas A&M. Rhoades promised to do everything in his power to retain Sumlin, whose contract ran through the 2015 season.
Ultimately, the rumor proved to be true.
Sumlin will officially be introduced at a press conference in College Station on Monday. Houston, meanwhile, will begin its search for Sumlin's successor, with its own new conference and the promise of a new football stadium to sell.
AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken contributed.