This week we're taking an early look at some of the SEC coaches who might be on the hot seat going into the 2017 season. On Monday we took a glance at Tennessee's Butch Jones; now we turn our attention to the Lone Star State where Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin approaches a pivotal 2017 campaign:
How he gets off the hot seat: Win at the most important times of the year (read: SEC West play and the month of November). The Aggies have the hot start part down pat (5-0 in 2014 and 2015; 6-0 in 2016). It's the back end of the schedule that has to get better. I'm not sure that there is a particular win total Sumlin has to achieve (it's hard to expect double-digit wins when you consider the Aggies lose four of their best defensive players, two starting offensive tackles, three receivers and a starting quarterback). When you're replacing Myles Garrett and Trevor Knight and Josh Reynolds with first-time starters, what's a realistic win total to expect? What should be considered "good enough?" It's hard to say. Last year, Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward said on the record that 8-5 wasn't good enough, yet, after going 8-5 last year, Sumlin remains (though he did make some staff changes).
What will be most important will be how the Aggies perform against the teams they've struggled against so mightily in recent years: Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss. Since 2013, the Aggies are a combined 1-11 vs. those three teams. And of course, their November performance is critical. Three of their four SEC West games come then (Auburn, Ole Miss, LSU), and the Aggies are 3-12 vs. SEC teams in the month of November the last four seasons. That's second-worst in the conference to only Kentucky in that span.
How his job ends up in jeopardy: Because discussion of Sumlin's job security was an offseason topic last year and appears to be one again this year, a poor start could really throw things off. The Aggies have to travel to UCLA and meet Arkansas in Arlington, Texas, in September. If they were to happen to lose both games, the chatter would only get louder.
There are three "gimme" games on the nonconference slate but outside of that, the Aggies are guaranteed nothing. A 7-5 or 6-6 finish is likely to spell trouble for Sumlin, whose buyout will be around $10 million at season's end – much more manageable than it has been the last two years.