As Kevin Sumlin settled in for a news conference Tuesday -- nearly a month removed from Texas A&M's ugly regular-season finale vs. LSU and eight days before the Aggies' appearance in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl vs. Kansas State -- he was asked where he thought his program was after going 8-4 in the regular season for the second consecutive year.
The answer was a bit surprising. Sumlin touted his program's stability.
"Without a doubt, we are the [best] combination of stability and winning in the state of Texas," he said.
Considering how the Aggies finished the regular season (losing three of their last four games) and their trend of starting hot and limping to the finish that's lingered for three years, that assessment seems curious on the surface.
Add in how often Sumlin's name appears when pundits compile "who's on the hot seat?" lists and it seems off-base.
Look at the records and coaching turnover, however, and Sumlin might have a valid point. In the last five seasons, only one team in Texas -- Baylor -- has a better overall record (46-18) in that span than the Aggies (44-20). And the recent overhaul at Baylor in the aftermath of the sexual assault scandal that led to Art Briles' firing leaves the program with an uncertain future for new coach Matt Rhule to navigate.
Houston has been on the rise -- the Cougars are 43-22 overall in the last five seasons, third-best in the state of Texas -- but is on their its head coach in that span, having just hired Major Applewhite. Many believe Texas has a bright future with new coach Tom Herman, but the Longhorns just finished a three-season stretch when they went 16-20 and Charlie Strong was fired.
When it comes to coaching, TCU has the longest-tenured active head coach. Gary Patterson took over as the Horned Frogs' head coach in 2000 and remains comfortable in his seat, receiving a contract extension in August that could keep him there through 2022. TCU (Patterson), Texas A&M (Sumlin) and Rice (David Bailiff) are the only three programs in the state with active coaches who have led their teams at least five straight seasons. (Bailiff just wrapped up his 10th season.)
But like the Aggies, TCU moved into a new conference five years ago. Their record in that span (40-23) includes a 4-8 season in 2013 and a 6-6 season this year. The Aggies, while not achieving at the level that some fans might prefer, have won at least eight games every season since entering the SEC.
"Does that mean we're where we want to be?" Sumlin said. "No. Are we approaching things at a pace that can be frustrating to some people? Probably."
The Aggies have the distinction of playing in the toughest conference of any FBS program in Texas, and that's reflected in their conference record. The Aggies are 21-19 in conference play in the last five years, tied for fifth-best in the state behind Baylor (29-16), Houston (26-14), TCU (25-20) and Texas (24-21). That's the part that A&M fans are growing impatient with, as the Aggies are 11-13 in SEC play the last three seasons.
But when looking at Texas A&M's history, Sumlin's first five seasons stack up well. He's only the second coach to lead the team to at least eight wins in each of the first five seasons (R.C. Slocum is the other) and the Aggies' 12 wins over Associated Press Top 25 teams under Sumlin is second only to Slocum's 17 (which Slocum achieved in 14 seasons).
These could be reasons why the Aggies are succeeding in recruiting: Texas A&M currently has the seventh-best class in the 2017 cycle in ESPN's class rankings. That class includes six ESPN 300 pledges, the nation's No. 1 inside linebacker (Anthony Hines III) and the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback (Kellen Mond). If the Aggies finish in the top 10, it will be the third such finish in the last five cycles.
Still, while the Aggies might be faring well among their fellow Lone Star State programs against whom they recruit, ultimately they're judged on what they do in the SEC, as those are the teams they're competing against on the field annually. Their 6-2 SEC record in 2012 was the only time in the last five seasons the Aggies have had a winning record in league play and they're 3-9 in conference play in November the last four seasons.
If Sumlin is going to remain the head coach for years to come, those are the areas in which the Aggies must improve -- sooner rather than later.