COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Prior to what proved to be his final game as Texas A&M’s defensive coordinator, Mark Snyder acknowledged the pressure that comes with his profession.
If you don’t succeed, you’ll be looking for another job in short order.
"I learned at 30 years old, the second you take a job in this profession, you're on the hot seat," Snyder said on Nov. 20, a week before the Aggies’ 23-17 loss to LSU. "The day you take the job, you're on the hot seat. All the young people that want to get into coaching need to understand that. This is a production-based business, period."
Snyder’s defense came under fire the past two seasons because of the production, or lack thereof, it showed. After a promising debut season in Aggieland in 2012, the Texas A&M defense couldn’t find its footing under Snyder’s watch the next two years, which ultimately led to his firing by head coach Kevin Sumlin on Friday, fewer than 24 hours after the Aggies yielded 384 rushing yards and nearly 500 total yards to LSU.
As Snyder alluded to, it’s a results-based industry and the results weren’t good in 2013 or 2014 for the Aggies’ defense. In 2013 the Aggies ranked last in the SEC in scoring defense, yards allowed per game, yards allowed per play, rushing defense, yards allowed per carry, and red-zone efficiency.
There were numerous contributing factors, perhaps none larger than the youth and inexperience that existed on the defense. At least a dozen freshmen permeated the two-deep depth chart, and suspensions and injuries didn’t help. In 2012, the Aggies had the good fortune of a veteran-laden defense with two NFL draft picks (defensive end Damontre Moore and linebacker Sean Porter), but the 2013 unit was void of that type of talent, leadership and experience.
This season was supposed to be different. With most of the 2013 defense returning and the addition of a strong freshman class, led by 5-star defensive end Myles Garrett, depth and talent improved. There was a sense of optimism surrounding the unit with six returning starters and the influx of young talent, which yielded season-opening starting freshmen at defensive end (Garrett), safety (Armani Watts), and eventual starters at linebacker (Otaro Alaka, Josh Walker).
The start to the season was different, with the Aggies posting a solid performance at South Carolina, holding the Gamecocks to 67 rushing yards, 3.0 yards per carry, and collecting three sacks, things that were weak spots the season before. Throughout Texas A&M’s 5-0 start, there were ups and downs, but reasons to believe progress was happening.
As the schedule stiffened and the Aggies navigated the SEC gauntlet, the numbers got worse: 559 yards and 48 points allowed to Mississippi State. A whopping 602 yards and 59 points allowed to Alabama. Even though the Aggies beat Auburn, the Tigers rolled up 363 rushing yards. The final nails in the coffin came against Missouri (587 yards) and LSU (491), both of whom ran for more than 330 yards.
At season’s end, the Aggies were right back where they were at the end of 2013: last in the SEC in yards allowed per game (449) and rushing (223.5 yards per game). Problems that existed the year before, like tackling or fitting proper gaps in the run game, resurfaced.
If the Aggies, with nearly $500 million being spent on upgrading football facilities and a $5 million coach, wish to be true SEC contenders, those types of defensive performances can’t happen.
Were there circumstances that contributed to the struggles? Absolutely. Three players who would have likely started this season -- defensive end Gavin Stansbury, defensive tackle Isaiah Golden and linebacker Darian Claiborne -- were no longer on the team for various reasons. Injuries mounted as the season went on. Some players who the staff relied on to take big steps forward this season didn’t. Linebacker depth was poor. The sputtering offense that resulted in a quarterback change didn’t help the defense, either, at times. That is the nature of SEC football though, and regardless of circumstances, results are required.
Sumlin knows that, which is why he’s making a change. He’ll search far and wide for a coach he believes is the best fit to take the promising young talent on the defensive side of the ball and elevate the results to the necessary level. Whether that is a high-profile, high-priced name like former Florida head coach Will Muschamp, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi or someone more under-the-radar like Houston’s David Gibbs remains to be seen, but the hire will be critical for Sumlin, who replaced his offensive coordinator last season with Jake Spavital and is now making another coordinator hire.
The 2015 season could be a big one for the Aggies, but in order for it to be the type of season Sumlin has been building toward, he must get the right guy, and get a lot better than worst-in-the-SEC defensive results.