Texas A&M Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin knows he's coaching for his job

HOOVER, Ala. - The situation feels familiar to Kevin Sumlin.

The stage, and the salary, are now much larger.

Sumlin, speaking at SEC Media Days on Wednesday, recalled being told 25 years ago that something must change if he wanted to keep his job.

Then it was a gig as wide receivers coach at Wyoming that paid a salary under $20,000 at stake. Now it's a $5 million per year head coaching position at Texas A&M.

"There was just as much pressure then as there is now," Sumlin said. "I'm being honest with you."

Vanderbilt's Derek Mason and Kentucky's Mark Stoops took steps away from the hot seat with season-ending victories against in-state rivals in 2016. Texas A&M, meanwhile, completed a fall from national prominence with losses in four of its final five games, placing Sumlin in the spotlight entering his sixth season with the Aggies.

Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward clarified any doubt about what's at stake for Sumlin in 2017 during an appearance on the Paul Finebaum Show at the SEC Spring Meetings in late May.

"Coach Sumlin knows he has to win," Woodward told Finebaum. "He has to win this year. He has to do better than he has done in the past."

Woodward expressed later in the interview that he is confident that Sumlin "is going to get it done and get it done in a very convincing way."

But the story took off. After three consecutive 8-5 seasons, Sumlin enters 2017 facing questions about his employment status.

"Whatever's said, whatever the conversation, whatever's written, it's not going to affect how I do my job," Sumlin said Wednesday. "And it's not going to affect my day-to-day operation. I've been doing this almost 30 years."

Some preseason publications have speculated that fifth-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones' job security could be trending downward. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema answered hot seat questions on Monday, as well. But it's only 52-year-old Sumlin, just four years removed from an 11-2 season, who has been publicly placed on notice by his boss.

"You know, Scott (Woodward) and I have known each other for a while, even before he came to Texas A&M," Sumlin said. "We've had a lot of conversations before that. Might have been conversations after that. I'm not going to get into what those conversations were about. But like I said, for me, my job, nothing changes for me. And, you know, you've been around me a long time. Nobody puts more pressure on me than I put on myself and nobody wants to win more than I want to."

The Aggies return standout junior receiver Christian Kirk from a team that capped a 6-0 start with a 45-38 overtime win against the Volunteers. But Texas A&M will break in a new quarterback in 2017 and replace half of its starters. Sumlin landed the nation's 12th-ranked recruiting class and brought in a new strength coach, Mark Hocke.

After suffering through late season struggles the last three years, finishing strong is an emphasis, Sumlin said. He thinks hiring Hocke could help.

"It's a culmination," Kirk said, taking at stab at what has troubled the Aggies late in the season. "Every team goes through it. You have injuries, especially through the SEC gauntlet it's tough with the wear on your bodies and school and everything else. We're college kids at the same time. You get tired. I'm not going to sit here and lie. You get tired. That's not an excuse. You cut out all the excuses, and we have to go out there every Saturday with the intent that we're going to win. That's one thing we've been preaching."

Texas A&M junior left tackle Koda Martin, asked about the hot seat talk, said that, as players, "we do our best not to worry about that."

Sumlin has to live it.

But it's nothing new for the former Wyoming wide receivers coach. His boss at Wyoming was Joe Tiller, who was defensive coordinator at Purdue when Sumlin played there in the 1980s.

"He (Tiller) got the job at Wyoming and hired me as a wide receiver coach," Sumlin said. "I've known him since I'm 18. I'm kind of his boy. One day he walks up to me in the middle of practice, and he's just like furious. He said, 'If they don't start catching the (dang) ball all the time, I'm going to fire your (butt). I said all right. Immediately I had the same conversation with wide receivers.

"And the rest is history."

Contact David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com.