Texas A&M athletics director Scott Woodward woke up a sleepy news cycle at last month's SEC spring meetings when he said on Paul Finebaum's show, "Coach Sumlin knows he has to win. He has to win this year. He has to do better than he has done in the past."
Of course, it's not shocking at all that Woodward would think that. A&M pays Sumlin $5 million a year and sunk half a billion dollars into renovating Kyle Field. It's not exactly shocking that a coach with a 21-19 SEC mark (11-13 without Johnny Manziel) needs a big season in 2017.
But, still, Woodward went on the Show of Record in the SEC and said so, putting himself on the record in a way you rarely see ADs do. Those three sentences are now essentially the motto for the Aggies' 2017 campaign. They might as well be on the cover of the media guide.
Speaking to a group of Aggies in the Austin area, Sumlin offered his response to Woodward's challenge.
“When you’re in this job, you know what’s at stake all the time,” Sumlin said, via the Austin American-Statesman. “Whether anybody has anything to say about it or not doesn’t change how I feel. I approach my job the same way. What I did the first day I got here to what I do now. I had a coach tell me don’t pay attention to a lot of stuff because you’ve never been that good and you’ve never been that bad.”
Each of those three post-Manziel seasons has followed the same script. A 5-0 start and a No. 6 ranking in 2014, followed by a 3-5 finish. A 5-0 start and a No. 9 ranking in 2015, followed by a 3-5 close. A 6-0 start and a No. 4 spot in the initial College Football Playoff ranking in 2016, followed this time by a 2-5 finish.
The 2017 A&M schedule follows the exact same script as the three previous schedules: a big opener (at UCLA), a couple gimmes, a trip to Jerry World to face Arkansas and a winnable SEC home game (South Carolina) before the moment of truth arrives at the season's midpoint -- Alabama. The Crimson Tide come to College Station on Oct. 7, kicking off a closing stretch that, as in years past, will tell the truth of A&M's season: at Florida, Mississippi State, Auburn and back-to-back trips to Ole Miss and LSU to close the year, with a tougher-than-it-looks break against New Mexico mixed in.
The challenge is the same for Sumlin and A&M, and the stakes are clear. Can he write a different ending this time?