The Aggies have all the momentum on the in-state recruiting trail, but now is the time for Sumlin to press his foot down even harder on Texas' throat.
There is no mercy in recruiting, after all.
First-year Texas coach Charlie Strong is off to a slow start with the state's high school coaches, who hold the key to winning recruiting battles. According to ESPN Insider Travis Haney (subscription required), Strong didn't exactly impress with his presentation at a recent coaching clinic at Angelo State:
“I think everyone was shocked. It was that bad,” one coach told me later.
“It made me miss Mack,” one joked.
Another: “If I was the coach at Texas, I would act like I had bigger balls than that.”
Strong isn't great at public speaking, but that isn't a secret. The content of Haney's article can't be that surprising.
Strong is far more concerned about being a great coach than he is about being a great politician. As far as presenting himself, he's the anti-Mack Brown, who was folksy and charming. Strong couldn't seem less interested in being any of those things.
That's okay, by the way—being folksy and charming wasn't enough to save Brown's job—but part of being a head coach involves impressing and glad-handing. That raises a legitimate question about Strong being a good fit at Texas—which isn't the same thing as questioning his coaching credentials.
Strong is undoing 16 years of things being a certain way in Austin, which can be summed up by George Schroeder's USA Today article about the former Louisville coach from March:
Brown excelled in the very visible roles as spokesman, ambassador and politician. To use Brown's own analogy, he found a way for a long time to "keep all of the BBs in the box." At Texas, there are a lot of BBs.
Adjusting is going to take time and effort by everyone. Strong is a fantastic coach who can win big at Texas. The question is whether he will have the time to change minds—and perhaps do some changing himself. That's why now is the time for Sumlin to take advantage of the learning curve. To give Sumlin credit, he has. So have other schools, like Baylor.
Sumlin is more outgoing than Strong and has deep ties to Texas high schools, so he already has a head start in two crucial recruiting areas. In the post-Johnny Manziel era, though, Sumlin needs to prove that he's capable of sustaining long-term success.
As B/R's Barrett Sallee wrote in April, the Aggies are no longer the Horns' little brother. A&M has completely rebranded itself for the better since moving to the SEC. But Sumlin is breaking in a new quarterback and has a lot of question marks on defense, especially with the recent dismissals of linebacker Darian Claiborne and defensive lineman Isaiah Golden.
In the SEC West, there's rarely a week off.
Who will have the higher-rated recruiting class in 2015?
Who knows, Texas A&M may surprise folks this year like it did in 2012 when no one gave the team a chance. But with a tough schedule that features South Carolina and Missouri, two SEC East favorites, there's not a lot of room for error. If A&M finishes with anything less than nine wins, it will officially be trending downward, no question about it.
At $5 million a year for Sumlin, that can't happen for long.
And if Strong gets Texas moving in the right direction, the Horns should theoretically begin to make more noise on the recruiting trail. Remember, Texas had the No. 2 class nationally as recently as 2012, according to 247Sports.com.
It's the present that Sumlin has to focus on. He has to win the in-state recruiting war again in 2014-15, no matter what the Aggies' record is. With Strong taking a public hit, there's no better time.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.