In a year full of growing pains, Texas A&M had to cut another one of its heartstrings.
As if ending over a century’s worth of intra-family fighting on Thanksgiving Day over “Texas University” and the 12th Man, head coach Mike Sherman was fired yesterday. In a year of renovations, it is sad indeed for A&M to throw out one of its own. Sherman had been an offensive line coach for the Aggies from 1989 to 1993, and again from 1995 to 1996 during R.C. Slocum’s tenure.
Though A&M Athletic Director Bill Byrne was very respectful of Sherman’s tempered success at the university, it is clear that the Aggies want to tie up loose ends. Since the Wrecking Crew is invading the SEC West (the equivalent of the Atlantic Wall in sports) next year, the team needs a new leader that can endure the Saturday storms that come with the SEC way of life.
Mike Sherman, while bringing in top-notch recruiting classes and having an electric winning streak to a Cotton Bowl appearance last year, could not get his 2011 team to capitalize on leads. The Aggies found ways to lose many games they had halftime leads in, and fell in their last gridiron duel to the archrival Texas Longhorns by a last-second field goal.
Texas Rex will be out of the way, but who can Texas A&M hire as a head coach that can ensure success? Since hexing themselves by ousting legend R.C. Slocum and upgrading their facilities later than their Big 12 opponents, the team hasn’t been able to play catch-up.
Dennis Franchione, who has succeeded at everywhere from A&M to the Southwestern Moundbuilders (not joking), could not catch up with Big 12 competition. Remember that 77-0 loss to Oklahoma? Franchione went 2-8 against the Sooners and Texas in five years at the helm.
Sherman, in my opinion, would have worked out if the team had stayed in the Big 12. With Oklahoma looking as weak as it has over the past decade, Texas still on the route to recovery and Oklahoma State adjusting to the national spotlight, Sherman and company could have made a dark-horse run at the Big 12 Championship next year. If the coaching staff is willing to make their wide receiver back into a quarterback, this group will eventually find a way to close out with victories.
But since they are moving to the SEC, A&M has to make the hire of its football lifetime. Kevin Sumlin of Houston may work, as Arkansas has proven a passing offense works in the SEC. And I'm betting Case Keenum is better than Tyler Wilson. But without a defense, they will end up yielding 38 to Alabama and have LSU go on a 41-3 tirade. What the Aggies really need is a solid defensive coordinator so they can compete in a conference where defense (not record-setting passing attacks) is the norm.
With all the SEC defensive coordinators enjoying success at their current schools, Sumlin would need to look elsewhere for a defensive mind. The only other conference in the country with enough spotlight and defensive reputation would be the Big Ten.
Earlier this week, Illinois fired head coach Ron Zook, leaving defensive coordinator Vic Koenning as head coach. After a possible bowl berth, though, nothing is guaranteed. Koenning might soon be on the streets looking for employment.
Koenning, like Michigan’s star defensive guru Greg Mattison, has a resume of weeding out weak defenses and making players smash-mouth monsters. From 2005 to 2008, his crews at Clemson finished in the Top 25 annually, peaking at ninth in 2007. At Kansas State, the Wildcats promptly went from 118th (out of 120) in the nation to 38th. This season, he has helped the Fighting Illini become bowl-eligible in back-to-back seasons for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Upon analysis, one will see that Koenning’s success in multiple regions of the country will help A&M recruit at the higher standard it needs to in the SEC. Even though the Aggies will have access to the recruiting hotbeds of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida, other SEC schools will now raid Texas for players. Koenning’s consistency as a “national” defensive coordinator will keep the Aggies afloat.
Other advantages include Koenning’s age and track record: Approaching 52, he will not be receiving many job offers; and the one coaching gig he had a decade ago at Wyoming went awry (5-29 overall).
His greatest nest egg for the young Aggies is Paul Petrino. For two years at Illinois, he worked on staff with Arkansas head coach Bob Petrino’s brother. Brother Paul collaborated with the Razorbacks’ Petrino until two years ago, so Paul knows the workings of his kin’s offense. LSU, ‘Bama and Auburn would still loom large, but Arkansas is thus already at a disadvantage if Sumlin hires Koenning.
Along with red-hot Kevin Sumlin, Vic Koenning would bring the complete package to make the Aggies competitive in the SEC West. Koenning’s skill, experience in different regions of the country, age and familiarity with the Razorbacks offense can lead to a smoother transition to the spikes littering an SEC schedule. His reputation might make him jump ship to another job early on, but with enough money, perhaps a deal can be made.
You’ve joined the best conference on the planet, Aggies fans; but is your AD willing to pay the price?