Nationals

Sumlin's switch from defense to offense pays off

Sumlin's switch from defense to offense pays off

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin has led one a top-five offense in four of the five seasons since becoming a head coach.

If not for a push from Mike Price 23 years ago, Sumlin might have ended up focused more on how to stop offenses rather than creating them. Sumlin, after all, was a college linebacker and began his coaching career on that side of the ball.

Price, the UTEP coach who is retiring after this season, gave Sumlin his first job as a graduate assistant at Washington State. He summoned him to his office one day and told him he'd be coaching Washington State's junior varsity team as it played area junior colleges - and that he needed to learn the offense.

Sumlin was confused and asked Price why.

``You need to move the offense and you need to learn what we're doing here,'' he said Price told him. ``Because if you learn what we're doing here with this offense - it's a little bit different. You'll have a job the rest of your life somewhere.''

Sumlin was sold.

``I said: `That's sound pretty good to me,''' Sumlin said with a smile.

Sumlin enjoyed his foray into offense and never had a job on defense again. From 1991-2007, he made various stops as an assistant working mostly as a receivers coach and then offensive coordinator. In 2008, he nabbed his first head coaching job at Houston, inheriting a quarterback named Case Keenum, and the pair used his high-flying offense to help the Cougars to heights they hadn't reached in decades. Sumlin left Houston with a 35-17 record.

Keenum, who became the Bowl Subdivision's all-time career passing leader under Sumlin's watch, was stumped to pick just one reason why his former coach has been so successful.

``There's probably a million reasons why,'' Keenum said. ``He's a great guy. He comes on strong at first, but once you get to know him he's a players' coach. I loved him. I loved playing for him. I don't know why you wouldn't.''

That, people say, is a big reason why Sumlin has done so well in his first season at Texas A&M. The nine wins he has led the Aggies to this season are already a record for a first-year coach at the school, and they still have two games left. A win over Missouri on Saturday will give Texas A&M its first 10-win season since 1998.

``I had no doubt that he'd be successful and no doubt that those guys would do a great job of coaching,'' Keenum said. ``What maybe has been a surprise is how well the players have adapted to him. I think everybody knows how difficult it is to go into a program first year as a head coach and change things and change the way little things are done.''

Sumlin gives much of the credit for the team buying into his plans to the seniors who led the way. The group also helped the Aggies focus when their opener was postponed because of a hurricane, forcing the them to play their entire schedule without a break.

``The biggest thing to me is how this team has come together and accepted this coaching staff from the beginning,'' Sumlin said. ``There was a lot of tension then to now where there is some ease in talking with guys about a lot of things that have nothing to do with football. That's what makes coaching a lot of fun.''

Price didn't have a grand plan when he pushed Sumlin into offensive work. He just thought it would make him a more well-rounded coach.

``I wanted him to master both sides of the ball,'' Price said in an interview with The Associated Press. ``What we were doing at the time was new and hot and people were picking it up. It was smart for him to do that and it made sense because he is a smart guy.''

Price said Sumlin jumped into the task with the same enthusiasm he brought to everything he asked him to do back then. His ability to catch on to the offense quickly wasn't surprising to Price.

``He's just got success written all over him,'' Price said. ``He's charming. He's funny. He's bright. He's hardworking. He's nice to people. He's a good person to his coaches and he's a good father and a good husband and he treats people with dignity and respect.''

There was a time when Sumlin wouldn't have imagined being a coach, even though his father, William Sumlin, was a high school coach when Kevin was young.

``My dad didn't want me to be a coach because he was a coach,'' Sumlin said. ``Anybody who's been a coach would probably say: `No you don't want your kid to be a coach.'''

He had career plans that would have taken him far away from the football field.

``I thought about being a lot of different things. At one point I was going to go to law school. That didn't work out. Probably should have done that though instead of dealing with you guys,'' he said, laughing as he referred to the media.

But after he began his coaching career with Price, he never looked back. His ascent has been helped by the no-nonsense attitude he has with players.

``He's going to tell you how it is,'' Texas A&M senior defensive lineman Spencer Nealy said. ``I don't like people who beat around the bush. Coach Sumlin, from Day 1, if you were playing bad he was going to tell you you're playing bad.''

To that end, he always looks for those teaching moments.

One of Keenum's fondest memories of Sumlin came when the quarterback tossed an interception in the end zone that cost Houston a game. Keenum knew everyone was unhappy with him, but was relieved when Sumlin met him as he came off the field and put his arm around him.

``It was a mistake that I wish I hadn't made, but he wanted to make sure I was going to learn from it and not do it again,'' Keenum said. ``He's always teaching in every situation that he's in and I think that's a big part of who he is and him being a great coach.''

Despite Sumlin's success at Houston, the expectations for Texas A&M in its move from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference were low entering this season. The Aggies have proven doubters wrong with a 5-2 record in the SEC, including their upset of then top-ranked Alabama two weeks ago behind freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Those who have known Sumlin longest expected nothing less.

``I'm impressed with everything,'' Price said. ``But it doesn't surprise me.''

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Max Scherzer may be the last pitcher to tally 3,000 strikeouts

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Max Scherzer may be the last pitcher to tally 3,000 strikeouts

 

WASHINGTON -- Max Scherzer may be baseball’s final entrant into the 3,000-strikeout club.

 

Sounds weird to say. The mark is a vaunted one and previously a measuring stick for Hall-of-Fame candidacy. That was before a shift to fewer innings by starters from the time they are young. 

 Friday night, Scherzer climbed into 27th on the all-time list. He passed legacy names Warren Spahn and Bob Feller thanks to another 10-strikeout outing.

“Sweet,” Scherzer said when informed of the movement. “Let’s keep going.”Scherzer is 35 years old, in his 12th season and has 2,585 strikeouts. He’s on pace for 297 total this season -- if he makes his typical 33 starts. Hitting that mark would put him at 2,756 at the end of the year. He would be 24th all-time at that stage and a standard season away from cracking 3,000. Justin Verlander will beat Scherzer to the mark, making Scherzer the 19th pitcher all-time to strikeout 3,000 or more should he get there. CC Sabathia surpassed 3,000 in late May. Sabathia, Verlander and Scherzer could cap the group for the rest of history.

The club’s exclusivity is often overlooked. Twenty-seven players have hit 500 or more home runs. Twenty-three players have 300 or more wins (speaking of marks which are unlikely to be reached again; Scherzer has 164, and, yes, wins are wins).

Among active players with 2,000 or more strikeouts, Clayton Kershaw is the youngest. He’s 31 years old and has struck out 2,342. Recent injuries have derailed what was a clear express path to 3,000. He becomes a free agent in 2022. And Kershaw is a good example of how usage is changing the chances to strike out 3,000.

He has not pitched more than seven innings this season. Part of that is to protect him following his back problems. Another portion is seven innings is the norm. Less is also common. Entering the eighth or ninth is almost unheard of. Only two pitchers have thrown two complete games this season. Twenty pitchers have one or more complete games this season. Last year, no pitcher finished with more than two complete games. Only 13 pitchers threw 200 or more innings. 

Yet, strikeout rates are at an all-time high while innings pitched by starters dips. So, let’s look at extrapolation for a younger pitcher, like Trevor Bauer, who is operating in this new era and will do so going forward.

Bauer is 28 years old. He’s struck out 1,035 batters. A decade more of 200 strikeouts per season gets him there -- narrowly. But, the problem for Bauer, like others alluded to above, is he rarely pitches into the eighth inning. Two of his 15 starts this season have gone a full eight innings. Only three have lasted more than seven. Three others have lasted less than six. Most often he pitches six to seven innings. He’s never thrown more than 190 innings in a season.

Let’s call it a 6 ⅔ innings for his average outing going forward. He strikes out 1.1 batters per inning this year. He’s never made more than 31 starts in the season. So, give him 28 starts per year for the next 10 years. That gives Bauer 205 strikeouts per season, on average, and discounts any future regression (which is likely). Together, Bauer could crack 3,000 strikeouts in his age-38 season. Any steps back -- a season of 21 starts because of injury, a reduction in innings on average, his strikeout totals reducing in the typical fashion of a pitcher in his mid-30s -- would cost him his slim chance.

In between Kershaw and Bauer are a variety of 30-something pitchers on the downside of their careers. Jon Lester is 35. He has 2,259 strikeouts. Cole Hamels is also 35. He’s at 2,498. Felix Hernandez has struck out 2,501. He’s 35 years old and left a rehabilitation start for Triple-A Tacoma early on Friday because of fatigue. Zack Greinke is 35. His 2,520 strikeouts give him an outside shot, as does his ability to pitch well despite an ongoing reduction in velocity. 

Pitchers of that ilk often found career-extending deals in the past. Now, teams are more likely to pay a younger starter much less instead of being on the hook for $10 million or more for a veteran winding down. Or, if they are signed, it’s only a one- or two-year deal. One guy who has a chance: 30-year-old Stephen Strasburg. His strikeout rate has held during his career -- and into this season. The question, as always, is health. It took Strasburg nine-plus seasons just to hit the midway point (1,554 coming into Saturday’s start).

Scherzer’s path is not in doubt. He will need around 240 strikeouts next season to hit it. Which means be prepared sometime in late August when Scherzer will be checking off another milestone, one which will be a challenge to hit again.

 

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    Report suggests Barack Obama is trying to recruit Masai Ujiri to Wizards

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    Report suggests Barack Obama is trying to recruit Masai Ujiri to Wizards

    The Wizards are reportedly preparing to make Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri a massive offer to run Washington's NBA franchise. And they may have some big-time help recruiting him to D.C. 

    Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, is trying to persuade Ujiri to leave the NBA champions to join the Wizards, according to The Athletic's Ethan Strauss. 

    "I hear Barack Obama's a part of that whole Masai recruitment to D.C.," Strauss said on a recent episode of the "Back To Back" podcast. "I've heard Obama wants Masai in D.C. Obama wants to do something with basketball."

    Obama and Ujiri are close friends. Obama was in attendance at Game 2 of the NBA Finals in Toronto, while Ujiri attended the White House Correspondents' Dinner in 2015 when Obama was in office. 

    The Wizards' potential offer for Ujiri is reportedly for six years, $60 million, and could possibly include an ownership stake in Monumental Sports & Entertainment and other responsibilities within the company, sources have told NBC Sports Washington. 

    And hey, it doesn't hurt to have the former Commander in Chief making your sales pitch.

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