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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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

The Stanley Cup is not the only trophy that will be awarded at the end of the Stanley Cup Final series between the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights. The Conn Smythe will also be given to the player deemed the most valuable to his team during the playoffs.

Who will that player be?

It's not hard to figure out who the frontrunner is right now. Marc-Andre Fleury hasn't just been the best goalie in the playoffs, he's been the best player with a dominant postseason in which he has posted a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. He has been so dominant, he could win it even if Vegas loses the series.

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.

The last player from the losing team to win the Conn Smythe was Jean-Sebastian Giguere from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2003.

But what about the Caps?

Alex Ovechkin is the leader of Washington and has been absolutely dominant throughout the postseason. He even scored the series-clinching goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Surprisingly, however, Ovechkin does not lead the team in points through the playoffs. Evgeny Kuznetsov holds that edge with 24 points to Ovechkin's 22.

Will their offensive dominance propel them to win the Cup and the Conn Smythe? Will a different player emerge as the hero of the series?

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.


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Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

Associated Press

Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, May 26, 17 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.  

Note: I am vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. In this space, I’ll be presenting some of the most popular posts of the last few months. I hope you enjoy these “best of” presentations and I’ll see you folks when I get back. 

Contract makes Alex Smith a Redskins for at least three seasons

This post was originally published on March 19. 

When the Redskins traded for Alex Smith on January 30, news also broke that he had agreed to a four-year extension with Washington in addition to the one year left on his contract with the Chiefs. While we got some top-line numbers on the deal, we have gone since then without any details. 

Until now. 

The details show a deal that has a slightly higher cap hit in 2018 than was on his original Chiefs contract and the numbers rise gradually over the life of the deal, which runs through 2022. 

Smith got a $27 million signing bonus and his salaries for 2018 ($13 million) and 2019 ($15 million) also are fully guaranteed at signing making the total $55 million (information via Over the Cap, which got data from a report by Albert Breer). 

But there I another $16 million that is guaranteed for all practical purposes. On the fifth day of the 2019 league year, his 2020 salary of $16 million becomes fully guaranteed. He almost assuredly will get to the point where that money will become guaranteed since the Redskins are not going to cut him after one year having invested $55 million in him. So the total guarantees come to $71 million. 

His 2021 salary is $19 million and it goes up to $21 million in 2022. There have been reports of some incentives available to Smith but since we have no details we’ll set those aside for now. 

The cap hits on the contract are as follows: 

2018: $18.4 million
2019: $20.0 million
2020: $21.4 million
2021: $24.4 million
2022: $26.4 million

The Redskins can realistically move on from Smith after 2020. There would be net cap savings of $13 million in 2021 and $21 million in 2022. 

The first impression of the deal is that the Redskins did not move on from Kirk Cousins because they didn’t want to guarantee a lot of money to a quarterback. The total practical guarantee of $71 million is second only to Cousins’ $82.5 million. It should be noted that Cousins’ deal runs for three years and Smith’s contract is for five. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler