By Lew Patton
So Kevin Sumlin was a hot ticket when he first got to College Station. Everyone loved him. He made a huge splash because of Johnny Football. But since Manziel left Texas A&M University, a lot has happened, most of it going south.
Everyone divides the Sumlin era by Manziel. At first glance, the pre- and post-Johnny thing doesn’t look that bad: 10-6 in the Southeast Conference with Manziel, 6-8 in the SEC post-Manziel. The idea would suggest Johnny was worth about two SEC wins a year, which seems about right.
In Sumlin’s first year as head coach, the Aggies won three road games against ranked opponents, upset the University of Alabama, went 6-2 in conference, beat the brakes off No. 11 University of Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl and won 11 games.
Since, they’re 5-9 vs. ranked teams, and their division record is trending south. They’re 0-for vs. Louisiana State University since joining the conference. They’ve lost three straight to Alabama, consecutive losses to the University of Mississippi and two of their last three with Auburn University.
To be fair, Sumlin had a pretty good offensive coordinator in Kliff Kingsbury who did so well at his job, Texas Tech University hired him as its head coach. I believe that was a major move and as a result the Aggies hired Jake Spavital as the new OC.
One of college football’s youngest coaches, Spavital was promoted to offensive coordinator at Texas A&M prior to the Chick-fil-A Bowl in December 2013 and the move resulted in 52 points for the Aggies in Manziel’s final college game.
Considered an elite up-and-comer on the offensive side of the ball, Spavital learned the ropes from several “Air Raid” advocates including Dana Holgersen at the University of West Virginia prior to joining Sumlin’s staff.
A former quarterback at Missouri State University, Spavital’s coaching career kicked off in 2008 at the University of Tulsa where he worked under Gus Malzahn on offense. A year each mastering the offensive attacks at the University of Houston and Oklahoma State University supplied Spavital with enough knowledge to coach quarterbacks for two seasons with the Mountaineers.
During his short career, Spavital had coached Case Keenum, Brandon Weeden and Geno Smith in pass-happy systems.
It is well documented that three quality quarterbacks have left Texas A&M after Johnny Football took his Heisman Trophy and ran to the pros. You have to begin to lay some blame with Spavital because he was the OC right?
I haven’t liked the Aggies’ offense since Manziel left. Seems to me passing too much in any league is a bad idea. I imagine the good SEC teams knew the Aggies were a pass-first kind of offense, so they just laid back and waited to take advantage of their young quarterbacks. And the Aggies have been relying too much on inexperienced quarterbacks. If you recruit a quarterback who has never lost a game in high school, throw him in a pass-happy offense in the best division in college football, and then the kid throws interceptions, heck yeah he’s gonna want to transfer out of there.
Which brings up the question, why have so many good young quarterbacks quit on the team?
My answer (and we may really never know) is the coaching staff didn’t support the quarterbacks enough. The coaching staff didn’t put the players in a wining situation, making them live and die by the passing game. I think they should have had a better running game, and then the Aggies’ passing game would have been better.
What about the future of Texas A&M?
This will be a make or break year for Sumlin. It’s going to be up to a successful offense. New offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is going to be a key figure in Sumlin’s success or failure.
Mazzone is not scared; he’s not inclined to hold back as with a lot of coordinators. He will play loose, play aggressive, never let up. He will bring a quick pace, high-octane offense utilizing every skill-position player on the field to catch and run with the football – making it simple for the players.
His offenses are not line up and just beat you up front, like LSU or Alabama have been, where they have to do that to win. He can mix it up. They throw a lot of quick passes. His quarterbacks complete a high percentage of passes. It’s quarterback-friendly. He does like to run the football, but it’s a pass-first offense.
For Aggies fans weary of more drama out of the quarterback position, many people believe they may have found just the right person.
He relates to players extremely well. With a lot of coaches, there’s distance between them and the players. They like to create distance. Mazzone is like a kid in a lot of regards. Everybody loves him, loves hanging out with him as much as they love playing for him.
In college, time is limited. If you like your coach, you’re going to want to spend more time with him, get more information out of him. You’ll be better as a by-product of that relationship.
That’s where Mazzone wins every time. He’s such a good dude. He’s so much fun. He’s simple and he lets the quarterback play.
An important component to Mazzone’s coaching effectiveness is his son Taylor, who will serve as the Aggies’ quarterbacks coach, as he did at the University of California-Los Angeles.
“He and Taylor are almost like best friends,” people have said. “They’re almost like the same person.”
That closeness allows Noel Mazzone to essentially coach his quarterbacks even when he’s not coaching his quarterbacks. Taylor is an extension of Noel, closely adhering to his philosophies and techniques.
Their effectiveness mentoring quarterbacks was displayed this season with UCLA true freshman Josh Rosen who completed 60 percent of his passes on almost 500 attempts, with 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Rosen was able to come in and establish himself to play early this year, to play well early, I think that’s a sign of how simple and great Noel Mazzone’s offense can be.
Mazzone had better prove effective immediately. Aggies fans are becoming restless, and they don’t want to hear about growing pains or learning curves. The Aggies need to win now if Mazzone and Sumlin want to spend 2017 in College Station.
Lots of fans think that’s possible: With a guy like Trevor Knight, Texas A&M could make a quick, quick turnaround. I also believe Mazzone’s experience will allow Sumlin to be a better head coach.
Sumlin had a lot of pressure on him. He’s had to do everything at A&M. I think Texas A&M wants to have him not have to do everything. Now Sumlin can relax and delegate the offense to Mazzone. Sumlin can be the head guy who can go recruit, do all the things he needs to do and let Mazzone run the offense.
In addition to coaching football, Mazzone is a successful entrepreneur. He has developed the “NZone System,” a coaching resource for high school coaches offering instruction into his offensive philosophy, play-calling, terminology, coaching techniques and more.
Aggies fans don’t need Mazzone to be college football’s version of Jillian Michaels selling how-to DVDs by the millions. A trip to Atlanta for the SEC championship would do just fine.
Hopefully, this will be the ticket to get the Aggies to the Promised Land.