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Tennessee’s focus turns to Kevin Sumlin

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The latest target in Tennessee’s coaching carousel appears to be recently-fired Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin, according to multiple reports. Less than an hour after N.C. State’s Dave Doeren turned down an offer from the Vols, it appeared UT was going to pivot to the 53-year-old Sumlin in an effort to end its embarrassing coaching search that has become a national laughingstock.

Sumlin was fired earlier this month after six years at Texas A&M. He was 51-26 overall, but lost the support of Aggie boosters after amassing a record of just 25-23 in SEC play.

Texas A&M stormed into the SEC in 2012, Sumlin’s inaugural season, with freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel winning the Heisman Trophy and helping lead the Aggies to an 11-2 finish and a No. 5 national ranking. Their wins included an upset victory at No. 1 Alabama.

But the Sumlin was unable to replicate the success of that inaugural season, particularly after losing Johnny Football. His 2013 Texas A&M team finished 9-4, and his 2014 team was 7-5 in the regular season, sliding all the way to sixth in the SEC West.

After back-to-back 8-4 seasons in 2015 and 2016, it was largely expected that Sumlin would need to win nine games or lose his job in 2017. The Aggies stumbled out of the gate, falling at UCLA in one of the NCAA’s greatest fourth quarter comeback efforts. They rebounded to win four in a row but then lost three out of four and could never get back on track. The Aggies were demolished by No. 19 LSU in the regular season finale, 45-21.

Prior to making the move to Texas A&M, Sumlin was 35-17 in four seasons at Houston. He led the Cougars to a 12-1 finish in 2011, a season that saw them rise all the way to No. 7 in the national rankings before being upset by Southern Miss in the Conference USA championship game.

Sumlin was a linebacker at Purdue in the 1980s, and began his coaching career at Washington State. Following s tints at Wyoming and Minnesota, Sumlin wound up back at Purdue in 1998, where he coached wide receivers for three years. From there, he made the move to Texas A&M as an assistant coach in 2001 before later moving to Oklahoma.

While he was a defensive player, Sumlin has spent his entire coaching career on the offensive side of the ball. He was an offensive coordinator at Texas A&M in 2002, and co offensive coordinator at Oklahoma in 2006 and 2007.

As a recruiter, Sumlin was able to improve Texas A&M’s annual haul of high school talent. He landed Top 10 recruiting classes in 2014, 2015 and 2017, and averaged 11th. In the five years prior to his arrival, the Aggies’ recruiting classes averaged 25th, though that was somewhat weighted by a No. 43 finish in 2007.

Ultimately, late-season collapses became synonymous with Sumlin’s career in College Station. His 2014 team was off to a 5-0 start and ranked No. 6 in the country before dropping three consecutive games to No. 12 Mississippi State, No. 3 Ole Miss and No. 7 Alabama, and five of seven games overall. His 2015 team likewise started 5-0 and was ranked No. 9 before losing three out of four to No. 10 Alabama, No. 24 Ole Miss and Auburn. The Aggies were 6-0 and ranked No. 6 in 2016, after a double-overtime win against No. 9 Tennessee, before losing four out of six to close out the season, including No. 1 Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and No. 25 LSU.

Should Sumlin seriously entertain an offer from Tennessee, there will likely be immediate speculation about whether John Chavis will join him in Knoxville. “The Chief” was a nose tackle at Tennessee in the late 1970s and began his coaching career here as a graduate assistant before moving to Alabama A&M. He returned as the Vols’ defensive line coach in 1989 and was promoted to defensive coordinator in 1995. He stayed in that position until Phillip Fulmer was fired after the 2008 season, at which point he jumped to LSU. Chavis joined Sumlin’s Texas A&M staff prior to the start of the 2015 season. There he inherited a struggling defense that finished 109th in the nation in total defense in 2014. But he was never able to replicate the success he had at LSU and Tennessee. After his 2015 defense was ranked 102nd in the nation, it jumped to 51st in 2016 before sliding slightly to 60th in 2017.

If Tennessee interviews Sumlin, it won’t be the first time he’s been considered for a job opening. The Vols interviewed him in January 2010, after Lane Kiffin bolted for Southern Cal. Ultimately, though, the Vols hired Louisiana Tech’s Derek Dooley.

Other names connected to the Tennessee search include SMU’s Chad Morris, Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. As AllThingsVol has written throughout the week, Southern Cal offensive coordinator Tee Martin and Florida Atlantic’s Lane Kiffin are not currently candidates for the Tennessee job.

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