Laid back and sharply dressed, new Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin was the first SEC coach to take the podium at the conference's media days, which kicked off Tuesday.
"I'm glad we're starting on time," he said, smiling. "Then they can't blame it on the new guy to screw things up."
Starting things off by making the media laugh? This guy knows how to work a room.
Sumlin, 47, delved into his spiel about the Aggies and how they are preparing for their first year in the toughest conference in college football.
"We understand the challenges that are head of us," he said. "It's going to be a difficult but exciting year."
Sumlin said that in order for his program to be able to compete in the SEC long term, they need to be bigger and faster, but right now, the coaching staff is comfortable with the system they have in place.
Will that suffice though?
"We'll have a lot better feel for our league in February than we do right now," he said.
First thing the Aggies have to do before the season starts is pick a quarterback that will probably end up being Jameill Showers, who backed up Ryan Tannehill last year. Showers is competing with several others and Sumlin said he hopes to name a starter before the first game against Louisiana Tech on Aug. 30.
Sumlin said that becoming the coach of a new program with a young quarterback is preferable to inheriting a team with a fourth- or fifth-year starter.
"A lot of times with young quarterbacks, it's a little bit easier particularly when it comes to a new system," he said. "With a new coach/new system with a fourth- or fifth-year guy who's been starting in the same system can be more difficult because they didn't come to play for you.
"When you get a new coach, you don't know what he's going to run and what is going on. [With a young guy] you have a better chance to mold him into what you're trying to do and let him grow with you and grow the offense with him."
In A&M's first year in the SEC—the SEC West, no less—the scheduling gods have not been kind. The Aggies host Florida in Week 2, then have to play probable Top 10 teams in Arkansas and LSU before taking roadtrips to Auburn and Alabama.
But the schedule doesn't scare Sumlin. He said his realistic expectations for this season are, simply put, "to win."
"I've said that from Day 1," he said. "Everyone talks to me and acts like I didn't know what I was getting into when I was taking the job. [Texas A&M] was already entering the SEC when I took the job."
Even so, when asked of A&M's competition in the SEC West, Sumlin was honest: "What's my assessment of the [SEC West]? It's a pretty damn hard league."
That quote extracted a few laughs. It was also one of the four times the coach said the word "damn."
Though struggles may be in the Aggies future in their first SEC go-around, Sumlin is confident this conference move will have positive side effects in the long run.
A&M is the only SEC school in the state of Texas and that will definitely play a critical role in recruiting.
"If you want to stay in Texas and play in the SEC, you go to A&M," said offensive lineman Luke Joeckel.
Sumlin says it will, and actually already has, made a difference on the national recruiting spectrum.
"Our ability to really move east into Louisiana, Mississippi…I think just looking at our recruiting over the past five or six months, we've probably gotten a few more visits or returned phone calls or campus visits of some guys that may or may not have looked at us before we were in the SEC," he said.
Last season the Aggies held halftime leads in several games but ended up mysteriously folding in the second half. They finished the season a disappointing 7-6. The defense led the nation in sacks (51) but was ranked 109th in passing defense (allowed opponents 276.3 yards per game).
"We've gotta be more consistent across the board," Sumlin said. "[Defensively], we can't have that big of a chasm between stats."
But despite last year's woes, senior wide receiver Ryan Swope said all that is in the past.
"We don't even worry about [last year] anymore," he said.
Swope is also excited about Sumlin, calling him "young and electric."
He's also ready for the challenges that will be presented in the SEC.
"We feel we can match up with any of those teams," said Swope, clad in a maroon jacket. "We got speed, we got size."
A&M's first conference game is still about two months away, but they sure got a win in their first SEC test—the media day presser.
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