The Sumlin Effect

Joseph Yeager spoke to Kliff Kingsbury at Big 12 Media Days and one of the topics that came up was the effect of Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin on him.

Kliff Kingsbury has studied the game of football with several highly renowned coaches. Mike Leach and Dana Holgorsen for starters. Bill Belichick and Charlie Weis for good measure. But the coach who will most heavily influence Kingsbury during his reign as Texas Tech's head coach is none other than current Texas A&M head man, Kevin Sumlin.


Part of the Sumlin effect is very elemental and purely practical. Kingsbury, who is still learning the ways and means of managing a D1 football program, understandably solicits advice from more experienced coaches, and he is not about to pick the brain of a coach against whom he'll be competing. Sumlin, ensconced in the SEC, presents no such conflict of interest.


"Coach Sumlin is the one I've really talked to most I'd say because we're not playing against them. I've got a good relationship with him and he's been around, so it's been good to get feedback from him," says Kingsbury.


Kingsbury stated that he would not be comfortable approaching fellow Big 12 coach Holgorsen about job-related matters, but it's not clear why he wouldn't dun Mike Leach for information.


Be that as it may, coach Sumlin's influence on Kingsbury will go far beyond the administrative and managerial aspects of the job. Kingsbury patterns his overall approach after Sumlin.


"I have pretty much modeled after his [Sumlin's] style in a lot of the things I do," states Kingsbury. "With his success I think it's a good style to go after. I know he learned a lot from coach [Bob] Stoops who obviously has been incredible."


Indeed, it is Sumlin's relationship with Stoops, for whom he coached five years, that most impressed Kingsbury and compelled him to learn as much as possible from Sumlin. Kingsbury went so far as to take notes during coaching meetings, an unusual practice that initially alarmed Sumlin.


"Yeah, he thought I was taking down the negatives," reports Kingsbury with a grin.


"But I was just taking notes. I knew coming into it that he had been around coach Stoops, and I have the highest respect for coach Stoops. He's obviously developed into one of the top college football coaches in the country so anything he said or did in the staff meetings I wanted to take note of and stow away."


Aside from the Stoops lineage, there are a few features of Sumlin's coaching style that especially appeal to Kingsbury. For one, Kingsbury is attracted to Sumlin's motivational approach. And that approach is rooted in trust.


"He [Sumlin] treated them [his coaches] like men," says Kingsbury.


"He let them be their own man. And that's one thing--a lot of guys wouldn't have let their coordinator do what I did, call my own plays, and he had no input in it, let me do whatever I wanted to do on a weekly basis, trick plays from day one. And that shows the kind of trust he has in his coaches and that means a lot."


In all likelihood this means that Matt Wallerstedt will have free rein to run the Texas Tech defense as he sees fit.


According to Kingsbury, the trust Sumlin shows in his troops results in empowerment, which in turn produces excellent results across the board.


"Basically he empowers his coaches and players and that's how he gets the most out of ‘em," Kingsbury declares.


"He gives a lot of leeway until they show they don't deserve it. And I just watched how they responded to that, the respect they showed him. They play their butts off for him."


Other Sumlin traits that find favor with Kingsbury are his openness to new ideas and his democratic approach to coaching.


"Coach Sumlin wanted his coaches to have ideas and he felt that was the best way to get things out of them. It wasn't a monarchy. He wanted people coming with ideas. Was he always going to use them? No, but he'd be open-minded and I took a lot from that," states Kingsbury.


There is no way of knowing to what extent Kevin Sumlin has actually molded Kingsbury's approach to coaching, or rather if Sumlin simply appealed to Kingsbury because the two men are fundamentally alike. But in the end, that is neither here nor there because Kevin Sumlin football, in a very real sense, is now Texas Tech football.

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