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November 29, 2012

History repeating with Sumlin, Brown

Prior to the 1998 season, Texas A&M was riding high. They had just won a Big 12 South championship in 1997 and had played in a New Years' Day bowl. Not only that, they returned the majority of their starters off of that team and were favored to repeat, starting the year ranked in the top 15 in most polls.

In stark contrast, Texas had gone 4-7 in 1997 with a team that was favored to win the Big 12 South. They had suffered the indignity of a 66-3 loss to UCLA and had fired head coach John Mackovic despite the fact that Texas had won three straight conference titles previously on his watch.

Texas brought in Mack Brown from North Carolina to replace Mackovic. Almost immediately, Brown made inroads on the recruiting trail with four prospects from Texas City…Everick Rawls, Jermain Anderson, Ervis Hill, and Tyrone Jones…telling people that they were coming to A&M for an official visit and blowing off the visit and commit to Texas after visiting Austin the week before. It was psychological warfare at its finest and notice was served that business was not going to be done the same way on the recruiting front as it had been in the past.

Brown also convinced running back Ricky Williams, a potential high NFL draft pick, to stay. He built the team around Williams' running and a Texas team expected to be an also ran into a 8-3 program, beating former (and hated) A&M head coach Jackie Sherrill 38-3 in the Cotton Bowl. Williams won the Heisman and Brown was off and running, winning a Big 12 South title a year later and eventually a national championship a few years later.

As one looks back to Mack Brown's first season at Texas, one can't help but be struck by the similarities between what he did and what A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin has accomplished in his first year at the helm.

- Right off the bat, Brown changed the way things were being done in recruiting. We talked about how the Texas City foursome of Everick Rawls, Jermain Anderson, Ervis Hill, and Tyrone Jones basically blew off an official visit to A&M and committed to Texas even though A&M was in a very strong position coming off of a Big 12 South division title.

Well, before ever coaching a game or even going through a spring practice, Sumlin watched Dallas Skyline receiver Thomas Johnson de-commit from Texas and eventually wound up flipping him to A&M. He also managed to get Texas commit Mansfield Summit DE Hassan Ridgeway to take an official visit to A&M the weekend before signing day. Both were unprecedented events in Brown's tenure, just like the Texas City four stiffing A&M and head coach R.C. Slocum who had developed a reputation as a great recruiter in his tenure at A&M.

- Brown established a reputation for being media savvy early on and Sumlin has done the same thing, using the now-famous "YESSIR!" via social media to denote when A&M has landed a commitment. He's also gotten more prospects to utilize press conferences and public gatherings to announce commitments to A&M and explain why they committed to the Aggies, thus enhancing the stature of the A&M program.

- Brown suffered a couple of losses to top ten teams early in his first season, Kansas State and UCLA. Sumlin's only losses have been to….a pair of top ten teams in Florida and LSU.

- Brown went to Nebraska and beat the defending national champions in Lincoln. Sumlin went into Tuscaloosa and beat defending national champion Alabama on their home turf as well.

- Texas' starting quarterback Richard Walton got injured early in the 1998 campaign and Brown had to turn to redshirt freshman Major Applewhite who started the rest of the way (including that win over Nebraska). Sumlin turned the keys of the A&M offense over to a redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel who has started every game this season and who beat Alabama on the road.

- Texas had a veteran offensive line that helped pave the way for Williams' success with upperclassmen such as C Russell Gaskamp and tackle Jay Humphrey. The Aggies veteran linemen include tackles Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel, both potential NFL first round draft picks, and have enabled Manziel to operate with plenty of time to make decisions.

- Brown served notice early in the season that Texas was going to be better than anticipated, beating rival Oklahoma 38-3. Sumlin's fourth game at the helm of the Aggies was a 58-10 pasting of Arkansas, not a rival but a program that had tormented A&M the past three years and a pre season top ten team to boot.

- Brown made immediate inroads in what was then one of the country's toughest conferences and Texas was only in its third year in the Big 12. Sumlin has come into the nation's toughest conference and A&M is in its first year of the SEC.

- Finally, when Brown arrived at Texas, former A&M head coach R.C. Slocum had been head coach at the school for about a decade. Brown has now been at Texas for 15 seasons. Both represented established ways of doing things and have usurped by younger, hungrier upstarts.

In addition, there are a couple of other similarities waiting to emerge.

- Brown convinced Ricky Williams to stay for his senior season. Williams became a transcendent player, winning the Heisman Trophy, providing Texas additional exposure that it never would have gotten, and helping Brown to start reeling in top ten recruiting classes.

A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is currently the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. He's become a transcendent player, providing A&M additional publicity that the program could not have earned otherwise and already making an impact on the recruiting trail with elite prospects wanting to play with Johnny Football.

- Texas played in a New Year's Day bowl game, the Cotton Bowl, and beat Mississippi State. The Aggies are assured of playing in a New Year's Day bowl or its equivalent with a 10-2 record and the probable Heisman Trophy winner.

There are some differences of course. Texas beat A&M in a nationally televised game that sealed the Heisman for Williams and indicated to recruits that even while the Aggies were winning a Big 12 title, the balance of power within the state was shifting. The Aggies and Horns don't play this year unless they meet in the Cotton Bowl. However, even without beating Texas, A&M's superior 10-2 season and superior bowl probabilities along with the potential flip of Sealy's Ricky Seals-Jones (widely considered the number one prospect in the state of Texas for 2013) from Texas to A&M are indicators that a similar shift is taking place.

In fact, you might say that what Sumlin has done at A&M in his first season is better than what Brown accomplished. Brown took over a Texas team that suffered through an injury riddled 1997 campaign and got many key players back, most notably defensive tackles Casey Hampton and Shaun Rogers (who were young but eventual high NFL draft picks). In fact, Mackovic had left the cupboard far from bare in Austin with multiple top 15 recruiting classes. In contrast, Sumlin could have never expected the contributions that he received from players who non-starters in 2011 such as receiver Mike Evans, defensive tackle Kirby Ennis, and sophomore corner Deshazor Everett. Sumlin has also taken A&M to a top ten ranking nationally, has already won more games than Brown did, and unlike Brown, was not blown out in his losses to other top ten programs (a 17 point loss to UCLA and a 41 point loss to Kansas State).

Going forward, Sumlin may well be better positioned than Brown was to be the best program in the state over the next decade. He's got Manziel for multiple years, the reputation of the Southeastern Conference versus that of the Big 12, and a new way of doing business offensively via the spread. In fact, the Aggies will be considered a contender for the 2013 national championship and the 1999 edition of the Longhorns was overshadowed by A&M's top five pre season ranking coming off of a Big 12 title. Sumlin is already making inroads into the 2014 recruiting class with top prospect Hoza Scott of LaPorte already talking publicly about what position he'll play at A&M.

For Kevin Sumlin, it's all there for the taking. For Mack Brown, it's all there to be taken away.




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