HOOVER, Ala. — Kevin Sumlin is neither blind nor deaf.
He sees the scoreboards and hears the mounting criticism. Certainly, he can cup his ear and hear the whispers about his ceiling.
When you’ve had three consecutive 8-5 seasons, you know that’s not bad, but it’s not good enough.
When you’ve crumbled in three straight Novembers, you know something has to change.
“We made some tough decisions about last year,” said the Texas A&M coach.
The changes are more subtle than in-your-face headline makers. He’s changed his strength staff and players have worked on flexibility and durability.
“Keeping our bodies together,” said safety Armani Watts. “That’s what’s been catching us at the end of the year. Just muscle fatigue. It makes a difference.”
Whether a new training program makes a difference or not remains to be seen. One thing that won’t change is the chirping that comes with fast starts and stumbling finishes.
“We try not to listen to the outside noises,” said lineman Koda Martin. ‘But it’s no fun going 8-5 after starting 6-0.”
Sumlin has a $10 million buyout and a seat that is perceived to be warm enough to heat an SUV. There isn’t much question that his hot seat is a real one based on the comments of his athletic director in Destin last May.
“We’ve had a heck of a spring, recruiting is going well but coach knows he has to win and win this year and we have to do better than we’ve done in the past,” Scott Woodward said then.
Hardly a vote of confidence.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations before that and after that,” Sumlin said.
“Nothing changes for me. Whatever is said, whatever is written, it’s not going to affect my job and my day-to-day operation.”
At SEC Media Days on Wednesday, Sumlin brushed off any talk of pressure, claiming it’s no different than his first job at Wyoming when head coach Joe Tiller told his first-year wide receivers coach, “If they don’t start catching the ball, I’m going to fire your ass.”
“The pressure I feel is the same pressure I feel all the time,” Sumlin said. “Everything’s relative. Some people sum it up in wins and losses. I know we’re doing the things we need to do to get better and I’d be surprised if the results don’t bear that out.”