Michigan fired Brady Hoke, after a dreadful 2014 season. A risible headline during that debacle was that then Michigan AD Dave Brandon passed on Kevin Sumlin before hiring Hoke. With hindsight, it was a terrible misstep. Kevin Sumlin surely would have been a better hire. (Not sure Brandon could have hired a Houston coach coming off a 5-7 season, but we won’t stress the details.)
Now, however, we have even more hindsight. After Texas A&M’s fast 2014 start imploded into mediocrity, Kevin Sumlin’s résumé looks quite similar to Brady Hoke’s entering his fateful fourth year.
Both Hoke and Sumlin had two “Coach of the Year” seasons before accepting Power 5 jobs. Each had a 12-win season. Each had a strong second season. Maybe Sumlin performed better, though Hoke did it at two separate schools with different quarterbacks. Sumlin spent time as a coordinator. Hoke was the DL coach on a national title team and took the head job he was offered.
Hoke (10-2, 8-4, 7-5) and Sumlin (10-2, 8-4, 7-5) have identical regular season win-loss records through the first three years. Hoke (15-9) had the better conference record than Sumlin (13-11). Bowl games would give Sumlin (3-0) an edge vs. Hoke (1-2). Though one could debate the merits of Michigan’s narrow loss to a Top 10 South Carolina team vs. Texas A&M’s narrow win over Duke.
The Big Ten is not playing in the SEC West, to be sure. Though Texas A&M’s putrid non-conference slates mollify that difference somewhat. Using SRS rankings as a rough measure, Sumlin (20th, 23rd, 12th) had tougher schedules than Hoke (33rd, 33rd, 39th). Though Sumlin inherited a better team. Texas A&M was coming off back-to-back Top 20 SRS seasons. Michigan’s highest SRS finish under Rodriguez was 60th.
Both Hoke and Sumlin started with ingredients for immediate success: a dynamic quarterback and a strong offensive line. Michigan’s 2011 team had Denard Robinson and an experienced offensive line anchored by All-American center David Molk. The one underclassman was future 1st round pick Taylor Lewan. Sumlin inherited Johnny Manziel (Heisman), Mike Evans (Top 10 pick) and perhaps college football’s best offensive line. Four players on the Aggies’ 2012 line were drafted. Three were first round picks.
To be fair, Sumlin let Johnny Football be Johnny Football. Hoke tried to convert Denard into a drop back passer.
Both coaches improved play on their side of the ball. Texas A&M finished 28th in yards/play offense in 2011. The Aggies finished top five Sumlin’s first two years, before taking a dip back to 27th in year three. Michigan finished 101st in yards/play defense in 2010. Hoke’s first three years: 46th, 25th, 41st. (Outside the sample, but Michigan finished 14th in year four)
Both witnessed implosions on the opposite side. Texas A&M finished 14th in yards/play defense in 2011. The first three years under Sumlin: 37th, 109th, 97th. Michigan ranked 10th in yards/play offense in 2010. First three seasons under Hoke: 23rd, 34th, 76th. Hoke brought in big-name Alabama OC Doug Nussmeier in his fourth year to stem the incompetence. Sumlin has brought in big-name LSU DC John Chavis for his fourth season.
Sumlin has recruited very well on paper. His first three full 247 Composite classes ranked 9th, 5th and 11th. Hoke also recruited very well on paper. His first three classes ranked 6th, 4th and 20th. The 2014 ranking was a product of size. Michigan could only bring in 16 players. That class ranked fifth in average prospect rating.
The major difference between the two is packaging. Sumlin comes with shades, rap music and the swag copter. Brady Hoke looks like he dined in at Pizza Hut.
That’s not to say Sumlin’s fourth season will be anything like Hoke’s. We think Texas A&M will bounce back with a strong year. But, it’s worth noting the degree to which perception can drift from reality.
[Photos via USAT]