Kevin Sumlin stood up on the podium at SEC media days, looked out to the sea of journalists and began to break down his 2014 Texas A&M team, his expectations and how he felt about the upcoming season.
And when it was all said and done and the floor was opened for questions, Sumlin quickly learned that no one wants to talk about A&M’s future, just its past.
What is it like not coaching Johnny Manziel? Do you miss him?
That was the first question from the gallery as audible groans and snickering followed.
Manziel was the lightning rod of a quarterback who brought Texas A&M a Heisman Trophy two years ago, but also brought the school some unwanted headlines. Manziel was a dazzling player and caused even those who didn’t like college football to turn on the television just to see what kind of magic he was making on the field. However, off the field, there was (legal) gambling, (sometimes legal) drinking, womanizing and some (alleged) unauthorized autographing that nearly got the quarterback and A&M in some major trouble with the NCAA.
But that was old news. Manziel left the program after last season and was drafted with the 22nd overall pick by the Cleveland Browns.
Sadly, some just weren't ready to let him go.
"Let me get this straight, the question was, ‘What's it like not coaching Johnny Manziel?’” Sumlin asked.
“I understand there's not going to be another Johnny Manziel, the way he played the game, that's all part of it… What we have done is we've gone out and been able to recruit very, very well to a system that we believe in. With that being said, your first question to me is irrelevant.”
But Sumlin's answer didn’t deter the questions. After one question about this year’s team, another Manziel gem surfaced.
Ever since the party photos and whatnot have kind of emerged from Johnny, have you had a chance to visit him? If so, what have you shared with him and what advice have you given him?
It’s OK to roll your eyes in annoyance and disgust at this point, pretty sure the rest of the media did as well. Sumlin, to his credit, answered the question in the best and most entertaining way he knew how.
“Is this the SEC Media Days?” Sumlin said. “No, that's a great question about the Cleveland Browns. Anybody else got something?”
So, for those counting at home, of the first three questions Sumlin received at the 2014 SEC media day, one was whether he “missed” Johnny Manziel and the other was whether he was still policing Manziel's actions.
It was probably unrealistic to think Sumlin would avoid the SEC ghost of one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in NCAA history and he handled it as well as he could. While there were still more questions about quarterbacks during the media session, most pertained to the youth at the position and whether A&M could be successful with so much inexperience.
Funny how people remember Manziel for his dazzling play and off-field antics, but conveniently forget that he led the Aggies to an 11-2 record as a redshirt freshman.
Sumlin can coach. Thinking that A&M was all about Manziel is inaccurate. Manziel was a very good player, but he had a lot of talent around him and a great scheme with which to work. Sumlin noted that A&M might have changed its offense to fit Manziel and that it might have to do it again to fit whomever the next starter happens to be. But he assured those so concerned about Manziel’s absence that the Aggies were going to hold their heads high and valiantly move on without him.
“College football is a lot different than the NFL,” Sumlin said. “You know, really great NFL teams and organizations have a core group of players that they keep, then a satellite group that kind of bounces in and out and they keep winning. The difference is, in college football every two, three years you're going to have turnover, and you have to have a plan for that. Whether it's quarterback, whether it's a great defender, whatever it is. To me that's what's exciting about college football. You wouldn't be so excited if you hadn't recruited the Gatorade Player of the Year out of the state of Texas at quarterback and the number one quarterback in the country behind him.
“What we have done is we've gone out and been able to recruit very, very well to a system that we believe in… I think we've laid the groundwork in recruiting to still be successful.”
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