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Kevin Sumlin on fans’ expectations, coaching Johnny Manziel, but not Alabama

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(USA Today Sports Images)

About 18 months ago Kevin Sumlin was a young up-and-coming coach, still in Conference USA, with a good reputation but not yet a star in the industry.

Nothing can really prepare a coach for what has happened since then.

Since Texas A&M hired him away from Houston he became one of the hot names in the sport, coached one of the most surprising Heisman Trophy winners ever and then dealt with Johnny Manziel experiencing a wave of social media publicity that has never been seen before in college football. In a year, Texas A&M went from being considered a middle-of-the-pack SEC team to one of the top programs in the country, with increased fan and media expectations to match. Now anyone who follows college football is well aware of who Sumlin is.

Yet Sumlin has taken the new fame and the new challenges in stride.

"I don't pay attention to all of that," Sumlin said. "You talk about coaches in two ways, the way you're talking about me now, and when we're fired. I'd rather be in the first category."

Sumlin was doing a media tour for EA Sports' NCAA Football 14, and he spoke about the game's realism in its recruiting and managing a roster and hiring and losing coordinators and "you name it," as he said. The irony of him gushing about the game is that a video game can't replicate something like, oh, managing his best player becoming a mainstream celebrity.

Tim Tebow was famous, but a few years ago at least it took a few days for things to go viral. Manziel does something interesting now and it's Internet news in a few minutes.

As Sumlin points out, how could anyone have prepared for this situation when there's no precedent?

"This has never happened before, a freshman has never won the Heisman," Sumlin said. "It's easy for people to pass judgment. He's made mistakes, but that's part of growing up. Winning the Heisman, you shouldn't be punished for that.

"He's a young guy, and I think there's a lot of people who love to say what they would do, now that they're older."

Being a fairly young coach at age 48 with four children allows Sumlin to understand the social media landscape Manziel is dealing with. He said he has had discussions with Manziel about everything ("What do you guys think, I just sit back and watch like everyone else?" he joked), and seems to understand the unique challenges pretty well.

"He is who he is," Sumlin said. "There are things he has done that he wished he could take back, there are other things that are just part of him being who he is. Everyone has their opinion of what should happen, but his world is a lot more public than even three or four years ago for someone winning the Heisman because of Twitter and Instagram and all the attention.

"It's like anything else. The people who know him understand a lot more of who he is than the people who see him through Twitter and Instagram."

Aside from his quarterback turning into the biggest star in college football, Sumlin has plenty of other things to occupy his time. But like the Manziel stuff, nothing seems to bother him.

He said when he has talked to fans this offseason, there has been a lot of excitement about what the Aggies accomplished in the 2012 season, including beating Alabama and winning the Cotton Bowl. That's fine, and Sumlin will let them celebrate last season, he just won't be doing it himself.

"We're not discouraging that (among the fans), but as far as coaches we're moving on to next season," Sumlin said.

The expectations don't bother him. Texas A&M was picked to finish fifth in the SEC West division last year, and this year will almost certainly be a top five pick nationally in the preseason polls. He said he doesn't mind heightened expectations because the staff has always expected success. It's just that fans and media expect more now.

And then there's the Alabama question. We all might be waiting anxiously for Sept. 14, when the Crimson Tide comes to Texas A&M, but Sumlin is a coach. He'd never admit to thinking about the third game of the season when he's asked if he has thought about Alabama at all.

"I've thought about Rice," Sumlin said, referring to Texas A&M's season-opening opponent.

That's right out of the coaching playbook for interacting with the media. He could prepare for that, at least.

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