While this week should be one of excitement for the Cougar faithful, those positive feelings turned more and more to dread as Thursday wore on. First, Arizona State offered Cougar head coach Kevin Sumlin their vacant head coaching job. (Or maybe then they didn't.) Then the worst case scenario occurred - Texas A&M fired head coach Mike Sherman, and Sumlin was immediately named the Aggies' top choice.
It's easy to see the appeal of the A&M job - an increase in pay, top of the line facilities, a rabid fan base, nearness to a recruiting base Sumlin has already shown a touch for bringing in talent from, and upcoming membership in the best football conference in the nation. If Sumlin leaves, it would be hard to blame him.
But that doesn't mean the Cougar fan base should start picking out parting gifts and/or developing a hatred for Sumlin and Texas A&M that blows away even their distaste for another certain coach and Baylor. Here are five reasons why Sumlin may very well be Houston's head football for the 2012 season and beyond.
1. If A&M changes their mind (entirely possible), there doesn't figure to be any other high profile openings.
Rumors and unnamed sources are as often speculation as they are fact. Let's not forget that the UH coaching search was supposed to be down to Jack Pardee and Michael Haywood before Sumlin got the job.
If A&M decides to pass, the list of schools behind them who could chase Sumlin - Arizona State, Illinois, Kansas, et al. - looks like the type of schools Sumlin has turned down in the past. And while the initial report does read that Sumlin is A&M's top choice, it's not even immediately clear who will have final say in the coaching search. Some feel that athletics director Bill Byrne's days may be numbered, as well. If the AD is out as well, who's making the decisions, and how do we really know who A&M's top candidate is? Speaking of which...
2. There is something to be said for job stability.
There is a strong sense of instability surrounding A&M's athletics department and football program at the moment. Take that job, and not only are you hoping that it calms down, you're taking a job where, no matter what your resume is heading in, you have a few years to start competing at an elite level, or you will be tossed aside. Ask Dennis Franchione. Ask Mike Sherman.
Compare that to Houston, who has a University President in Renu Khator and Athletics Director in Mack Rhoades who are both extremely popular, and have all kinds of job security. The UH fan base worships the ground Sumlin walks on, supported him even through a disappointing season a year ago, and will back him through anything at this point. So Sumlin can have that, or he can be the latest coach who just isn't as good as R.C. Slocum.
3. Texas A&M will be to the SEC what Baylor is to the Big XII, and hopefully we learned something from Art Briles.
Coach Sumlin has often spoken about creating "something special" at Houston, talking about the school's prime recruiting location, and speaking highly of Khator and Rhoades. The Cougars are likely to break ground on a new football stadium, and head to a more prestigious (and BCS-affiliated) conference in the near future. While there are some good teams in the Big East - Houston's likely destination - it is a conference that UH figures to quickly find itself able to compete in. Sumlin can choose to be the face of a school with all of that on the horizon.
On the other hand, Sumlin can head to a school that hasn't had a ten-win season in 13 years, and has exactly one conference championship since 1993. Sumlin can choose to take over a program that repeatedly proved it wasn't in the top tier of the Big XII, and try to take it to the top tier of a conference ten times more competitive. And as previously mentioned in point #2, he'll have about four years to do this, or he'll be kicked to the curb.
But even if the Texas A&M fan base is willing to accept the mediocrity its football team is likely to play with against SEC competition, that basically puts Sumlin on a par with Briles - coaching for a school where a good season means you went 7-5 overall, 4-4 in conference, and earned an invite to a bowl game nobody will watch. Houston has already proven it can play for a BCS bowl game. Honestly, if your life depended on guessing which school - between Texas A&M or UH - would play for a BCS bowl game next after this year, which would you chose? Exactly.
It's not like we're exactly putting words in Sumlin's mouth at this point, either. He had the opportunity to take a job at a middling SEC team two years ago when Tennessee was hiring, and Sumlin showed no interest in the job.
4. The potential pay raise won't be as big as it looks now.
Kevin Sumlin's base salary sits at $1 million per year. I'll spare you the suspense - at some point this off-season (if not sooner), another school will offer him much more money than that. While I don't believe that money will be the most important factor in Sumlin's decision, he's a human being, and as such, the money will be a factor.
That said, with the season he has had, Sumlin is absolutely due for a pay raise from Houston. Given all of the fundraising that has gone on for a new football stadium, and all of the additional revenue UH could be in line for with a potential conference switch, if Rhoades and UH can't find the spare change in the couch to pay Sumlin a competitive salary (they will), then the school doesn't deserve to keep him.
5. Smaller schools keeping outstanding head coaches is no longer unheard of.
Take a look at the coaching situations at other top non-AQ schools. Boise State - after Dan Hawkins left in 2005, he floundered at Colorado. Chris Petersen has stepped in, hasn't missed a step, and has turned down a number of bigger offers. Bronco Mendenhall has been pursued by a number of AQ schools, but is still in his 7th year at BYU. Utah kept head coach Kyle Whittingham around a while (he's now in his 7th year), and it helped them move into an AQ conference. TCU is ready to shed the non-AQ label, largely thanks to its ability to keep Gary Patterson (in his 12th year) around, despite a plethora of offers from bigger conferences.
Now don't get me wrong. There are a number of coaching jobs that you just don't turn down. If, say, Oklahoma needed a new head football coach and looked Sumlin's way, he would leave, and rightfully so. But there are plenty of non-AQ schools who have accomplished, and continue to accomplish more than second-tier schools from AQ conferences, like Texas A&M. An Aggie offer doesn't necessarily mean the end of Sumlin's days on the Cougar sidelines.