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Kevin Sumlin Pulled Off an Amazing Transition

Pretty much no one has pulled off a switch between the pro-style and the spread in Year 1. Sumlin not only did it, but he did it while doing something he'd never done before.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

In an era when "multiple" is a buzzword and nearly all new schemes are repackaged collections of old ones, it has become a cliché to hear coaches say that they will tailor their offenses to fit the personnel on hand. It's definitely something that is easier said than done.

Sometimes, a coaching staff will say that's what it'll do when either it won't or is incapable of fitting an offense to its players. Other times coaches must be dragged kicking and screaming into actually doing it. Or, a staff will end up just tossing together disparate concepts and end up without a cohesive scheme at all. Actually adapting a scheme to fit players is very, very hard to do because scheme tends to flow from philosophy. It's extremely rare that coaches bend their philosophies; after all, they believe in what they do because they think it's best. Big time shifts by big time coaches, like Bear Bryant installing the wishbone and Steve Spurrier abandoning the Fun 'n Gun for a spread option variant, just don't happen very often.

A drum I have been beating around here for a while is that transitions to and from spread-based offenses and pro-style offenses take at least a year to get right. Sometimes it takes even longer than that. The fact that coaches are generally either unwilling or bad at adapting to personnel is the reason. The lag time is mostly just to get new players in that better fit the scheme.

Fittingly, I foresaw a rocky transition for Kevin Sumlin in his first season at Texas A&M. Mike Sherman is about as NFL-y as a college coach can get, and on top of that, Sumlin had a quarterback battle among freshman to deal with. Johnny Football, let's not forget, didn't actually win the starting job until the middle of August. How was this going to work?

It worked by Sumlin flawlessly adjusting his scheme to fit his players. The guy who had led a pass-first-and-pass-second offense at Houston mixed in a lot more running:

Season Team Runs Passes Run Pct.
2006 Oklahoma 540 357 60.2%
2007 Oklahoma 560 415 57.4%
2008 Houston 379 637 37.3%
2009 Houston 385 765 33.5%
2010 Houston 398 496 44.5%
2011 Houston 401 701 36.4%
2008-11 Houston 1563 2599 37.6%
2012 Texas A&M 533 492 52.0%

Sumlin was a co-offensive coordinator at Oklahoma along with Kevin Wilson in 2006-07, so as you can see, Sumlin had some experience with a system that ran the ball with a lot more regularity than any of his Houston teams would do. However, Sumlin had never had anything like Manziel among his starting quarterbacks:

Season QB Rushes Yards YPC
2006 Paul Thompson 71 151 2.13
2007 Sam Bradford 31 7 0.23
2008 Case Keenum 76 221 2.91
2009 Case Keenum 60 158 2.63
2010 David Piland 23 28 1.22
2011 Case Keenum 57 35 0.61
2006-11 Pre-Manziel 318 600 1.89
2012 Johnny Manziel 201 1410 7.01

The talented Mr. Football had two-thirds as many carries and more than twice as many yards as Sumlin's starting quarterbacks had over his six years of being a coordinator or head coach combined. He didn't direct Manziel to sit in the pocket and throw 700 times this season like Keenum used to. He worked in ways to effectively use the quarterback's legs, something he had never done before.

For that reason as much as any, Sumlin probably should have won every coach of the year award he was up for. Not only did he execute a flawless transition from the pro-style to a spread attack in Year 1, an impressive feat in and of itself, he did so while installing new things into his system that he had never done before. Oh yeah, and he did it in the first year of a conference switch, something that has tripped up a lot of other programs lately, and it was a move to no less than the SEC. Did I mention that he beat national champ Alabama? Because he did that too.

Sumlin's name is not yet one that automatically comes up when discussing the absolute best coaches in the country. If his work in 2012 is any indication, that situation won't last.