If the sky isn’t falling in College Station, it’s at least dangling over a cliff, inching closer and closer to a painful tumble.
According to a Thursday report from Billy Luicci of TexAgs.com, Texas A&M freshman quarterback Kyler Murray has decided to transfer from the program. Murray’s family confirmed the report to ESPN’s Gerry Hamilton, and the school eventually announced Murray’s transfer Thursday evening.
The news is just the latest blow to Aggieland, which saw sophomore quarterback Kyle Allen announce his intentions to transfer earlier this month. Now Texas A&M finds itself without its two primary signal-callers from 2015. Sophomore Jake Hubenak, who attempted just 27 passes in garbage time this season, is the most seasoned returning quarterback on the Aggies’ roster. Soon coach Kevin Sumlin might need to recruit the 12th man to take snaps in 2016.
Quarterback transfers aren’t uncommon in major college football, but losing two highly touted passers in the same week is. The latest development comes nearly a year after the Aggies lost former quarterback Kenny Hill to a transfer before spring practice. Now the sagas of Allen, Hill and Murray seem to point to larger issues within the foundations of the Texas A&M program under Sumlin. The Aggies have to decide what needs to be fixed, and whether or not Sumlin is the man to fix it.
Entering the 2015 season, Sumlin boasted one of the most talented quarterback rooms in the SEC. Both Allen and Murray were five-star recruits who largely defined the Aggies’ recruiting prowess under Sumlin. In 2014 Allen, a true freshman, grabbed the starting job from Hill midway through the season and finished by starting the final five games. Heading into the off-season, Allen looked like the future at Texas A&M.
Things got more complicated when Murray, the crown jewel of Sumlin’s 2015 signing class, reached campus. Allen started the first seven games of the season but was benched by Sumlin after struggling against Alabama and Ole Miss. Murray, the No. 1 dual-threat QB recruit in the country, started three games before Allen finished the regular season with the final two starts. In the end, the dual-threat Murray recorded 1,021 yards of offense and six touchdowns while Allen threw for 2,210 and 17 scores.
But Sumlin’s “musical chairs” approach to coaching quarterbacks didn’t produce results Aggie fans wanted. A&M finished as the ninth-most efficient passing offense in the SEC and threw 14 interceptions, fewer than only Kentucky and Vanderbilt (16 each) in the league. The Aggies, meanwhile, turned a 5–0 start into a lackluster 8–5 season. It’s almost hard to believe Texas A&M produced a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Johnny Manziel, as recently as 2012. Now Sumlin has watched two blue-chip quarterbacks walk out the door in the same week, both following another underwhelming season in College Station.
Why would two five-star players bolt Aggieland? According to a report this week from Scout.com, Sumlin made promises of playing time to both Allen and Murray during their respective recruitments. Once Allen decided to transfer, Murray would have seemingly inherited full-time quarterback duties. But the latter player had reportedly fallen out of step with Sumlin and his staff. “This is a kid, who still has options, that has lost total trust in his coach and the program,” the source told Scout.com’s Taylor Gaspar. “During the season, Kyler came to a point where he said ‘I can’t trust this man anymore.’”
That’s not a good look for any coach, particularly Sumlin. Texas A&M’s coach has compiled an SEC career defined more by elite recruiting than big wins. After capping an 11–2 season with Manziel at quarterback in 2012, Texas A&M went 0–4 against ranked teams during the ‘13 regular season before rallying to beat No. 24 Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. In 2014 the Aggies took a 5–0 record to Starkville but fell to Mississippi State and lost five of their final seven games.
A win over Louisville in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30 would cap Texas A&M’s second straight 8–5 campaign. Now Sumlin is 1–6 against ranked teams at Kyle Field and is 17–15 in SEC games during his tenure at A&M. It wasn’t long ago that some connected Sumlin to NFL openings. Now, the coach barely has a grip on his current program, one that almost feels farther from SEC contention than when he arrived.
If Aggie fans can take solace in anything, it’s this: The biggest recruit in Texas A&M’s crop of 2016 commits remains on board—for the moment. On Wednesday five-star quarterback Tate Martell out of Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas tweeted a reaffirmation of his commitment to the Aggies. “I want to make it clear that I’m still 100% solid on Texas A&M!” Martell wrote. However, Martell posted his tweet before Murray’s transfer became official.
Either way, A&M fans have heard this before. Sumlin’s recruits mean nothing if high-impact signees don’t stay on campus. If instability exists within the walls of Texas A&M’s football facility—or if Sumlin is making recruiting promises he can’t keep—the program will slip farther away from an SEC title with each passing day.
Sumlin’s current recipe runs counter to what seems to win games in major college football. This past off-season, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer convinced three talented quarterbacks (J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller) to stay in Columbus. All three signal-callers could have transferred to greener pastures and had success. But Meyer got the trio to buy in, and the result was a season that nearly ended with a playoff berth. Right now, Texas A&M sits on the opposite end of the stability spectrum. Sumlin has mishandled his key recruits at a time when Aggie fans expect production in the SEC West.
Now the question is, what’s next? If the power brokers at Texas A&M don’t feel comfortable with the state of affairs under Sumlin, the coach’s days might be numbered. But at some point Sumlin needs to do more than recruit. He needs to find a way to mold that talent together—and keep that talent on campus—and produce at a school that expects winning. Right now, a dark cloud looms over Texas A&M with no clear skies in sight. It’s up to Sumlin to fix the mess he has created.