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Mazurek: Firing Sumlin and Graham isn’t worth it

| Thursday, November 30, 2017

Over the weekend, millions of Americans saved money through Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals.

Two notable Americans who didn’t get a good deal though were Ray Anderson and Scott Woodward.

Anderson is the athletic director at Arizona State and Woodward holds the same position at Texas A&M, and both programs recently fired their head coaches in the past week and ended up paying a combined $22.7 million in buyout fees.

Kevin Sumlin is owed $10.4 million within 60 days, while Todd Graham will be collecting the last of his $12.3 million in 2021.

Clearly I should get into the coaching gig, where being fired gets me millions of dollars. But that’s not the point of this column.

The point is that $12 million is a lot of money to pay someone to not coach for your school.

Obviously, sometimes things don’t work out and a change in leadership is needed in order for a program to get back to its established record of success.

But zeroing in on Arizona State and Texas A&M (since they payed the most in buyouts), were the firings of Graham and Sumlin worth it?

Graham and Sumlin each led their squads to 7-5 records — certainly not amazing years, but with bowl wins, 8-5 is a mark a lot of schools (Florida, Tennessee) would kill for.

Going back, Graham had two down years in 2015 and 2016, going 5-7 and 6-7 respectively, but he also had an 8-5 mark in his first year as head coach in 2012, before winning 10 games in 2013 and 2014.

Sumlin was no slouch either. He never lost seven games in a season and has wins in the Cotton Bowl over Oklahoma and the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

But the numbers that really stand out are the records of Arizona State and Texas A&M before Graham and Sumlin came in.

Both coaches inherited periods of drought when they started with their respective schools in 2012. For instance, the Sun Devils went 6-6 and 6-7 in 2010 and 2011. The Aggies went 4-8 and 6-7 in 2008 and 2009.

These aren’t schools with long and storied traditions of excellence. Arizona State has never won a national championship and Texas A&M can claim just one AP title in 1939. These aren’t schools that should be firing coaches with proven records of winning.

Sumlin and Graham had resumes that matched up extremely well with many “powerhouse” programs. LSU hasn’t challenged Alabama in the SEC. Neither has Florida, Tennessee or anyone other than Auburn.

Does Scott Woodward really think the best way to dethrone the kings is to spin the coaching roulette wheel and hope someone else works?

Or would letting Sumlin continue to build up a recruiting base in Texas and giving him another shot at the SEC’s top dogs be a better path? Sumlin has proven he can recruit top players and turn them into NFL-ready prospects, so why throw that away? Newsflash: Jimbo Fisher isn’t leaving Florida State.

It’s understandable to part ways with a coach if something isn’t clicking between the coach and university administration or maybe the coach isn’t upholding a program’s culture.

But that’s not the case here. Ray Anderson himself said that the decision to fire Graham was due to on-field failure.

“The athletic department, university and community expect [Arizona State] to compete on the field for Pac-12 titles, be competitively consistent and qualify to participate in major bowl games on a regular basis,” Anderson said in a release.

That’s a mind-boggling quote to me, considering Arizona State never has consistently competed for a Pac-12 title. And if that is the program’s goal, then why fire the one person who’s shown he can get them there, at least for a season or two?

But the coaching carousel spins on and new coaches will soon take up residency in Tempe, Arizona, and College Station, Texas. Hopefully Woodward and Anderson learn their lesson about what their programs truly are.

But if I had to bet, they won’t learn their lessons, and in five years, someone will have to write this same column again.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Marek Mazurek

Marek is a senior history major and is a former resident of Carroll Hall. He has lived in Mishawaka or South Bend for all 21 years of his life and covers Notre Dame football and men's basketball. He has loads of hand-eye coordination but lacks the height to be any good. Marek is also a proud esports supporter.

Contact Marek