HOUSTON (AP) - Texas A&M has hired Houston’s Kevin Sumlin as its new coach.
A&M athletic director Bill Byrne announced the decision Saturday. He says he believes Sumlin “is the right person to lead our football program into the Southeastern Conference.”
Speculation intensified that Sumlin would move about 100 miles northwest to College Station when A&M fired Mike Sherman after he went 25-25 in four seasons. Sumlin was an assistant coach at A&M under R.C. Slocum in 2001-02.
The Aggies (6-6) are scheduled to play Northwestern (6-6) in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston on Dec. 31, with A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter serving as interim coach.
It will be the Aggies’ last game as a Big 12 team before moving to the Southeastern Conference next season.
“I am very excited about the opportunity to serve as the head football coach at Texas A&M University,” Sumlin said in a statement. “Having coached there before, I understand the culture and embrace the commitment by the 12th Man regarding Aggie football. Aggieland is a special place and I look forward to working with the young men in the football program and recruiting the type of players we need to be successful in the SEC.”
Sumlin told the Cougars that he was leaving in an emotional meeting on Saturday afternoon.
The Cougars (12-1) play Penn State (9-3) in the TicketCity Bowl in Dallas on Jan. 2 with assistant Tony Levine serving as the interim head coach.
Sumlin, 47, went 35-17 in four seasons with Houston, and the Cougars routinely ranked as one of the nation’s highest scoring teams.
“When you have a head coach, the one thing that you ask is that you leave the program in better shape than what you inherited,” Houston athletic director Mack Rhoades said. “And there’s no question that Coach Sumlin did that.”
Houston won its first 12 games this year and was in line for a Bowl Championship Series berth this season until losing at home to Southern Mississippi in the Conference USA championship game.
Despite the loss, Sumlin remained a hot name to fill just about every high-profile coaching vacancy available. Reports linked him to Mississippi, Illinois, Arizona State and UCLA, in addition to Texas A&M.
The Aggies entered this season with 18 returning starters and a top-10 ranking. They were expected to contend for the Big 12 championship and be a factor in the national title hunt, but then lost early games to Oklahoma State and Arkansas after holding double-digit halftime leads.
A&M won three in a row after the first skid, but a three-game losing streak, which included two overtime losses, ensured the Aggies of a mediocre season. The low point of the season came when Texas A&M ended its more than century-old rivalry with Texas with a 27-25 loss at home on Thanksgiving.
Sherman was fired on Dec. 1 and Byrne and school president R. Bowen Loftin started seeking a new coach.