- Associated Press - Saturday, December 10, 2011

HOUSTON (AP) - A person with knowledge of the decision says Houston’s Kevin Sumlin has accepted an offer to become the coach at Texas A&M.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because no official announcement has been made.

Sumlin arrived at the Houston student athletics center about noon Saturday. He refused to answer questions as he walked into the building.

The person told the AP that Sumlin informed his team that he was leaving in a meeting on Saturday, and that assistant Tony Levine will serve as the interim head coach for the bowl game. The Cougars (12-1) play Penn State (9-3) in the TicketCity Bowl in Dallas on Jan. 2.

Houston won its first 12 games 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.

Speculation intensified that Sumlin would move about 100 miles northwest to College Station after A&M fired Mike Sherman. Sumlin was an assistant coach at A&M under R.C. Slocum in 2001-02.

Texas A&M would not confirm that Sumlin was taking the job. The Aggies (6-6) will play Northwestern (6-6) in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston on Dec. 31, and A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter is serving as interim coach.

Sumlin, 47, was 35-17 in four seasons with Houston. An Indianapolis native, Sumlin played linebacker for Purdue in the 1980s before beginning his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Washington State in 1989.

He worked as an assistant at Wyoming and Minnesota before returning to his alma mater to work as an assistant coach under Joe Tiller while Drew Brees starred for the Boilermakers. Sumlin moved to Texas A&M in 2001 to work for Slocum as an offensive assistant. Slocum was fired after the 2002 season, which included a victory over then-No. 1 Oklahoma.

Sooners’ coach Bob Stoops then hired Sumlin in 2003 as a special teams coordinator and tight ends coach. Sumlin was promoted to co-offensive coordinator in 2006, and a year later, Oklahoma ranked fifth in scoring (42.3 points) and 19th in total offense (448.9 yards per game) on its way to the Fiesta Bowl.

Houston hired Sumlin as its first black head coach in December 2007, and Sumlin vowed to use what he learned from Stoops to build up the Cougars’ program.

Case Keenum was already here when Sumlin arrived, a diamond-in-the-rough recruit from Abilene lured by previous coach Art Briles. His accuracy made him an instant fit for Sumlin’s spread offense, and Keenum led the nation in total offense (403 yards per game) and ranked second in yards passing (386 per game).

The Cougars finished 8-5 and ranked No. 2 in offense (563 yards per game) and 10th in scoring (40.6 points per game). Houston won 10 games in 2009, and Sumlin’s name started coming up then in speculation about vacancies at higher-profile locales.

Mack Rhoades, meanwhile, had become Houston’s athletics director in June 2009 and immediately launched efforts to raise funds for a new football stadium and renovations to run-down Hofheinz Pavilion.

The program’s trajectory hit a snag in 2010, when Keenum sustained a season-ending knee injury in the third game. The season collapsed, and the school desperately petitioned the NCAA to get Keenum one more season.

Sumlin called Keenum personally to tell him that the NCAA had granted the request and the Cougars instantly became a favorite to win Conference USA in 2011.

Meanwhile, the school itself began a push toward the Big East, where a Bowl Championship Series would be attached. The school made the official announcement that it was changing leagues on Friday, and Sumlin attended.

The Cougars seemed poised to crash the BCS this year anyway, rolling through their schedule with a video-game offense and one of the nation’s most improved defenses.

Momentum for both Sumlin and the program stalled in the Cougars’ 49-28 loss to Southern Miss in Saturday’s Conference USA championship, a loss that cost Houston its first undefeated season and a chance to play in the BCS.

Afterward, both Sumlin and Rhoades shot down a media report that he would be hired as the next coach at Texas A&M. Rhoades promised to do everything in his power to retain Sumlin, whose contract ran through the 2015 season.

Ultimately, the rumor proved to be true, and Sumlin will be the man to lead the Aggies into their first season in the Southeastern Conference. Houston, meanwhile, will begin its search for Sumlin’s successor, with its own new conference and the promise of a new football stadium to sell.


AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken contributed.

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