COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Kevin Sumlin had opportunities to leave Houston ever since his first year with the Cougars.
He never wanted to move until the Aggies came after him.
Sumlin was introduced as Texas A&M's coach on Monday, two days after he was hired to replace Mike Sherman who was fired after a disappointing 6-6 season.
"To have an opportunity to be the head coach at Texas A&M was something very special to me," Sumlin said after donning a maroon blazer. "Being at one of the great traditional universities in the United States and playing in probably the best league in the country is just a great opportunity for me."
Sumlin will move from Conference USA to perhaps the toughest football league in the country with the Aggies joining the Southeastern Conference next year.
The former Oklahoma offensive coordinator said he is not daunted by the challenge.
"I didn't come here to do anything but win," he said. "I've never looked at who we played as being the issue, I've worried about our situation and it has been about us. Whether it's Alabama or Alabama State, it really doesn't matter. I worry more about Texas A&M and us getting better."
Sumlin returns to the school after working as an assistant under R.C. Slocum in 2001-02. He wasn't looking to leave Houston, but said that he'd long wanted to come back to College Station.
"When you have an opportunity like this ... it's something that I wanted to do and needed to do," he said.
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.
That loss left Sherman at 25-25 in four seasons with the team and he was soon fired, making room for Sumlin.
The 47-year-old Sumlin was 35-17 in four seasons with Houston, and he had the Cougars routinely ranked as one of the top offenses in the country statistically. His high-flying offensive approach has some wondering how he will fare in a conference known for defense.
"They play great defense in the SEC," he said. "We're going to do what's necessary to win. I think I've shown that in my track record as we evolved at Oklahoma. What we've done at Houston has been a little bit different due to personnel."
Athletic director Bill Byrne said Sumlin's deal is for five years at $2 million annually. It is subject to approval by the board of regents.
Byrne said his first meeting with Sumlin turned into a 2 1/2 hour conversation during which he realized he was the man for the job.
"The thing that I liked about him was how genuine his love for Texas A&M is and how much he loves working in the state of Texas and how much he loves what we stand for here at Texas A&M," Byrne said.
The Aggies (6-6) will 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 SEC.
Sumlin hasn't made any decisions about his staff yet and said the current group will remain intact until after the bowl game. He will handle recruiting while the rest of the coaches work on bowl preparations.
Sumlin plans to meet with the team Monday afternoon. He decided to stay out of A&M's bowl work and not to coach Houston in its bowl because he believed it would be best for both teams.
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.
"I thought that I would be a distraction to their success," Sumlin said of the Cougars. "I was not walking out on them, but what I was doing was giving them a chance to be successful."
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 C-USA championship game.
Sumlin remained a hot name to fill just about every high-profile coaching vacancy available despite that loss. Reports linked him to Mississippi, Illinois, Arizona State and UCLA, along with Texas A&M.
Texas A&M's only Heisman Trophy winner John David Crow, who won the award in 1957, came out to meet Sumlin on Monday. He thinks Sumlin is a good hire, but doesn't know how he'll fare in the SEC.
"We'll have to find out if he's the right guy or not going into the SEC," Crow said. "It's big step for us and it's a big step for him. I think we have someone that has the experience and I think we'll be all right. I really do."Comment on this story
Sumlin saw some familiar faces when he arrived on campus as several players he recruited to play at Houston ended up at A&M instead. He teased linebacker Sean Porter, who committed to Houston before deciding to sign with the Aggies.
"I clicked with him and I liked him as a person and I wanted to go play for him," Porter said of Sumlin. "Then I came to Aggieland and I fell in love with it, so I switched. He's already said something to me today. I'm sure I'll get a little more of that as we progress in this relationship."