COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin was hoping that Monday’s media day would be focused on all the positive things the Aggies have going for them heading into the 2013 season.
He knew better though.
Sumlin has been busy the last 24 hours as the Aggies have been dealing with the ESPN Outside the Lines report that Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel is being investigated by the NCAA for allegedly selling his signatures during a trip to Miami in January.
And while Manziel didn’t participate in the media day event, Sumlin hit the news head on.
“That’s a situation for me as a coach that has happened in a 24-hour period,” Sumlin said. “Our university is doing its due diligence to find out the facts. As a coach you deal with a lot of different things during this time. We’re going to practice and go ahead as normal and be able to adjust as the facts are related to me. Over the last 24 hours we’ve become aware of that situation and we will deal with it accordingly.”
How the Aggies deal with it remains to be seen. Sumlin said that Manziel would continue to get the starting repetitions when the Aggies began practicing Monday evening. Manziel was loose when he was on the practice field with his teammates during the 20 minutes the media was allowed to watch practice.
Sumlin said that because the investigation in ongoing, the school hasn’t determined how it will handle Manziel if the review in ongoing when the Aggies open the season Aug. 31 against Rice.
Sumlin said he didn’t have any advance notice that the news was breaking and it broke during a team meeting Sunday night.
The school was already dealing with the death of defensive lineman Polo Manukainiu last week, whose funeral is this Saturday. Now Sumlin is trying to process the Manziel situation.
He said he hasn’t had a chance to sit down and talk with Manziel about what’s going on but plans to.
“Your reaction is one of ‘OK let’s find out the facts,'” Sumlin said. “Like I said our university is involved and doing their due diligence. Until we have the facts whatever your reaction is isn’t really important. It’s what you do when you reach the facts. For me I’ve dealt with a lot of different things.”
Manziel was originally slated to participate in the media day but that decision was changed after the news broke. The school said that Manziel would talk to the media at a later date.
If Manziel gets suspended, the Aggies have little experience behind him. The only QB on the roster that’s thrown a pass for A&M is junior Matt Joeckel, who went 5 for 11 last season. Sumlin said finding a backup quarterback has also been a priority, even before the Manziel news.
“We’ve had a plan for our quarterbacks,” Sumlin said. “We didn’t have a starter last year but nobody asked me what the plan was for the quarterbacks. We’re going to practice however we do it. As the facts start to come in, we’ll adjust accordingly. We’ve got to develop a backup quarterback no matter what.”
While Manziel didn’t talk Monday, his teammates did.
They aren’t going to let the investigation become a distraction for a team that’s coming off a 10-2 season and was ranked No. 6 in the country in the USA Today preseason coaches’ poll, mainly because of the presence of Manziel.
They are also smart enough to realize their team could be much different if Manziel is suspended for a portion or all of the season.
“With our team on the offensive side of the ball it starts with him,” running back Ben Malena said. “He’s our starting quarterback. He still has all the leadership qualities he displayed last year and he’s more vocal now. He’s taking more of a leadership responsibility so I think all the off-the-field issues doesn’t bother us one bit as far as the team aspect.”
Mike Evans, the team’s leading returning receiver with more than 1,100 yards and five touchdowns, heaped praise on the host of backup prospects. That doesn’t mean he wants to be catching passes from anyone other than Manziel, who accounted for more than 5,100 yards of total offense as a redshirt freshman.
“They are look good,” Evans said. “All of our quarterbacks are mobile. They all have big arms and they all have good tempo.”
Sumlin made it clear that whatever happens with Manziel, nothing will change about what he expects out of his team regardless of who plays at Kyle Field when the Aggies play Rice.
The attention that goes along with everything the Aggies have accomplished in the last season and all the off-the-field issues with Manziel is just part of the territory now for A&M.
“We’re coming off a year that no one expected, No. 1, with a Heisman Trophy winner,” Sumlin said. “The allegations of yesterday that comes with the territory with a high-profile player. The expectations outside the program are one thing. The fact that this press conference and media situation is being carried alive says enough. It’s a combination of a lot of things that brought us here today and right or wrong, that’s where it is.”