Texas A&M’s Kyle Field was renovated and expanded under former athletic director Eric Hyman. Bob Levey AP
Texas A&M’s Kyle Field was renovated and expanded under former athletic director Eric Hyman. Bob Levey AP

Mac Engel

Former Aggies AD spells out trouble at Texas A&M

September 21, 2017 11:52 AM

That Contract was signed on his watch, so “it’s his fault.”

No contract in college football these days has generated as much scrutiny and criticism as the one handed to Kevin Sumlin when Eric Hyman was Texas A&M’s athletic director.

In December 2013, Sumlin signed a six-year, $30-million extension. Guaranteed.

With A&M coming to AT&T Stadium on Saturday to play Arkansas, it’s assumed that Sumlin is coaching for his job after a board member called for him to be fired after the Aggies’ embarrassing 44-43 loss to UCLA in the season opener.

Was That Contract Hyman’s decision?

“No. I had nothing to do with it,” Hyman told me in an interview on Wednesday morning at a Starbucks near his home in Fort Worth.

“I have done this job a long time and I don’t blame Kevin Sumlin. If someone is going to give you $5 million a year for six years, it would have been stupid of him to turn it down,” Hyman said. “But the contract was given to me, and it was ‘This is what we are going to do.’ I looked at myself and I was stunned.

“I had no say so over it. I’ve been doing this job for a long time. I had worked with Steve Spurrier for years, and he was paid a heck of a lot less than Coach Sumlin. And he won national championships after conference championships. And then you are making this commitment to a person, and again I don’t blame Kevin, that’s never won a conference championship.

“When the original contract was given to me, if Kevin were to leave the next day there was no buyout provision.”

Is this a case of an ex-athletic director covering his behind with revisionist history? On this one, no.

Given Hyman’s history of how he handled coaches and costs plus A&M’s history of an “active board,” his explanation is plausible.

But why would A&M give Sumlin such a deal when there was no need?

“Because people didn’t know what they were doing,” Hyman said. “I learned this valuable lesson when I was at VMI (Virginia Military Institute), what the 12th Man Foundation is, or the Frog Club, or whatever.

“I learned this as a young, 33-year-old athletic director: VMI people are brilliant. They come to a meeting in a three-piece suit and they leave their brains at home. There are some schools that are more than that; A&M, to a certain extent, had more people like that. They would say things and do things that are mind-boggling.”

Throughout his career, Hyman was close to the vest in his dealings with the media, so it’s equally mind-boggling for him to say this on the record.

Texas A&M field level view of new Kyle Field

A field level view from newly refurbished Kyle Field, where Texas A&M will play its first home game of the season Saturday against Ball State. Video by Jimmy Burch

jburch@star-telegram.com

He is 66, and essentially retired. The former AD at VMI, Miami (Ohio), TCU, South Carolina and Texas A&M is a bit looser with his thoughts.

What he said about A&M, where he was the AD from 2012 to 2016, is troubling. Someone within that power structure should at least acknowledge they are part of the problem.

Hyman didn’t necessarily always make people happy in his stops at TCU or South Carolina, but the results speak for themselves. Both athletic departments improved dramatically after his arrival, including A&M’s. He was at TCU from 1997-2005.

We spoke, on the record, for about 10 minutes and focused mostly on A&M.

You have a legacy at TCU and South Carolina; do you feel like you have one at Texas A&M?

I wasn’t there long enough. We tried to implement some programs but at A&M they managed the activities, they didn’t manage the results of what we were trying to do.

What does that mean?

They were in the day-to-day activities of athletics. If you want to hire an athletic director you have to let them do their job.

Who is they?

The leadership of the university.

Do you regret taking the job?

There are some things that I felt because of my ethical standards I was not a good fit. I felt if I had to do it again, I would probably do a lot better job of researching it.

The myth surrounding the expansion at Kyle Field is that it was done on the back of success of Johnny Manziel. Is that true?

It was already done. When I got there, before Manziel won the Heisman Trophy, a lot of work had already been done. The road map was in place. Did Johnny make it easier? Sure. No question. Because of the success and notoriety. When I got there, I think, most people were apprehensive about the SEC. Most people felt they were not sure how well they were going to do. Johnny flipped the thought process and gave them a boost of confidence.

Can A&M in the SEC be successful and sustain it?

It’s a tough league but if look at historically, what A&M has to do is not shoot itself in the foot. Yeah, I think the potential is there. My reservations about taking the job was the 12th Man Foundation and how involved they were in what you were doing. I thought they were fantastic.

What were those reservations?

I had heard they ran athletic department, which was just a rumor. When I got into it, that was my biggest surprise. The quality of people was terrific.

Did you enjoy your time at A&M?

Parts I enjoyed and parts that I did not. There were situations they did not let the athletic director do their job. People there wanted to run the athletic department and not let the athletic director do it. It was so political. Because of that it’s made it difficult to achieve of what you wanted to do.

I laid out, in the interview process, what I wanted to do to do what a successful athletic department does. I didn’t deviate from that. That’s what I tried to do. When I got into the situation, that was not true.

They told you what you wanted to hear?

Well, Dr. (Bowen) Loftin was the president, and then he was asked to leave. At that point in time, it was Katy bar the door.

Are you hopeful or concerned about the future of A&M athletics in the SEC?

If they allow the people to do the job, they can be very successful. They’ve got people there that want to be the athletic director. They micro manage.

Do you think that is a common problem at other large, Power 5 state schools?

You have the presidents more wired than they used to be, because of the visibility and because of the money that is involved. Some schools, probably so. It just varies. But the ones I’ve talked to, none are like Texas A&M.

Do you miss the profession at all?

EH: Parts are I do miss, and parts I am ecstatic I’m not there any more.

What do you miss?

The connection with the student-athletes. Some of the coaches. That’s why I did the job — to make a difference on a person’s life.

What don’t you miss?

The political-ness. You have it everywhere, but some of the shenanigans that went on.

Do you still like college athletics?

It’s changed a lot.

That’s not an answer.

[Laughs] It’s a lot different than when I first got into it. And I don’t know that I am the best person for college athletics, the way my values are.

Do your values have a place in college athletics?

I would hope so, and some places more than other places. What I stand for, what I think is right. I understand you have to win but you want to win with class. But you have to make the main thing the main thing, and that is the student-athletes, and we can’t lose sight of that. We are losing sight of that. It’s more professional than it is true college athletics. They are more professional. It’s more of a professional sport than a college sport.

Does that apply across the board or just two sports?

Just a couple, but to a certain extent the other ones, too. These people have to have time off. They don’t. Now there are some that don’t want time off because they want to go to the Olympics. I understand that. Part of college is the experience of being able to connect with other college students, not just football players. Not just basketball players or track athletes. It’s a chance to be able to meet other people and the chance to grow from that. I think college athletics has gotten more isolated.

If a 22-year-old student comes to you and says they want to be you and be a Power 5 college AD, what do you tell them?

I’d say have a lobotomy first.

Texas A&M safety Justin Evans on criticism of coach Kevin Sumlin

Texas A&M safety Justin Evans says Kevin Sumlin remains the right coach for the Aggies.

Charean Williams cjwilliams@star-telegram.com

Mac Engel: @macengelprof

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