Charlie Strong, Kevin Sumlin both want Texas-Texas A&M rivalry back

ByChris Low ESPN logo
Tuesday, April 14, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas -- If the two coaches have a say, Texasand Texas A&Mwill revive their football rivalry -- preferably on their watches.

Texas' Charlie Strong and Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin both in the past week expressed to a desire to resume playing the long-standing rivalry after a three-year hiatus that coincided with the Aggies' leaving the Big 12 and joining the SEC in 2012.

"That game is so much a part of this state," said Strong, who is entering his second season at Texas. "Over 100 years, we've played that game. Why stop it now because we're in different conferences? At some point, when it's right for everybody with the different schedules, I would love to play Texas A&M again."

Sumlin, who is entering his fourth season at Texas A&M, is also on board with playing Texas again, particularly after hearing from fans and alumni on both sides.

"Now, moving into Year 4 and listening to our former students and our alumni base and knowing a lot of Texas alums, it's important that we play again," Sumlin said. "I think it will happen somewhere down the road. The tough part for both parties, when we moved, was scheduling. The first two years we scrambled just to get anybody to play, and the SEC hadn't solidified their schedule until last year. We were at the mercy of whoever would play us.

"Now that we've solidified what the SEC's scheduling theory is going to be, you've seen us become more aggressive with our nonconference schedule, and that was the knock on us early on. People sometimes take scheduling for granted and say, 'Play this team.' They don't know the process. But I think the Texas series will happen. I just don't know when."

The Texas-Texas A&M rivalry was first played in 1894, making it older than other tradition-rich rivalries such as Notre Dame-USC and Michigan-Ohio State. The two teams have played 118 times and played every year from 1915 to 2011, making it one of college football's most enduring matchups to close the regular season each year.

But Texas A&M's move to the SEC in 2012 ended the series, prompting comments from officials on both sides that it could be a while before the two schools would meet again in the regular season.

Strong has been a part of two annual rivalries in which the two schools were in different conferences. He said there has to be a way to make this one happen again.

"Can you imagine Florida not playing Florida State or South Carolina not playing Clemson?" Strong said. "We all love to see those games. Within the state, it would have such a buildup. It's a game that needs to be played."

Despite how some of Sumlin's comments might have sounded soon after he took the job, he was never opposed to playing Texas and never felt like it wasn't a meaningful game for the Aggies.

"If I were the head coach and came here and we had played for the last five years and all of a sudden that didn't happen, that would be completely different," Sumlin said. "The first year I became the head coach here, we didn't play. As I hit the ground, my focus was somewhere else, and I know you're going to find this hard to believe, but we were starting to play in the SEC West.

"My plate was full, so I made some remarks early that Texas was the last thing I was worried about, so people took that as I was being [flippant]. But I wasn't. I became the head coach at Texas A&M, and we were in the SEC and we weren't playing Texas. For somebody to ask me, that was really the last thing I was thinking about. I think people took that the wrong way."

Over and above scheduling issues, the tricky part in resurrecting the rivalry might be getting administrators at both schools to relent.

Former Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said in 2013 before retiring that it would be on Texas' terms "when we played again." His replacement, Steve Patterson, said in April 2014 that scheduling a nonconference matchup with Texas A&M wasn't at the top of his to-do list.

Shortly after Patterson was hired at Texas, Texas A&M senior associate athletic director Jason Cook said the Aggies hope to play the Longhorns "again in a BCS bowl or playoff game at some point."

The Dallas Morning News reported this week that the two schools would resume their baseball rivalry in 2016 and 2017.

Sumlin's take is that playing the game again should be dictated by what's important to fans on both sides.

"It's not about, 'Is it important to me?'" Sumlin said. "It becomes, 'What's important to fans and former students and alums of Texas A&M and the University of Texas?' That's what matters."

Strong said he hasn't pushed his bosses at Texas to make the game happen.

"Let me win some games first," he said, jokingly. "Then I can push it. I don't know if I want to go walking into College Station right now."

Texas won 27-25 in the last meeting between the schools in 2011 in College Station. The Longhorns lead the overall series 76-37-5 and have won nine of the past 12 games.