As soon as Mike Sherman was fired Thursday night as the Aggies head coach, Kevin Sumlin's name jumped into the conversation as a replacement. The Cougars head coach has done his best this week to downplay all the talk. He's been focused. And his team's been focused on beating Southern Mississippi in Saturday's Conference USA championship game.
But when your team is 12-0, your name is going to be mentioned. Arizona State reportedly came after Sumlin with offers said to be between $2.5 and $4 million a season. And the Aggies appear to be interested, too.
U of H Athletic Director Mack Rhoades released a statement today saying, "Coach Sumlin, our staff and student-athletes have done a tremendous job this season and we are extremely excited and honored to play against a great football team for the Conference USA championship. Many eyes are fixated on Houston and the continued success of our football team. With that success comes great interest in our program and head coach. Coach Sumlin, our staff and student-athletes remain focused on tomorrow's game and we are extremely excited about the future. We will continue to be proactive in doing all we can to make sure that Kevin and his family, along with our staff and their families, know that we value them tremendously."
Rhodes and Sumlin plan to talk after Saturday's game. On Friday, the Aggies said goodbye to Sherman, who was disappointed that his family found out before him and that he was told over the phone last night that he was fired.
Students are reacting to the news their head coach could soon be getting a big job offer. And the big question remains. Will what's happening outside Robertson Stadium affect what happens in it?
"I'm so thrilled. Can't wait to go tomorrow. I'm so excited," said U of H student Le Ho about the game.
"It puts us in the national spotlight where we haven't been before," said student Arturo Perez.
The Cougars are in the spotlight now not just because of their undefeated season, but because it's the man who led them there is now being courted by larger schools.
"Yeah, it is a distraction," said a bus driver with whom we spoke. "The boys love him. The boys love him."
There's no question about that. And some do worry that Sumlin's recruitment could be distracting. Those who know this football team say it won't be an issue.
"They know what's at stake. I don't think they're gonna let that get to them," said student Trent Tullos.
Shanequa Parker is a UH sports medicine student and works with the players.
"All they're worried about is this one game. They're preparing for this game as every other; prepared to win it," said Parker.
The Cougars have come too far, worked too hard, she says, to let something like this off the field affect what happens on the field.
"They're focused. They're ready," she said.
If you're not going to the game, which is sold out, ABC13 has got you covered. You can watch the Conference USA championship game right here on ABC13 with kickoff set for 11am.
We'll be bringing it to you live from Robertson Stadium and we'll also have live reports on preparations on Eyewitness News Saturday morning which runs through 10am.