The beginning of the end of Kevin Sumlin's tenure started at some point during the back half of 2016.
Maybe it was when the No. 4 Aggies were upset by Mississippi State, a team that finished the year with a losing record. Or maybe the clock started ticking after the next loss against Mississippi, one that dropped A&M from the top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings for good.
It doesn't matter what point is chosen. What happened during Sumlin's fifth season set the table for his sixth and final year at A&M.
Because the Aggies didn't capitalize on early success in 2016, his fate rested in the hands of this year's team that featured several freshmen starters. That group wasn't able to win enough games to prevent Sumlin from getting fired.
"This job pays off on results," Sumlin said on Oct. 9.
In 2016, the Aggies won their first six games for the first time since their undefeated year in 1994. But the finish to the season left plenty to be desired.
A&M lost its five remaining "Power Five" games, spoiling Sumlin's big chance to provide statistical evidence that the program was trending upward.
Sumlin's first season in 2012, A&M's first in the transition from the Big 12 to the SEC, yielded A&M's first top five finish in the final AP poll since 1956.
"Everybody thought we'd get the brakes beat off of us early," Sumlin said during his annual meeting with local reporters on Aug. 3. "We've set that standard. What we've gotta do is understand what this league's about and handle the grind of this league."
But after Sumlin's debut, A&M never exceeded the previous season's win total.
There have been several errors during Sumlin's tenure since the end of 2012, whether it be the inability to find a long-term quarterback after Johnny Manziel or building a defense that can last in SEC play.
The error that brought the most heat was the quarterback exodus in 2015, when Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray transferred within a week of each other.
By the following fall, that was almost forgotten in 2016 as A&M made its best start under Sumlin. The program he rebuilt was on the verge of helping him escape the hot seat.
Then everything fell apart.
After the loss to Mississippi State, the Aggies let a fourth-quarter lead against a Mississippi team with a back-up quarterback slip away. By the time the Aggies ended the year against LSU, the defense was exhausted after heavy usage during the season.
The potential 10-win season turned into Sumlin's third straight 8-5 campaign and only increased frustration.
In one of the press conferences leading up to A&M's Texas Bowl loss to Kansas State, Sumlin said A&M was the best combination of winning and stability in the state. While saying this, however, Sumlin acknowledged some might be impatient with the lack of progress made since that inaugural season.
"But does that mean we're where we want to be?" Sumlin said last December. "No. Are we approaching things at a pace that can be frustrating some people? Probably."
Prior to the season, Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward said that record wasn't good enough.
"Coach knows he has to win, and he has to win this year, and we have to do better than we've done in the past," Woodward told the Paul Finebaum Show at SEC spring meetings.
Given the make-up of this year's roster, Sumlin was always going to have a tough time of winning the necessary amount of games to end 2017 on his own terms.
The team was breaking in first-year starters at high-leverage spots at quarterback, offensive tackle and defensive end. Through the first 11 games of the season, 11 true freshmen have made at least one start.
Sumlin was essentially fighting to keep his job in the midst of a rebuilding year. Now, another coach will be tasked with taking what Sumlin started and pushing the Aggies to heights that have rarely been achieved in program history.
"From a .500 program to where we are right now, we have gotten better," Sumlin said in Sept. 2016. "Is it enough?"
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