COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — A visit to Texas A&M football practice is musically akin to a trip to a swanky hip-hop club in downtown Houston or a hotspot on Miami's South Beach.
The Aggies opened fall practice with Drake's Meek Mill diss track "Back to Back" as a prelude to several other tunes on the cutting edge of rap.
In the middle of the bobbing heads of more than a 100 young men in their late teens to early 20s was Kevin Sumlin, who at 51 just might be the coolest coach in college football.
Just so we're all clear, Sumlin did not party with Rick Ross and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel during the weekend of the 2013 National Championship game. But the fact that Sumlin had to debunk such a story speaks to his place within the hierarchy of college football coolness.
"There's things outside of football that I think everybody enjoys," Sumlin said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. "Different guys get credit for different things ... I've got a life, too."
He's gained points with recruits by swooping into high school football games in a maroon helicopter emblazoned with an A&M logo on loan from a booster that has been dubbed the "SwagCopter." Sumlin has said it's mostly to avoid traffic. But he flashed a broad smile when talking about its lure a couple of seasons ago and added: "The helicopter is undefeated" with recruits.
Part of his reputation for being more hip than most coaches also comes from being photographed at various events. He's been to a Drake concert and loves MMA fighting. Since it's happened so much, he was tickled to have gone unnoticed when he and his wife attended the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight in May.
Sumlin, who is entering his fourth season with the Aggies, had a seat near Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari and he ran into Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury there.
"I think those kind of settings, those kind of atmospheres, anybody's who's in any kind of competitive organization or business, I think you enjoy that and I wasn't shocked to see any of those guys there," he said.
Though he can't take credit for the trendy tunes that serve as a daily soundtrack to his team's preparation for the rigors of Southeastern Conference play, he does like that people have taken notice of their musical stylings. James Duncan, the video coordinator for the athletic department, is in charge of the playlist.
"I see some people at practice, like Eddie George was at practice one day with his head bobbing and he went straight to Shazam," Sumlin said. "He was trying to figure out what it was."
The music isn't just for head bobbing -- it helps players learn to concentrate in noise so the loud and hostile crowds they'll face on the road won't be daunting.
"Sometimes he can relate to us," receiver Ricky Seals-Jones said. "When the music plays he sings it and we're just like: 'Hold on, coach. What you know about that?'"
Sumlin spent four seasons at the University of Houston before moving about 100 miles northwest to the much less urban setting of College Station, Texas. Some of his throwback selections are heavily influenced by his time in the hip hop mecca of Texas where various Houston rappers were regulars on the Cougars' sideline. He often picks songs from the godfather of Houston rap Scarface, and has a personal connection to the Geto Boys front man.
The young son of Scarface, whose real name is Brad Jordan, used to visit his house for playdates with his son Jackson when he lived in Houston.
"I didn't even know it for a couple of years. I couldn't put two and two together until I was like: 'Your name's what?'" Sumlin said, cracking up.
Sumlin, who has four children, is widely lauded for his ability to relate to players. He takes great pride in helping to mold young men and talked about what he hopes his players learn from him.
"A sense of responsibility," he said. "Here we consider ourselves a developmental program. We've got a lot of bells and whistles and a lot of TVs, a lot of flat screens, I don't know how many TVs we've got in this place but I don't want to get that confused with what this program's really about."
Those relationships don't end when players leave College Station. He still speaks to Manziel, who's had a tough time since his halcyon days with the Aggies.
Sumlin said they've talked a few times since his trip to a rehab facility and believes the fact that Manziel, now with the Cleveland Browns, checked in on his own is a positive sign.
"You've got to remember this was not a thing forced on him," Sumlin said. "So anytime you have a guy who looks himself in the mirror and says: 'Hey, I've got to do something.' Stayed 30 days and then said: 'Hey I need to stay some more' ... you can't help but be encouraged."
The Aggies finished 8-5 last season and were 3-5 in the SEC. Sumlin said it was a process to build a team made to deal with the rugged SEC West.
His appeal just isn't in the music. Players agree his style resonates.
"He's direct. He'll tell you want he wants," star sophomore defensive end Myles Garrett said. "He'll get on you when you need it but he'll also praise you when you do something right. He's always trying to have fun and he knows when to be serious and that's a quality we all need to have."