LLANO, Texas – Jimbo Fisher was a great football coach.
For seven years.
His Florida State Seminoles were nationally ranked at the beginning and end of every season and never lost more than four games in any of them. He won the Atlantic Coast three times in a row. He won the national championship in 2013.
He replaced a true legend, Bobby Bowden, whose program had sagged a bit. Fisher brought it back and became regarded as a supercoach, approximately in the same stratosphere as Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and Dabo Swinney, who are the other active coaches with national titles.
Fisher expected to be treated like a supercoach, salarywise, staffwise, facilitywise. He told the Seminole Boosters he needed a $100 million indoor practice complex. You know, for those days in Florida when paradise isn’t paradise. Of course, they said yes. But they thought he was being greedy.
And then came 2017, and suddenly Jimbo did not look so large. The Seminoles ranked third in preseason, but in the opener against Alabama they lost QB Deondre Francois for the season. They went on to lose by 32 points to an academics-first institution, Boston College, en route to a 5-6 record.
Insiders noticed that Fisher’s staff had gone stale. Changes were needed but he wouldn’t make them. After a loss to Louisville on Oct. 21, he engaged in a shouting match with a fan who was urging him to hire new assistants.
Fisher realized he would have to shake up the program. Or leave it.
At FSU he was earning $5.7 mil a year, which ranked only sixth in the coaching fraternity. He knew he could do much better. As he pondered his options, three players who had committed to FSU de-committed.
The football scene at Tallahassee was turning uglier. When a fan questioned Fisher’s loyalty during his call-in radio show last Wednesday, the inquisitor was escorted from the building. The administration said it would “look into the matter.”
Clearly, it was time for the coach to move on. So he left for Texas A&M, lured by a 10-year contract for $75 million. He became the highest paid college coach not named Saban, who by the way had been his mentor at LSU in 2000. Fisher called the move from FSU to A&M “a no-brainer.”
Take that, ‘Noles, you never had a chance.
At College Station, in the heart of oil country, Fisher will have plenty of resources and an alumni base unsurpassed in loyalty and generosity. But also unsurpassed in expectation. The Aggies laid out a maroon carpet to meet Fisher’s private jet when it landed in College Station on Monday, and a marching band was playing.
No expense is being spared to make this an elite program. The administration spent $400 million to expand Kyle Field, and created a locker room as palatial as the one of their hated rival UT, which they dyslexically transpose into TU. They had no problem spending $10 million to buy out Kevin Sumlin’s coaching contract.
Texas A&M is larger than Texas, and in football it’s held the upper hand over the past eight years. In 2013 the Longhorns considered pursuing Fisher but hesitated upon hearing he was selfish, unappreciative and contentious.
So they chose Charlie Strong, who was easier to get along with.
The Ags meanwhile were doing much better with Sumlin, but his string of 8-5 seasons was unfulfilling. He was a persuasive recruiter and usually a sharp strategist, but he could not make quarterback decisions once Johnny Manziel left campus.
The Aggies haven’t won a national championship since 1939 though they’ve often been in the hunt or thought they were. R.C. Slocum usually had them in position but was not a finisher. He won just three of his 11 bowl games.
Upon announcing the hiring of Fisher, Athletics Director Scott Woodward made the objective clear: “We just want to win a national championship.”
OK, it’s not out of the question. Fisher dominated big-state recruiting battles with Florida and Miami. He will find Texas to be at least as fertile. He’s barely more than a hundred miles from Houston, the nation’s fourth largest city. And he has more national cred than any coach A&M has hired since Bear Bryant in 1954.
At 52, Fisher is in his coaching prime. He’s a creative and flexible tactician. Still, you have to wonder, based on the past three months, if he’s lost his competitive edge. Now that he’s the second-richest coach in America, how hungry can he be?
He had a fine seven-year run. Followed by seven-year itch. Will it happen again? That’s not a seven-year deal he signed with A&M.
He will learn that Aggieland wears out coaches. Bryant stayed four years, and of his successors as head coach, only Slocum has lasted more than six.
Fisher had the ideal transition at FSU, serving for three years as offensive coordinator under Bowden before the latter’s retirement in 2010.
But now Fisher enters a domain of which he has little familiarity. He has no Lone Star background, not many ties to Texas high school coaches and Aggie boosters. He was born in Clarksburg, West Virginia, and played quarterback at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.
He will miss his comforting ACC schedule. No more Duke, Wake Forest, Syracuse, North Carolina. He’s leaving the land of cupcakes and basketball.
Now he’s in the cut-throat Southeastern Conference, while also facing Big Twelve recruiting by Oklahoma, Texas and perennial overachiever TCU. And speaking of overachievers, the Houston Cougars look threatening after going 7-4 in the debut season of the promising Major Applewhite.
To compete in the SEC, Fisher will have to be at his best. The question is whether this will be the Jimbo Fisher who finds and develops great quarterbacks. Or will we see the one who rested on his laurels, feeling endlessly entitled after winning his one national championship?