This interview originally appeared on The National Podcast of Texas. Listen to it here.
Last December, Texas A&M lured Jimbo Fisher away from his position as head coach at Florida State University by offering him a ten-year, $75 million contract. It was, at the time, the richest guaranteed deal in college football history and a clear sign that the Aggies were ready to spend just as aggressively on coaching as they had on the school’s shiny $484 million stadium redevelopment project, completed in 2015. Despite a shaky cap to his eight seasons leading FSU, Fisher came with plenty of gridiron bona fides: he led the Seminoles to three Atlantic Coast Conference titles and a 2013 national championship. He finished his time as head coach with an 83–23 record—the highest win percentage in ACC history. But even so, would Fisher live up to his price tag and reenergize a stagnant program at A&M? We sat down with the 53-year-old coach aiming to understand what fans can expect to get out of the investment.
Texas Monthly: Generally, when people begin a new job in a leadership capacity, they have time to take stock, look around. They build relationships and learn the moving parts of the job and build trust, then work on long-term goals. But you didn’t have that luxury.
Jimbo Fisher: No. It’s an instant-gratification world right now. There’s no patience in anything anymore, especially sports. You snap your fingers and go. You try to identify where you are in a situation, and sometimes what you want to do and what you can do are two different things. But at the end of the day, people don’t care. You just make sure people understand what you’re trying to accomplish and put the team in the best possible position to be successful.
TM: There’s a certain amount of respect that comes with the title “coach.” And then there’s your track record. But that’s not enough, right?
JF: It’s what you do daily. Every day the score is 0–0. People will let you lead them if they think what you are doing works and it helps them understand the big picture. I think it’s very important to explain why you do what you do, what’s going on, then show the results. But part of coaching, too, is you’ve got to get the team to do things they don’t want to do. You don’t coach the player as he is, you coach the player that he can be. For some kids that’s tough.
TM: What’s the thing you can do with an individual player to earn his respect?
JF: Just be honest. Players may disagree with me, but they’ll never say I lied or tried to do something that was detrimental to them. Everything I do is for their benefit personally, academically, and professionally. If you’re always honest with people, and trustworthy, they may not like you, but they’ll respect you. Also, I think that you spend as much time off the field with them as you do on. And you put your arm around them and talk to them like they’re human beings.
TM: Most people’s salaries are somewhat private, and yet everyone knows yours. Is that an obstacle?
JF: I didn’t get into the game for money. When I was offered the offensive coordinator job at Samford University, I made $14,000 a year and couldn’t pay my rent. And I put in just as many hours, did nothing different than I’m doing now. I love what I do. I’ve just been blessed to have opportunities to be somewhere where people have thought, “Hey, we want to pay you this to do it.” That’s great. But I got in the business because I loved the game and I love to coach. And that’s still the way I look at it.
TM: What’s your state of mind the morning after not winning?
JF: I’m my own worst critic. I evaluate myself the same way after wins or losses. But I don’t think I’m that much different. What I worry about is feeling like I let the kids and the coaches down. I think, “Why couldn’t I figure out something to help us?”
TM: And ultimately that’s the audience you care about, the players and the coaches?
JF: No doubt. I love the fans and I want to be there for them, one thousand percent. But at the end of the day, my main concern is how I affect those coaches and players. And if I affect them positively, guess what? They’ll be playing well and performing well, so the fans will be happy.
TM: Do you think you’re still in the honeymoon phase with the people of College Station?
JF: I’m going to be the same every day. I’m never in the honeymoon stage. We’re playing ball. We’ve got to be successful.
TM: But that’s quantifiable.
JF: Yes, but let me put it this way: when you walk away from that field, you want the scoreboard to be in your favor. But can you be proud of the way that team competed in the game? The toughness, the effort, the discipline, the pride, the grit with which they play?
TM: What’s been the biggest surprise about your reception here, or just about Texas itself?
JF: How much I’ve evolved into A&M’s culture and traditions and developed an appreciation for what they do. The secret to A&M is simple: it’s the people. They’re genuine, they’re honest, and there’s a sincerity and a true culture of giving back to this university. The alumni feel very lucky to have gone here, and they want the next Aggie to have that same experience. There are traditions and histories all over, but I think people live them here. I’m surprised at how quickly that’s engulfed me. I want to do well for them because of how they are.
TM: What do you tell potential recruits that you—personally—are going to offer them?
JF: A relationship. I’m going to treat you like my own son. I know that’s a cliché, but listen, there’s going to be good, there’s going to be bad, but we’re going to be here through thick and thin. And whatever I tell you, you can take to the bank. I’m never going to lie to you. Everybody I’ve got is somebody’s baby, the most important thing in the world to them, just like my kids.