After racking up five disappointing losses this season, Texas A&M fired head coach Kevin Sumlin. It was the end of an era. Not necessarily a great one for the university—Sumlin’s 11-2 record and Cotton Bowl win (along with quarterback Johnny Manziel’s Heisman Trophy) in his first year was the high of his career at A&M, and everything after 2012 was a disappointment to fans hoping that the program had turned a corner. Sumlin’s tenure at A&M coincided with the team’s entrance into college football’s formidable SEC, and under his tutelage, it remained largely an afterthought. His teams were competitive enough to go to Bowl games, but hadn’t been good enough in several years to win one, and leading the team to a seven-win season in 2017 prompted the Aggies to look for a replacement. He was fired on November 26th.
Today, A&M triumphantly announced his replacement: Jimbo Fisher, a big name in the world of college football. He left Florida State to take over the top job in College Station Friday afternoon.
On the surface, Fisher is a huge get for the Ags. He won a national title in 2013, and surrounded it with good seasons—three consecutive conference championships in the ACC from 2012-2014, an Orange Bowl win in 2016, and only two seasons of his eight years at Florida State with fewer than ten wins. But in 2017, Florida State fell apart under his watch. He coached the team to a paltry 5-6 record, the school lost top recruits, and rumors swirled of a player boycott should he continue to coach the team. Fisher found himself the softest possible landing at A&M, to the tune of a ten-year, $75 million contract.
If Texas A&M could retroactively hire Jimbo Fisher for 2012-2014, this would be a brilliant move. But there’s no guarantee that Fisher, who climbed the mountain and slid down hard on the other side only to become the second-highest paid coach in the country (behind only Alabama’s Nick Saban), will bring the energy he had at Florida State to A&M.
He’ll also face recruiting challenges he never saw in Florida. In a state with nearly as much blue-chip football talent as Texas but fewer major universities, FSU was a recruiting powerhouse. At A&M, he’ll be competing both with other SEC schools and other Texas schools for the same talent pool.
A&M is clearly betting on Fisher bringing that recruiting edge to College Station, and maybe he’ll have it. There’s a version of this story in which Fisher, having ended his tenure at Florida State unceremoniously, proves himself anew with the Aggies. The Aggie defense has promising young players, and if the magic was within him all along, Fisher could turn A&M into the sort of recruiting powerhouse he once made of FSU. If that’s what ends up happening, then Fisher is worth a $7.5 million-a-year salary. (At least, as much as any football coach can be.)
But there are a slew of less glamorous scenarios that could play out, too. Mack Brown won a national title at Texas once, before complacently coasting on his reputation for years after his best seasons were behind him. It’s possible that A&M hired a Mack Brown whose glory days have already gone by.
Fisher’s sky-high salary means he doesn’t need to be a total failure to be a major disappointment. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who arrived at the program with great fanfare and a massive salary, has faced a lot of criticism after three underwhelming seasons. If Fisher coaches a mediocre season, the Aggies will have made a heck of a mistake. And since they’re already paying Sumlin a $10 million buyout, they’ll likely end up living with Fisher’s ten-year deal for a long time.