I like to think I’m a fairly passionate football fan, and I know my colleague Gaurav is most definitely one, particularly if it involves the colors scarlet and grey and the work Buckeye. But I would contend neither one of us could hold a candle to anyone who really loves the sport in the state of Texas. Football is arguably as, if not more, important, in many homes than is the presence of Jesus, and even Jesus knows the amount of money people are willing to pay in toward it is much more than even tithing might allow.
Exhibit A of this largesse would be one John James Fisher, Junior, better known by nickname “Jimbo”. After a storied decade as a trusted offensive coordinator, first at LSU under Nick Saban and then at Florida State under the legendary Bobby Bowden, he became FSU’s head coach. Indeed, he passed on an opportunity to join Saban when he moved to the University of Alabama to take a similar role with Bowden, whose son Terry was his college coach at Division III Salem, and, indeed, had contractual language giving him the title of “head coach in waiting”. He rewarded Noles Nation with their first national championship of the century in 2013, led by the controversial but talented Jameis Winston. Winston won the Heisman Trophy as well, denying a second to 2012’s winner, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. Manziel led A&M in their first year as the state’s first representative in arguably college football’s premiere conference, the SEC. So it’s same to say both coach and school were on each other’s radar.
And as the decade wore on, and neither Fisher nor Texas A&M, under high-octane leader Kevin Sumlin, were able to repeat their earlier success, the attraction between them grew. Yet in spite of A&M’s on-field record, they were leading the NCAA in one very crucial category. As Wikipedia summed it up:
Despite A&M football’s struggles during the Sumlin era, the program was recognized by Forbes in August 2018 as the most valuable in the country, based on average revenue and profit figures from the 2014–16 seasons.
Surprise, surprise, that by the time that article came out Fisher had been hired away to move to the SEC and Texas, with what was at the time a record-breaking 10-year, $75M salary. As CNN’s Wayne Sterling reported this weekend,
When Fisher was first named head football coach at Texas A&M in 2017, the university said he had agreed to a 10-year contract worth $75 million, adding no “state-appropriated funds” would be used toward his salary.
This was, pure and simple, a desire among Aggie faithful to be a winner, cost be damned. And in hiring Fisher, they apparently chose not to delve as deeply into the reasons why his FSU tenure unraveled as a website later did:
A 2019 article in Bleacher Report detailed a number of problems with the culture of the FSU program under Fisher. According to former assistants, the players seemed to lose their drive after the 2013 national championship season. Additionally, Bleacher Report revealed that Florida State had the worst Academic Progress Rate score of any Power Five program, and was actually on the verge of an automatic postseason ban. Reportedly, Fisher had given his assistants a mandate to “keep players eligible” above all else; athletic director Dave Coburn conceded as much. Several former assistants from Fisher’s tenure believed the casual attitude toward academics were part of a larger erosion of discipline that gradually led to a sense of entitlement.
But he won a title. In Texas, particularly if you’re not a school based in Austin, little else matters.
And while his first couple of seasons didn’t quite measure up, a 9-1 mirage as one of the few schools to play a full season during the COVID-impacted fall of 2020 actually earned him a raise. Despite not even making it to the BCS Final Four, here’s how the overjoyed Aggie leaders reacted to finishing #5:
Prior to the 2021 season, the Texas A&M Board of Regents voted to extend Fisher’s contract through the 2031 season. Beginning January 1, 2022, Fisher would be paid $9 million annually. If he was to be fired without cause before December 1, 2021, he would have been owed $95.6 million – the largest buyout clause in college football history. As was part of the original contract signed in 2018, if Jimbo chooses to leave Texas A&M for another coaching position, he will not owe any money to the school.
But with great power–and riches–comes great responsibility. And the Aggies haven’t come close to that level of performance since then, and as 2023 closes with the team not even receiving a single vote for Top 25 status, while at the same time that Austin school–the University of Texas–is in the Top 10 and themselves headed for the SEC next season, those same generous benefactors have grown sour really quickly.
So it was hardly a surprise when this news came down yesterday, as USA TODAY’s Prince J. Grimes reported:
Texas A&M fired head coach Jimbo Fisher Sunday morning, according to multiple reports. The move ends his tenure with the Aggies after five-plus seasons and a 45-25 record, with the program never quite reaching the heights they were hoping for after inking the former Florida State national title-winning coach to a huge contract.
College football fans couldn’t get over how much Fisher is about to be paid to not coach.
“We will use unrestricted contributions within the 12th Man Foundation for the first one-time payments and the athletic department will fund the annual payments for the remaining portion by growing our revenues and adjusting our annual operating budget accordingly,” Bjork said.
“This will only involve athletics and 12th Man Foundation funds.”
In other words, it’s worth that much to the egos and image of what will soon be the second best SEC team in the state of Texas to purge themselves of someone who let them down so much.
Funny, no word from Fisher on any of this. Or any of the snarky but accurate assessments of his past and future earnings.
Assuming he even wants to work another day in his life–because clearly he won’t have any need to–he’s likely got some cache with a network (FOX certainly likes folks with his CV; ain’t that right, Urban Meyer?) or with an emerging program. Maybe Abilene Christian, who will be the Aggies’ opponent in their home finale this coming weekend, could use a name coach.
What’s that, you say? Someone with Fisher’s reputation at a school with the surname Christian?
Like I said, bear in mind the one thing in Texas bigger than Jesus.
Well, that. And failed football coaches’ net worths.