First and 10: Oh, no. Is the Jimbo Fisher-Bobby Petrino marriage already on the rocks?
1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …
I know this is going to shock all involved, but this unique convergence of rare egos Texas A&M already has reached cringe levels.
Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher met the media last week for the first time since hiring coaching mercenary Bobby Petrino as his offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and play-caller. And it was about what you’d think.
A roadmap to failure.
Everything that was patently obvious with this — in no certain order — bizarre/reckless/masterful hire unfolded before the first spring practice.
That’s right, before Fisher and Petrino — 2 of college football’s largest egos and greatest offensive minds — could even get on the field together.
It began with a simple question: Who will call plays?
“I mean, we’ll go through that as we go,” Fisher stammered and stalled, and as the next question was being asked, he shed more light on this potentially explosive idea of coexisting.
“Plan on him making the calls,” Fisher continued. “Plan on him calling plays. I have no problem with that at all.”
Clearly, everyone, there’s a problem. Because there certainly isn’t a plan.
If there were a plan, it would begin and end with zero doubt that Petrino — who built his career (and on-field reputation) as a quarterback coach and play-calling savant — having complete control of all things offense.
If there were a plan, it would begin and end with Fisher publicly proclaiming as much, and declaring that the hiring of Petrino allows Fisher to be more of a CEO coach and have specific input on all areas of the team on and off the field. And more important, completely change an offense stuck under Fisher.
While Fisher did speak to the CEO idea, it was but a blip in the contemptuous 15-minute spring press conference — and really, when has any Fisher press conference of late not been contemptuous? — that gave clarity to the murky future ahead.
Remember, Fisher hadn’t spoken publicly about Petrino or the intriguing fusion of like minds since he announced the hire in the first week of January. So before the first question of how much different the offense will look under Petrino could be finished, Fisher held up his hand and dismissively swatted it away.
“We ain’t worried about,” Fisher paused, and stopped himself, before starting again, “Here’s what we’re doing. We’re running our thing. We’re going to be base fundamentals. We ain’t getting into scheme. We ain’t getting into anything. That’s what we’re going to do. That’s what we’re going to do, and what we’re going to practice on a daily basis.”
Let me explain what this is: an excuse for 2022.
If you don’t think so, if you don’t think Fisher wanted to make clear from the jump that the problem last season wasn’t Fisher — it was player execution — you’re not following along.
Because they ain’t getting into scheme, ain’t getting into anything.
Even if it were player execution, even if the offensive line didn’t consistently protect, or receivers didn’t consistently win on the outside, or quarterbacks didn’t consistently throw on time and with anticipation, the very last thing Fisher should’ve done to start this odd marriage was minimize Petrino and blame players.
Hiring Petrino is change. Real, tangible change that everyone — from the administration, to a rabid, loyal fan base, to the deep-pocket boosters who guaranteed Fisher life-changing money — wanted.
Fisher had nearly 3 months to figure out how to sell this thing. Nearly 3 months to formulate a press conference to get all Aggies together and moving in the right direction — and get an uber-talented team invested in 2023.
It was instead more important to make clear, from the jump, that Petrino isn’t here because Fisher failed.
“It’s not scheme, it’s execution,” Fisher said. “Go watch film. There’s not a hill of beans between anybody as far as what goes on. A counter is a counter. A dig and a post is a dig and a post. Verticals are verticals. I mean, it’s all the same. It gets back to execution and fundamentals.”
2. This change, this moment
Calling plays and coaching quarterbacks and coordinating a game plan has been Fisher’s baby since he worked for Terry Bowden at Auburn in the early 1990s. This is his DNA.
It’s how he was part of an unbeaten season at Auburn, a national championship season at LSU with then-Tigers coach Nick Saban, and how he rebuilt the Florida State dynasty as a head coach and won another national title.
And as much as anything, it’s why he was given the first fully guaranteed contract by Texas A&M to leave what he built at FSU and do what no one has done in College Station since Bear and the Junction Boys.
Now 5 years into this experiment, there’s a 5-win season in the rearview and a future that includes $85.9 million remaining on Fisher’s (recently extended) contract. And — here’s the key — there’s a new, high-profile staff member who just so happens to be a constant reminder of how Fisher failed doing what he does best.
You want to know why that first press conference was so dismissive of all things Petrino and the looming change? Because it’s a direct reflection on Fisher.
Long ago, Freud wrote that ego is a system of perception. If the spring press conference is all about Petrino and his impact on the offense, where does that leave the coach, the man, who has built his entire professional reputation on coaching quarterbacks and offense?
And we haven’t yet broached the idea of Petrino’s role in this Shakespearean tragic comedy, because — in the words of that all-seeing sage Deion Sanders — it’s coming.
3. The looming tower, The Epilogue
If you really think about it, the hire of Petrino was a masterful stroke by Fisher — even though it’s fraught with drama.
The framework for this decision is the $85 million remaining on Fisher’s contract. He’s bulletproof.
If the hire works, he’s a genius for stepping aside and having the temerity to make such a hire that could’ve easily blown up in his face. And bonus: It just might lead to a national title.
If the hire fails, Fisher can say the idea of stepping away didn’t work, and that he’s the only person who can save the offense and right the ship — knowing full well Texas A&M isn’t paying him $74 million after next season to not coach.
He could’ve done this with any coordinator hire — Toledo head coach Jason Candle would’ve fit perfectly — but he did it with Petrino because the high and low end of the results are exactly what he needs.
Then there’s Petrino, who was hired in December as OC/QBs coach by new UNLV coach Barry Odom, before Fisher swooped in a couple of weeks later and made the hiring of the offseason. Petrino clearly wanted out of FCS Missouri State, where he went to 2 Playoffs in 3 seasons.
The Texas A&M gig can be yet another springboard back into an FBS head coaching job, maybe even at a Power 5 school. That is, if he can coexist with Fisher.
Fisher and Petrino are legendary for the way they coach quarterbacks, the hard, stressful coaching many players flourish under. The Aggies have a potential elite quarterback with sophomore Conner Weigman, a former 5-star recruit who played well in the last month of 2022.
As long as Fisher steers clear of Petrino, as long as he embraces being what he calls a “walk around coach” and gives Petrino complete control of the offense, this thing has a chance. If/when Fisher decides to add input, or begins to specifically coach Weigman, everything changes.
And the road to failure begins.
4. The making of a QB
Jayden Daniels wasn’t completely sold on returning to LSU in 2023. One NFL scout told me Daniels was a “2nd day pick” and could’ve been selected as high as the late 2nd/early 3rd round.
While that’s not 1st-round money, there’s still a significant investment from an NFL franchise if he’s chosen on Day 2 (2nd and 3rd rounds), both financially and functionally. NFL franchises rarely give up on Day 2 QB selections.
In other words, Daniels had to be convinced that returning to LSU was a) better than leaving for money and security of the NFL, and b) a strong option to help Daniels develop into a higher draft pick.
To that end, LSU coach Brian Kelly has set up a framework to help Daniels increase his LSU and NFL value. It begins with strength training, where Daniels played a majority of the season in the 200-pound range — and played less than that in previous seasons at Arizona State.
The goal is to get him strong enough to absorb punishment from defenders, while increasing on-field aptitude with individual instruction at quarterback camps in the offseason, and virtual reality computer programs.
“It was really just having a comprehensive, year-round training program for him,“ Kelly said.
5. The Weekly 5
Five things that could affect Georgia’s win total line for 2023:
1. Underestimating the loss of a rare player at the most important position on the field — because that’s what Stetson Bennett was.
2. A lack of leadership to make it through the offseason without more off-field drama.
3. The playmaking of portal WRs Dominic Lovett and Rara Thomas easing transition of new QB.
4. The impact of 21 midterm enrollees, including edge Damon Wilson, LB Raylen Wilson and CB Smoke Bouie (Texas A&M transfer).
5. The offensive line, an undervalued strength the past 2 seasons, continues to play at a high level with 2 new starting tackles (RT Amarius Mims, LT Earnest Greene or Austin Blaske).
6. Your tape is your resume
An NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible SEC player. This week: Alabama QB Bryce Young (post-Pro Day workout).
“He was impressive. About what you thought he would be. You’re drafting him because of his ability to throw accurately with good velocity, and his knowledge of passing game concepts. Not because of his size. Nothing he did at his Pro Day is going to make anyone say, ‘Yeah, he’s not for me.’ I love the way his eyes are always looking at coverage, no matter the pressure, and the way he buys time in the pocket. Guys that thrive under pressure are rare. Can he stay healthy at that size? That’s the million-dollar question. Because if he can, you’ve got a winner.”
7. Powered Up
This week’s Power Poll and 1 big thing: With a 9-game SEC schedule beginning in 2024, the toughest 10th game for each team in 2024:
1. Georgia: vs. Clemson (Atlanta). A classic rivalry that both teams should continue playing — if not every year, every 4 years.
2. Alabama: at Wisconsin. Only the 4th time an SEC team has played at Camp Randall Stadium: LSU (1971), Auburn (1931), Alabama (1928)
3. Tennessee: vs. NC State (Charlotte). Vols were scheduled to play Oklahoma, but were forced to drop the game with OU’s move to the SEC.
4. LSU: vs. USC (Las Vegas). The first key SEC vs. Big Ten matchup with both playing as 16-team super conferences.
5. Texas A&M: vs. Notre Dame. Scheduled a decade ago, Aggies will return to South Bend in 2025.
6. Kentucky: vs. Louisville. UK’s non-con schedule is embarrassing and scheduled out completely until 2028.
7. Ole Miss: at Wake Forest. Hold on through a mundane 2024, and celebrate change in 2025-26: home-and-home series with USC.
8. Mississippi State: at Arizona State. Bulldogs aren’t swinging big, but they’re still swinging against P5 schools through 2031 (ASU, Minnesota, Texas Tech, Washington State).
9. Arkansas: at Oklahoma State. The return of a natural rivalry that hasn’t been played since 1980.
10. South Carolina: at Clemson. Coach Shane Beamer zeroing in on recruiting for future non-con games: Virginia Tech (Atlanta), Miami, North Carolina.
11. Florida: at FSU. Gators add Miami in 2024, too — and will play 11 or 12 games against P5 teams for the foreseeable future.
12. Missouri: vs. Boston College. After 2024, a steady diet of Kansas and Illinois through 2036 — a little else.
13. Auburn: vs. California. The return trip for this year’s game in Berkeley.
14. Vanderbilt: vs. Virginia Tech. The first game of the home-and-home series will be played at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.
Texas: at Michigan. The game was initially scheduled to be played in Austin, but was moved to Ann Arbor when Texas and Oklahoma moved to the SEC in 2024.
Oklahoma: vs. Tulane. Sooners have Temple and Tulane, and need 1 game for 2024.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Matt: How damaging is OL Micah Mazzccua leaving Florida after a week of practice? — Darron Swanson, Miami.
First and foremost, Mazzccua isn’t gone yet. He’s still on the official Florida roster. He sustained an upper body injury (torn labrum) during practice, and the rehab is potentially a long process.
Aside from that, it’s a multi-level issue. It starts with on-field impact: The staff believed Mazzccua had the chance to have a similar impact to that of Louisiana transfer O’Cyrus Torrence in 2022. As in, an All-American type season.
Now it looks as though he could be rehabbing into the 2023 season.
So no matter the reason for the loss — injury and/or transfer — it’s difficult for the offense to replace a player of his caliber. Mazzccua is a big, sturdy, drive-blocking guard, paving the way for the 1 thing the Gators do better than anything else (run the ball) — and allowing the offense to showcase its 2 best players (RBs Trevor Etienne and Montrell Johnson).
If Mazzccua leaves Florida for whatever reason, it’s also a problem of perception for a program that has taken some public relations hits — fair or not — since the end of the 2022 season.
More than 20 players left for the transfer portal (was expected), and 2 key assistants left for NFL jobs (DC Patrick Toney and WR coach Keary Colbert). Then there was the Jaden Rashada drama, and the admission from coach Billy Napier that the Florida staff scouted 24 quarterbacks from the transfer portal, and for whatever reasons, signed enigmatic Wisconsin QB Graham Mertz.
That’s a load of drama since an ugly loss to Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
100. For months last season, the South Carolina staff tried to convince O’Donnell Fortune that playing with confidence changes everything.
He had the talent, the physical frame and speed to play cornerback. Then the 100-yard pick-6 happened in the Gator Bowl, and now Fortune is set up to become the next great South Carolina cover corner.
He’s long (6-1, 190 pounds) and active at the jam and can run, but had problems with consistency while playing behind Cam Smith and Darius Rush, who will both likely start in the NFL in 2023.
Fortune has had a strong early spring practice, backing up his last 3 games of the season (Vanderbilt, Clemson, Notre Dame) when he had 2 INTs.
10. Quote to note
Mississippi State coach Zach Arnett, on QB Will Rogers embracing the new offense: “Will is such a professional in his approach. I bet you he probably goes through the install 3 or 4 times before he ever steps out on the field and does it. So he’s absolutely having no problems.”