Jim Schlossnagle's Year 1 is another sign that Ross Bjork is fully on board with the modern era Texas A&M
I’d like to imagine that Ross Bjork was chomping at the bit.
In June of 2021, the Texas A&M athletic director was more than 2 years into his tenure in College Station, and to that point, he had yet to hire a coach for football, men’s or women’s basketball or baseball. Jimbo Fisher and Buzz Williams were both poached by Bjork’s aggressive predecessor, Scott Woodward.
Yes, we can use the word “aggressive” to describe an athletic director who signed off on a fully guaranteed, 10-year, $75 million contract. Signing Williams to a deal worth $24 million over 6 years to give him one of college basketball’s top annual salaries in the country would also qualify as “aggressive.”
Whatever you want to call A&M’s style of poaching, Woodward ushered in a new era of big game hunting. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before Bjork got his shot at a 12-point buck. All it took was Rob Childress’ streak of 13 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances coming to an end for A&M baseball in 2021, which meant Bjork decided he finally had some hunting to do.
Enter Jim Schlossnagle, stage left.
You know, the longtime TCU baseball coach who led the Horned Frogs to 5 College World Series berths, including a 2017 trip wherein his squad ended A&M’s hopes for its first national title. That was 1 of his 11 victories in College World Series games, which was tied for the most among active coaches as of May 2021. At TCU, Schlossnagle was easily the winningest coach in program history. He was the guy who was courted by Mississippi State in 2018 but ultimately stayed in Fort Worth. That is, until Bjork came hunting. Er, calling.
Almost a year to the date after Schlossnagle’s hiring was announced at A&M, he and the Aggies are set to host a Super Regional. Bjork is, to no surprise, fired up about it:
Not sure how to describe what just happened, but it did. So happy for @AggieBaseball to keep playing ball in June. 12th Man was amazing all weekend. Blue Bell will rocking once again next weekend👍 https://t.co/4apJcGjAV3
— Ross Bjork (@RossBjorkAD) June 6, 2022
Never mind the fact that Schlossnagle took down his former team to get there by virtue of a 7-run 9th inning to clinch a regional title. What Schlossnagle did in a year’s time was everything Bjork could’ve hoped for and then some. A last-place SEC finish in 2021 turned into an SEC West title in 2022 … and perhaps more. To be determined on that.
Even if A&M gets swept by No. 12 seed Louisville this weekend, it won’t change reality. Bjork is walking step for step with this new version of A&M.
Think about this. In roughly a 4 1/2-year stretch, A&M poached highly respected coaches from Power 5 programs in baseball, men’s and women’s basketball and football (that also happened in softball). That’s not by accident, and it’s really not limited to the big revenue sports. After he lured Joni Taylor from Georgia in March, Bjork is up to a total of 5 hires since he took over in 2019, and they all have that in common.
“Every coach we talked to was a sitting Power 5 coach,” Bjork said about his hires during a recent appearance with TexAgs. “You can play at a higher level when you’re at a place like A&M. To me, you’re researching a lot different compared to other places I’ve been where it was ‘who’s the up and coming assistant coach? Who’s the up and coming Group of 5 coach?’ To me, it’s just a different kind of level of research because you’re at A&M, people wanna be here, they see the attractiveness, they see the recruiting base.”
Yes, “attractiveness” covers the fact that money isn’t holding A&M back from hiring a coach or making sure they’re a destination job. Say what you will about the daunting parameters of Fisher’s 2021 extension, which now has nearly $95 million of guaranteed money left on the deal. What can’t be denied is that A&M is doing everything in its power to embark on a golden era of athletics.
As college sports enters a new time in its existence, that strategy seems wise. No, that wasn’t a reference to Nick Saban, who said that A&M “bought” its entire 2022 recruiting class, which happened to be the highest-ranked group in 247sports’ history. For all parties involved in college athletics, there’s more money to be made than ever before. Nobody in big revenue college athletics has been a better embodiment of the “gotta spend money to make money” strategy than A&M.
In those 3 major revenue sports wherein we’ve got at least a 1-year sample size, check out the early returns so far:
- Jimbo Fisher: In 2020, led A&M to its best AP Top 25 finish since 1939
- Buzz Williams: In 2022, led A&M to first SEC Tournament championship berth since 2016
- Jim Schlossnagle: In 2022, led A&M to first division title since joining the SEC
That’s not quite 2000s Florida stuff with Billy Donovan and Urban Meyer, but A&M is still in the early stages of this athletic department overhaul. Among those 4 big-revenue sports, Fisher has been on board the longest since December 2017. Schlossnagle might be the new kid on the block, but he has a chance to surpass his fellow A&M colleagues in the unofficial ranking of “most impressive accomplishments to date.”
Bjork acknowledged just how far the Aggies came in Year 1 with Schlossnagle, AKA “Schloss,” after losing a home series to a Penn program that hasn’t earned an NCAA Tournament berth since 1995. Following that series back in February, Bjork said he called Schlossnagle and told him not to panic about where the program was. After that, the Aggies only lost 2 series the rest of the regular season, the last one being the first week of April against Alabama.
“To have it flip like that and to be able to host (a Super Regional) and win the West?” Bjork said (via TexAgs). “Unbelievable turnaround in Year 1.”
Yep. That’s fair.
Bjork added that Schlossnagle’s Year 1 could perhaps expedite the renovation plans with increased seating capacity at Blue Bell Park. Having a sellout crowd for a Super Regional will do that sort of thing.
What Bjork has done in a short matter of time is continue the bold strategy that Woodward executed. Woodward didn’t scoff at paying an 8-figure buyout for Kevin Sumlin, nor did he let skeptics stand in his way of luring Fisher to College Station. The irony of Bjork continuing this strategy is that it was a short 3 years ago that he left Ole Miss because Woodward was poached by his alma mater LSU.
During Bjork’s time at Ole Miss from 2012-19, he never hired a sitting Power 5 head coach for football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball or baseball. To be fair, women’s basketball and football had NCAA sanctions during that time while Mike Bianco was locked in as Ole Miss’ longtime baseball coach.
Times have changed for Bjork in College Station. There’s no better sign of that than what his first big-time hire is setting out to accomplish this weekend just 2 wins away from a trip to Omaha.
Bjork joked that he’s having to turn people away who reached out to him for Super Regionals tickets. It’s a good problem to have.
Just like how there are worse jobs to have than being the person who makes the key decisions for the new era in College Station.
Photo credit: Texas A&M Athletics on YouTube