Saturday showed why we shouldn't be making excuses for Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M anymore
Shortly after Jimbo Fisher arrived, they gave him a fake national title plaque. It didn’t have a year on it, other than “20__.”
After what we saw on Saturday in a loss against Alabama, I’m more convinced than ever that Fisher isn’t going to lead A&M to a national title. At least not this century. And as long as that roadblock in Tuscaloosa named “Nick Saban” is still on the sidelines, I won’t hold my breath on A&M claiming an SEC West title.
Saban was on the sidelines in Tuscaloosa on Saturday, and his squad covered the spread as an 18-point favorite against A&M in Year 3 of the Fisher era. There’s no shame in most programs being an 18-point road favorite at Alabama, even for a Year 3 coach. But when you shell out $75 million guaranteed for a head coach and welcome him with fake national championship plaques, well, you’re not most programs.
Here’s a thought — let’s stop making excuses for Fisher at A&M.
I know. I’ve heard them all.
“But A&M lost all of its receivers.”
“But A&M had 6 guys opt out.”
“But A&M faced such a tough schedule last year.”
“But if Ainias Smith had just not dropped that ball on third down … ”
If Smith caught that ball, A&M would’ve magically beat Alabama? If you want to tell yourself that, go ahead. Make another excuse for why Fisher should be let off the hook for not developing talent to stay on the field with the SEC’s elite.
Keep in mind that this wasn’t just a Saturday thing. And to be clear, this wasn’t just a Vandy thing.
Real quick on Alabama, though. Go back to when Fisher got that blank check in December 2017. What if I told you that his team would play 180 minutes of football against Alabama in its first 3 seasons, and that it would lead for just 4 of those minutes? Would you make an excuse for Fisher? Would you say, “well, he just doesn’t have his quarterback yet.”
Fisher had the most experienced quarterback in the conference in Year 3 in his system and Year 4 as a starter. Alabama, meanwhile, started Mac Jones. Oh, but you can’t make the talent comparison because A&M doesn’t have the same weapons, right? Sure, but remember that Fisher signed consecutive top-6 recruiting classes.
Also keep in mind that, along with that $75 million deal, Fisher got his assistants top dollar, as well. He retained both coordinators all 3 years in College Station.
And to be clear, this isn’t just a 2020 thing. A&M is now 2-7 in true road games under Fisher. That’s right. Just 2-7 in true road games.
There’s an even more telling stat about how far away A&M still is in Year 3 of the Fisher era. Last year, A&M played 300 minutes of football against teams who finished in the top 15 of the Associated Press Top 25. The Aggies led for 7 minutes and 42 seconds of that time.
Sooner or later, it’s not good enough to just chalk it up to it being a challenging division. It is, for sure. But look at these SEC West coaches through their first 28 games compared to Fisher:
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In case you were wondering, Saban inherited a program with NCAA sanctions, Malzahn inherited a program coming off a winless conference season and Orgeron inherited a program with an offense stuck in 1995.
Okay, you don’t want to compare the $75 million man to the best coaches in the SEC West? Fine. Let’s just compare him to his predecessor, Kevin Sumlin:
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Oh, I hear the excuse.
“But Sumlin had Johnny Manziel.”
Yes, Sumlin had one of the best college quarterbacks of all-time. That guy was a 3-star recruit who had never played in a game before Sumlin took over with his system, and then Manziel beat Alabama in Year 1. Mond at least had a year of experience under his belt before Fisher arrived. How much has Mond really progressed in those 3 years with Fisher?
The point isn’t to compare Manziel to Mond because clearly, the former is on a different level. The point isn’t even really to compare Fisher to Sumlin because clearly, the former entered with a different set of expectations. And to be clear, Fisher isn’t getting fired anytime soon. The guy has more than $50 million left on that contract, and barring something unforeseen, he’ll be given every opportunity possible to continue the mission he set out on.
But how much more evidence do we need that Fisher isn’t taking A&M to the levels he was paid to do?
I mean, for crying out loud. In the middle of Saturday’s blowout loss to Alabama, Gary Danielson talked about why A&M should kick the field goal in the second half down 3 touchdowns “to feel good again.” When A&M scored a touchdown to narrow the 28-point deficit to 21 in the middle of the 4th quarter, Danielson said that was all about “feeling good before getting on the plane” ahead of next week’s game against Florida.
You know what would feel good? Some actual year-by-year progress instead of 3 hours to show you exactly why A&M isn’t on that level.
The most buzz surrounding A&M during Fisher’s time at A&M was when everyone realized that the Aggies had the most favorable SEC West schedule imaginable with just 1 of the first 8 games coming against a team that won 7 games last year. Then when the pandemic happened and the schedule shifted to conference-only, reality set in — A&M wasn’t about to win the West with that slate. That was true before those opt-outs starting happening, too.
The problem is that we say that because A&M hasn’t been elite at developing talent. Fisher hasn’t changed the narrative of his program like Dan Mullen did at Florida or like Orgeron did at LSU.
It’s not a surprise when A&M is a 3-score underdog at Alabama. What’s a surprise is when A&M actually stays on the field with an elite program.
Saturday wasn’t that day. Instead, it was yet another reminder that paying a coach $75 million guaranteed doesn’t always guarantee national relevance.