Texas A&M has the money. It has the ego, the passion and motivation. It certainly has the fan support.
But for decades, Texas A&M has been missing something: wins.
Enter Jimbo Fisher and his record 10-year, $75 million contract. But money doesn’t solve everything — even in college football.
A&M fans and administrators say this will work. Fisher’s massive contract says this will work.
History says it won’t.
Kevin Sumlin seemed to be the right guy for a while — remember when A&M went 11-2 in 2012? Johnny Manziel was a freshman, and he paired with Sumlin to deliver the Aggies’ first 10-plus-win season since 1998.
Then again, Texas A&M managed to lose six games with Manziel, arguably the most exciting quarterback in the last half century in college football, on campus. For context, Alabama — which routinely makes less money than the Aggies — has seven losses in the last five seasons.
Here’s the real problem with that six-loss stretch with Manziel behind center: It’s the best Texas A&M football has performed since 1995, when it belonged to the Southwest Conference. In those days, the Aggies regularly played conference games against the likes of TCU, Houston, Rice and SMU. Baylor was legitimately a top-4 team in the conference every season, almost by default.
Texas A&M’s best back-to-back seasons since 1996 (Big 12/SEC era)
|Kevin Sumlin||2013-14|| |
Mike Sherman/Kevin Sumlin
This is the gold standard for a program that spends more than $100 million annually on athletics?
But even with a stronger record in a weaker conference, the Aggies didn’t find national success. From 1986 to 1993, A&M finished first or second in the Southwest Conference on five occasions — three times with an undefeated record — and went on to lose their bowl game. In two of those bowl meetings, the Aggies failed to score a touchdown.
Then came the Big 12. Apart from occasionally playing spoiler to national championship runs by Oklahoma and Texas, the Aggies rarely made an impact. Their lone conference championship came in 1998 when they upset No. 2 Kansas State in double overtime in the Big 12 title game.
That’s it. And now, 20 years later, the Aggies are still in search of a conference title. Heck, even a division title would do — A&M hasn’t won one of those since ’98, either.
But the money keeps rolling in.
So what is the ceiling for a program whose best showing in 20 years is almost equal to what got Bo Pelini fired at Nebraska?
A&M fans — and boosters — are hoping Fisher can break through the barrier that’s kept the Aggies cemented in mediocrity for so long. But without another transcendent quarterback coming through College Station, that might not be possible.
Fisher was outstanding in eight seasons as Florida State’s coach. Or at least that’s the narrative. In reality, Fisher is a slightly above-average coach who developed one of the best college quarterbacks in recent memory. Sound familiar, A&M fans?
Fisher obviously had more success at Florida State than Sumlin did at A&M. But the Seminoles struggled to remain nationally relevant after Dabo Swinney’s rise at Clemson and as the ACC became a tougher conference.
Meanwhile, Sumlin was able to tread water in the country’s toughest division and conference. Fisher will soon find out how difficult that is.
Fisher went 27-1 in two seasons with Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston at quarterback. He won a national championship thanks to a world-class offense and a fiery defense. Other than that? Looks a whole lot like Kevin Sumlin’s A&M tenure.
Outside of the two Winston seasons, Fisher’s record at FSU was 56-22. That’s a winning percentage of 72 percent. Sumlin’s win rate at A&M? Only a little worse: 65 percent.
But Fisher didn’t have to play Alabama, Auburn or LSU every year. And he never beat Clemson once Swinney got the Tigers on the national stage in 2015. He will have another chance when the Tigers visit Kyle Field in Week 2, but don’t hold your breath.
And keep in mind — the Aggies have had good coaches. Bear Bryant and Gene Stallings won national championships at Alabama. Collectively, they couldn’t win 5 games per season at Texas A&M.
Sumlin produced the NCAA’s all-time leading passer at Houston. He saw three blue-chip quarterbacks transfer from Texas A&M.
The only silver lining beyond blind optimism? The Aggies have to be trending in the right direction. Because for how much money that athletic department spends and makes, things couldn’t possibly get any worse.