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Thoughts from Houston Coach’s Night

Jimbo Coach's Night

Nobody knows the eventual outcome of Jimbo Fisher’s tenure at Texas A&M.  He may never win the SEC West or he may win multiple national titles.  Only time will tell.  The telling thing will be how much he wins and loses.  It’s the only thing that matters in sports.  Sure, you want to win with integrity but at the end of the day the only thing fans really care about is wins and losses.  Jimbo’s tenure will be judged on wins and losses.  This much we know.

When Jimbo was hired I said if he doesn’t win big we might as well shut the Aggie Football program down.  I feel no different after seeing him at the Houston A&M Club Coach’s Night.  For 45 minutes Jimbo talked football and Aggieland at a pace that made the auctioneer on stage before him seem like he was talking slow.  This was after flying back from Atlanta where he spent all day talking at SEC Media Days.  Sure, he flew on a private jet so it wasn’t like he was fatigued from travel but regardless the man rattled off things about his team and Texas A&M at a pace and length most people in the audience couldn’t keep up with.  They became dis-interested not because what he said was boring but because their brain couldn’t keep up with Jimbo’s words.  Seriously.  Some people at my table gave up trying to follow along with what he was saying.  It got me excited.  You needed your brain’s full capacity to catch every word Jimbo was saying.

It’s clear Texas A&M finally has a legitimate football coach again.  It’s been since around 1995 that we’ve been in this situation.  The last legitimate football coach we had was R.C. Slocum before Mack Brown, Nick Saban, and Bob Stoops arrived on the scene and R.C. lost his way.  I’ll get to that in more detail in a bit.  I finally feel confident we have a coach with no question marks when it comes to being a college head football coach.

I won’t get into the details of what he said as it’s the same thing he’s said repeatedly in other press conferences but it’s crystal clear Jimbo Fisher knows and loves coaching football.  Jimbo carried a small piece of paper to the podium with a few notes but for 45 minutes he spoke completely from his brain.  His brain is filled with football knowledge.  Players, schemes, technique, coaches, and motivation he covered it all.  He knows football is a complex sport that combines all those things.  His brain is constantly thinking about all those things combined.  He’s very focused and he’s very driven.  That much is clear.  He wasn’t up there speaking to speak.  He was speaking about his knowledge and his expectations.  He constantly thinks and works to win football games.  He understands it’s not just plays and players that matters.  It’s every drill about technique in practice that matters.  It’s about his staff.  It starts with a bunch of individual things that must be combined to work in unison.  He knows he’s the leader and it starts with him.  He’s going to set the example for work and knowledge.

In addition to his football knowledge he’s quickly learned his A&M knowledge.  It was impressive the things he’s already realized about Aggieland.  He’s not learning about Aggieland to just speak about it.  He’s doing it because he’s figuring it out how it will help him win football games.  He’s using it to help recruit and he’s doing it to garner support from Aggies all over.  It is good though that Jimbo does seem to get Aggieland.  It’s a special place and he truly seems to understand that now more than ever.  Understanding Aggieland will only help him win games.  Plus, if he does win it all he’ll sell the school as much as the football program.  He’s going to take that next step we’ve yet to realize since joining the SEC.

I’ve never spoken with Jimbo personally but I don’t think he’d be any different than what you see on stage and in interviews.  He’s real and he’s raw.  He speaks from the brain more than the heart.  He’s not covering up any deficiencies.  Having helped put on Coach’s Nights in Houston and Fort Worth I’ve been able to be around every head coach since Jackie Sherrill.  Jimbo seems different than all of them.

Jackie is by far the most personable of all of them.  He knows football but Jackie is a natural salesman.  There’s no doubt why Jackie recruited like he did.  Make the paying the players joke if you want but it was the nature of the beast at the time.  Jackie could recruit for a reason beyond what was going on at the time.  He’s extremely personable.

R.C. Slocum is a fine person but he was stubborn as a coach.  He didn’t want to adapt to how football was changing and what other schools were doing.  Both on the field and in recruiting.  He thought showing up as R.C. Slocum wearing Aggie gear would be enough.  He won a lot but it wasn’t enough.  R.C. was a great coach when he took over from Jackie but he couldn’t sustain it.  Mack Brown, Bob Stoops, and Nick Saban exposed his deficiencies as a coach in my mind.  He’s a fine person but he was put in an outstanding situation and didn’t adapt to keep it going long term.

Dennis Franchione was an arrogant punk.  He felt he was better and smarter than everyone else.  He didn’t like being bothered by regular people.  He was a fraud as a coach as he rode some good luck with Gary Patterson and Ladinian Tomlinson at TCU.  He then inherited a loaded Alabama team before he headed to Texas A&M.  He had his work cut out for him at A&M but he was in over his head.  He masked it with arrogance until he couldn’t win enough.

Mike Sherman is as fine of a person as you’ll meet but he has no charisma and the big picture is not his strength.  He’s a very intelligent man at certain things.  Mainly offensive play calling.  He makes for an outstanding Executive Vice President but he’s not cut out to be a Chief Executive Officer.  His hiring as Head Coach at Texas A&M is still the most confusing thing I’ve ever seen.  I never got it then and I still to this day don’t get it.

Kevin Sumlin just wants to be a celebrity.  He doesn’t want to work because he’s not all that smart.  He caught lightening in a bottle with that 2012 team (and Case Keenum at UH) but the reality he’s not interested in being a great football coach.  He wants to give rah rah speeches and never look at film or work drills with a player.  He’s a great public speaker and a funny guy but he’s horrible as a head coach.  He’s made for a television headset and not a coach’s headset.

Jimbo seems different than all of them.  He has the raw mental horsepower to understand complexities and not be overwhelmed.  He has the curiosity to learn from others and change for the better.  He’s funny and charming enough that he can sell recruits.  He has the work ethic to set the example if you’re not willing to work for it you’ll never achieve it.  He seems humble enough that when assembling a staff he wants people to challenge him and not just compliment him.  He’s the leader but he wants independent thinkers offering feedback.  While he clearly knows a lot and likely knows more than any one person in the room he knows he doesn’t know it all.  Others can still offer him knowledge.

Jimbo referenced Scott Woodward several times last night.  It’s clear Jimbo wasn’t completely sure what he was getting into at Texas A&M and it wasn’t just about money.  He came to Texas A&M because of one person.  Jimbo believed that person when he was told he’d have more resources to win a National Championship than at Florida State.  That person is Scott Woodward.  Let’s never forget what Woodward means for the Jimbo hire.  He’s the man that made it happen.

I loved the Jimbo Fisher hire from the first day.  I didn’t have any reservations about him like I did with Fran, Sherman, and Sumlin.  From what I’ve seen from Jimbo since that day nothing has changed.  Seeing him speak in person I haven’t had faith in the Aggie Football program like this since the early 90s.

Maybe Jimbo never wins that National Championship.  Something tells me he will.  He’s done it once at Florida State and I think the timing is right for him to do it at Texas A&M.  I don’t think Tom Herman will be super successful at Texas so our main in state competitor for talent is susceptible.  I think in the next 2-3 years Nick Saban will step down as Bama coach.  I think LSU will wander aimlessly for a spell like before Saban got there.  I think Georgia and Florida are poised to rise in the East which hill hurt Auburn for recruiting.  You have to win the SEC West before worrying about a National Championship and it could get easier for A&M to do so.

I think everything is lining up for Jimbo to have one hellacious decade at Texas A&M.  It won’t happen this year as our offensive line is too weak.  I think by the third year Jimbo is going to have Texas A&M poised for a run at the National Championship.  I really do.  I don’t feel like I’m drinking the maroon Kool-Aid.  I really feel I’m looking at it objectively.  A part of success takes timing.  I think the timing is finally lining up for Texas A&M.  It’s about damn time.

If you’re an Aggie get ready to enjoy this next decade of Aggie Football.  It’s going to be like that period from 1985 to 1995 where there’s a realistic expectation win every game.  I’ve been behind the phrase Make Aggie Football Great Again for over a year now.  It’s about to happen.  When it’s all said and done Jimbo Fisher will have changed it to Made Aggie Football Great Again.

Get ready to #MAFGA

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2018 Won’t Be 2012

2012 Bama Line

Some Aggies are hoping Jimbo’s first year will be like Kevin Sumlin’s first year where we catch everyone by surprise.  The main reason Jimbo won’t replicate Sumlin’s first season in the record department is because of our offense.  Our offense simply won’t supply the firepower our 2012 offense did for a “breakthrough” first year for Jimbo.  Let’s breakdown the challenges facing the Aggie offense in 2018 compared to 2012:

Quarterback – Saying there’s no Johnny Manziel on this roster is an understatement.  There’s not a quarterback on this roster that’s even close to what Johnny brought to the table in 2012.  Johnny’s ability to run along with his pocket awareness made so much happen.  He’s a once in a lifetime player.  Starkel and Mond aren’t horrible QBs but they’re not outstanding QBs either.  They both have skill sets that are one dimensional for the most part.  Starkel is a pure pocket guy but doesn’t possess a cannon for an arm.  He’s what one would call a game manager.  That’s not a bad thing but Nick Starkel is not going to put a team on his shoulders and win a game we shouldn’t.  His job is to simply move the team up and down the field as much as possible without turning the ball over.  We won’t be lighting up any defense under Starkel.

Mond could still develop into a dual threat quarterback but nothing I saw in his first season leads me to believe that.  I know he was a true freshman but he’s not as quick as I hoped he’d be.  He certainly didn’t appear to have the burst of Manziel or Kyler Murray.  I think Trevor Knight was a better runner than Mond is.  I was shocked when Mond got walked down in the Arkansas game last year.  He had a wide-open sideline and a defender caught him from behind.  Guys with true elite speed don’t have that happen to them.  Think of all the times Trevor Knight ran away from people in the open field.  I haven’t seen that from Mond.  In addition, Mond is erratic as a passer.  I think he’ll improve under Jimbo but I’m not sure it’ll be enough for this team to take a major step forward from last season.

Step 1 one of eliminating hopes for a 2012 repeat in 2018 is the quarterback position.

Wide Receiver:

People forget how amazing the 2012 receiving corps was.  Everyone points to Mike Evans but there was quite a bit more in 2012 than most people realize.  That team also had Ryan Swope, Uzoma Nwachukwu, and Malcome Kennedy.  It’s sad to think about what happened with him but Thomas Johnson had a couple decent games including Alabama.  That was a REALLY good receiving corps.

For 2018 there’s no telling what we have.  Outside of Christian Kirk last season nobody really produced game in and game out.  Jhamon Ausbon appears to be the best receiver we have and we’re not sure how good he is.  He’s certainly no Mike Evans or even Josh Reynolds/Ryan Swope level at this point.  Other than Ausbon I’m not sure what else to expect from anyone.  Certainly Jalen Preston has a lot of promise but he’ll still be a true freshman in the SEC.  I think he could be a complete stud by the time he leaves A&M but in 2012 he won’t be a dominate receiver.  2012 had a complete stud in Mike Evans, a great receiver in Ryan Swope, and then two really solid guys in Nwachukwu and Kennedy.  I’m not sure the 2018 will have one great receiver unless Ausbon takes a major step forward.  He has the talent but it remains to be seen if he actually does it.  There is some other receiving talent on the roster but it must take some major strides and I’m not sure if it’s quite there yet.

Offensive Line:

This is where the 2012 and 2018 teams will have the biggest difference.  Even bigger than quarterback.  Everyone talks about Manziel, Evans, and even Swope from 2012 but most people forget about that offensive line.  That offensive line was one of the greatest college offensive lines ever assembled.  Every starter on that offensive line started in the NFL at one point.  Four guys were taken in the first round but all five guys not only made an NFL roster but actually started an NFL game at one point in their career.  I don’t know how many collegiate lines can lay claim to that.  It can’t be many.  The 2012 offensive line was one for the ages.  Maybe more than Johnny Manziel if you want to truly dissect it.  It’ll be easiest to get a game changing quarterback than it will be to get five guys that will start together in college and then each start in the NFL.  It doesn’t happen often.

As for the 2018 Aggie offensive line nobody knows what to make of it.  The only guaranteed starter is Erik McCoy and right now it’s not certain where he starts.  He’ll either be center or guard simply because the staff must figure out the four best guys to go with him and what position they start.  It’s great McCoy is that good and has the versatility but it’s not good the staff is waiting to see where he’ll plug best along the line because the other four guys are such unknowns.

It looked like someone was taking Koda Martin’s job even if he came back fully healthy which I think led to his transfer.  We’ll be starting someone with little experience and have no depth at the position.  That’s not a good thing for a very important position on the offensive line.  Not to knock any individuals but we just don’t have any talent or depth on the offensive line outside of Erik McCoy.  I think McCoy might be the only guy that would be in the two deep at Bama or start for schools like Auburn and LSU.  Everybody else coming back would just be fighting for a roster spots on the better teams in the conference.  We have some solid true freshman coming in but I always tell people the SEC is not a league that favors true freshman.  Especially at offensive line.

I know everybody loves Jim Turner and I do as well but I’ve taken a step back from him over the last two seasons.  I think he has a LOT to prove over the next two seasons.  Some people like to blame Sumlin and Mazzone for the shortcomings of the line but he’s still the OLine coach.  He holds a lot of responsibility for the overall results.  He signs off on the recruits and coaches them individual technique, fight, and teamwork.  We’ve missed a lot of assignments or calls over the last two seasons.  We’ve also had lineman get their ass whipped at the line of scrimmage.  I’m talking not even getting any engagement on certain plays.

Our recruiting under Turner his first two seasons has been less than stellar and our play has matched that as well.  I’m not saying he’s on the hot seat by any stretch but if you measure his results based solely on the roster and performance on the field it certainly doesn’t match up with the perception he’s one of the best offensive line coaches in the country.  Sometimes perception and reality don’t match when you judge things objectively.  If you were to objectively Turner’s second stint in Aggieland the performance and talent of his unit certainly don’t match up with the perception for what kind of offensive line coach he supposedly is.  Turner has a lot to prove this season in my eyes.

Offensive line recruiting has been amazing of recent so something has apparently changed.  Maybe it’s the Jimbo effect or maybe it’s true Sumlin was an albatross around Turner’s neck in recruiting.  I’m glad for the recruits that have committed for future classes but the success of the 2018 team centers around the performance of the offensive line more than any unit.  Right now, it doesn’t look good for our offensive line in 2018.  No doubt having a tight end will provide a huge help but the reality is the talent level is not where it should be for a program like Texas A&M.  Turner and Jimbo are working on that but it’s not going to be enough for 2018.

 

Maybe the Aggie offense surprises me in 2018 but I think Jimbo has a couple of years of work ahead of him to get the offense to championship caliber level.  If Aggies are expecting Jimbo to have the same success record wise as Sumlin in his first year it’s likely not happening.  There’s a MAJOR talent difference between the 2012 Aggie offense and the 2018 Aggie offense that coaching and scheme won’t be able to overcome.

I do believe Jimbo needs to go 8-4 this season but he won’t go 10-2 during the regular season like Sumlin’s first year.  Bama and Clemson are certain loses and there will be at least one more if not two more loses on the schedule.  It’s possible we go worse than 8-4 but 8-4 should be Jimbo’s baseline for his first season.  He needs to do some building to win the SEC and that means winning 8 games in the regular season.

The dream scenario is likely going 9-3 with a win over LSU and then win our bowl game ending the season at 10-3.  If that happens it won’t appear to be as good as Sumlin going 11-2 with wins over Alabama and Oklahoma.  However, 10-3 with wins over LSU and a bowl win in 2018 will be MUCH better than Sumlin’s 2012 season.

Expectations for Jimbo Fisher

Jimbo Spring Practice

With Spring Practice hitting its full stride it’s time to talk a little football.  I take Spring Practice reports with a grain of salt.  Everything I’ve read is pretty much what I’ve expected.  Jimbo Fisher actually coaches football and coaches more than anyone on his staff.  Anyone that’s paid attention to Fisher in the past knows this.  He doesn’t stand around clapping and offering encouragement with hollow words.  Fisher gets in player’s faces offering ways to improve as a player.  Jimbo Fisher is an actual football coach that understands the game and works directly with his players.

Some people say Jimbo is not a “CEO Coach” like Sumlin.  Actually, he is a “CEO Coach.”  He just happens to be the type of CEO that happily goes on sales calls looking to close more deals, meets regularly with the R&D team to see what’s being worked on digging into any issues with the team, understands the current HR issues to see how he can improve things, and a host of other activities related to his organization.  He’s more interested than just earnings calls and going to conferences to talk on panels.  CEO’s can get involved in the details and Jimbo is one of them.  One coach loves to coach football along with handling everything else a head coach must do.  The previous coach just liked to be the figurehead of a major organization hoping his assistants and players figure it out while he claps and says words.  So yeah, things are different.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that’s been paying attention.

I won’t take much stock in practice reports until bullets start flying in September.  Starkel will likely remain as the starting QB throughout the Spring, Summer, and Fall.  It’s his position to lose although I’m sure Mond and Blumrik will get a chance to unseat him.  There’s no Johnny Manziel on this team so get that out of your mind.  Our offensive line continues to be a major work in progress lacking overall talent and depth.  We’re converting from a spread offense to a more traditional pro-style offense.  That presents a challenge we won’t know the reality until live action.  Defensively we have starting talent but are still lacking overall depth.  You just hope that Jimbo’s overall ability to actually be a coach is an improvement from the last coach.

From this point forward Jimbo must win and recruit in consecutive steps.  This is what doomed the last four coaching regimes.  You must continually both win on the field and in recruiting.  R.C. stopped wining and his recruiting fell off which only made winning harder.  Fran had the Cotton Bowl his second season and some decent recruiting classes with star talent but he could never do it consecutively.  Same thing with Sherman.  He had the 9-4 season but then went 6-6 blowing multiple first half leads.  Sumlin had the 2012 season but then went 9-4 and never improved from there where his recruiting also fell off.

You can recruit all you want but if you don’t win your recruiting will fall off.  The best recruiting tool is to win and continually win.  The top recruits want to play for winners because winning on the field is all that matters.  Jimbo was brought here to win football games on the field and nothing else.  The belief is A&M just made a $75 million investment for a national championship.  Anything less than that will be a disappointment.  Winning a national championship is EXTREMELY difficult with the new playoff system but that’s what Jimbo was brought here to do.

Ideally Jimbo wins a championship in his first five years at A&M but that seems difficult considering the state of the program.  I’ve come up with what I think are eight achievable steps based on the current state of A&M football, his pedigree, and the potential for the football program at Texas A&M.  He can certainly improve on any of these steps and I hope he does but at minimum I think he needs to do the following 8 things to put Texas A&M in contention for the national championship over the next 10 years.  To me these are reasonable steps and can be exceeded for a coach like Jimbo Fisher.

 

Step 1 – Close 2018 Recruiting Class:

This is done and Jimbo did a fine job.  The class only ranked #17 nationally but the way Jimbo closed it was solid.  The recruiting momentum was dead upon Sumlin’s departure.  Not because Sumlin left but because there was just nothing to sell at Texas A&M.  I’m convinced Leon O’Neal would have left A&M for good had it not been for Jimbo Fisher.  Most people don’t realize it but Bobby Bowden’s last 4 years included Top 10 classes in 3 of those and the other was still Top 20.  Florida State was struggling on the field but Bowden was still recruiting talent.  Jimbo just had to keep it going at Florida State.  At A&M he’s having to build it but he got off to a good solid start.  Now he must win on the field to keep it going.

Step 2 – 8 regular season wins in 2018 Season:

I believe 8 regular season wins is the minimum for 2018.  The West will take a step back in 2018 due to coaching changes except for Arkansas who should improve but we still have enough to beat them.  The only acceptable losses I see for 2018 are Clemson, Bama, Auburn, and LSU.  Clemson, Auburn, and LSU are all winnable games but I’m not sure we have the talent on the offensive line, at QB, and depth on defense to win those games.  Don’t forget we’re going from a spread team to a pro-style offense so there’s going to be an adjustment.  Even with that adjustment we must win 8 games.  The learning curve isn’t that big and there’s enough talent to beat everyone else on our schedule.  We get Kentucky at home from the East so the schedule is setup well.

The ideal realistic scenario is we beat LSU and win our bowl game winding up at 10-3 with a TON of momentum going into the off season.  I’m all for doing better than that but if Jimbo pulls off 10-3 winning our last two games against LSU and the bowl game he’s going to have A&M sitting pretty.  At minimum though he must go 8-4 and ideally win a bowl game putting us at 9-4.

Step 3 – Top 10 Recruiting Class in 2019:

It’s early but Jimbo currently has a Top 10 recruiting class.  Lots of things can change but if Jimbo keeps doing what he’s doing and wins on the field he should have a Top 10 recruiting class for 2019.  Most importantly though he must sign kids he can develop.  I think he will based on how he’s been recruiting so far.  He looks for football guys and not just numbers guys that look the part.

Step 4 – 10 regular season wins in 2019 Season:

10 regular season wins likely puts us second in the SEC West which should be the main goal for 2019.  I’ll give Jimbo a little rope here just in case Stidham stays at Auburn for his final year or Eddie O pulls off something amazing in Baton Rouge.  I don’t think either of those things happens so 10 wins puts us behind Alabama in the SEC West which would be perfect for Jimbo’s second year.  We go to Clemson so that’s a wildcard right now but either way 10 regular season wins should be the minimum goal here building on the 2018 season.

Step 5 – Top 6 Recruiting Class in 2020:

At some point just being in the Top 10 won’t be good enough.  To win a national championship you must recruit at the highest level.  Jimbo needs to be knocking on the Top 5 at this point.  Even better if he’s there.

Step 6 – Second in the SEC West in 2020:

Ideally we’re already second in the SEC West in 2019 and focused on winning the SEC West in 2020.  If not, the 2020 season needs to be about being the clear second-best team in the SEC West.  Nick Saban could be gone by 2020 making wining the SEC West easier but I’m not going to assume that.  Saban will outlive us all and still be coaching Bama at 120 years of age.  Seriously.  Until he’s gone from the game I’m assuming nothing because he’s the king of college football.  To think otherwise is foolish.  If Saban is in Alabama you’re chasing second place.

Step 7 – Top 5 Recruiting Class in 2021:

Jimbo continues to build an elite recruiting school.  Coaches can say all they want about getting “our guys” in a recruiting class but if you’re not consistently getting a Top 10 class you won’t win a national championship.  “Our guys” means you’re picking from the second tier of athletes and not the true elite.  The higher the ranking the better as it’s about being elite.  It’s easier to coach when you have talent.  That’s the difference between Nick Saban and Bill Snyder.  Jimbo needs to be Top 5 at this point.

Step 8 – Win the SEC West in 2021:

Ideally we’re repeating as SEC West champions and poised for a national title run here.  If Saban is still at Bama Jimbo needs to beat him for the SEC West in his fourth season.  A&M isn’t chasing anyone else but a Saban lead Bama team at this point.  Ideally Saban is gone and Jimbo has replaced him as the class of the SEC West.  If that happens we’ll be on track to maintaining a status of an elite national football program.  Once that happens every year will bring about a chance for a national championship.  That’s what we’re paying Jimbo $75 million to do.  It could take 4 seasons to get there and that’s okay.  We just need to get there.

 

I have no clue if Jimbo gets there.  Anybody that pretends they know is being a fool.  Based on his pedigree and short time at A&M all of that looks VERY attainable.  He wasn’t brought here to build ever so slightly on what R.C., Fran, Sherman, and Sumlin left.  He was brought here to elevate A&M to a level we haven’t seen since the early 90s.  Actually even better as we never really sniffed a national title from 85-95 which were the prime years of Aggie football.  I hope he does better than those 8 steps above.  I think it’s very possible but at minimum those are the steps I’d like to see over the next four years.

Let’s hope Jimbo Makes Aggie Football Great Again.

#MAFGA

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Jimbo Fisher: Ace Recruiter

Jimbo Signing Day

When Jimbo Fisher was hired by Texas A&M I had no doubt he could coach on the field.  I personally think Jimbo is a Top 5 on the field coach.  He’s as good as Saban when it comes to game planning, in game adjustments, and seeing the big picture of an opponent week to week.  The other coaches I put in this category are coaches like Gary Patterson, David Cutcliffe, and Bill Snyder.  These are coaches that have great football minds and there’s no doubt Jimbo has a great football mind.  The guys just win with whatever talent is given to them.  The guys understand how every play in a game fits into the big picture.

I don’t think coaches like Urban Meyer, Dabo Swinney, Jim Harbaugh, and Chris Petersen are in that category of being an elite football mind.  They’re great head coaches no doubt but they rely on their school, competition, staff, recruiting, and a host of other variables for their success.  Urban Meyer is on the cusp but the more I watch him I realize he’s only as good as his staff and talent.  Those 3 national titles were won with amazing talent.  Technically he’s the second-best coach in college football and I’ll agree with that but I don’t think he’s an elite football mind understanding the component of every play to the entire game.  I do think Jimbo is in that elite football mind group because Jimbo has an amazing football mind.  Some will argue with that based on his last season at FSU but all I know is the guy won more than 10 games in 6 of 8 seasons and his record in bowl games was 5-2.  Listen to him talk.  He ALWAYS talks football and not consultant speak.  He THINKS football all the time and understands it.

My question for Jimbo Fisher coming to A&M is if he could recruit.  That question was based on two things.  FSU had recruiting momentum when Jimbo took over and at Texas A&M when he took over it did not.  At Florida State Jimbo took over the reins from Bobby Bowden who had placed FSU as a top national program in a talent rich state.  Before Jimbo got to FSU the perception was that FSU was an elite national school.  Combine it with the location in a talent rich area and Jimbo just had to keep the machine Bobby Bowden built rolling.  In 7 seasons Jimbo’s lowest class at FSU was ranked 11th.  His last four classes were ranked Top 6 or better.  That’s consistent elite level recruiting.

At Texas A&M there hasn’t been elite level recruiting since the early 90’s.  Sumlin had a couple really good classes but I’m talking about truly consistent elite level recruiting where your program is Top 6 four consecutive years in a row.  A&M has never seen that.  A lot of that recruiting comes from winning as nothing helps recruiting more than winning.  A&M hasn’t had that so it’s been behind the ball in some time.  Getting to that level is kind of a chicken or egg thing.  You can’t win big without recruiting well and you can’t recruit well without winning.  Despite the 2012 season Texas A&M has been in this cycle of not winning enough to recruit well enough and not recruiting well to win enough.  There’s certainly some pieces in place to get there but in the last three decades we seem to be missing consecutive steps combining wins and recruiting more than one season to really get our football stride going as an elite program.

Every Aggie thinks A&M belongs in the discussion of top programs in the country.  A&M doesn’t have the history of winning like other programs but when it comes to money, location, facilities, resources, and passion there’s not many schools in this country that can match A&M.  For some reason Aggie football has been in a quagmire since the early 90’s.  I’ve always felt A&M simply made bad coaching decisions holding on to RC too long, hiring Fran without fully vetting him, hiring Sherman without checking other options, and letting Sumlin control A&M instead of controlling him.  A&M made some bad coaching decisions and college football is ALL about hiring the right coach.  Then again maybe it hasn’t been coaching and it’s just that A&M will never be an elite level program.  I tend to think it’s coaching but with Jimbo Fisher we’re about to find out.

My question since the day Jimbo Fisher was hired is if he could recruit at an elite level and get those steps going over multiple seasons.  It’s time for A&M to hit its football stride.  Jimbo still has a long way to go but his first step with his first recruiting class looks like he’s on his way to getting that stride going.  Don’t get me wrong steps 2-4 are the hardest but he put a damn good foot forward on step 1 which should help steps 2-4.  I think steps 2-4 are the hardest but step 1 is important as you need something to build off.  Unlike what Jimbo inherited from Bobby Bowden at FSU Kevin Sumlin did not leave Jimbo much at A&M in terms of recruiting momentum.  There’s certainly some key pieces in place so Jimbo isn’t starting from nothing but his work at A&M will be MUCH tougher than what he had to do at FSU when taking over.  Jimbo needed to nail step 1 to build to steps 2-4 and I think he did that.

Texas A&M only finished ranked 17th with it’s signing class but it’s the way Jimbo closed that class that should give Aggies hope.  If Jimbo can stride out steps 2-4 he’ll build Texas A&M into an elite level program.  In the days leading up to Signing Day Jimbo and his staff absolutely did work.  It started with getting Leon O’Neal back into the mix.  The one-time Aggie commit had wandering eyes once Sumlin was let go.  He was looking at programs like Clemson, OU, and Georgia.  Those are three schools that were in the College Football Playoff.  In the past, A&M loses a guy like him coming off a 7-5 season once they start looking at schools of that caliber.  It seems like Jimbo just had to reassure him Texas A&M was the place he belonged.  I don’t think that’s the case so don’t discount the amount of work Jimbo and his staff had to do to fend off schools like Clemson, OU, and Georgia.  People like winners and no schools are winning bigger than those three other than Bama obviously.  Pre-Jimbo Texas A&M loses Leon O’Neal.  Signing O’Neal is a MAJOR feather in Jimbo and his staff’s hat.

Leading up to signing day how A&M would finish was in big question.  A&M was in on lots of guys but most recruiting services were uncertain where a lot of these guys would go.  Some were leaning one way depending on who the recruit talked to but there seemed to be a ton of uncertainty overall.  I don’t think any recruiting service saw it playing out like it did for A&M.  Some experts had hunches but nobody knew for sure.  It was certainly possible but it wasn’t certain.  Pre-Jimbo the signing class finishes with a dud but with Jimbo it finished with a flourish.

On signing day Jimbo signed Texas guys that were committed Bama or were non-Texas guys looking at elite programs across the country.  Even though Vernon Jackson and Bobby Brown are Texas guys they still were technically verbal commitments to Alabama.  Jimbo and staff convinced them to flip to A&M on signing day.  A&M doesn’t do that Pre-Jimbo.  Charles Strong (a FL guy) looked like a sure thing to Ole Miss and Jimbo flipped him.  At one-point James Foster and Marcus “Tank” Jenkins seemed like a package deal out of Montgomery, AL.  As signing day closed it looked like Foster was going to Bama or FSU.  Jenkins looked destined to OU.  On signing day Jimbo convinced them to package to “The Station” as the kids are calling it these days.  Glenn Beal out of New Orleans was looking at Bama, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.  Jimbo convinced him if he was heading west of the Mississippi The Station was the place for him.

Jashaun Corbin out of Florida was looking at Tennessee, TCU and even Florida State to a degree.  Jimbo convinced him to sign with A&M.  Jeremiah Martin out of California was looking at Washington and Oklahoma but Jimbo convinced him to come to Aggieland aka The Station.  That’s 9 guys that Jimbo and staff convinced to sign with Texas A&M despite competition from MAJOR programs.  That’s an impressive crop of guys Jimbo closed on.  Jimbo and staff deserve a ton of coffee.  Coffee is for closers after all.

This class wasn’t perfect as there were some misses A&M could have had.  Jaylen Waddle wound up at Bama after looking like a heavy A&M lean.  The Aggies got in late on Javontae Jean-Baptiste but couldn’t get him and he signed with Ohio St.  Isaac Taylor-Stuart was a longshot to get out of California and USC and in the end he signed with USC.  He flirted with A&M but Jimbo couldn’t close.  Dorian Gerald seemed like a lock to Florida but evidently they didn’t send him a letter of intent to sign so he seemed like a get for A&M.  He wound up in Arkansas thanks to his relationship with John Chavis it seems.  Those guys would have been welcomed additions to the Aggie class due to position or talent but Jimbo and staff weren’t able to convince them to sign.  That’s not a negative just saying there were some misses as well.

It’s hard to fault Jimbo at all for this class as he was working behind the eight ball.  The 7-6 record and early signing period really limited what he could do.  He focused on key recruits and did a damn fine job landing key guys for Texas A&M.  It’s been three decades since we’ve seen A&M have something like that the week of Signing Day.  Usually it’s hoping just to hold the guys we had committed as the top programs made a run at them.  Jimbo’s Step 1 makes it seem like A&M will be closing guys down the stretch rather than hoping to hold on.  Signing Day was a damn good sign for the Jimbo Fisher era at Texas A&M.

Step 2 will be the 2018 season.  I will write about expectations for that in the next few weeks.  Step 3 will be the 2019 recruiting class.  So far things for the 2019 class look even better than 2018 and it must be.  17th ranked recruiting classes will not get you to the elite national level in college football.  If you listen to Jimbo’s signing day press conference it’s clear he knows that.  He’s happy with who he signed but he knows there is still lots of work to do.

That press conference gives great insight into Jimbo as a coach.  He is a coach that drills into the details himself.  He said when he got to Aggieland he immediately started watching film of every guy to evaluate himself.  He’s not a guy that leaves things up to his staff.  His staff is there to support him and not vice versa.  Jimbo makes the decisions because he has the grand vision for where Aggie Football needs to go and how to get there.  In addition it also sounds like he knows how to evaluate prospects from a technical and ability standpoint.  He’s not just watching film for the “wow” factor.  He watches film for ability and from a technical standpoint in isolation of teammates and competition.  He’s trying to project them to the next level.  If you didn’t watch that press conference and you’re a football nerd you’ll love it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSnwPjePthw

Jimbo still has lots of steps to take for A&M to hit its full footballs stride but all things considered his Step 1 was DAMN good.  He’s shown he can sell Texas A&M in short order.  He’s got to win on the field next while building the recruiting class of 2019.  Those next two steps are going to be crucial.  At this point there’s no reason to think Jimbo won’t be successful at Texas A&M but there’s still plenty of steps to take.  For now though Jimbo and his staff should enjoy their coffee because they flat out closed on the 2018 recruiting class.  It’s been a long time since A&M has since a close on Signing Day like this.  I like where these steps are going.  Things are trending to Make Aggie Football Great Again.

#MAFGA

Thoughts on the Defensive Coordinator Hire

Mike Elko

Before getting to the hire of Mike Elko let’s touch on the Belk Bowl.  It seemed like the perfect summary of the Kevin Sumlin era.  The Aggies jumped out to a convincing 14-0 lead thanks to two blocked punts deep in Wake Forest’s territory.  It seemed like it would be an easy win for Texas A&M with an early 14-0 lead and equally matched teams.  Wake Forest then rips off 31 UNANSWERED points in basically a quarter of football.  Seriously.  In around 15 minutes of football Wake Forest scored THIRTY ONE points and the Aggies scored ZERO.  On A&M’s first 6 possessions that didn’t involve a blocked punt they punted 5 times and fumbled on the 6th possession.  Meanwhile the Aggie defense is handing out points like candy on Halloween to let Wake Forest have a 31-14 lead.  The Aggies clawed back and went into halftime down 38-28 which is pretty remarkable.

The Aggies came out in the second half looking much better as the Aggie defense held Wake Forest to only a field goal in their first five possessions.  The defense forced two turnovers on five of those possessions and the offense continued moving the ball.  This allowed the Aggies to take a 45-41 lead early in the 4th quarter despite giving back one of those turnovers with an interception.  As would be typical of many Aggie games, the defense couldn’t hold as Wake Forest scored two touchdowns on their last two possessions.  The Aggie offense couldn’t respond to both scores and Wake Forest wound up with a 55-52 win.  It seems like the perfect ending to the Sumlin era where things looked great early on, then looked really bad, then clawed back making things look respectful by even taking the lead.  In the end the Aggies couldn’t hold on to a lead running out of time one final game with the Sumlin regime.

Someone asked me what I expected before the bowl game.  My response was that I didn’t expect anything different from the last four seasons other than Kevin Sumlin wouldn’t be on the sidelines chewing gum.  That’s the way it turned out.  The Belk Bowl was pretty much the mirror of Sumlin’s time at A&M.

Now we can truly begin the Jimbo Fisher Era.

Before bowl season there was a lot of speculation on who A&M might hire as it’s defensive coordinator.  Early on there was talk of Bud Foster, Alex Grinch, and Travaris Robinson.  They seemed like likely candidates given their current positions and A&M’s resources.  As bowl season cranked up the speculation started dying down as it seemed A&M wouldn’t be making a hire until after everyone played their bowl game.  During this time bigger names started getting whispered about with the biggest name being Dave Aranda of LSU.  It seemed like a long shot but the rumors got stronger and stronger that he was Jimbo’s main target.  Along with the way names like Manny Diaz of Miami, Mike Elko of Notre Dame, and Don Brown of Michigan were also speculated.

It was very much like the Jimbo Fisher hire where nobody knew for sure but there seemed to be a clear target and it was Aranda.  After the New Year’s Day games the smoke around Aranda really started to thicken.  Of all the names being speculated Aranda’s name seemed to be the most consistent.  There was speculation on the LSU side that it was pretty apparent A&M was coming after him.  At one point it sounded like he might have turned A&M down but nobody knew for sure.  Brent Zwerneman then tweeted A&M was in fact going after Aranda and a pretty wild afternoon/evening ensued with no one publicly knowing what was going on.  It was clear though that A&M had in fact zeroed in on Aranda.  Later that evening it became pretty clear that Aranda was not going to leave LSU.  It appeared LSU had given Aranda the exclusive keys to the LSU defense and a new contract for four years worth $10 million in total compensation.  Hard for Aranda to turn that down.

Aggies everywhere seemed pretty dejected Jimbo didn’t land Aranda.  They lamented all the momentum A&M had built with the Jimbo hire was gone.  The Aggies would be stuck with some average defensive coordinator that even his current school didn’t want.  A lot of Aggies went back to their “woe is us” mentality as it seemed like Aranda or bust.

Fortunately for A&M Jimbo Fisher didn’t see it that way.  Less than 24 hours after being publicly turned down by Aranda the Aggies hired Mike Elko away from Notre Dame.  It was a major get by A&M to hire an up and coming defensive coordinator away from a major program.  The momentum A&M created by hiring Jimbo seemed to be back.  All was good in Aggieland for football.

While Jimbo didn’t land his top target in Aranda I love the way this hire played out.  It was clear Jimbo had his top target and A&M threw everything they could at him.  When he didn’t bite A&M didn’t get phased and simply went after the next major hire they had on their list.  In less than 24 hours they had their defensive coordinator.  Nobody likes getting rejected but rejection is a lot easier to swallow when you immediately rebound with something just as good.  That’s what A&M did and shows this is a different day for A&M football.  There seems to be a plan with targeting, approaching, and hiring the football staff.  It certainly feels different.

As for Elko it seems like a really solid hire.  I’ll admit I haven’t watched a lot of Notre Dame football this year but it’s pretty clear the biggest difference from Notre Dame in 2016 to 2017 is the improvement of their defense.  Notre Dame went from 4-8 to 9-3.  That’s pretty remarkable.  What I’ve read and watched about him he seems like a guy that coaches fundamentals and adapts each week to the offense his defense is facing.  I don’t think fundamentals and adaptability are understood enough by coaches.  It seems at times a lot of coaches want to out scheme everyone but if you don’t have fundamentals and adapt each week there is no “schematic advantage” as Charlie Weiss likes to say.  Elko seems like a guy that focuses on fundamentals and changing his approach each week based on the opponent.  The one common comparison that can be made is Notre Dame held LSU to 17 points in their bowl game while A&M allowed LSU 45 points this past season.  I would bet the talent level on the Notre Dame and Aggie defense isn’t far apart so that’s a feather in Elko’s hat.

The thing I like most about this hire is Jimbo Fisher appears to be doing his due diligence and hiring competent people he doesn’t have a relationship with.  I think the worst thing a head coach can do is only hire people they’re familiar with rather than look for the most competent person no matter their relationship.  It appears Fisher targeted people he has no relationship with but through due diligence identified people he thinks are great coaches at their respective positions.  I absolutely love that because it seemed Kevin Sumlin only hired people he had a prior relationship with.  The only time he hired someone he didn’t have a relationship with was Dave Christensen and that was a disaster.  I don’t think that’s happening with Fisher as he seems to be targeting coaches on their way up instead of their way down when Sumlin hired Christensen.

For those disappointed by the failure to get Aranda there’s no reason to be concerned.  I think Elko is likely just as good as Aranda.  I think a lot of coordinators get over-rated based on the school they coach because of their talent.  I think in college football there’s a group of 10-15 coordinators that are all interchangeable.  For the most part they’re excellent coaches but none of them are perfect and they have bad games.  There’s no coordinator that’s head and shoulders above anyone else.  Even Aranda who’s deemed as one of the best defensive coordinators in college football had games this past season where they gave up 37 to Mississippi State, 26 to Syracuse, 24 to Troy, 24 to Ole Miss, and 24 to Bama.  That’s 5 of 12 games where his defense gave up over 20 points.  That’s certainly not dominating by any stretch.

We’ll find out in 2018 how good Elko is as he has some decent components to work with on the Aggie defense.  I think Elko has a much easier job than Jimbo Fisher on the offensive side of the ball.  I think there’s more talent across the board on the defense compared to the offense mainly because the offensive line is so bad.  There’s no reason to think that Elko can’t improve on what John Chavis did as defensive coordinator.  It won’t be a major improvement but the goal should be a more consistent defensive effort from game to game.  Based on Elko’s history as a defensive coordinator there’s no reason to think he can’t do that.  It won’t be the true return of the Wrecking Crew but those days are likely never coming back.  Football has changed to an offensive game for the most part.  What the Aggies need is a defensive coordinator that preaches fundamentals and adapts to the opponent each week.  In Elko it seems that Fisher has found someone that can do exactly that.

Scott Woodward – Sniper Athletic Director

scottwoodward

Scott Woodward is a bona fide sniper athletic director.  He’s been on the job since January of 2016.  That’s about 23 months of service and most Aggie fans don’t know much about him other than he previously served as Washington’s Athletic Director before coming to Texas A&M.  Well, Aggie fans know all about him now with the hire of Jimbo Fisher.  The media can grade out the Jimbo Fisher hire however they want but the fact of the matter is Scott Woodward pulled off the hire of the year and maybe even the past decade.  He convinced a coach with a national championship and a program that by many accounts was established as a Top 10 program to move to Texas A&M.  I can’t think of another time that’s happened in recent memory.

Nick Saban was looking to leave Miami and get back to the college game.  Urban Meyer was sitting on the sidelines.  Chip Kelly was also on the sidelines and was familiar with the West Coast along with being able to hide in Los Angeles.  I don’t think the Chip Kelly is a bigger hire than Jimbo Fisher this year. It took a lot more to convince Jimbo Fisher to leave Florida State and come to Texas A&M than it took UCLA to convince Chip Kelly UCLA was the right school for him.  Going back to recent big hires there was Jim Harbaugh but he’s a Michigan alum and was looking to leave the NFL.  It certainly wasn’t Charlie Strong, Tom Herman, Kevin Sumlin, Art Briles, Chris Petersen, or any other mid-major to major hire.  Maybe I’m missing a hire in the last decade but I can’t think of a hire where a coach left a program like Florida State for Texas A&M.  The most recent might have been Dennis Franchione when he left Alabama for Texas A&M but that was way back in 2002.  That’s been almost 15 years ago.

If you listen to the Jimbo Fisher press conference there’s one reason why Jimbo Fisher is at Texas A&M – Scott Woodward.  Scott Woodward’s friendship was the main reason but there’s no doubt it took some serious convincing to get Jimbo Fisher to make the move.  Bill Byrne nor Eric Hyman could have made this hire.  I’m not convinced any other athletic director in the country could have made this hire.  LSU tried twice and I’m pretty sure Texas asked as well last season.  Jimbo Fisher is a bigger higher than Tom Herman.  There’s no denying that.  I’m sure there’s also been other programs that expressed an interest in Jimbo Fisher but he’s never made the move from Florida State to anywhere but Texas A&M.  Texas A&M has Scott Woodward to thank for that.  There’s no doubt Woodward got plenty of support from those in charge of Texas A&M but this hire is solely Scott Woodward’s.

The interesting thing about Scott Woodward if you pay attention to conversation about athletic directors across the country you never hear his name mentioned.  At all.  Scott Woodward’s name never comes up with the “big named” athletic directors.  The only thing anyone knows about Scott Woodward at Texas A&M other than this hire is when he went on the record saying Kevin Sumlin needed to win more at SEC media days.  Outside of that comment you’ve never heard about Scott Woodward.  People have heard of Joe Castiglione at OU, Scott Stricklin at Florida, Jeff Long formerly of Arkansas, Chris Del Conte now of Texas, Greg Byrne at Alabama, and others but you NEVER have heard of Scott Woodward with those names.  You likely won’t hear Scott Woodward’s name much despite pulling off the biggest hire in college football in the last 10-15 years.  He just sits in the weeds and does his job with no self-promotion which is why you don’t see his name thrown out there.

No matter what anyone says the MOST important thing an AD in college athletics can do is hire a winning football coach.  You win in football and everything else falls in place.  Athletic Director’s careers are made based on the success of the football coach.  Everything else is a distant second.  If you’ve got a winning football coach and have the ability to string complete sentences together in a crowd you’re going to be crowned a “successful” athletic director.  There’s no doubt Jeff Long got ran off from Arkansas because he hired Brett Bielema.  The man had done really well with the Arkansas athletic department but got fired because he hired Brett Bielema.  Joe Castiglione, Chris Del Conte, and Greg Byrne are all considered elite athletic directors because of the football program.  There’s no doubt those guys are competent athletic directors but the success of the football program lifts the perception of the rest of the athletic department.  It’s that plain and simple.

Scott Woodward is a Sniper Athletic Director because you haven’t heard a peep from him other than his introductory press conference in January 2016 and his comments this year at SEC Media Days.  On December 1, 2017 he fired a shot that made everyone stand up and take notice.  At least those with half a brain took notice.  Scott Woodward without any fanfare brought Jimbo Fisher to Texas A&M.  He made his comment during SEC Media Days stating expectations and that had been it from him.  When it came time to pull the cord on Sumlin he quietly and calmly pulled the trigger bagging his mark.  Everybody knew he was around but nobody was really sure what was going on.  There was lots of speculation but nobody knew for sure.  Woodward didn’t say anything during the whole process other than when it was announced Sumlin would no longer be the head coach.  Woodward simply said the next time you would hear from him is when the new coach was named.  That was it.  That’s operating like a sniper rather than an infantry person spraying bullets hoping something big falls.  See Tennessee for an example of that later.  Woodward had his mark, his perch, and fired a clean shot.  That’s the way snipers work.

His use of the media was very well done.  Rather than let some wild speculation happen there was just enough leaks to keep any media person specifically covering Texas A&M on the Jimbo Fisher trail.  Some media people were speculating other names but those that cover Texas A&M closest always pointed to Jimbo Fisher.  It wasn’t just one media person either.  Brent Zwerneman, Billy Liucci, and Mark Passwaters who cover A&M the most were consistent in their updates it was Jimbo Fisher.  I’m hoping that was by design to get just enough information out there but not too much if Jimbo Fisher couldn’t be landed.  On the day Sumlin was let go, Randy McIlvoy of KPRC in Houston was brought into the mix to announce “according to sources” Jimbo Fisher would be the next head coach at Texas A&M.  Jimbo Fisher had one more game to go but something tells me McIlvoy’s source was the Athletic Director at Texas A&M.  At least whoever told McIlvoy had the blessing of the Athletic Director to go ahead and get the name out there.  This way when the hiring was made official it wasn’t a total shock and the media was ready cover it from different aspects.  Woodward proved the doubters wrong but he left enough crumbs out there for those truly paying attention with an objective lens.

The hiring process really reminded of the move to the SEC.  Dr. Loftin spoke just enough to control the message but never overpromised anything.  There was denial and speculation early on by a lot of the media people just like with the Jimbo Fisher.  Through it all A&M kept quiet making sure everything was lined up.  As things appeared to be happening enough news was leaked so people were prepared for the official announcement and it wouldn’t be complete shock and awe.  I thought Texas A&M handled the move to the SEC and hiring of Jimbo Fisher with almost perfect execution.  They spoke less and executed more.  As Jimbo Fisher said in his opening press conference, “Your actions speak so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying.”  Texas A&M’s actions said exactly what Texas A&M is about.  Doubt us and we’ll prove you wrong.

With a 10 year, $75 million contract Scott Woodward’s entire legacy is likely tied to the success or failure of Jimbo Fisher.  It seems he knows that which is why you don’t hear much from him.  I suspect Woodward will stay behind the scenes and let the football program speak for his acumen.  This was his hire and he knows this will be his legacy.  He knows ultimately the actions of the football program will speak so loudly nobody will hear what he’s saying.  There’s no point in saying anything.  Just sit back like a sniper hoping his job is done.

If you want to know a little more about Scott Woodward he’s a graduate of LSU which makes the hire of Jimbo Fisher ironic because his alma mater couldn’t do it in two previous attempts.  He graduated in 1985 and worked in politics working mainly on campaigns for state and national elections.  In 2000 he was hired by LSU as director of external affairs also serving as the liaison between the chancellor and athletics.  In 2004 he left LSU for Washington working in the same role.  In 2008 he was named the athletic director at Washington where he served in that role before taking the same role at Texas A&M in January of 2016.