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THE FALLOUT OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL WHEN A FIRED JIMBO GETS HIS $77 MILLION
Texas A&M stands for Abuse and Misery when a head coach, at a time when NIL still isn’t paying athletes enough, finishes 19-15 and pays guaranteed buyout money more preposterous than Fisher’s contract
This isn’t the week to claim college athletes make too much money. Choke if you try. Whether it’s Bronny James eyeing his USC debut for a $6 million valuation, or Livvy Dunne making $3.2 million with her explosions of social-media followers, or Arch Manning possibly leaving Texas for LSU at $2.8 million, please wash out your throat with sodium hydroxide when suggesting they’re overcompensated.
No one ever can generate enough from a name, image or likeness when John James Fisher Jr. receives $77 million in guaranteed buyout money.
He failed as head football coach at Texas A&M. He’s the Jimbo revealed as a Jumbo klutz. He’s among a maelstrom of leaders who preposterously profit from billions that boosters send in errant directions. Powerhouse universities in this country continue to demand all but free labor from athletes, a few of whom make NIL cash, but every now and then, we’re reminded about the fallacy of Fisher. In three seasons at shamefaced College Station, after signing a fully vouched $95-million deal for 10 years, he finished 19-15.
The school had no choice but to fire Fisher, saying the program was “stuck in neutral.” A better description is that A&M’s institutional priorities, muddled in Southeastern Conference gunk, are on some interplanetary funk that disregards educational value and a student’s primary issues in life. You’re allowing a man to flop and leave with $77 million Sunday? That’s a brilliant lesson you’re teaching to kids who thought the Johnny Manziel problem was baffling. Now, screw up like Jimbo, lose nine straight games on the road and buy a big yacht.
“The assessment that I delivered was that we are not reaching our full potential," athletic director Ross Bjork said. "We are not in the championship conversation and something was not quite right about our direction and the plan. We should be relevant on the national scene. There was something not clicking to provide confidence for everyone in the program. You have to adapt, you have to evolve. I'm not going to say whether he did or didn't, but it didn't work.”
It’s possible Fisher died last year when he was reprimanded by his former boss, Nick Saban, who said A&M was abusing the NIL system. “I know the consequence is going to be difficult for people who are spending tons of money to get players,” Saban said from his Alabama perch. “You read about it, you know who they are. We were second in recruiting last year. A&M was first. A&M bought every player on their team. Made a deal for name, image and likeness. We didn’t buy one player. Aight? But I don’t know if we’re going to be able to sustain that in the future, because more and more people are doing it. It’s tough.”
From there, Fisher begged people to find the dirt in Saban’s past. Wait, aren’t these gazillionaires honest people? Jim Harbaugh is screaming yes at Michigan. “Some people (Saban) think they are God,” Fisher said. “Go dig into how God did his deal and you may find out a lot about a lot of things you don’t want to know. We build him up to be this czar of football, go dig into his past. You can find out anything you want to find out or what he does or how he does it.
“It’s despicable when a reputable head coach can come out and say this when he doesn’t get his way, when things don’t go his way. The narcissist in him doesn’t allow that to happen. The parity in college football he’s talking about, go talk to coaches who coached for him. You’ll find all the parity. Go dig in.”
Dig in on Nick Saban? Fisher violated the laws of the sport. “It’s despicable that someone can say something about someone, and more importantly 17-year-old kids, taking shots at 17-year-old kids and their families, that they broke state laws, that we bought every player in this group,” Jimbo said. “We didn’t buy anybody.”
For someone with the best recruiting class in America, Fisher finished 5-7 last season. He went 6-4 this year and hasn’t won away from Kyle FIeld. We haven’t heard from him since he vanished over the weekend. We did hear from Saban, who has recovered from a sluggish start and is back on the College Football Playoff periphery. “I don’t ever like to see anybody get let go, or whatever you want to call it in this business,” he said. “I know how hard everybody works. I know how difficult it is to build a program, to get players to compete at a high level on a consistent basis. Just have a lot of respect for people who really work hard to try to change the lives of the guys that they're coaching and make them better people. Help them do the right things in terms of getting an education, as well as trying to develop them on football field. But we are in a business that you get evaluated based on outcomes and your performance. I hate to see anybody have to go through this. I’ve been fired before. It’s no fun. It’s no fun for your family. But I'm sure that guys have great reputations in terms of what they've been able to accomplish over the course of their career. And I'm sure they'll have many more opportunities to be successful in the future.”
Jimbo? Why on Earth would he come back? After Saban left LSU for the Miami Dolphins, then Alabama, Fisher took over at Florida State and won the national title in 2013. He was brilliant, going 83-23, but A&M should have considered a report that FSU had the worst Academic Progress Rate of any Power Five program. All the Aggies wanted were Saban and Kirby Smart at Georgia. They got nothing. Once upon a time, Fisher’s son said he hoped to start an organic jerky company after leaving the coaching craft. Jimbo said no at the time, but $77 million can buy some mighty big processors.
The question is how A&M and other maddening programs will respond. Bjork said the school “has to learn a lesson” and acknowledged Fisher’s finances are “monumental.” Yet already, three coaching names in the news have been asked about the opening. Would Deion Sanders, who makes $29.5 million over five years, consider an SEC candidacy? ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith has been ignoring recent woes at Colorado, where the 4-6 Buffaloes have lost five straight and likely won’t head to a bowl game. Of course, Sanders should take his third job in three years, says Smith.
“I want to win a game," Sanders said. “You think I really do think I sit down and think about that kind of stuff? What strikes you about me that you guys really think I sit down say, ‘Aw, yeah, Stephen A.’ C'mon, I'm good. We've got to win.
“I tell them what I told them when they came: I'm here. I tell them my mother's here, my sister's here, my dog is here, my daughter's here, three of my sons are here, my other daughter comes to darn near every home game. We're here. I get mail here, I pay taxes here. I don't hear that. Maybe our recruiting staff hears it, but I don't hear it. I'm too honest with parents. I'm going to tell them the truth.”
Then there’s Dabo Swinney at Clemson, who is tired of the scene at the former two-time national championship base. Would he blow off $115 million for 10 years to take big money in Texas? Another ESPN commentator, Paul Finebaum, says he should ponder a move: “Does he fit? Absolutely. Dabo Swinney aligns very well, from a cultural standpoint, with Texas A&M. Would he leave Clemson? I think he would. They’re kind of sick of him, and I think he’s sick of them. And before some ‘Clemsonite’ comes out of his basement and starts telling me how wrong I am, after a while, that happens. Happens to every coach, usually. And there are few exceptions. Nick Saban, pretty good exception after 17 years. But I think Dabo would be re-energized. I think he would be able to recruit well out there. He’s a good recruiter. His program has slipped at Clemson. It’s not embarrassing, but four losses is not the Clemson standard.”
Put it this way: Bjork won’t have a job if he pays anywhere near what Fisher made. Said Swinney: “Man I'm just focused on this job. Always have been. Trying to find a way to beat North Carolina. That's it. Must be November ... that's all I can say.”
A coach whose salary would fit, Oregon’s Dan Lanning, shot down the entire A&M shebang. He signed a one-year extension with the Ducks through 2028 and makes $7 million annually. At the moment, he’s eyeing a CFP spot. “Everything I want exists right here. I’m not going anywhere. There's zero chance that I would be coaching somewhere else,” he said. “I’ve got unfinished business here. We have the resources, the tools, anybody that can't understand why you would want to be at this place, doesn't understand exactly what exists here.”
Someone who says no at present will say yes later. Might it be Washington’s Kalen DeBoer? How about Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin, heading west on an SEC trek? All we know is that Bjork and the interim school president, Gen. Mark Welsh, have humiliation to overcome. For now, the next coach should spend his NIL funds properly at a top-five job. You can’t lose to Appalachian State, as Jimbo did last season. He was paid $95 million before he played in a conference title game.
That’s how Texas A&M became Abuse and Misery. Next time a coach threatens to go elsewhere, as John James Fisher Jr. did three years ago, just let him leave.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.