NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – Before they write the banner headline in the Austin American-Statesman – "Winston: Jimbo and I a Package Deal to Texas" – let it be known that the young man was joking.
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston did indeed say Friday morning that he would follow Fisher to Austin if he's the next coach of the Longhorns. ("Of course. He's my coach.") He did not mean it. The last thing a guy with Winston's talents needs is to sit out a year and delay his NFL draft date with Roger Goodell a minute longer than mandated by league rules.
Winston did not appear to be joking about his unreturned interest in playing at Texas. The Heisman Trophy winner confirmed that his coach at Hueytown (Ala.) High School had several calls to the Longhorns that went unanswered. That is as big a reason as any why the Texas job currently is vacant.
Jimbo at least had the good sense to recruit the nation's top quarterback. And he had the skill, will and charm to sign him. It's hard to see Fisher leaving behind a guy who – at least as of this week – has never lost a college game he's played in.
But we have to ask: Is Fisher going to Texas?
Or how about Auburn's Gus Malzahn?
Those are the questions lingering over the BCS championship game. And American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls is here to ask whoever is available for comment. (The head coaches have not had their formal media sessions yet leading up to the game.)
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As long as that Cadillac job remains unclaimed, the coaches playing for the final crystal football Monday night will have to keep the speculation and rumors at bay while trying to focus on the biggest game of their lives.
Both Fisher and Malzahn agreed to major contract enhancements within the last month. Earlier this week, Fisher signed an extension at Florida State through 2019, at a reported annual salary of $4.1 million. No word yet on what the buyout may be. Malzahn accepted a six-year deal at Auburn that starts at $3.85 million per year.
In a normal and sane marketplace, those fresh contracts should be enough to keep both men in place and out of Austin. But college football is not the province of the normal and the sane. Contracts are broken all the time – and no buyout would seem too prohibitive for Texas.
Fisher, especially, has his name still mentioned in media reports as an attractive Texas candidate. And as more names are crossed off athletic director Steve Patterson's burnt orange stationery, you wonder whether the school is going to make a big play next week for one of these coaches.
Nick Saban's name went off the board a few weeks back – and if he went back on his word now, Alabama's insane flying female assault fan from the Sugar Bowl may kick down his door and take him out. Art Briles pledged allegiance to Baylor Friday morning, a move some suspect was a signal that he knew he wasn't going to get the Texas job. Jim Mora of UCLA did the same, a day after reports that the Longhorns were keenly interested in his services.
Texas reportedly interviewed Louisville's Charlie Strong this week and Vanderbilt's James Franklin two weeks ago, but the level of sustained interest from the Longhorns remains unknown. Orangebloods.com reported Friday that both are finalists for the job, but maybe not the only finalists.
If Strong were the top candidate, he probably would be standing behind a podium flashing hook'em horns at everyone by now. The Cardinals' season ended Dec. 28.
(Strong would, in fact, be the absolute worst fit for the job anyway. He is the anti-Mack Brown, completely averse to extensive interaction with media and boosters. Strong is from the Greta Garbo school – he wants to be left alone. That wouldn't fly at Longhorn Network University. If he's hired, you're free to wonder whether the people involved with the search asked the right questions and got the right answers.)
Franklin is younger and has less on his résumé than Strong. But consecutive winning records at Vanderbilt are rare and shouldn't be underappreciated. The charismatic 41-year-old would be a much better fit for Texas when it comes to off-field demands.
Jon Gruden's name is still being batted around by some, but that seems like a futile fantasy. Gruden is the trophy fish that likes having a baited hook dropped in front of him, but can never be boated.
In terms of track record, résumé and job fit, Fisher is probably the top remaining candidate for Texas, especially if he's hoisting the crystal football into the air late Monday night.
Would he want to abandon one more season with the best quarterback in the country – plus all the other five-star talent he's signed – for a Texas program that has eroded over the last four years? Would he want the increased competition going from the ACC to the Big 12? Would he want the meddling regents and ego-driven boosters who seem to be a prominent part of the current Texas landscape?
[Related: Winston sought advice from Johnny Manziel]
Don't know. But Fisher will be at a podium Saturday to face the media for an extended amount of time.
Honest answers to the above questions figure to be hard to come by here and now. We'll probably just have to wait until Tuesday to know for sure whether the eyes of Texas are on either coach in the BCS championship game.
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