INDIANAPOLIS – Has there ever been a day like this? Has there ever been a day of news in college football so jam filled with surprise and intrigue and drama that the NCAA hammering Ole Miss with a two-year bowl ban ends up being that day’s third-biggest story? That’s third biggest in the SEC, anyway.
Ohio State’s starting quarterback is touch-and-go for the Big Ten title game because of a knee surgery, and few cared outside of Columbus and Madison. Bret Bielema will receive nearly $12 million to not coach at Arkansas, and it’s greeted with a shoulder shrug. Mike Gundy’s leverage play to boost his annual salary to $5 million, per a report in the Tulsa World, went unnoticed.
Even the palace coup that Phil Fulmer pulled off to overthrow former athletic director John Currie wasn’t all that surprising, considering Fulmer’s past professional backstabbing. And, plus, what could possibly surprise you from the Tennessee football search after a week that’s felt like a Netflix series?
It’s only fitting that the day’s biggest story was essentially gift wrapped – or GIF wrapped, anyway. Jimbo Fisher’s departure for Texas A&M from Florida State will forever be symbolized by a Christmas tree discarded outside his house. It was as if the news gods knew that the most tumultuous day in modern college football needed an endearing and enduring symbol to DeLorean us back to the insanity of Dec. 1, 2017.
Unfortunately, Jimbo Fisher didn’t think to wrap the symbol of the day’s biggest news in tinsel. It was about the only thing missing today. Regardless, his departure to Texas A&M from Florida State, where he’d won a national title in 2013, offers the day’s most fascinating front-lawn experiment that will long be a referendum on green grass.
One part of the green equation can’t be questioned. Fisher is going to cash in on what’s expected to be among the most lucrative contracts in the history of college football. The numbers being bandied about – ESPN is reporting 10 years and upwards of $75 million – are completely insane.
Fisher sought greener pastures to avoid being on the business end of a news cycle like today, as inept presidents, backstabbing athletic directors and the fickle fate of the NCAA have turned college football into a most volatile business. All coaches, as Fisher saw this year, are an injured quarterback away from contemplating decisions they’d have never thought to contemplate. Coaches and athletic directors around the country told Yahoo Sports that they’d never seen anything like today. Well, Jimbo Fisher’s move is indicative of the new bottom-line reality – there’s going to be more days like today. Fisher decided it was better to extend his shelf life than someday face his coaching mortality.
Any notion that this move was to stay ahead of a posse is incorrect, as if Fisher was going to get fired this year when it would’ve costed FSU nearly $40 million. That number would decrease next year, but not by enough where he’d feel unsafe about his job. Surely, money was part of it. But if he’d stayed in Tallahassee making nearly $5.7 million, it’s likely he could have provided mansions with diamond-studded gold bathrooms for multiple generations of Fishers.
Fisher’s move is indicative of the reality of coaching in this generation. I called Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald, who has been the head coach at his alma mater since 2006 and among the sport’s top 10 longest-tenured coaches. Fitzgerald paraphrased a quote he cribbed from Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, the country’s longest-tenured head coach: Every year your fan base likes you 10 percent less. “I hit reset after 10 years,” Fitzgerald joked.
There are certainly a few jobs where coaches can stay forever, and Fitzgerald may have one of them. But there’s also certainly fewer jobs that fit that description. Jimbo Fisher hit a perfect storm this season. His quarterback got hurt and some weeks his team looked like it was giving the effort of a teenager on the 7-11 overnight shift. His staff had grown stale, and rebooting the program would have involved booting many of them.
So Jimbo Fisher did what made the most sense. He bolted for greener pastures and greener dollars, hooking up with his longtime friend and confidant, Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward. If Fisher brings Texas A&M to its first national title since 1939, he’ll forever be a hero in East Texas. If he doesn’t, future generations of Fishers can still have diamond-studded gold bathrooms.
Will he replicate his success at Florida State? Probably not. He won double-digit games in six of eight years, 78 percent of his games and went 14-0 in 2013. He should do fine in the SEC West, but those numbers are hard to replicate anywhere. Fisher had conceded ACC supremacy to Clemson in recent years, and now he’s tasked with ripping SEC West supremacy from Nick Saban. (Sorry, Auburn, it takes two years to make a trend.) Good luck, Jimbo. Fisher is great, but he isn’t perfect. Whoever guaranteed the GNP of a small South American country on Fisher’s contract clearly didn’t watch FSU’s effort in a 35-3 loss at Boston College on Oct. 27.
That said, don’t expect Fisher’s successor at Florida State to replicate his success either. (A source told Yahoo Sports that the top two targets are Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente and Oregon’s Willie Taggart). Florida State is a much better job than Texas A&M, but you can argue that Clemson’s recent success, facilities, identity and infrastructure have allowed it to leapfrog FSU. The recruits will always be there for the Seminoles, but his successor has long odds of putting up eight better years.
By leading the insane news cycle today, Fisher essentially prolonged getting caught in a similar one on a late-season Friday in the next few years. The hurt quarterbacks, NCAA rulings and vindictive administrations all lurk out there. For Fisher, they just loom further in the horizon than most.
So for now, he can start home shopping in College Station. No word on how many listings have diamond-studded gold bathrooms.