By signing Jimbo Fisher to the richest contract in college football history, Texas A&M believes it finally has the final piece to a national championship.
But that missing piece is costly: Besides Fisher’s 10-year, $75 million deal, Texas A&M is paying Kevin Sumlin $10.4 million, the amount that remained on his guaranteed contract when he was fired on Nov. 26.
Lavish contracts are nothing new at Texas A&M, which stunned college football almost 36 years ago when it gave Jackie Sherrill a six-year, $1.7 million deal. But the Aggies have never come close to winning a national championship since then, and their last conference championship came in 1998, when they upset Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game.
“It’s always difficult to get a quality coach who is at a very stable place, it’s a heavy lift,” Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward said. “It takes so much, and to have such strong backing from a president, a chancellor and a board of regents who just want excellence. And when you have that going for you, you’re at an advantage.”
Sherrill coached for seven seasons and 81 games in College Station, going 52-28. He left in 1988 after the Aggies landed on NCAA probation for recruiting violations.
Here’s a look at the coaches and their contracts that followed:
R.C. Slocum (1989-2002): Texas A&M’s all-time wins leader (123) received a new contract in 1999 worth $1 million per season for seven years after he won the Big 12 championship in 1998. Three years later, Slocum was fired after going 6-6. He went 29-23 after signing the extension.
Dennis Franchione (2003-07): The former TCU coach left Alabama for a nine-year deal worth $15.3 million guaranteed. Franchione went 32-28 in five seasons and resigned in controversy, which included a “VIP” newsletter where he sold inside information to boosters. A&M agreed to a $4.4 million buyout.
Mike Sherman (2008-11): A&M hired Sherman away from the Houston Texans for $1.8 million per year over seven years in 2007. He was fired after going 25-25 in four seasons. In addition to the $7.2 million he earned in salary, the school bought out his contract for $5.8 million.
Kevin Sumlin (2012-17): Texas A&M gave Sumlin a six-year, $30 million contract in December 2013. He had led the Aggies to an 11-2 record in 2012, their first in the SEC.
“University administrators are in the business of juggling competing interests,” said Rod Fort, a University of Michigan professor who specializes in sports economics. “They are able to look at a growing amount of revenue from coming out of athletics and parlay that into a lot of other values that people appreciate all across campus.”
Texas A&M’s football program generated $73.7 million in 2015, the most recent year figures are available, according to the Department of Education.
The Aggies’ signing of Fisher marks the first time in 40 years that a head coach left a school where he won a national title for another school. (Johnny Majors left Pitt for Tennessee in 1977). In eight seasons with Florida State, Fisher was 83-23 and won a BCS national championship in 2013.
A renovated Kyle Field opened in 2015 after a $485 million overhaul.
“We have the best nutrition, the best trainers, the best of everything here,” Woodward said. “And we thought this was the final piece to get a championship coach.”