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.”
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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.”