Year No. 1 of the Great Jimbo Cash Grab has been a bust, because it has exposed Jimbo Fisher as another coach who looks great when he has an NFL quarterback to tear it up.
It was nearly one year ago when Texas A&M buried Jimbo Fisher in so much money it offended Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith. This, despite the fact that OSU pays head coach Urban Meyer a higher salary this season than A&M pays Jimbo.
One year later, it’s become apparent that the only way this expensive experiment is going to work out the way the Aggies want it to is if Jimbo finds himself a big-money, NFL-bound quarterback.
Current Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond is a nice college player. And yes, it’s possible he becomes a high-end college passer when he’s a senior. Maybe.
It’s true that Fisher currently owns the No. 2 overall spot in 247sports.com’s team recruiting rankings for the class of 2019 (spoiler alert: SEC West “rival” Alabama is No. 1).
Trying to project how a kid will transition from the high school level to the college game is a fool’s errand. But up to this point, there are no four or five-star signal-callers to be found in that stack of two dozen prospects.
The only quarterback Fisher has signed to that class is Zach Calzada, a three-star pro-style passer from Buford, GA.
Watching Kyler Murray do what he’s doing at Oklahoma must make every Aggie only slightly ill; what would their team look like had Murray not transferred from A&M, in part because of how the previous Aggies staff was unable to control Johnny Manziel?
As Arizona is learning, Sumlin isn’t a good hire. And while Jimbo may be the right guy in College Station, the Aggies are currently 7-4. That record says they don’t look much different than they did under “Coach Dennis Sherman Sumlin.”
At times, the Aggies look good, even dominant, but their record remains blah.
The Jimbo trend
I asked Jimbo, in his experience, what is the common thread of his teams that have won the types of games that have eluded the Aggies for ... well, maybe forever.
“It’s understanding how to go higher; it was like that our first year at Florida State,” Jimbo said of his first FSU team, one that that finished 10-4 in 2010. In 2013, the Seminoles won the national title.
“It was an educational process and a teaching process. It was believing you can do it, and how to do it, and how much strain and effort and the total concentration it takes. You have to understand, when you get to the top of the mountain and play against the elite, elite teams, the difference between winning and losing is one play. It is six inches. It is two inches on a play.”
If you think his answer sounds like a lot of coachey-coach BS, you are right. There is also truth to it.
The uglier truth: When Jimbo talks about his trajectory at Florida State, always take the following into consideration: His quarterback during his first season was Christian Ponder.
Jimbo’s next quarterback was E.J. Manuel.
Jimbo’s third quarterback at FSU was Jameis Winston.
The Minnesota Vikings selected Ponder No. 12 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. The Buffalo Bills took Manuel with pick No. 16 in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Winston won the Heisman Trophy in 2014 and was selected No. 1 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Neither Ponder nor Manuel did much in the NFL, but in college they were special passers who could torch opposing defenses. In college, they were the type of individual talents who could make not just a coach, but an entire staff, look good.
Winston was physical freak who is currently being exposed in the NFL. Generously, the jury is out on Jameis as a pro. But all signs point to him being fantastic bust.
Jimbo can’t worry about any of his players once they enter the NFL, but his track record shows that his teams are dominant when his passer can really throw it.
The Aggie trend
Texas A&M gave Jimbo $75 million to essentially win its final home game of this season. For Jimbo to be a success he must beat the team that A&M simply, for reasons known only to God or other celestial powers, have not defeated on a regular basis.
His last chance to do that this season is at home, on Saturday night, against No. 7 LSU.
Oddsmakers have LSU at A&M as an even play; for the Aggies, in this series, that’s progress.
Fisher hasn’t topped his predecessors’ performances during their first seasons in College Station. The only thing that will separate Jimbo from the others is to win this game.
The Aggies like to call their series with LSU a “rivalry,” but it is in name only. A&M has never in six tries defeated LSU as a member of the SEC. The last time the Aggies defeated LSU was in 1995, when the trajectory of both programs were nearly opposite.
There is that possibility A&M will finish this season a Franchione-ish 7-6. A final record of 9-4 with a close home loss against Clemson, plus a win over No. 7 LSU, and life will look considerably better.
Jimbo says he has seen progress to date, but ... what is he going to say?
“Much more physical on the offensive and defensive lines,” he said when I asked him where he saw the team improve. “Learning how to compete through a game. Understanding where we are overall. We lost the Auburn game, but we were dominant at times, but we have to learn how to finish things.”
This is a fact, and a trend.
At times throughout this season, A&M has been competitive with Clemson, Auburn and, briefly, Alabama. In a few stretches, the Aggies have even outplayed those those powerhouse programs in head-to-head matchups.
Here is the reality: The Aggies still lost.
This has been a trend for the good folks who sign the big checks in College Station. And it’s a trend that has gone on for far too long.
If this trend is going to change, Jimbo and A&M must not just defeat Arkansas or Mississippi State, but LSU, too.
For Jimbo to do that, he must return to his trend of finding a Christian E.J. Winston.