When Jimbo Fisher was hired by Texas A&M I had no doubt he could coach on the field. I personally think Jimbo is a Top 5 on the field coach. He’s as good as Saban when it comes to game planning, in game adjustments, and seeing the big picture of an opponent week to week. The other coaches I put in this category are coaches like Gary Patterson, David Cutcliffe, and Bill Snyder. These are coaches that have great football minds and there’s no doubt Jimbo has a great football mind. The guys just win with whatever talent is given to them. The guys understand how every play in a game fits into the big picture.
I don’t think coaches like Urban Meyer, Dabo Swinney, Jim Harbaugh, and Chris Petersen are in that category of being an elite football mind. They’re great head coaches no doubt but they rely on their school, competition, staff, recruiting, and a host of other variables for their success. Urban Meyer is on the cusp but the more I watch him I realize he’s only as good as his staff and talent. Those 3 national titles were won with amazing talent. Technically he’s the second-best coach in college football and I’ll agree with that but I don’t think he’s an elite football mind understanding the component of every play to the entire game. I do think Jimbo is in that elite football mind group because Jimbo has an amazing football mind. Some will argue with that based on his last season at FSU but all I know is the guy won more than 10 games in 6 of 8 seasons and his record in bowl games was 5-2. Listen to him talk. He ALWAYS talks football and not consultant speak. He THINKS football all the time and understands it.
My question for Jimbo Fisher coming to A&M is if he could recruit. That question was based on two things. FSU had recruiting momentum when Jimbo took over and at Texas A&M when he took over it did not. At Florida State Jimbo took over the reins from Bobby Bowden who had placed FSU as a top national program in a talent rich state. Before Jimbo got to FSU the perception was that FSU was an elite national school. Combine it with the location in a talent rich area and Jimbo just had to keep the machine Bobby Bowden built rolling. In 7 seasons Jimbo’s lowest class at FSU was ranked 11th. His last four classes were ranked Top 6 or better. That’s consistent elite level recruiting.
At Texas A&M there hasn’t been elite level recruiting since the early 90’s. Sumlin had a couple really good classes but I’m talking about truly consistent elite level recruiting where your program is Top 6 four consecutive years in a row. A&M has never seen that. A lot of that recruiting comes from winning as nothing helps recruiting more than winning. A&M hasn’t had that so it’s been behind the ball in some time. Getting to that level is kind of a chicken or egg thing. You can’t win big without recruiting well and you can’t recruit well without winning. Despite the 2012 season Texas A&M has been in this cycle of not winning enough to recruit well enough and not recruiting well to win enough. There’s certainly some pieces in place to get there but in the last three decades we seem to be missing consecutive steps combining wins and recruiting more than one season to really get our football stride going as an elite program.
Every Aggie thinks A&M belongs in the discussion of top programs in the country. A&M doesn’t have the history of winning like other programs but when it comes to money, location, facilities, resources, and passion there’s not many schools in this country that can match A&M. For some reason Aggie football has been in a quagmire since the early 90’s. I’ve always felt A&M simply made bad coaching decisions holding on to RC too long, hiring Fran without fully vetting him, hiring Sherman without checking other options, and letting Sumlin control A&M instead of controlling him. A&M made some bad coaching decisions and college football is ALL about hiring the right coach. Then again maybe it hasn’t been coaching and it’s just that A&M will never be an elite level program. I tend to think it’s coaching but with Jimbo Fisher we’re about to find out.
My question since the day Jimbo Fisher was hired is if he could recruit at an elite level and get those steps going over multiple seasons. It’s time for A&M to hit its football stride. Jimbo still has a long way to go but his first step with his first recruiting class looks like he’s on his way to getting that stride going. Don’t get me wrong steps 2-4 are the hardest but he put a damn good foot forward on step 1 which should help steps 2-4. I think steps 2-4 are the hardest but step 1 is important as you need something to build off. Unlike what Jimbo inherited from Bobby Bowden at FSU Kevin Sumlin did not leave Jimbo much at A&M in terms of recruiting momentum. There’s certainly some key pieces in place so Jimbo isn’t starting from nothing but his work at A&M will be MUCH tougher than what he had to do at FSU when taking over. Jimbo needed to nail step 1 to build to steps 2-4 and I think he did that.
Texas A&M only finished ranked 17th with it’s signing class but it’s the way Jimbo closed that class that should give Aggies hope. If Jimbo can stride out steps 2-4 he’ll build Texas A&M into an elite level program. In the days leading up to Signing Day Jimbo and his staff absolutely did work. It started with getting Leon O’Neal back into the mix. The one-time Aggie commit had wandering eyes once Sumlin was let go. He was looking at programs like Clemson, OU, and Georgia. Those are three schools that were in the College Football Playoff. In the past, A&M loses a guy like him coming off a 7-5 season once they start looking at schools of that caliber. It seems like Jimbo just had to reassure him Texas A&M was the place he belonged. I don’t think that’s the case so don’t discount the amount of work Jimbo and his staff had to do to fend off schools like Clemson, OU, and Georgia. People like winners and no schools are winning bigger than those three other than Bama obviously. Pre-Jimbo Texas A&M loses Leon O’Neal. Signing O’Neal is a MAJOR feather in Jimbo and his staff’s hat.
Leading up to signing day how A&M would finish was in big question. A&M was in on lots of guys but most recruiting services were uncertain where a lot of these guys would go. Some were leaning one way depending on who the recruit talked to but there seemed to be a ton of uncertainty overall. I don’t think any recruiting service saw it playing out like it did for A&M. Some experts had hunches but nobody knew for sure. It was certainly possible but it wasn’t certain. Pre-Jimbo the signing class finishes with a dud but with Jimbo it finished with a flourish.
On signing day Jimbo signed Texas guys that were committed Bama or were non-Texas guys looking at elite programs across the country. Even though Vernon Jackson and Bobby Brown are Texas guys they still were technically verbal commitments to Alabama. Jimbo and staff convinced them to flip to A&M on signing day. A&M doesn’t do that Pre-Jimbo. Charles Strong (a FL guy) looked like a sure thing to Ole Miss and Jimbo flipped him. At one-point James Foster and Marcus “Tank” Jenkins seemed like a package deal out of Montgomery, AL. As signing day closed it looked like Foster was going to Bama or FSU. Jenkins looked destined to OU. On signing day Jimbo convinced them to package to “The Station” as the kids are calling it these days. Glenn Beal out of New Orleans was looking at Bama, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. Jimbo convinced him if he was heading west of the Mississippi The Station was the place for him.
Jashaun Corbin out of Florida was looking at Tennessee, TCU and even Florida State to a degree. Jimbo convinced him to sign with A&M. Jeremiah Martin out of California was looking at Washington and Oklahoma but Jimbo convinced him to come to Aggieland aka The Station. That’s 9 guys that Jimbo and staff convinced to sign with Texas A&M despite competition from MAJOR programs. That’s an impressive crop of guys Jimbo closed on. Jimbo and staff deserve a ton of coffee. Coffee is for closers after all.
This class wasn’t perfect as there were some misses A&M could have had. Jaylen Waddle wound up at Bama after looking like a heavy A&M lean. The Aggies got in late on Javontae Jean-Baptiste but couldn’t get him and he signed with Ohio St. Isaac Taylor-Stuart was a longshot to get out of California and USC and in the end he signed with USC. He flirted with A&M but Jimbo couldn’t close. Dorian Gerald seemed like a lock to Florida but evidently they didn’t send him a letter of intent to sign so he seemed like a get for A&M. He wound up in Arkansas thanks to his relationship with John Chavis it seems. Those guys would have been welcomed additions to the Aggie class due to position or talent but Jimbo and staff weren’t able to convince them to sign. That’s not a negative just saying there were some misses as well.
It’s hard to fault Jimbo at all for this class as he was working behind the eight ball. The 7-6 record and early signing period really limited what he could do. He focused on key recruits and did a damn fine job landing key guys for Texas A&M. It’s been three decades since we’ve seen A&M have something like that the week of Signing Day. Usually it’s hoping just to hold the guys we had committed as the top programs made a run at them. Jimbo’s Step 1 makes it seem like A&M will be closing guys down the stretch rather than hoping to hold on. Signing Day was a damn good sign for the Jimbo Fisher era at Texas A&M.
Step 2 will be the 2018 season. I will write about expectations for that in the next few weeks. Step 3 will be the 2019 recruiting class. So far things for the 2019 class look even better than 2018 and it must be. 17th ranked recruiting classes will not get you to the elite national level in college football. If you listen to Jimbo’s signing day press conference it’s clear he knows that. He’s happy with who he signed but he knows there is still lots of work to do.
That press conference gives great insight into Jimbo as a coach. He is a coach that drills into the details himself. He said when he got to Aggieland he immediately started watching film of every guy to evaluate himself. He’s not a guy that leaves things up to his staff. His staff is there to support him and not vice versa. Jimbo makes the decisions because he has the grand vision for where Aggie Football needs to go and how to get there. In addition it also sounds like he knows how to evaluate prospects from a technical and ability standpoint. He’s not just watching film for the “wow” factor. He watches film for ability and from a technical standpoint in isolation of teammates and competition. He’s trying to project them to the next level. If you didn’t watch that press conference and you’re a football nerd you’ll love it:
Jimbo still has lots of steps to take for A&M to hit its full footballs stride but all things considered his Step 1 was DAMN good. He’s shown he can sell Texas A&M in short order. He’s got to win on the field next while building the recruiting class of 2019. Those next two steps are going to be crucial. At this point there’s no reason to think Jimbo won’t be successful at Texas A&M but there’s still plenty of steps to take. For now though Jimbo and his staff should enjoy their coffee because they flat out closed on the 2018 recruiting class. It’s been a long time since A&M has since a close on Signing Day like this. I like where these steps are going. Things are trending to Make Aggie Football Great Again.