MAFGA

Thoughts From The Clemson Game

NCAAF 2018 Texas A&M vs Clemson Sept 8

It’s kind of hard to define what happened at Kyle Field on Saturday night.  It certainly wasn’t a win on the scoreboard and it really didn’t feel like a moral victory either.  Sure, the Aggies never quit but the fact of the matter is they ran out of time 2 points shy of Clemson.  It was a loss.  For me, the definition of what happened was validation.  Validation this era of Aggie football is going to be different.  Validation the Aggies finally got the right coach and staff.  Validation we have a team that will learn how to win big.  Validation that Kyle Field is one of the best venues for college football anywhere in the world.  Validation we’re on our way to Make Aggie Football Great Again.

Coming into this season I wasn’t too worried about wins and losses.  If Jimbo gets us to at least 8 wins the long-term plan would be on track.  I don’t want the fool’s gold of 2012 where we had an amazing season but that was just it.  One season.  Nothing more.  I want Jimbo’s first year to be about a different look for Aggie football.  What we saw on Saturday sure makes it look like things will be different this time.  I saw a team that never quit but most importantly I saw a coaching staff that schemed to have a chance to beat a more talented team.  That Clemson team on Saturday night was more talented than A&M which is the difference for why Clemson won.  Coaching and execution had the Aggie team looking for a two-point conversion at the end of the game to send it overtime.  The Aggies fell short but there’s a LOT of positives to take away from this game.

For the first time since Alabama in 2013 something happened at Kyle Field.  The stadium fed off the team.  No doubt there were plenty of moments where the team fed off the fans, but this Aggie team didn’t quit.  If they didn’t believe in themselves Kyle Field would have been deflated.  The 64-yard touchdown pass to go up 14-3 had a lot of Aggie fans wondering if it was more of the same from the last 4 years.  Even worse was when the Aggies went down 21-6 late in the third quarter.  You could feel the excitement escaping from Kyle Field like we’d felt so many times in recent memory.  The excitement didn’t escape though.  The Aggie team fought back and Kyle Field roared back to life.  Man did it roar back to life.  For the final quarter of football the team and the stadium were willing each other to a win.  The 12th Man had been waiting on this moment.  The team was leading the way back and the 12th Man was ready to follow.

Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.  I don’t see any reason why it’s not.  That was a team that learned to fight and most importantly learned it can compete with the best college football has to offer.  Maybe it’s a blip but this feels different.  This was coaching and playing.  This was a staff devising plays against a great team and players executing believing they’d come back.  No quit.  Just a clock that ran out of time.

Before I get to the breakdowns of units and players I can’t say enough about what Jimbo and the staff did on Saturday night.  They took a less talented team and went to the final second against the #2 team in the country.  Maybe Clemson isn’t the second-best team in the country but there’s no doubt they’re a Top 5 team.  That’s the best college football has to offer.  Defensively we held our own for most of the game other than a few big plays.  Offensively the play design and execution was something I hadn’t seen since 2012.  Our offensive staff had a very good idea of what Clemson was capable of and schemed against them.  What happened in the second half wasn’t luck.  It was awareness and preparation.  It was confidence too.  Coaches leading players and players following because they believed.  It sure feels like validation Aggie Football finally got it right when it came to hiring a coach.

Offense:

Kellen Mond:

This was no doubt a team effort but Kellen Mond deserves MAJOR props for what he did on Saturday night.  At the end of last year I wondered if Mond would ever see another snap at Texas A&M.  He seemed destined to transfer like some other Aggie quarterbacks that lost their job.  Turns out we all forgot Kellen was a highly recruited 4 star quarterback and coaching really matters.  If you don’t believe me ask Kahlil Tate in Arizona how his Heisman chances are looking after his first two games.  Ask Deondre Francois at Florida State if he misses Jimbo.

I never expected Mond to have the game he did.  Statistically he was 23/40 for 430 yards with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions.  That’s a damn fine game considering he’s a true sophomore still getting his feel in a new system.  What impressed me most was not anything that shows up in the statistics.  What impressed me most was his awareness and confidence.  I’ll get to the receivers and line in a little bit as they deserve major props as well but Kellen Mond made some damn big throws in that game.  Anyone that says his receivers bailed him out didn’t really watch that game.  Mond let the ball fly and gave his receivers a chance to make big plays.  Don’t underestimate Mond’s willingness to let the ball go and throw passes in a game like that.

Mond has the ability to run but unlike some quarterbacks with the ability to run Mond did it as a last resort.  He used his legs to avoid pressure and buy time but he kept his eyes down the field looking to make a pass.  A lot of young guys would have tucked the ball and ran for what they could get against that Clemson defense.  Not Mond.  He hung behind the line of scrimmage for as long as he could hoping something would develop downfield and when he saw it he let the ball go.

The most impressive play of the game and defines what I’m talking about was the pass to Quartney Davis to make it a 28-20 game.  Clemson brought a linebacker blitz from the outside.  Kellen IMMEDIATELY notices it and prepares for it.  He times his spin out to the left perfectly to avoid the pressure but is still running for his life.  They key here is he never drops his hands below his waist and is looking to get his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage.  He’s running for his life but he’s still looking to make a throw.  He had a lot of green in front of him.  The easy play would have been to get the 5-15 yards by tucking the ball.  He was looking to make a play with his arm rather than his legs though.  He doesn’t have the speed of Johnny or Kyler Murray but he did have the athleticism and most importantly the awareness to make a BIG play.

Here’s the play.  Watch this thing over and over if you want.  Start and stop it during the play to process everything.  He picks up the blitz right away.  He waits to bail.  He spins at the right depth away from the defender.  He’s looking downfield.  His hands never drop below his waist and always has both hands on the ball.  He’s squaring his shoulders.  He sees Davis going back to an open spot.  He releases the ball right when he’s getting hit.  As Dave South once eloquently said, “He got a touchdown.”  That was a well-coached and confident quarterback that knew his limitations.  That wasn’t all luck.  I guarantee you Jimbo ran that play back and forth 10 times on Sunday in film telling Kellen what a great play it was.  And it was great.

I couldn’t get the video to embed at the right spot but fast forward to about the 2:02 mark and watch the play.  You can also click the link below it which will take you right to the play.  Sorry my Internetting is lacking where I can’t get the YouTubes and WordPress to sync up right.  You get what you pay for.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=napBx4gMovI&feature=youtu.be&t=122

It was a total team effort but Kellen deserves major props.  This is his team and he owned it on Saturday night.  I’m sure there will be some hiccups along the way but this isn’t last year’s Kellen Mond at all.  This is a well-coached quarterback with some great natural talent.  If you want to know why Kellen Mond won the quarterback battle go back and watch that play again.  The perfect combination of awareness, poise, and athleticism.

Wide Receivers:

Um, Kendrick Rogers, where have you been?  Right behind the effort of Kellen Mond is no doubt Kendrick Rogers.  I NEVER expected to see the production we saw out of that guy on Saturday night.  He caught 7 balls just outjumping Clemson defenders.  His two touchdown catches were beautiful with athleticism and concentration.  I had no idea he had that ability but I sure hope this is more than a one game deal from him.  He has the size and athleticism so there’s no reason to think there’s not more there from him.  7 catches for 120 yards and two pretty damn amazing touchdown catches sure doesn’t seem like a fluke.  Next to Mond he’s no doubt the offensive MVP.

Outside of Rogers the rest of the receiving corps was solid.  Buckley, Ausbon, Sternberger, Trayveon, and Davis all had key catches at time.  That was really the difference in the game as Clemson couldn’t shut down the whole receiving corps.  Mond made Clemson pay by finding and hitting the open guys.  The receivers did their job but catching the ball and getting yards after reception.

Through 2 games this receiving corps looks completely different than last year.  They seem more aware and ready for the ball looking to make a play.  Last week they were blocking really well in the ground game and this week they were going after balls.  This doesn’t seem like a receiving corps that’s waiting on the play or ball to find them like last season.  They want to go make the play.  This only helps Mond when he knows if he puts the ball up his guys are going to fight for it.  It’s only one game but this receiving corps looks MUCH deeper than I ever imagined.  And what’s crazy is we have some true freshman on the bench that likely won’t see the field based on what we saw Saturday night.  I’m totally okay with that.

Offensive Line:

I have to put them at third on this list but the offensive line was tremendous on Saturday night all things considered.  We really couldn’t establish the ground game for the most part.  We only gained 57 yards on the ground other than Mond’s runs.  I’m really surprised by this as I expected our ground attack to do better than our pass blocking.  That wasn’t the case but the offensive line did a fine job for what was there.

Kellen didn’t have a ton of time to throw but thanks to the offensive line he had enough time to throw all night for the most part.  Coaching also helped here as Jimbo and Dickey started moving Kellen around as well as started using Trayveon Williams out of the backfield.  The few times we ran screens they were well timed and well executed.  Mond was sacked three times but that was all in the first half I think.  They adjusted in the second half nicely giving Mond enough time to throw the ball.  Great job by the coaches and offensive line.

Probably the biggest compliment to pay this offensive line is you completely forgot they were playing the best defensive line in college football.  They still have some room to develop since we got stuffed on short yardage situations a couple of times.  I’m not complaining though as last year’s line would have been embarrassed.  This unit is still growing but they held their own against the best defensive line in college football for most of the night.

Running Game:

It seemed pretty clear Clemson’s goal coming into this game was to shut down the run.  That’s what they did with their defensive line.  Trayveon only averaged 1.8 yards per rush.  He’s not built for this type of defensive line because he needs to get to the second level to use his speed and wiggle.  This isn’t on Trayveon because the matchup never really favored us here.  Our offensive line couldn’t get him to the second level.  Great job by Jimbo and Staff recognizing it wasn’t there for the most part and adapting.  The Aggies never truly went away from the run so Clemson always had to think about it, but it was clear we weren’t running our way to yards and scores against that line.  They’re just too good.

Tray Williams is a great back but we did miss having someone like a Keith Ford or Tra Carson that could pound the ball a little more between the tackles.  It likely wouldn’t have made too much of a difference but we do miss that threat.  Just not much you can do against a defensive line where all four of their guys will be drafted in the first two rounds.  Just admit your deficiencies and try something else which Jimbo did and it worked for the most part.

Defense:

Defensive Line:

I thought the defensive line played really well.  147 yards on the ground isn’t ideal but Clemson has a very mobile quarterback.  That makes it hard to key in on the running back.  We didn’t give up any long touchdown runs.  We kept Travis Etienne corralled for the most part other than one 28-yard scamper.  He’s a very underrated back as if he gets to the second level he can flat out burn you.  Elko did a good job moving people in and out.  Kingsley Keke had his usual good game along with Landis Durham.  It didn’t show up on the stat sheet but Daylon Mack had a couple plays where he was completely disruptive blowing the center and guard off their blocks.  I don’t know if it’s scheme or want but it’s amazing how Mack can be so dominating at times and then get blocked other times.  I’m sure it’s a little of both.  Justin Madubuike really showed up in this game bringing pressure all game long.  He spent a lot of time in the backfield getting a sack and a quarterback hurry.  He’s only a sophomore but he seems like he keeps developing better and better every game.  Our defensive line isn’t as good Clemson’s defensive line but there’s no doubt this is a solid unit.  They just show up every game and do their job.

Linebacker:

Thanks to our defensive line Dodson and Alaka were freed up to make plays.  That’s the way it’s supposed to be.  Not sure what else what to write here as these guys did their job plain and simple.  Dodson is probably the most underrated linebacker in the SEC and maybe even the country.  He led the team in solo tackles and even had a nice pass break up on the wide receiver reverse pass to their quarterback.  Was hoping he would come down with it but it was pretty good awareness.  He knocked the ball away so there was no chance of a completion.  Saw Anthony Hines in there a couple of times late in the game but don’t recall him doing much.  We still need to add some depth here but Dodson and Alaka just show up every week and clean up what the defensive line doesn’t take care of.  I’m totally okay with that as that’s how the front 7 is supposed to work.

Seems Donovan Wilson is kind of our third linebacker as Elko technically runs a 4-2-5.  This makes the third linebacker and safety situational.  Wilson fits in with Dodson and Alaka.  He may not seem all that dominant, but Wilson is as dependable as they get.  Whatever comes their way Dodson, Alaka, and Wilson are going to handle.  We could be MUCH worse than these three guys manning the middle of the play.

Secondary:

Coming into the season the position that concerned me the most beyond the offensive line was our cornerbacks.  I don’t think we have amazing talent at corner.  Certainly not upper level college football talent.  That showed up on Saturday night as we gave up two long 64 yard passes with one being for a touchdown.  We also gave up another 50 yard pass which set up a touchdown.  That’s 178 yards through the air on three plays which is over half their passing offense.  That’s too much.  I get giving up a big play here and there but our cornerback coverage is definitely the weakest part of our defense by far.  Clemson knew it and attacked it on several occasions.

I feel good about our chances against the run but if we’re going up against an offense that has strong deep threats and a quarterback that can get it to them we’re going t be susceptible to the deep ball.  We just don’t have the talent at corner to compete with great deep threats.  Along with depth at linebacker we must get more talented corners on campus and get them up to speed.  This won’t be the last time you see an opponent get a long touchdown against us.  It’s our Achilles heel and it’ll continue to get tested until we prove we can slow it down.

Safety wise the guys not named Donavan Wilson did okay.  I like Derrick Tucker’s long-term potential but he still makes some goofs from time to time.  Deshawn Capers-Smith doesn’t have Tucker’s talent but he doesn’t make the mistakes Tucker does.  We’ve got a lot of young talent at the safety position so we’ll be fine long term, but this really feels like a transition year from having Evans, Watts, and Wilson roaming the secondary like we’ve had the last few years.

 

Overall:

Clemson was 4 of 13 on third down conversions and failed on their only 4th down attempt.  They also held the ball for only 26 minutes.  Those two stats are all because of our front 7 doing what they do.  All in all this defense is starting to remind me of the 2012 unit but with a worse secondary.  It’s a really good unit with the front 7.  Much better than most people realize.  So far Elko looks to be an upgrade over Chavis as the front 7 is more fundamentally sound.  It doesn’t seem as prone to the goofs the Chavis defense would have at times and especially late in games.  We’re just going to give up big pass plays from time to time so get used to that.  At least against the teams that have fast receivers and quarterbacks with big enough arms.

Special Teams:

Obviously we know about LaCamera with his miss and block.  Obviously that makes Clemson feel like 2012 Florida and LSU.  Not sure it’ll come to that where we’re looking back at a missed field goal away from a potential national championship but I’m fine if so.  That will be a much better season than most expected.  He still hit two 40 yarders so he’s not terrible.  Kickers are going to miss so you’re better off being in a position where you don’t rely on them.  Even Alabama had a kicker a while back that routinely missed field goals which drove Saban wild.

No doubt the special teamer of the game was Braden Mann.  I can’t recall seeing a punter just driving a ball with no trajectory like he was.  He was knocking it low and deep all night.  I don’t know if he was doing it by design but it was working perfectly.  The way he was hitting it wouldn’t allow the return guy to set up underneath it so he was having to chase it like a center fielder on a deep line drive.  Clemson only had 9 yards of punt returns so whatever it was needs to keep happening.  Anytime you have a punter averaging 55 yards a punt and hits a 73 yarder with 9 return yards you’re doing something right.  Mann was tremendous.

On returns we didn’t really have anything spectacular but I thought Roshauud Paul did a nice job of knowing when to fair catch and return.  He had two returns off 14 and 11 yards which isn’t that long but shows he appears to have pretty good awareness.  Last thing you want on a punt return is to try and make a return when nothing is there.  That’s how fumbles happen.  If you don’t feel there’s anything to be gained get your arm up and call for the fair catch.  Make the catch and move on down the road.  Fumbled punts can really turn the momentum.  I like Paul’s apparent awareness in fielding punts.

 

Going Forward:

It’s hard not to like what happened at Kyle Field on Saturday night even though the Aggies are now 1-1 on the season.  Alabama is in two weeks and that’s the biggest test of the season.  Based on what I’ve seen this season Alabama is a better football team than Clemson.  The Aggies have to get through Louisiana Monroe this weekend but I don’t see that being an issue.  At least I hope not.

Right now I’m leaving my season prediction at 8-4.  The SEC West is still looking strong with Mississippi State being better than I originally thought.  South Carolina might be a little worse but that Georgia game could be a wake up call for them.  Arkansas looks like an easier game and Ole Miss apparently has all offense and no defense.  LSU is still so far away it’s hard to predict that one.  Kentucky doesn’t look like the easy win either after they beat Florida in Gainesville.  Still a lot of football to be played only 2 games in.  I want to make sure that Clemson game wasn’t a blip before I chug all of my maroon Kool-Aid.  What I had on Saturday night sure tasted good though.

I will say after Saturday night this team might be closer to the 2012 team than I originally thought.  That team that played at Kyle Field can beat anybody left on their schedule not named Alabama.  I think there’s at least one more loss in there but I feel much better about Auburn and LSU right now than I did coming into the season.  Let’s see what we look like against Alabama and then we can figure out what could happen the rest of the way.  I said a realistic dream season was going 9-3 winning the bowl game finishing at 10-3.  That seems really possible right now.

If we play the rest of the season like we played Clemson there’s no doubt we’ll Make Aggie Football Great Again well ahead of schedule.

#MAFGA

 

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Expectations for Jimbo Fisher

Jimbo Spring Practice

With Spring Practice hitting its full stride it’s time to talk a little football.  I take Spring Practice reports with a grain of salt.  Everything I’ve read is pretty much what I’ve expected.  Jimbo Fisher actually coaches football and coaches more than anyone on his staff.  Anyone that’s paid attention to Fisher in the past knows this.  He doesn’t stand around clapping and offering encouragement with hollow words.  Fisher gets in player’s faces offering ways to improve as a player.  Jimbo Fisher is an actual football coach that understands the game and works directly with his players.

Some people say Jimbo is not a “CEO Coach” like Sumlin.  Actually, he is a “CEO Coach.”  He just happens to be the type of CEO that happily goes on sales calls looking to close more deals, meets regularly with the R&D team to see what’s being worked on digging into any issues with the team, understands the current HR issues to see how he can improve things, and a host of other activities related to his organization.  He’s more interested than just earnings calls and going to conferences to talk on panels.  CEO’s can get involved in the details and Jimbo is one of them.  One coach loves to coach football along with handling everything else a head coach must do.  The previous coach just liked to be the figurehead of a major organization hoping his assistants and players figure it out while he claps and says words.  So yeah, things are different.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that’s been paying attention.

I won’t take much stock in practice reports until bullets start flying in September.  Starkel will likely remain as the starting QB throughout the Spring, Summer, and Fall.  It’s his position to lose although I’m sure Mond and Blumrik will get a chance to unseat him.  There’s no Johnny Manziel on this team so get that out of your mind.  Our offensive line continues to be a major work in progress lacking overall talent and depth.  We’re converting from a spread offense to a more traditional pro-style offense.  That presents a challenge we won’t know the reality until live action.  Defensively we have starting talent but are still lacking overall depth.  You just hope that Jimbo’s overall ability to actually be a coach is an improvement from the last coach.

From this point forward Jimbo must win and recruit in consecutive steps.  This is what doomed the last four coaching regimes.  You must continually both win on the field and in recruiting.  R.C. stopped wining and his recruiting fell off which only made winning harder.  Fran had the Cotton Bowl his second season and some decent recruiting classes with star talent but he could never do it consecutively.  Same thing with Sherman.  He had the 9-4 season but then went 6-6 blowing multiple first half leads.  Sumlin had the 2012 season but then went 9-4 and never improved from there where his recruiting also fell off.

You can recruit all you want but if you don’t win your recruiting will fall off.  The best recruiting tool is to win and continually win.  The top recruits want to play for winners because winning on the field is all that matters.  Jimbo was brought here to win football games on the field and nothing else.  The belief is A&M just made a $75 million investment for a national championship.  Anything less than that will be a disappointment.  Winning a national championship is EXTREMELY difficult with the new playoff system but that’s what Jimbo was brought here to do.

Ideally Jimbo wins a championship in his first five years at A&M but that seems difficult considering the state of the program.  I’ve come up with what I think are eight achievable steps based on the current state of A&M football, his pedigree, and the potential for the football program at Texas A&M.  He can certainly improve on any of these steps and I hope he does but at minimum I think he needs to do the following 8 things to put Texas A&M in contention for the national championship over the next 10 years.  To me these are reasonable steps and can be exceeded for a coach like Jimbo Fisher.

 

Step 1 – Close 2018 Recruiting Class:

This is done and Jimbo did a fine job.  The class only ranked #17 nationally but the way Jimbo closed it was solid.  The recruiting momentum was dead upon Sumlin’s departure.  Not because Sumlin left but because there was just nothing to sell at Texas A&M.  I’m convinced Leon O’Neal would have left A&M for good had it not been for Jimbo Fisher.  Most people don’t realize it but Bobby Bowden’s last 4 years included Top 10 classes in 3 of those and the other was still Top 20.  Florida State was struggling on the field but Bowden was still recruiting talent.  Jimbo just had to keep it going at Florida State.  At A&M he’s having to build it but he got off to a good solid start.  Now he must win on the field to keep it going.

Step 2 – 8 regular season wins in 2018 Season:

I believe 8 regular season wins is the minimum for 2018.  The West will take a step back in 2018 due to coaching changes except for Arkansas who should improve but we still have enough to beat them.  The only acceptable losses I see for 2018 are Clemson, Bama, Auburn, and LSU.  Clemson, Auburn, and LSU are all winnable games but I’m not sure we have the talent on the offensive line, at QB, and depth on defense to win those games.  Don’t forget we’re going from a spread team to a pro-style offense so there’s going to be an adjustment.  Even with that adjustment we must win 8 games.  The learning curve isn’t that big and there’s enough talent to beat everyone else on our schedule.  We get Kentucky at home from the East so the schedule is setup well.

The ideal realistic scenario is we beat LSU and win our bowl game winding up at 10-3 with a TON of momentum going into the off season.  I’m all for doing better than that but if Jimbo pulls off 10-3 winning our last two games against LSU and the bowl game he’s going to have A&M sitting pretty.  At minimum though he must go 8-4 and ideally win a bowl game putting us at 9-4.

Step 3 – Top 10 Recruiting Class in 2019:

It’s early but Jimbo currently has a Top 10 recruiting class.  Lots of things can change but if Jimbo keeps doing what he’s doing and wins on the field he should have a Top 10 recruiting class for 2019.  Most importantly though he must sign kids he can develop.  I think he will based on how he’s been recruiting so far.  He looks for football guys and not just numbers guys that look the part.

Step 4 – 10 regular season wins in 2019 Season:

10 regular season wins likely puts us second in the SEC West which should be the main goal for 2019.  I’ll give Jimbo a little rope here just in case Stidham stays at Auburn for his final year or Eddie O pulls off something amazing in Baton Rouge.  I don’t think either of those things happens so 10 wins puts us behind Alabama in the SEC West which would be perfect for Jimbo’s second year.  We go to Clemson so that’s a wildcard right now but either way 10 regular season wins should be the minimum goal here building on the 2018 season.

Step 5 – Top 6 Recruiting Class in 2020:

At some point just being in the Top 10 won’t be good enough.  To win a national championship you must recruit at the highest level.  Jimbo needs to be knocking on the Top 5 at this point.  Even better if he’s there.

Step 6 – Second in the SEC West in 2020:

Ideally we’re already second in the SEC West in 2019 and focused on winning the SEC West in 2020.  If not, the 2020 season needs to be about being the clear second-best team in the SEC West.  Nick Saban could be gone by 2020 making wining the SEC West easier but I’m not going to assume that.  Saban will outlive us all and still be coaching Bama at 120 years of age.  Seriously.  Until he’s gone from the game I’m assuming nothing because he’s the king of college football.  To think otherwise is foolish.  If Saban is in Alabama you’re chasing second place.

Step 7 – Top 5 Recruiting Class in 2021:

Jimbo continues to build an elite recruiting school.  Coaches can say all they want about getting “our guys” in a recruiting class but if you’re not consistently getting a Top 10 class you won’t win a national championship.  “Our guys” means you’re picking from the second tier of athletes and not the true elite.  The higher the ranking the better as it’s about being elite.  It’s easier to coach when you have talent.  That’s the difference between Nick Saban and Bill Snyder.  Jimbo needs to be Top 5 at this point.

Step 8 – Win the SEC West in 2021:

Ideally we’re repeating as SEC West champions and poised for a national title run here.  If Saban is still at Bama Jimbo needs to beat him for the SEC West in his fourth season.  A&M isn’t chasing anyone else but a Saban lead Bama team at this point.  Ideally Saban is gone and Jimbo has replaced him as the class of the SEC West.  If that happens we’ll be on track to maintaining a status of an elite national football program.  Once that happens every year will bring about a chance for a national championship.  That’s what we’re paying Jimbo $75 million to do.  It could take 4 seasons to get there and that’s okay.  We just need to get there.

 

I have no clue if Jimbo gets there.  Anybody that pretends they know is being a fool.  Based on his pedigree and short time at A&M all of that looks VERY attainable.  He wasn’t brought here to build ever so slightly on what R.C., Fran, Sherman, and Sumlin left.  He was brought here to elevate A&M to a level we haven’t seen since the early 90s.  Actually even better as we never really sniffed a national title from 85-95 which were the prime years of Aggie football.  I hope he does better than those 8 steps above.  I think it’s very possible but at minimum those are the steps I’d like to see over the next four years.

Let’s hope Jimbo Makes Aggie Football Great Again.

#MAFGA

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Thoughts on the Defensive Coordinator Hire

Mike Elko

Before getting to the hire of Mike Elko let’s touch on the Belk Bowl.  It seemed like the perfect summary of the Kevin Sumlin era.  The Aggies jumped out to a convincing 14-0 lead thanks to two blocked punts deep in Wake Forest’s territory.  It seemed like it would be an easy win for Texas A&M with an early 14-0 lead and equally matched teams.  Wake Forest then rips off 31 UNANSWERED points in basically a quarter of football.  Seriously.  In around 15 minutes of football Wake Forest scored THIRTY ONE points and the Aggies scored ZERO.  On A&M’s first 6 possessions that didn’t involve a blocked punt they punted 5 times and fumbled on the 6th possession.  Meanwhile the Aggie defense is handing out points like candy on Halloween to let Wake Forest have a 31-14 lead.  The Aggies clawed back and went into halftime down 38-28 which is pretty remarkable.

The Aggies came out in the second half looking much better as the Aggie defense held Wake Forest to only a field goal in their first five possessions.  The defense forced two turnovers on five of those possessions and the offense continued moving the ball.  This allowed the Aggies to take a 45-41 lead early in the 4th quarter despite giving back one of those turnovers with an interception.  As would be typical of many Aggie games, the defense couldn’t hold as Wake Forest scored two touchdowns on their last two possessions.  The Aggie offense couldn’t respond to both scores and Wake Forest wound up with a 55-52 win.  It seems like the perfect ending to the Sumlin era where things looked great early on, then looked really bad, then clawed back making things look respectful by even taking the lead.  In the end the Aggies couldn’t hold on to a lead running out of time one final game with the Sumlin regime.

Someone asked me what I expected before the bowl game.  My response was that I didn’t expect anything different from the last four seasons other than Kevin Sumlin wouldn’t be on the sidelines chewing gum.  That’s the way it turned out.  The Belk Bowl was pretty much the mirror of Sumlin’s time at A&M.

Now we can truly begin the Jimbo Fisher Era.

Before bowl season there was a lot of speculation on who A&M might hire as it’s defensive coordinator.  Early on there was talk of Bud Foster, Alex Grinch, and Travaris Robinson.  They seemed like likely candidates given their current positions and A&M’s resources.  As bowl season cranked up the speculation started dying down as it seemed A&M wouldn’t be making a hire until after everyone played their bowl game.  During this time bigger names started getting whispered about with the biggest name being Dave Aranda of LSU.  It seemed like a long shot but the rumors got stronger and stronger that he was Jimbo’s main target.  Along with the way names like Manny Diaz of Miami, Mike Elko of Notre Dame, and Don Brown of Michigan were also speculated.

It was very much like the Jimbo Fisher hire where nobody knew for sure but there seemed to be a clear target and it was Aranda.  After the New Year’s Day games the smoke around Aranda really started to thicken.  Of all the names being speculated Aranda’s name seemed to be the most consistent.  There was speculation on the LSU side that it was pretty apparent A&M was coming after him.  At one point it sounded like he might have turned A&M down but nobody knew for sure.  Brent Zwerneman then tweeted A&M was in fact going after Aranda and a pretty wild afternoon/evening ensued with no one publicly knowing what was going on.  It was clear though that A&M had in fact zeroed in on Aranda.  Later that evening it became pretty clear that Aranda was not going to leave LSU.  It appeared LSU had given Aranda the exclusive keys to the LSU defense and a new contract for four years worth $10 million in total compensation.  Hard for Aranda to turn that down.

Aggies everywhere seemed pretty dejected Jimbo didn’t land Aranda.  They lamented all the momentum A&M had built with the Jimbo hire was gone.  The Aggies would be stuck with some average defensive coordinator that even his current school didn’t want.  A lot of Aggies went back to their “woe is us” mentality as it seemed like Aranda or bust.

Fortunately for A&M Jimbo Fisher didn’t see it that way.  Less than 24 hours after being publicly turned down by Aranda the Aggies hired Mike Elko away from Notre Dame.  It was a major get by A&M to hire an up and coming defensive coordinator away from a major program.  The momentum A&M created by hiring Jimbo seemed to be back.  All was good in Aggieland for football.

While Jimbo didn’t land his top target in Aranda I love the way this hire played out.  It was clear Jimbo had his top target and A&M threw everything they could at him.  When he didn’t bite A&M didn’t get phased and simply went after the next major hire they had on their list.  In less than 24 hours they had their defensive coordinator.  Nobody likes getting rejected but rejection is a lot easier to swallow when you immediately rebound with something just as good.  That’s what A&M did and shows this is a different day for A&M football.  There seems to be a plan with targeting, approaching, and hiring the football staff.  It certainly feels different.

As for Elko it seems like a really solid hire.  I’ll admit I haven’t watched a lot of Notre Dame football this year but it’s pretty clear the biggest difference from Notre Dame in 2016 to 2017 is the improvement of their defense.  Notre Dame went from 4-8 to 9-3.  That’s pretty remarkable.  What I’ve read and watched about him he seems like a guy that coaches fundamentals and adapts each week to the offense his defense is facing.  I don’t think fundamentals and adaptability are understood enough by coaches.  It seems at times a lot of coaches want to out scheme everyone but if you don’t have fundamentals and adapt each week there is no “schematic advantage” as Charlie Weiss likes to say.  Elko seems like a guy that focuses on fundamentals and changing his approach each week based on the opponent.  The one common comparison that can be made is Notre Dame held LSU to 17 points in their bowl game while A&M allowed LSU 45 points this past season.  I would bet the talent level on the Notre Dame and Aggie defense isn’t far apart so that’s a feather in Elko’s hat.

The thing I like most about this hire is Jimbo Fisher appears to be doing his due diligence and hiring competent people he doesn’t have a relationship with.  I think the worst thing a head coach can do is only hire people they’re familiar with rather than look for the most competent person no matter their relationship.  It appears Fisher targeted people he has no relationship with but through due diligence identified people he thinks are great coaches at their respective positions.  I absolutely love that because it seemed Kevin Sumlin only hired people he had a prior relationship with.  The only time he hired someone he didn’t have a relationship with was Dave Christensen and that was a disaster.  I don’t think that’s happening with Fisher as he seems to be targeting coaches on their way up instead of their way down when Sumlin hired Christensen.

For those disappointed by the failure to get Aranda there’s no reason to be concerned.  I think Elko is likely just as good as Aranda.  I think a lot of coordinators get over-rated based on the school they coach because of their talent.  I think in college football there’s a group of 10-15 coordinators that are all interchangeable.  For the most part they’re excellent coaches but none of them are perfect and they have bad games.  There’s no coordinator that’s head and shoulders above anyone else.  Even Aranda who’s deemed as one of the best defensive coordinators in college football had games this past season where they gave up 37 to Mississippi State, 26 to Syracuse, 24 to Troy, 24 to Ole Miss, and 24 to Bama.  That’s 5 of 12 games where his defense gave up over 20 points.  That’s certainly not dominating by any stretch.

We’ll find out in 2018 how good Elko is as he has some decent components to work with on the Aggie defense.  I think Elko has a much easier job than Jimbo Fisher on the offensive side of the ball.  I think there’s more talent across the board on the defense compared to the offense mainly because the offensive line is so bad.  There’s no reason to think that Elko can’t improve on what John Chavis did as defensive coordinator.  It won’t be a major improvement but the goal should be a more consistent defensive effort from game to game.  Based on Elko’s history as a defensive coordinator there’s no reason to think he can’t do that.  It won’t be the true return of the Wrecking Crew but those days are likely never coming back.  Football has changed to an offensive game for the most part.  What the Aggies need is a defensive coordinator that preaches fundamentals and adapts to the opponent each week.  In Elko it seems that Fisher has found someone that can do exactly that.

Scott Woodward – Sniper Athletic Director

scottwoodward

Scott Woodward is a bona fide sniper athletic director.  He’s been on the job since January of 2016.  That’s about 23 months of service and most Aggie fans don’t know much about him other than he previously served as Washington’s Athletic Director before coming to Texas A&M.  Well, Aggie fans know all about him now with the hire of Jimbo Fisher.  The media can grade out the Jimbo Fisher hire however they want but the fact of the matter is Scott Woodward pulled off the hire of the year and maybe even the past decade.  He convinced a coach with a national championship and a program that by many accounts was established as a Top 10 program to move to Texas A&M.  I can’t think of another time that’s happened in recent memory.

Nick Saban was looking to leave Miami and get back to the college game.  Urban Meyer was sitting on the sidelines.  Chip Kelly was also on the sidelines and was familiar with the West Coast along with being able to hide in Los Angeles.  I don’t think the Chip Kelly is a bigger hire than Jimbo Fisher this year. It took a lot more to convince Jimbo Fisher to leave Florida State and come to Texas A&M than it took UCLA to convince Chip Kelly UCLA was the right school for him.  Going back to recent big hires there was Jim Harbaugh but he’s a Michigan alum and was looking to leave the NFL.  It certainly wasn’t Charlie Strong, Tom Herman, Kevin Sumlin, Art Briles, Chris Petersen, or any other mid-major to major hire.  Maybe I’m missing a hire in the last decade but I can’t think of a hire where a coach left a program like Florida State for Texas A&M.  The most recent might have been Dennis Franchione when he left Alabama for Texas A&M but that was way back in 2002.  That’s been almost 15 years ago.

If you listen to the Jimbo Fisher press conference there’s one reason why Jimbo Fisher is at Texas A&M – Scott Woodward.  Scott Woodward’s friendship was the main reason but there’s no doubt it took some serious convincing to get Jimbo Fisher to make the move.  Bill Byrne nor Eric Hyman could have made this hire.  I’m not convinced any other athletic director in the country could have made this hire.  LSU tried twice and I’m pretty sure Texas asked as well last season.  Jimbo Fisher is a bigger higher than Tom Herman.  There’s no denying that.  I’m sure there’s also been other programs that expressed an interest in Jimbo Fisher but he’s never made the move from Florida State to anywhere but Texas A&M.  Texas A&M has Scott Woodward to thank for that.  There’s no doubt Woodward got plenty of support from those in charge of Texas A&M but this hire is solely Scott Woodward’s.

The interesting thing about Scott Woodward if you pay attention to conversation about athletic directors across the country you never hear his name mentioned.  At all.  Scott Woodward’s name never comes up with the “big named” athletic directors.  The only thing anyone knows about Scott Woodward at Texas A&M other than this hire is when he went on the record saying Kevin Sumlin needed to win more at SEC media days.  Outside of that comment you’ve never heard about Scott Woodward.  People have heard of Joe Castiglione at OU, Scott Stricklin at Florida, Jeff Long formerly of Arkansas, Chris Del Conte now of Texas, Greg Byrne at Alabama, and others but you NEVER have heard of Scott Woodward with those names.  You likely won’t hear Scott Woodward’s name much despite pulling off the biggest hire in college football in the last 10-15 years.  He just sits in the weeds and does his job with no self-promotion which is why you don’t see his name thrown out there.

No matter what anyone says the MOST important thing an AD in college athletics can do is hire a winning football coach.  You win in football and everything else falls in place.  Athletic Director’s careers are made based on the success of the football coach.  Everything else is a distant second.  If you’ve got a winning football coach and have the ability to string complete sentences together in a crowd you’re going to be crowned a “successful” athletic director.  There’s no doubt Jeff Long got ran off from Arkansas because he hired Brett Bielema.  The man had done really well with the Arkansas athletic department but got fired because he hired Brett Bielema.  Joe Castiglione, Chris Del Conte, and Greg Byrne are all considered elite athletic directors because of the football program.  There’s no doubt those guys are competent athletic directors but the success of the football program lifts the perception of the rest of the athletic department.  It’s that plain and simple.

Scott Woodward is a Sniper Athletic Director because you haven’t heard a peep from him other than his introductory press conference in January 2016 and his comments this year at SEC Media Days.  On December 1, 2017 he fired a shot that made everyone stand up and take notice.  At least those with half a brain took notice.  Scott Woodward without any fanfare brought Jimbo Fisher to Texas A&M.  He made his comment during SEC Media Days stating expectations and that had been it from him.  When it came time to pull the cord on Sumlin he quietly and calmly pulled the trigger bagging his mark.  Everybody knew he was around but nobody was really sure what was going on.  There was lots of speculation but nobody knew for sure.  Woodward didn’t say anything during the whole process other than when it was announced Sumlin would no longer be the head coach.  Woodward simply said the next time you would hear from him is when the new coach was named.  That was it.  That’s operating like a sniper rather than an infantry person spraying bullets hoping something big falls.  See Tennessee for an example of that later.  Woodward had his mark, his perch, and fired a clean shot.  That’s the way snipers work.

His use of the media was very well done.  Rather than let some wild speculation happen there was just enough leaks to keep any media person specifically covering Texas A&M on the Jimbo Fisher trail.  Some media people were speculating other names but those that cover Texas A&M closest always pointed to Jimbo Fisher.  It wasn’t just one media person either.  Brent Zwerneman, Billy Liucci, and Mark Passwaters who cover A&M the most were consistent in their updates it was Jimbo Fisher.  I’m hoping that was by design to get just enough information out there but not too much if Jimbo Fisher couldn’t be landed.  On the day Sumlin was let go, Randy McIlvoy of KPRC in Houston was brought into the mix to announce “according to sources” Jimbo Fisher would be the next head coach at Texas A&M.  Jimbo Fisher had one more game to go but something tells me McIlvoy’s source was the Athletic Director at Texas A&M.  At least whoever told McIlvoy had the blessing of the Athletic Director to go ahead and get the name out there.  This way when the hiring was made official it wasn’t a total shock and the media was ready cover it from different aspects.  Woodward proved the doubters wrong but he left enough crumbs out there for those truly paying attention with an objective lens.

The hiring process really reminded of the move to the SEC.  Dr. Loftin spoke just enough to control the message but never overpromised anything.  There was denial and speculation early on by a lot of the media people just like with the Jimbo Fisher.  Through it all A&M kept quiet making sure everything was lined up.  As things appeared to be happening enough news was leaked so people were prepared for the official announcement and it wouldn’t be complete shock and awe.  I thought Texas A&M handled the move to the SEC and hiring of Jimbo Fisher with almost perfect execution.  They spoke less and executed more.  As Jimbo Fisher said in his opening press conference, “Your actions speak so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying.”  Texas A&M’s actions said exactly what Texas A&M is about.  Doubt us and we’ll prove you wrong.

With a 10 year, $75 million contract Scott Woodward’s entire legacy is likely tied to the success or failure of Jimbo Fisher.  It seems he knows that which is why you don’t hear much from him.  I suspect Woodward will stay behind the scenes and let the football program speak for his acumen.  This was his hire and he knows this will be his legacy.  He knows ultimately the actions of the football program will speak so loudly nobody will hear what he’s saying.  There’s no point in saying anything.  Just sit back like a sniper hoping his job is done.

If you want to know a little more about Scott Woodward he’s a graduate of LSU which makes the hire of Jimbo Fisher ironic because his alma mater couldn’t do it in two previous attempts.  He graduated in 1985 and worked in politics working mainly on campaigns for state and national elections.  In 2000 he was hired by LSU as director of external affairs also serving as the liaison between the chancellor and athletics.  In 2004 he left LSU for Washington working in the same role.  In 2008 he was named the athletic director at Washington where he served in that role before taking the same role at Texas A&M in January of 2016.

What Jimbo Fisher Means for Texas A&M

Jimbo Landing in Aggieland

A Change in Perception:

When Texas A&M made the hire of Jimbo Fisher official it sent a clear message.  Underestimate Texas A&M all you want but Texas A&M doesn’t hold the same belief.  Many national and regional “experts” believe Texas A&M is a second tier program in college football.  They don’t think A&M can compete with the “bluebloods” of college football.  They haven’t been to College Station in 10 years and they still hold their stock in IBM having never invested in Apple, Amazon, or Microsoft.  You know, because nothing ever changes.

7 years ago these “experts” that make a living talking college football said Texas A&M wouldn’t get an invite to the SEC.  Well, Texas A&M got the invite to the SEC and made the move in 2012.  They said it was a stupid move.  The first season in the SEC Texas A&M won 11 games and finished in the Top 5 while Johnny Manziel won a Heisman.  That was only six seasons ago where Texas A&M competed at the highest level.  Sure, it turned out to be a blip but the reality is Texas A&M competed at the highest level and built the most expensive stadium in college football over the last six seasons.  Texas A&M can compete at the highest level.

When chatter of Jimbo Fisher getting hired by A&M recently surfaced these “experts” said there was no way Jimbo Fisher would leave FSU.  They said it was a second tier program under Florida State.  They’re talking about the school that finished in the Top 5 only six seasons previously and had the most expensive college football stadium ever built.  No stadium even comes close to the amenities of modern day Kyle Field.  These “experts” couldn’t think past the last 12 months.  They were convinced Texas A&M despite the 2012 season, it’s location, it’s facilities, and it’s resources couldn’t attract a coach of Jimbo Fisher’s caliber because it was a second tier program.  On December 1, 2017, Jimbo Fisher made it official he was leaving Florida State for Texas A&M.

Sadly for these “experts” if they have any historical context their historical context is that of Dennis Franchione, Mike Sherman, and recently Kevin Sumlin.  They forget Texas is a hotbed of football recruits and economic development.  And I mean a hotbed of football recruits and money.  They forget the years from 1985 to 1995 when Texas A&M finished in the final Top 20 for 10 of those 11 seasons.  The overall record over those 11 seasons was 104-27-2.  That’s a winning percentage of 78 percent.  The record at Kyle Field was 63-5-1.  That’s a winning percentage of 91 percent.  That’s a flat out decade of dominance at home.  1985 was 32 years ago which seems like a long time but it’s not forever ago.  For whatever reason these “experts” assumed Texas A&M was just a second tier football program that didn’t belong in the discussions of the upper tier programs.

They believe despite the brand new $450 million stadium and facilities that rival anybody in the country along with a hotbed of recruiting Texas A&M can never compete at the highest level of college football.  These people get paid to be “experts” about college football.  The truth is these people are idiots and lazy.  They sit in their studios watching the games never visiting any campus.  Their sole basis for being an “expert” is the most recent decade of success.  They’re judging Texas A&M based solely on the jobs done by Mike Sherman and Kevin Sumlin.  Mike Sherman and Kevin Sumlin are outstanding people but they didn’t prove to be great college football coaches.  College football more than any other sport is about the head coach.  In college football the head coach has the highest input of 85 scholarship players including their recruiting, the walk-ons, and the largest staff of any college sport.  The sport requires 22 different starters with 11 of those having to work in perfect unison on every play.  No other sport comes close to the overall volume and detail the head coach must think about.  Because of that the head coach has to be something special.  The greats are few and far between.  A&M has simply failed on having a great head coach since R.C. Slocum around 1995 with a couple blips in 1998 and 2012.  We’ve been in a coach drought.  Simple as that.  It hasn’t been a resource problem.

The hire of Jimbo Fisher changes that perception.  At least it should.  The hire of Jimbo Fisher makes these “experts” wake up and pay attention.  They can deny it but they’re paying attention.  The hire of Jimbo Fisher changes the national perception of Texas A&M’s willingness and ability to compete at the highest level in college football.  The hire of Jimbo Fisher says A&M is capable of things people have forgotten about.  The hire of Jimbo Fisher tells the “experts” you can think what you want about Texas A&M but Texas A&M thinks differently about itself.

A lot of these “experts” will continue questioning if A&M is a better job than FSU when a man just staked his career to it.  Sure, Jimbo Fisher left for more money but he was already a Top 5 paid coach in college football.  The dude is as driven by anyone to win college football games.  It’s not like he’s coming to College Station for more money and ride out his career for a decade.  That makes no sense at all if you think about it logically.  A man who seemingly had it all at FSU left for another program.  Why would that be?  The only real logical explanation is the person himself who has more vested than anyone feels that Texas A&M offers a better chance to win a national championship than Florida State.  It really is as simple as that.  Sadly the “experts” will go on and on this is about money and Jimbo Fisher is an idiot.  I don’t think it’s about money as Jimbo already has plenty and FSU wasn’t firing him anytime soon.  Jimbo Fisher may be wrong in the end but the reason he made the move is he feels Texas A&M offers a better chance to win a national championship.  It’s the only reason an established coach at a proven Power 5 program would leave for another one.  It doesn’t happen very often.  I don’t think Jimbo left because of the FSU fans being critical over this season.  That seems awful petty.  Jimbo seems to have more confidence and pride to let a few fans piss him off and leave.  Jimbo left because he thinks Texas A&M offers more resources to win a national championship than Florida State.

Some of the “experts” will also say Dennis Franchione left Alabama for Texas A&M and look how that turned out.  They won’t look under the hood and realize Dennis Franchione was a fraud because he was built up by Gary Patterson much the same way Dan Hawkins was at Boise St.  Dennis Franchione jumped because of the pending scholarship restrictions coming Alabama’s way.  He too at the time believed Texas A&M offered a better chance to win a national championship than his current situation like any coach that decides to move.  Alabama was pretty bad after Fran left until Saban showed up.  The problem with Fran was he wasn’t actually a good football coach.  This is why he struggled at Texas State when he did get another job.  Winners win at any level they coach if given enough time.  Comparing Jimbo Fisher and Dennis Franchione is an exercise in being lazy.  Much different circumstances.  Still, those with the inability to have logical thoughts will use that as an argument because they sit in a studio having never been to the campus and regions around Texas A&M and Florida State football.  Just because the wins and losses over the last two decades are different doesn’t mean the resources and potential are different.

Ironically enough I’ve been saying for two decades if Florida State, Miami, and Florida can all be seen as equals on the football field why can’t Texas and Texas A&M?  Texas has access to great football talent just like Florida does.  How is Florida allowed/able to have three marquee programs in their state but Texas which is a bigger state than Florida can only have one?  Spare me the argument there’s more bigger schools in Texas because Florida has a boat load of schools as well.  Also spare me the argument Oklahoma steals recruits out of Texas.  There are PLENTY of great Texas high school football players to build a championship team at A&M.  The problem has been and always will be coaching.  Texas A&M since R.C. Slocum started declining in the late 90s has failed to hire a competent coach.  Dennis Franchione, Mike Sherman, and Kevin Sumlin were simply not great football coaches.  Texas A&M for two decades had the wrong person under the headset.

For most, the perception of Texas A&M football will change but some people will keep their head in the sand even though a man staked his career to the move.  He burned his legacy on the way out of Tallahassee so he obviously sees something beyond the money.  At least I think he does.  Most will understand and watch with curiosity if he’s right while the truly moronic people will continue to question why he’d make the move.  Those people need to shut up and save the world’s oxygen for something else.

The ultimate perception shift will only occur if Jimbo actually wins and competes with the team in Tuscaloosa.  If he mimics Sumlin’s regular 8-4 record and third to fourth place in the SEC West the “experts” will be proven right.  If at minimum Jimbo replaces LSU as the second best program in the SEC West while Saban is at Alabama then he’ll prove it was the right move.  If Jimbo actually wins a national championship at Texas A&M I’ll start a Go Fund Me page to send every person that questioned why Jimbo would leave FSU for A&M an actual plate of crow.  I’m dead serious.  Keep those Tweets.  I’ve got two from Mike Greenberg and Richard Justice even though Richard Justice deleted his.

Will Jimbo prove the critics right or wrong?  Nobody has any idea.  That includes Jimbo and the people that made the decision to bring him in.  Only time will tell but Texas A&M on December 1, 2017 put their proverbial nuts on the table.  Those in charge of hiring a football coach for Texas A&M believe completely different than the “experts” that say Jimbo Fisher is an idiot.  Jimbo Fisher has to win to fully change the perception.  If that happens those “experts” that questioned the move will be proven the idiots.  I can’t wait.

The Mechanics of the Hire and the Contract:

Kudos to Scott Woodward on this hire.  Much like when Dr. Loftin took us to the SEC he spoke very minimally and executed like an assassin.  With assassins you never know what’s going on but the results are crystal clear.  The hire of Jimbo Fisher is crystal clear.  Scott Woodward is an assassin and that’s a good thing.  While everyone else was out creating wasted noise Woodward was doing his work and when it mattered most pulled the trigger with clear results.  No fanfare and no hype.  Just the clear result for the main target all along.  You love an assassin when they’re on your side.

In the end it sort of seems like a simple hire because there was no fanfare.  It wasn’t.  LSU tried to do it the previous two seasons and failed.  There’s speculation of how long Woodward has been working on this but it doesn’t matter.  He got the best coach that would come to Texas A&M.  Texas A&M was not getting Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Dabo Swinney, or Jim Harbaugh.  I suppose there’s a possibility of getting Chris Petersen but I like the Jimbo Fisher hire more than Chris Petersen which I’ll get to in a little bit.  I don’t know the full mechanics of this hire but Woodward executed them perfectly.  He zeroed in on Fisher as the biggest attainable fish and reeled him in with flawless execution.

Despite what the “experts” say this wasn’t simply a money whip either.  Like I referenced above Jimbo didn’t leave just for money.  His situation at Florida State wasn’t bad at all.  It took Woodward convincing Jimbo he would be better served at Texas A&M.  That’s one hell of a sales job and Woodward should get more credit by the “experts” for pulling this off.  LSU has been perceived as the better program but yet Texas A&M is the one that could pull off the hire in one try.  Give credit where credit is due and that appears to be the work of Scott Woodward and those at Texas A&M that supported Woodward.  Thank goodness we’re not Tennessee.  Plus, we’re about to find out what’s going on at FSU as it seems Willie Taggart has turned them down.  Scott Frost is also going to Nebraska so he’s not a candidate.  This hire couldn’t have been cleaner.  Great job by Woodward.

As for the magnitude of the reported $75 million contract over 10 years let’s break it down a bit.  Had Sumlin stayed at A&M for 10 years we would have paid him $50 million.  That’s assuming he never got a raise.  That’s $2.5 million a year difference.  If Sumlin had more repeated success there’s no doubt we would have paid Sumlin more than $5 million a year through a raise.  On a per year basis it’s really not that much difference because in big time college football $2.5 million isn’t much.  We’ll make it up in Double Dave’s pizza rolls sales each season.  That is if Double Dave’s can get their act together and have enough on hand where there’s no line and they never run out.  Double Dave’s with better execution can make up the difference if they’ll execute like Woodward.  There’s always a line for pizza rolls and they always run out.  Talk about missed opportunity.  Although I’m more of a Gumby’s pizza roll guy because they add garlic or something giving it more flavor.  Never understood why Double Dave’s got all the pizza roll love when Gumby’s pizza rolls are better.  All marketing and not product in my mind but that’s a blog post for another day.

As for the length of the contract these “experts” and “critics” are some of the same people that said we didn’t give Kevin Sumlin enough time with 6 years.  We’re committing to Fisher for a decade so that’s only 4 years more than what Sumlin got.  That should be a positive.  Fisher is only 52 which at the end of his contract he’ll be younger than Nick Saban is now.  Arizona State just hired a 62 year old to run their football program.  It’s not unexpected that Fisher can coach 10 more years.  Maybe he doesn’t win a national championship but his track record says A&M will be better off than the previous three coaches we hired.  Winners win and history indicates Jimbo Fisher is a winner.

Winners don’t come cheap so committing $75 million over 10 years for a coach with Jimbo’s track record seems reasonable to me.  It’s steep but it’s a cost of doing business.  Attempting to win a national championship requires money or luck.  We’ve run out of luck at Texas A&M so time to throw money at winning it all.  Mike Gundy was offered 6 years at $7 million by Tennessee and Gus Malzahn has apparently received a raise to $7 million by Auburn.  Jimbo at $7.5 million doesn’t seem out of line at all compared to the numbers that have come out this past week.

If in 10 years Jimbo Fisher has not won more than the coaches that came before him then Texas A&M needs to do a serious internal analysis.  Stop wasting money on football and turn Kyle Field into a bullfighting arena or something.  If Jimbo is worse than or even equal to Kevin Sumlin then we need to stop wasting money on football all together at Texas A&M.  This is an experiment at the highest level to see where Aggie Football can go.  It’s time to step up to find the ceiling.  Finding that ceiling costs money.

I’ve seen Mike Leach’s name get thrown out there for saving money and getting similar results.  Nobody loves Mike Leach more than me since he’s no longer at Tech clowning Franchione and Sherman.  I don’t really get it though.  Mike Leach is a fine coach but he’s never won a division.  Sure, he tied for it once at Tech but after beating Texas to have the inside track to win the division his team got clowned by OU.  He had the division in front of him and he couldn’t get it done.  Then he lost the Cotton Bowl to Ole Miss that season.  That’s the closest he’s ever come to winning a division and a major bowl.  Mike Leach will do more with less but he has a ceiling in my mind.  Mike Leach has won 10 games in ONE season of 16 seasons as head coach.  I know Texas Tech and Washington State aren’t perennial winners but you would think he’d have at least one more season where he won at least 10 games.  He’s only had one.

I don’t think rolling the dice and saving money would have been a good move with Leach.  I don’t see the “great” switch going off for Mike Leach at Texas A&M or any major program.  He’ll be a thorn to opponents but he’ll never win it all.  It’s not worth saving money to not have a chance to win it all.  That goes for any other similar unproven coach.  It wouldn’t have been worth it to save some money and “hope” that coach becomes great at Texas A&M.  We tried it with Franchione and Sumlin and it didn’t work.  Like I said earlier we’re out of time for “hope” so it’s time to spend money.

$75 million for ten years seems like a risky investment but let’s take a look at Jimbo the coach and see how risky it is.  Everybody said the Red Sox and Cubs couldn’t win it all until they finally hired someone competent enough to lead the team.  It’s always about leadership and that costs money.

Jimbo the Head Coach:

I believe a coach’s record matters more than anything else.  You can play ifs and buts all you want but over a period of time a coach’s record no matter where they coach will reflect their ability.  If he’s at a horrible program he’ll improve the record he took over if he’s a good coach.  Let’s look at Jimbo’s record and the four seasons at Florida State before he took over from Bowden.

The first four years are Bobby Bowden and the final eight years that are bolded are Jimbo Fisher.

Year Record Conference Bowl (W/L) Final Rank Title
Bowden – 2006 7-6 3-5 Emerald – W NR
2007 7-6 4-4 Music City – L NR
2008 9-4 5-3 Champs Sports – W 23 Division
2009 7-6 4-4 Gator – W NR
Jimbo- 2010 10-4 6-3 ChickFilA – W 16 Division
2011 9-4 5-3 Champs Sports – W 23
2012 12-2 7-1 Orange – W 8 Conference
2013 14-0 8-0 BCS NCG – W 1 National Champ
2014 13-1 8-0 Rose – L 6 Conference
2015 10-3 6-2 Peach – L 14
2016 10-3 5-3 Orange -W 8
2017 5-5 3-5

 

As you can see, the four seasons before Jimbo took over Florida State was not exactly a dominant program.  Florida State only finished once in the Top 25 those four seasons.  Their best record was 9-4 with an ACC division championship.  Other than that Florida State had a 7-6 record each season prior to Jimbo Fisher taking over.

The first season Jimbo took over he lead Florida State to a 9-3 regular season record winning the Atlantic Division.  They lost to Va. Tech in the ACC Title game but beat South Carolina in the ChickFilA Bowl.  That’s a pretty quick turnaround from the previous season at Florida State where they went 7-6.

Overall, including bowl games, Jimbo Fisher won 10 games or more in 6 of 8 seasons.  He was 6-2 in bowl games including 2 Orange Bowl wins and a national championship in the Rose Bowl.  That’s three marquee bowl game wins which is damn impressive in 8 seasons.  He went to 5 marquee bowl games from 2012 to 2016.

He lost the Rose Bowl in 2014 in the first year of the College Football Playoff to Oregon and Marcus Mariota.  In 2015 FSU lost to UH in the ChickFilA Peach Bowl.  I believe FSU was on their third string quarterback that game.  That can be considered a bad loss but that UH team was hitting on all cylinders and Tom Herman at UH was 5-0 against Top 25 teams at UH.  I’m not going to completely ding Jimbo for that loss even though it looks pretty bad.  In 2016 Jimbo beat Jim Harbaugh’s vaunted Michigan team in the Orange Bowl.  He’s played in big bowl games and done pretty well.

A lot of people like to point out Jimbo’s greatest success came with Jameis Winston under center.  That can be considered true but the fact of the matter is Florida State went 27-1 those two seasons.  Say what you want to about Jameis but Jimbo harnessed his talent to only lose 1 game in 2 seasons. That’s remarkable.  Jameis was a great college quarterback but Jimbo deserves credit for going 27-1 in those two seasons.  How many coaches have gone 27-1 over two seasons?  Not many at all.  It still takes coaching to win like that even if you have talent.  Ask Mack Brown, Les Miles, and Ron Zook.

Outside of Jameis, Jimbo has lead Florida State to a 56-21 record which is a 73 percent winning rate.  That includes the 5-5 record this season which has brought it down some.  Even without Jameis Winston and a .500 season he’s basically winning every 3 of 4 games.  Add in the Jameis Winston years and Jimbo has an overall record of 83-22 which is an almost 80 percent winning rate.  That’s winning every 4 of 5 games over 8 years as the head man at Florida State.  That’s damn good no matter how you want to spin his time there.  I firmly believe winners win and there’s no denying Jimbo Fisher won a lot of football games at FSU.

Based on the last 12 years of Florida State football there’s no reason to think Jimbo Fisher won’t improve the number of wins the Aggies have going forward.  His 8 seasons of football at Florida State speak for themselves compared to the previous 4 seasons.  He wins football games plain and simple.  There’s plenty of talent on the A&M football roster to win more games in 2018 than in 2017.  His biggest issue is going to be improving the A&M offensive line along with deciding pretty early if he wants to have a dual threat attack with Kellen Mond or a straight passing attack with Nick Starkel.  He may also bring in another quarterback but my guess is he’ll roll with either Mond or Starkel.

The schedule is pretty tough playing Clemson and Alabama in 2 of the first 4 games so we’ll find out pretty quickly if Jimbo can make improvements to Aggie football.  I don’t expect A&M to win those games but I do expect them to be competitive in those games.  The rest of the schedule should be pretty manageable with Auburn and LSU posing the toughest tests for the remaining 8 games.  I don’t think it’s out of the question for A&M to go 8-4 next season at minimum but if Jimbo is worth his $7.5 million a year we should win at least 9 games and potentially 10.  I do expect to see immediate improvement when it comes to wins and losses next season.  We didn’t hire Jimbo to “build” a program.  We hired him to come in and start winning more games right away.  He’s got a 10 year contract but he’s being paid to win more in Year 1.  No excuses.  There’s no “building” with his pedigree and what he’s being paid.

In addition to his coaching record Jimbo is known as an elite recruiter.  He had a head start on Kevin Sumlin’s time in Aggieland having already been at Florida State for 2 seasons but Florida State out-recruited Texas A&M in each of Sumlin’s six seasons.  Sumlin was seen as a strong recruiter but Jimbo proved better.  In 8 seasons of signing recruits Florida State was ranked in the Top 10 every season except for one where they came in at number 11 so almost in the Top 10.  In those 8 seasons Florida State was ranked in the Top 5 for 5 of those signing classes.  That’s an elite level of recruiting for sure.  There’s no reason to think Jimbo Fisher can’t do the same at Texas A&M.  He’ll be leading the only SEC team in the state of Texas and the other flagship school struggling right now so he shouldn’t have issues recruiting.  He’s an offensive coach but Jimbo recruited elite talent on both sides of the ball at Florida State.

Jimbo and his staff appear to do a pretty good job developing that talent.  Florida State has had 35 players drafted in the last 5 years.  That’s averaging 7 players each year of the last 5 NFL drafts.  There’s been 35 rounds in the last 5 NFL drafts so Florida State basically had a player for every round.  It didn’t break down that way but you get the point.  It certainly appears that Jimbo can not only recruit elite level talent but he and his staff can also develop it.  There are lots of coaches that can recruit but can’t develop talent and Jimbo seems to develop talent.

The data basically speak for itself in Jimbo’s time at Florida State.  If you look at record, recruiting, and drafting Jimbo Fisher is a Top 5 coach in the country.  That’s pretty hard to argue.  There’s no guarantee those things will carry over at Texas A&M but at least he’s proven he can do it.  I don’t think he would have taken the job if he didn’t feel he can replicate his success.  Maybe he just cashed a huge lottery check but I really think he believes he can do at Texas A&M what he did at Florida State.  He wouldn’t have made the move if he didn’t because his situation at Florida State was really damn good.  I mean the “experts” say that Florida State is the better job.  Jimbo Fisher made a calculated decision he can do at Texas A&M what he did at Florida State.  I’ll trust the man with the skins on the wall over the “experts” that sit in a studio or behind a keyboard.  One man has done it.  The others haven’t.

Make no mistake Jimbo Fisher was hired to Make Aggie Football Great Again.  Only time will tell if he actually can.  Based on his time at Florida State there’s no reason think in 5 years he won’t change the phrase Make Aggie Football Great Again to Made Aggie Football Great Again.  For $7.5 million a year he better change the “k” in Make to a “d” for Made.  When that happens it will prove every single dollar we signed Jimbo for was worth it and the “experts” are idiots.  We’ll be shipping plates of crow all over the country.

#MAFGA

Gig ‘Em Aggies!

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Is Jimbo Fisher a Good Hire for Texas A&M?

Jimbo Fisher

There’s some chatter out there that Jimbo Fisher is a primary target of Texas A&M to replace Kevin Sumlin.  I don’t know if he’s an achievable target or not but the chatter is out there.  He has a history with A&M’s Athletic Director as they were both together at LSU back in the day.  They know each other which always helps in the hiring process.  Would he be a good hire for Texas A&M?  I’m not sure but let’s take a look.

Before I look at anything coaching related let’s be clear Jimbo Fisher is an asshole.  He’s got a temper and it gets the best of him sometimes.  Earlier this season he told a fan to come down and fight him after the fan told Jimbo he needed to fire some of his coaches.  A lot of coaches are assholes so that’s not a big deal but you can’t engage fans and invite them to come out of the stands and fight you.  If they jump out of the stands and confront you that’s one thing.  If there’s a fan in the stands saying bad things as you run back to the locker room you have to keep going.  You can’t engage any negative behavior from anyone in the stands ever.  Words from a distance are just that and nothing more.  Be bigger than that and move on.

Beyond that the thing that bothers me the most about Jimbo Fisher is his involvement in the Jameis Winston rape issue.  It’s very Art Brilesesque.  I obviously have no direct knowledge of what happened between Winston and the girl that night but what I do know is there appears to be a systematic failure to truly discover what occurred that night.  The Florida State administration (including Athletics), Florida State Police Department, Tallahassee Police Department, and Tallahassee District Attorney are all either completely incompetent or weren’t really interested in finding out the truth over what happened that night.  Jimbo Fisher is a part of that.  Where they purposefully covering up for a star athlete, afraid to find out the truth, or just incompetent?  I don’t know the answer but it was one of those three if you read how everything was handled involving the investigation.  It doesn’t give you a warm and fuzzy feeling things were handled correctly.  Well, that is if you think rape is a really bad thing and deserves investigating.  If you think rape is no big deal then I’m sure you don’t have an issue with how things were handled.

If Texas A&M is serious about hiring Jimbo Fisher I want a very lengthy and extensive conversation as to what he knew and how he would handle the Jameis Winston situation looking back at it.  I would purposefully ask him what he thinks of the situations with Joe Paterno at Penn State and Art Briles at Baylor.  In both of those instances those coaches just wanted to wash their hands of the situations.  They had no interest in taking the lead and doing what was right in those situations.  Fisher at best was similar with Jameis Winston.  He seemed to just want to know if he’d have his star quarterback to play games.  Fisher did not take the lead trying to uncover the truth about that night.  That’s fine as it shouldn’t necessarily be the head coach’s job but at some point I hope he at least had an uneasy feeling for how things were handled.  I would ask him that point blank.

If he’s flippant or not contrite in how things were handled I’d thank him for his time telling him he was free to leave.  Think back to the Art Briles interview on ESPN the season after he was let go.  He was very vague about everything never offering specifics and seemed to fake feeling contrite only because he was supposed to.  If Fisher is not sincere in his answers to how things could have been handled with Winston then there’s no point in asking him further questions.

I can handle an asshole as a head coach but when it comes to matters of rape I want someone that understands the severity of something like that.  I want someone that understands there’s a point where a line is crossed and people need to step back thinking about more than football.  I don’t expect a head coach to be a saint and perfect at all times but I do need to know my head coach does in fact have a moral compass and there’s a line that once crossed everyone needs to step back and think about what is truly going on.  There’s a time to protect the players but there’s also a clear line when a player is accused of something that maybe football shouldn’t be a factor until it’s all sorted out.  It took A&M too long to handle the Kirk Merritt situation appropriately and I want a coach that recognizes those situations and handles them quick and swiftly.  There’s a clear line between boys being boys and someone doing something harmful to someone else.  I want to know Jimbo is FULLY aware where that line is.

I certainly don’t want A&M ever turning into a Penn St or Baylor where I fully question my support of the University as a whole.   I also don’t want A&M turning into a Florida State or Oklahoma where I question if a player was protected or given something they don’t deserve simply because they’re really good at football.  No player is ever above the program.  Even if it means a national championship because we’re playing a player that likely raped someone or laid a woman out.  I want Jimbo Fisher to understand that up front.  If he’s not on board with that then there’s no reason to continue discussion any further.  Being an asshole is one thing.  Being a sleazy coach putting wins above what’s right is another.

With that out of the way let’s look at Jimbo as a head coach.  He’s an outstanding head coach.  He’s having his worst season in his 8 seasons as head coach.  He’s currently at 3-5 and in jeopardy of not making a bowl game if he can’t beat Florida.  He’s doing so bad they had to re-schedule the canceled game against Louisiana-Monroe because FSU will need that game to become bowl eligible.  That game was originally canceled thinking it wouldn’t be needed for bowl eligibility.  This season has turned out differently for FSU so they scheduled that game so FSU can get 6 wins to go to a bowl.  FSU lost their starting QB in the opening game against Bama but they’ve looked terrible this season with close wins over Wake Forest, Duke, and Syracuse.  Those shouldn’t be FSU’s only wins and they shouldn’t close.  That’s not a good look for Jimbo even losing his starting QB in the first game.

When you look at the other 7 seasons during his time at FSU it paints a different picture.  You know about the national championship in 2013.  Coming into this season Fisher has only had one season where he didn’t win 10 games.  6 out of 7 seasons he’s had 10 wins or more.  That’s pretty damn impressive.  He’s been to a bowl game every year and is 5-2 in bowl games including 2 Orange Bowl wins.  He beat Michigan in last year’s Orange Bowl.  His two bowl losses were the Rose Bowl in 2014 when they lost to Oregon in Winston’s second season and then in 2015 when they lost the Peach Bowl to Tom Herman and UH.  I believe FSU was missing both of their starting quarterbacks on the season at that point.  Great win by UH but I don’t think FSU was playing with a full deck.  Fisher’s bowl record is pretty damn impressive.  He seems to have his team show up in big games for the most part.  I like that.

Fisher’s coaching tree is pretty impressive having coached under both Nick Saban and Bobby Bowden.  He was named Bowden’s successor as coach in waiting and it actually worked out.  FSU was actually pretty mediocre before he took over as they went 7-6 in three of the four seasons before Fisher took over.  FSU’s best season in those four seasons was 9-4 two years before Fisher took over.  Fisher made immediate improvements to a FSU program that had slipped to above average and was no longer dominate.  The dude can coach without a doubt.

He’s an offensive coach through and through having been a quarterback in college.  He’s always been on the offensive side of the ball having coached mainly quarterbacks and been a very high profile offensive coordinator at LSU and FSU before assuming the head job after Bobby Bowden.  FSU for the most part has never had issues scoring points.  Fisher is the main reason for that as he appears to call the plays himself.  He has two co-offensive coordinators but not sure how much they help with the game plan and calling plays during the game.

From a recruiting standpoint Fisher is an outstanding recruiter.  The area around Tallahassee is a hot bed for recruiting but Fisher has had a top 10 class every year except for 2013 where FSU ranked 11th so it wasn’t far off.  In the last four years he’s signed a class ranked #6 or higher.  That’s pretty damn impressive even if he’s in a great area for recruiting.  No reason he couldn’t do the same in Texas as it’s a great area to recruit as well.  He must not be that big of an asshole to kids if he’s pulling those kinds of recruiting classes.

In doing research on Fisher my main concern outside of the moral question is his staff seems to be pretty complacent.  It looks like a lot of the same guys he’s had for a while and many of them should be considered to be replaced.  The hiring of assistants is one of the most important things a college head coach can do.  Nick Saban is a master at it.  He’s continually replacing his guys because some of his guys move on to better jobs or Saban feels they need to be replaced.  I would want Fisher to challenge his assistants and never let them get complacent.  I think Kevin Sumlin has done a lot of that with his offensive staff letting everyone getting complacent.  Sumlin has definitely done this on the offensive side of the ball.  I would want Fisher to detail out his plan for his assistants in the immediate and long term.  A complacent staff can kill a football program.

In looking at Fisher there’s no doubt in my mind he’s a Top 10 college head coach.  He has some unexplainable losses every season but so does every coach not named Nick Saban.  That includes Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops, Les Miles, Chris Petersen, James Franklin, Jim Harbaugh, and any other coach you can think of.  It happens and you just have to deal with it unless you’re Alabama with Nick Saban.  Jimbo Fisher clearly belongs in that next class of coaches that aren’t Nick Saban.

If A&M hired Jimbo Fisher I think he’d immediately vault Texas A&M to at least the third best team in the SEC West and likely the second best SEC West team every season.  We’d become a better LSU during the Les Miles era as we’d actually have a competent offense.  This is assuming nobody in the West hires a lights out coach like Fisher as well.  I think we could compete with Alabama year in and year out even winning one every four years or so.  Fisher wouldn’t be cheap at all but the results are pretty guaranteed.  We’d be a legit Top 15 team year in and year out with Fisher.  More than likely we’d be a Top 10 team most of the years.

Assuming the A&M higher ups make it clear to Fisher there’s a CLEAR line when it comes to the morality of players I’m good with the Fisher higher.  I’m fine with him being an asshole sometimes because he wins games.  What I’m not okay with is him being a sleazeball putting wins above doing what’s right when it comes to his players.  No player is above the program at Texas A&M.  Johnny Manziel came close but he was just signing autographs and getting drunk like a lot of college players do.  I don’t expect a team of saints but I do expect a team that knows things like rape and female assault are never acceptable.  Other violent crimes and major theft also apply here.

If Jimbo is aware of that and willing to make his players aware and uphold those standards then I’m perfectly fine with him as Texas A&M’s head coach.  He’d make us a damn good program in no time at all.  He’s not a slam dunk hire and wouldn’t be cheap but he’s about as big of a guarantee in college football as it gets right now.

Thoughts from the Auburn Game

Auburn v Texas A&M

There is no doubt in my mind Kevin Sumlin sealed his fate on Saturday losing to Auburn.  He’s done at Texas A&M as head coach.  I suppose that officially makes him a spec home builder if the news is true he’s in the middle of building a new house in College Station.  I don’t think he’ll ever live in it.  He might want to leave the flooring and countertops for the eventual buyer.  Even if he wins the last three games he’ll still be 8-4 and that’s not going to cut it.  I think the decision to move on from Kevin Sumlin has been made and A&M is doing their due diligence for its next head coach.  What that due diligence is I have no idea but I hope it’s a serious search considering a major budget and plenty of names.

Two moments from that game signal to me Sumlin is done.  At the end of the first half we got the ball back with 1:36 left in the game.  Auburn had just scored on a quick drive capped by a 53 yard touchdown pass that put Auburn ahead 14-13 heading into half.  Auburn was getting the ball coming out of half so they were set up well.  We had the ball at the 20 yard line and Auburn had two time outs.  Starkel had lit a fire under the offense and had been moving the ball.  What does Sumlin do?  He runs the ball three times which burned about a minute off the clock thanks to Auburn’s two timeouts.  There was NO sense of urgency by the A&M offense and no desire to run a two minute drill to see if they could make something happen.  None at all.

A&M lines up for the punt and what happens?  Auburn who had taken two timeouts playing aggressively sends their punt return team for a block and gets through.  They block the punt into the end zone for a touchdown and a 21-13 lead heading into half and getting the ball.  That was the moment I knew Sumlin was officially done.  He had no sense of urgency and got owned by a coach who did have a sense of urgency.  I don’t know if we were lined up in max protect but we should have been.  That was a failure by both Sumlin and Jeff Banks to not have their punt protection and punter prepared for that situation.  Auburn took advantage of Sumlin not being aggressive by being aggressive themselves.

The other moment in the game that told me Sumlin was done coaching was late in the fourth quarter.  We had shown some signs of life offensively but the defense had given up too many points.  With a little over 5 minutes left Auburn scored to go up 42-20 which is a pretty steep hill but in college football it’s not insurmountable.  In fact it happens way more than it should.  It’s still a three score game but it’s not impossible.  If you feel you’re coaching for your job you should coach with some serious urgency.  Kevin Sumlin clearly wasn’t doing that.

After Auburn goes up 42-20 Trayveon Williams returns the kickoff to the Auburn 28 with a little over 5 minutes left.  A&M has two timeouts left with 5 minutes left.  We should have had 3 timeouts but had to use one because we tried to punt with 12 people on the field which is another story.  It’s a longshot but three scores in 5 minutes on their 28 yardline is technically doable with good clock management, play calling, and some luck which is not uncommon in college football.  So what happens is we get to the Auburn 11 yard line thanks to a pass interference call with a little over 4 minutes left.  4 minutes and two timeouts left on the opponent’s 11 yard line needing 3 scores.  Not likely but with the some breaks you can make it happen.

We call back to back run plays in that situation.  Seriously.  We’re on the 11 yard line needing to conserve as much time a possible and we call two run plays.  Two run plays.  Unreal.  We got a gain of six yards and a loss of 3 yards.  We ran the ball twice needing to conserve the clock.  I couldn’t believe it.  At that moment I realized Kevin Sumlin is just totally clueless when it comes to game situations or he just doesn’t care.  I think it’s a combination of both.  He’s just not a great head coach.  Completely unaware of what’s needed in certain situations.

We did wind up scoring there but burned a minute off the clock we didn’t need to.  If we score with a little under 4 minutes left and two timeouts you can at least make a decision on the kickoff to kick deep or onside kick.  Sure, you probably onside kick but at least you have an extra minute and there is some element of surprise.  As it is you burned a minute and everybody in the stadium knew an onside kick is coming so there’s no element of a surprise.  We failed the onside kick and that moment sealed any chance of coming back.  The odds of scoring 22 points in 4 minutes is not likely but it is possible with some breaks.  As it was Kevin Sumlin had ZERO interest in finding out if we could get a few lucky breaks.  No sense of urgency or care on his behalf.  And because of that he’ll be gone after LSU unless he pulls a Jim McElwain saying something stupid that forces A&M’s hand.  I don’t think he’s that dumb but you never know.

It’s also ironic that Jarret Stidham is part of the final nail in Sumlin’s coffin.  Kevin Sumlin twice had the opportunity to recruit Stidham but passed the first time in order to get Kyler Murray.  We saw how that turned out.  He also had the chance to recruit him in the 2017 February class but passed on him for Mond along with Hezekiah Jones and Jhamon Ausbon.  Evidently they were a package deal and Sumlin was scared signing Stidham would scare off all three.  Mond got pulled in the first half on Saturday while neither Jones or Ausbon caught a ball.  Meanwhile Stidham went 20 for 27 throwing for 268 yards and 3 touchdowns and no interceptions.  Basically Sumlin not signing Stidham can be seen as a direct reason Sumlin will no longer be the head coach at Texas A&M when this season is done.  Another reason Sumlin needs to go.  He didn’t recruit quarterback with a sense of urgency in the off season.  He had nobody with any experience under center and passed on Stidham for fear it would scare off people who likely wouldn’t contribute this season.  Once again Sumlin is just unaware of his current situation and doing things to immediately right the ship.  I said at the time he would regret not signing Stidham and Saturday proved that to be right.

For the rest of my normal thoughts I’m going to keep it short.  It’s basically the same from the Mississippi State game.  I want to keep it short because with it clear Sumlin is gone I want to start looking at potential candidates in more detail.  Big rumor is Jimbo Fisher is our top target because we think he’s attainable.  I want to spend my time digging under the hood of Fisher and get that written up.

Offense:

This was basically the same thing as the Mississippi State game other than the change at quarterback.  Before I get to that change I’m just going to say the line looked slightly better with Starkel in there because defenses know they have to respect the pass with him as QB.  With Mond they were just loading the box and destroying our line.  At receiver it was more of the same except Damion Ratley caught balls and had a great catch and run for a 62 yard touchdown.  Outside of that he caught 3 balls for 20 yards so not explosive on the other catches.  Kirk caught 8 balls for 62 yards with a long of 29 yards so he didn’t exactly light it up either.  Trayveon caught a beautiful shovel pass for 41 yards but other than that not much in the passing game.  Receivers still don’t seem to be getting or separation unless it’s just busted coverage.

The running game was definitely improved with Starkel under center as the defense backed off the line of scrimmage to respect the pass it seems.  Keith Ford and Trayveon Williams combined for 29 carries totaling 151 yards.  That’s a little over 5 yards a carry and most of that came with Starkel in.  The longest run was 40 yards by Traveon.  Ford and Williams were chewing off good runs which we definitely didn’t see against Mississippi State.  Pretty clear having to respect the passing game helped our running game.

As for Starkel he was 11 for 22 for 184 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions.  That’s not outstanding but it’s the best outing we’ve seen all year from a quarterback against a respectable defense.  He had the 62 yard pass to Ratley so that was a big play that accounted for 33% of the yards but Starkel did a nice job passing the ball considering the play calls and lack of receivers getting open.  Barring an injury this is Starkel’s job the rest of the season and heading into next year no matter who the new coach is.  He’s just a better passer and its clear Mond has a ways to go from a passing standpoint.  The one big difference I saw between Starkel and Mond in the game is that Starkel played with a sense of urgency.  He was begging for the play to get everyone lined up.  I never saw that from Mond.  I think it’s completely a confidence and comfort thing.  Starkel appears more confident and comfortable taking snaps at the college level.  Starkel also seems to make much quicker decisions in the passing game.

One thing I’d love to see happen but it won’t is eliminate the red zone fade route.  I don’t know that it’s worked all year but I can count at least a dozen times we’ve tried that and it hasn’t been close to a completion.  It’s like Mazzone thinks we have Mike Evans or Josh Reynolds who can go up and get the ball.  We don’t have anyone like that and the ball hasn’t even been close to a completion if we did have someone that could go get it.  Sumlin needs to go rip that page out of Mazzone’s play sheet but let’s face it those two don’t care anymore.  They both know they’re gone so we’ll see it a few more times this season.  I can’t wait.

Defense:

Defensively this felt just like the Misissippi State game for the most part.  The defense played well enough in the first half save for one play.  That was the 53 yard pass with under 2 minutes left where they just got isolated coverage with their fastest receiver against our backup corner because our best cover guy wasn’t playing.  The Auburn receiver got separation from our corner and Stidham hit him in stride for a touchdown.  Great coaching isolating talent on lesser talent and great job by Stidham hitting the guy in stride.  Other than that I thought our defense played just fine in the first half despite our offensive issues until Starkel came in.

The second half was pretty bad as the defense held Auburn to a three and out on their first possession of the half but it went downhill quickly after that.  Our offense responded to the defense starting the second half with a three and out by also going three and out giving the ball right back to Auburn.  Auburn would then score on their next two possessions making the game 35-13.  The game was over halfway through the third quarter for the most part.  The back breaker was when Auburn got the ball on their own 4 yard line and took the ball 96 yards the other way on 14 plays burning 8:17 of the clock.  They ran the ball 11 times and passed only 3.  That’s pretty demoralizing for the defense .  There’s no way to defend a defense that gives up a drive like that.  If they can hold them there it could have been a 35-27 game at one point.  Ifs and buts though don’t get anyone anywhere though.

Individually the two best performances for me were Tyrel Dodson who has turned into an absolute beast.  The dude is legit.  Anthony Hines was the other who had his best game of the year.  Armani Watts had his solid game as well.  The front four looked solid most of the game other than that demoralizing drive in the 4th quarter.

All in all they played great in the first half but the second half was a different story.  Time of possession wasn’t too far off at 35:44 to 24:16 but I do think there’s an element of always playing defense from behind that becomes a mental battle.  Defenses want to be aggressive knowing they’re playing for something and that’s just happening with our offense.  It would be interesting to see what would happen if our offense could actually get a lead or swing time of possession in their favor.  This defense has not been great the last two games.  They have looked really solid in the first half but faded in the second half when the offense wasn’t doing anything.  Hard to blame them.  Despite all of that I still contend our “Front 6” has looked really solid for most of the season with a few hiccups here and there.

I’m still on the Chief Train mainly because I think the offense is not giving this defense any chance to shine.

Special Teams:

Talk about a Jekyll and Hyde game.  Two blocked field goal attempts and a great kick return by Trayveon Williams.  But we had the blocked punt where we should have been in max protect fully expecting a jailhouse break trying to block the punt.  Auburn executed it perfectly and we weren’t ready for it.  The timeout in the third quarter because we were trying to punt with 12 guys was maddening.  After we got the personnel straightened out we punt the ball off the up back.  Like I’ve said all season this special teams unit isn’t spectacular for the most part other than some big individual contributors.  I know Jeff Banks gets lots of love but I personally think the guy is just average.  Just too much inconsistency and bone headed plays like we saw on Saturday.

Going Forward:

Sumlin is done and he knows it.  He’ll coach out the season and be done after LSU.  I expect us to go 2-1 finishing 7-5 but it could be worse.  This team could just collapse going down the stretch.  I don’t think that will happen as I think there’s enough young leadership.   Starkel and Dodson on their respective sides of the ball won’t let that happen I don’t think.  7-5 will be a disappointment but it’ll get us to a bowl game which we should accept as you always want the extra practice and experience.
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