Misery Index Week 2: Jimbo Fisher continues to rob Texas A&M in broad daylight
Texas A&M’s mistake wasn’t hiring Jimbo Fisher.
If you’re a historically underachieving program with unlimited resources and have the chance to bring in a national championship-winning coach, of course you do it. Even at the ridiculous price tag – initially 10 years, $75 million – it’s worth a try.
The problem is what happened right before the 2021 season kicked off when Texas A&M administrators got so intoxicated by one small whiff of success they decided to restart the contract window, only this time at $9 million annually and increasing by $100,000 every year. That not only keeps Fisher under contract through the 2031 season, it essentially makes him untouchable for most of this decade.
And based on what? A 9-1 season during the 2020 COVID year that might have been a complete fluke? Some highly-ranked recruiting classes? The supposed threat of LSU being interested if its job came open at the end of the 2021 season?
Fisher’s contract is exactly what’s wrong with college football these days: Too much money being spent on mediocre coaching rather than the players, agents being able to bully athletic directors and presidents who lack the confidence and negotiating savvy to say no to unearned extensions and desperate boosters who get hoodwinked by the idea that only one person in the whole world is capable of winning football games for them.
But maybe now it's becoming clearer at Texas A&M. The Jimbo Fisher era, at this point in time, has been a little more than a legal heist in plain daylight. It’s a complete flop – unable to produce results appreciably better than other Texas A&M coaches before him while also failing to be remotely entertaining.
Fisher had the luxury for a little while of blaming his predecessor, Kevin Sumlin, for lackluster results. But by the time you get to Year 5, you’re not rebuilding anymore. The program is supposed to be humming by now. Instead, Texas A&M looks to be once again in the muck of mediocrity after a 17-14 loss at home to Appalachian State.
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These things shouldn’t be happening anymore at Texas A&M, given the massive amount of investment and support Fisher has had from the administration and fan base. There are a lot of coaches you could hire for half the price to go 8-4 at Texas A&M, but they hired Fisher to compete for national titles. There are no excuses for not checking that box by now.
There is, of course, still hope that it can happen. However Texas A&M pulled it off, whatever machinations in the name, image and likeness world helped get it done, the Aggies' freshman class was No. 1 in the recruiting rankings this past year with eight five-star prospects. That should guarantee a certain level of baseline success in the next couple years.
But at some point for any fan base, the promises of what could happen in the future do not outweigh the reality of what they’re seeing on the field. And save for two seasons at Florida State when Fisher had Jameis Winston playing quarterback and one of the most talented rosters in the history of college football, he’s a three- or four-loss coach. It’s not a small sample size, either, but it’s what A&M has signed up for – to the tune of more than $100 million by the time it’s all said and done.
That’s why the Aggies are No. 1 in this week’s Misery Index, a weekly measurement of which fan bases are feeling the most angst about the state of their favorite program.
Four more in misery
The Marcus Freeman honeymoon isn’t just over, it has gone immediately from the beach to marriage counseling. When you hire a 36-year-old to replace the winningest coach in school history, you don't know what you’re going to get. And so far, it seems like Freeman has a lot of learning on the job still to do. The stunning reality that Marshall marched into Notre Dame Stadium and came out with a 26-21 victory will not just reverberate for a long time around South Bend, but it will undeniably end the era of good feelings surrounding Freeman's elevation to head coach and the significant amount of recruiting success that followed. Losing this one game doesn’t mean he’s the wrong guy – yet – but Freeman is now 0-3 in games he’s served as the head coach dating back to the Fiesta Bowl. Maybe losing Brian Kelly to LSU was a bigger deal than a lot of Irish fans thought.
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After another ridiculous loss, this time 45-42 to Georgia Southern, Scott Frost is out. The Cornhuskers didn't even wait for his buyout to drop on Oct. 1 after his 31st loss in 47 games. Remarkably, Frost was 5-22 in one-score games. He just lost for the first time in 215 games played at Memorial Stadium when Nebraska has scored 35 points or more. And giving up 642 yards to a Georgia Southern team that went 3-9 last year was a cherry on top of the radioactive ice cream sundae that has been force-fed down Nebraska fans' throats since he arrived in 2018.
The most entertaining coach in the SEC, one of the few who isn’t afraid to mix it up and throw some Steve Spurrier-style barbs, is Eli Drinkwitz. He’s good for a lot of laughs, including this summer when he appeared on the Jim Rome Show and called out Tennessee for its recruiting violations under former coach Jeremy Pruitt. "I thought you were going to introduce my record," Drinkwitz told Rome. "But with the latest allegations against Tennessee, let’s hold up on what my record is because I expect them to vacate some wins, and that’s going to help my record a little bit." Good line, but the zingers don't land the same way after losing 40-12 to Kansas State. At 12-13 overall, Drinkwitz is on the same pace as predecessor Barry Odom, who was fired after going 25-25.
The Knights are headed to the Big 12 next season, but they're less ready for prime time now than they were a few years ago. Since their incredible run of 25 wins in 26 games spanning the 2017-18 seasons, UCF has been just an ordinary program – a point underscored by Friday’s 20-14 loss to Louisville in Orlando. Since hiring Gus Malzahn on the rebound from his firing at Auburn, UCF has scored 30 points just five times in 13 games against FBS opponents. The lack of a dynamic passing game is a major concern. Losing to Louisville, which was embarrassed by Syracuse in Week 1, looks like a significant red flag for the Knights' hopes of being competitive right away in their new league.
Miserable but not miserable enough
The Hawkeyes’ offense has accounted for 10 points and 316 yards, which would not be great numbers for one game in this day and age. Unfortunately for Iowa, that’s the combined total through two games, including Saturday’s 10-7 loss to Iowa State. After so many years of winning ugly with a mostly ineffective offense, either Kirk Ferentz just doesn’t care about scoring points or he thinks his offensive coordinator is doing a good job. Considering the fact his offensive coordinator is his son, Brian Ferentz, it might well be the latter – which should be a scary proposition for Hawkeye fans.
It may take a long time to fumigate this program from the stench of Steve Addazio. One of the most nonsensical hires of the century, Addazio – who had absolutely zero bona fides in the West – was fired after winning just four of 16 games and being investigated over allegations that his staff didn’t take COVID-19 protocols seriously. The subsequent hire of Jay Norvell was widely praised after all the success he had at Nevada. But after two blowouts, the Rams have a very long way back to respectability. Saturday’s 34-19 home to loss to Middle Tennessee, a team that was crushed 44-7 by James Madison a week ago, suggests this will be a long and brutal season.
Since being forced to join the Big 12, the Mountaineers have struggled to find their footing. They don’t really fit geographically or culturally, don't have a real rival and haven’t been a consistent top-25 program as they were in the Big East. When the Mountaineers hired Neal Brown in 2019, it looked like a chance to reverse that narrative. Brown had won big at Troy, which isn't easy to do in the Sun Belt, and had previously built a solid reputation as an offensive mind in previous stops at Kentucky and Texas Tech. But now, Brown is just 17-20 overall at West Virginia after losing to Kansas 55-42 in overtime. Sure, a Kansas loss doesn’t have quite as awful a stigma as it used to. But it’s still pretty bad for a program that was offensively challenged last year and can’t stop anyone defensively this season. Kansas went 11-for-15 on third down in the game and rushed for 200 yards, which is the recipe for a well-deserved loss. On paper, Brown should work at West Virginia. But in reality, the results of have been brutally underwhelming.