Texas A&M misses bowl game, hits rock bottom under coach Jimbo Fisher
Texas A&M has two choices, and neither of them are particularly good.
The first would be firing Jimbo Fisher, who signed a 10-year, $95 million contract last September that is fully guaranteed. The second would be forcing Fisher to give up control of the offense and pay a lot of money to a coordinator so that the head coach no longer has to bear the brunt of the weekly embarrassment that Texas A&M is putting on the field every week.
But if it’s ultimately Door No. 2 for Texas A&M, it’s pretty much an admission that it has made the worst series of administrative decisions in the history of college football. When you hire Fisher to run your program, you are hiring Fisher to run your offense. That’s what he’s done his entire career. That’s who he is. If you strip that away, what do you really have other than a name and a résumé that no longer seems relevant to winning at the highest level?
Whatever direction this ultimately goes, the only positive way to spin it is that Texas A&M has likely hit rock bottom already. After a 13-10 loss at Auburn, a game in which the Aggies gained just 215 yards of offense, there’s really nowhere to go but up.
At the same time, it’s worth stepping back for a second to appreciate just how much of a calamity this season has been for Texas A&M. Ranked No. 7 in the preseason, and hyped up thanks to one of the greatest recruiting classes of all-time (on paper), the Aggies are now 3-7 and won’t even make a bowl game.
That’s not just a disappointment, it’s malpractice. And it’s all on Fisher’s shoulders. Through 58 games, he’s 37-21. His predecessor, Kevin Sumlin, went 51-26 in six seasons and had the much tougher task of transitioning from the Big 12 to the SEC.
When Fisher was hired away from Florida State, he was handed a national championship plaque at his press conference with the date to be filled in. It was a symbolic gesture, but also a suggestive one. He was hired to win. He isn’t winning. He’s losing — and losing big.
Paying more than $80 million for a coach to go away would be the height of lunacy in a sport that has long since lost its way. But it might not be as crazy as allowing this circus to continue indefinitely with no results to show for it.
That conundrum is why Texas A&M is 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 programs.
Four more in misery
Oklahoma: Brent Venables is officially on the hot seat. That doesn’t mean he’s going to get fired in the next few weeks because he almost certainly won’t. But going into the 2023 season, the scrutiny at Oklahoma is going to be unlike anything that program has experienced for the last couple decades.
Venables’ first season reached a nadir Saturday with a 23-20 loss at West Virginia, dropping the Sooners to 5-5. It’s probably not going to happen, but with remaining games against Oklahoma State in Norman and Texas Tech in Lubbock, there’s an outside chance Oklahoma could miss the postseason entirely. That hasn’t happened since 1998, which is the year John Blake was fired and Bob Stoops was hired. The Sooners being this bad is like seeing a comet: It just doesn’t occur very often, but you remember where you were when it does. Oklahoma needs to have its ducks in a row before it enters the SEC in a couple years, and if the Sooners still look like a middle-of-the-pack Big 12 program at this time next year, they’ll be forced to make some major changes.
Oregon: The Ducks have made one appearance in the College Football Playoff — the very first one in 2014. Since then, they’ve had teams that looked the part on paper but lost games they weren’t supposed to lose and ended up on the outside looking in. This year was supposed to be different. The Ducks had erased the embarrassment of losing by 46 points to Georgia in the season opener and would have had an excellent shot of making it in if they just held serve at home against Washington and Utah.
Instead, first-year coach Dan Lanning looked like a first-year coach when the pressure was on Saturday against the Huskis. In a game that was tied 34-all, Lanning made a panicky call to go for a fourth-and-1 at his own 34-yard line with just a minute and a half remaining. Noah Whittington, the running back who was handed the ball, slipped and fell behind the line of scrimmage. That decision pretty much handed Washington a 43-yard field goal that ended up being a game-winner.
Even worse, Lanning didn’t call timeout to get Bo Nix back into the game for the crucial play after he was hurt on the previous series but was clearly lobbying on the sidelines to get back in. We will never know, but if Oregon punts the ball, the game is probably going to overtime. That’s a Playoff-altering decision a more experienced coach would have had the patience to make.
Kentucky: Mark Stoops has raised the bar at Kentucky enough over the last several years to be honest when the Wildcats fall short of expectations. And let’s face it — this Kentucky team is a massive disappointment. A team that many pegged to be second-best in the SEC East fell to surprising depths with a 24-21 home loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday. Combined with a loss to South Carolina and a botched finish against Ole Miss, Kentucky’s 6-4 record should probably be closer to 8-2 or 9-1. But Vanderbilt drove 80 yards in 12 plays against Kentucky for the game-winning touchdown with 32 seconds left, leaving the Wildcats wondering what could have been for a team that has way too much experience and talent to be blowing games like this.
It was only a few months ago that Stoops and Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari were beefing on Twitter when Calipari stated that “this is a basketball school” while questioning why the school wasn’t building a new practice facility for his program. Stoops has done incredible things at Kentucky, but this is the kind of loss that makes fans think Calipari might have had a point.
Wisconsin: The last seven games of this season do not really matter for the Badgers, except as an audition for Jim Leonhard getting the full-time head coaching job. Leonhard, a former Wisconsin player and highly-regarded defensive coordinator, was elevated to interim head coach after the firing of Paul Chryst on Oct. 2. The conventional wisdom around college football was that Leonhard would get the full-time job if he did well. If he didn’t, Wisconsin might look in a different direction.
But it’s difficult to draw a lot of conclusions from these results: Easy win over Northwestern, disappointing loss to Michigan State, very good wins over Purdue and Maryland, followed by a putrid 24-10 loss at Iowa in which the Badgers had 227 yards of offense and committed three turnovers.
It’s hard to say a Chryst-coached team would have done much better or much worse, which really puts athletics director Chris McIntosh in a bind. Wisconsin fans want to believe in Leonhard because it’s the easiest, most convenient and most sentimental hire to make. On the other hand, not much has changed on the field since he’s been in charge.
With such conflicting data, this is going to be a vibes-heavy decision for Wisconsin. It’s possible Leonhard is the right guy. But losing by two touchdowns to such a thoroughly mediocre Iowa team will justifiably give the Badgers’ administration and fan base a good bit of trepidation about making that move permanent.
Miserable but not miserable enough
Illinois: Regression to the mean is a cruel but inevitable concept for a team that played far above its head for the first couple months of the season. The Illini seemingly had the Big Ten West wrapped up when they were 7-1, but consecutive home losses to Michigan State and Purdue have made it unlikely for them to reach the conference championship game — especially with a trip to Michigan looming next week.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights are just 6-19 in the Big Ten in Greg Schiano’s second act. What Schiano did to make Rutgers respectable between 2001-11 remains one of the great program-building jobs in the history of college football, but he’s just not making any real inroads in the Big Ten since returning a couple years ago. Saturday’s 27-21 loss at Michigan State was a brutal reminder that Rutgers has no margin for error in this league; even games that look winnable on paper are brutally difficult when you commit 14 penalties, have a 39-yard field goal blocked and don’t throw the ball particularly well. If Rutgers loses to Penn State next weekend, it will finish with a losing record, which shouldn’t be happening at this point in Schiano’s tenure.
Missouri: After announcing Eli Drinkwitz’s contract extension last weekend before losing to Kentucky, this week revealed that his salary increased from $4 million to $6 million. But for what? The Tigers looked horrid giving up 724 yards in a 66-24 loss at Tennessee, a game that was defined at the end of the second quarter when Drinkwitz kept a timeout in his pocket and ended up settling for a 32-yard field goal instead of having two shots at the end zone. Despite the brutal clock management, Missouri had chances to make it a game in Knoxville. Instead, three defensive penalties extended drives on third-down situations. Then, after falling behind 35-24, Missouri committed three false start penalties on a must-score drive to eliminate any chance to win.
Baylor: There should not be a hangover when you beat the worst Oklahoma team in the last 20 years. But there was for the Bears, who followed a 38-35 win in Norman with a complete belly flop at home against Kansas State in a 31-3 loss. Baylor was never in the game at any point, dropping to a disappointing 6-4 in a season where it looked on paper like it should have contended for the Big 12 title. In the big picture, it was perhaps a mistake for coach Dave Aranda to put all his chips on quarterback Blake Shapen, who just hasn’t been good enough this year and threw two interceptions against the Wildcats. But at the same time, why did Baylor have thousands of empty seats against a top-25 team? Why did it need an alum to buy up thousands of tickets to sell out? Are Baylor fans content with being an intermittent contender, or do they want to be a perennial Big 12 powerhouse?
Virginia Tech: The Hokies haven’t been this irrelevant or this awful since 1992 when Frank Beamer went 2-8-1 and finished seventh in the Big East. That was Beamer’s sixth season, and in this era, he might well have been fired. Instead, the Hokies stuck with him and were rewarded with lots of conference titles, top-10 finishes and one appearance in a national title game. Realistically, though, neither first-year coach Brent Pry nor athletics director Whit Babcock has that kind of time. Virginia Tech is in a deep, deep hole right now at 2-8 after a 24-7 loss to Duke. Though you can blame Pry’s predecessor, Justin Fuente, for failing to recruit a roster that could compete in the ACC, the product is now incomprehensibly bad after being just garden-variety bad the last few years. Everybody at Virginia Tech should be on edge after this disaster.