Jimbo Fisher has stunned the college football world by departing Florida State, as reported by tallahassee.com. He’s leaving a place where he won a national title during his eight seasons, to become the head coach at Texas A&M. He’ll be joining the SEC West, where he will have to compete with Alabama, Auburn, and LSU to reach the college football playoffs. The full monetary terms have yet to filter out, though there have been reports of a 10-year deal, but trust that Texas A&M paid a handsome sum to attract Fisher.
Fisher’s move brings back memories of a similar hire 35 years ago, when Texas A&M boosters had enough of finishing behind top programs like Texas and Arkansas, and made a bold move. Back in January of 1982, it had been 14 years since the Aggies had last won the conference and appeared in the Cotton Bowl, and that had been the only appearance in 40 years.
I know it may be hard to picture now, but at the time Texas A&M went out and hired Jackie Sherrill away from Pittsburgh, Pitt was a national power every bit as much as Florida State has been recently.
Sherrill had replaced Johnny Majors (who left for his alma mater Tennessee after winning the 1976 national title), and had continued the Pitt program’s dominance. In the three years before he bolted for Texas A&M, Sherrill’s teams went 33-3 and had three top 10 finishes. They were coming off a Sugar Bowl win over Georgia and Herschel Walker, and his quarterback was a junior named Dan Marino. It was a pretty big deal.
It’s funny to read the New York Times account of the move, and financial numbers, now. Today, wild buyout numbers of several million are commonplace, and top coaches make more than $5 million a year. In 1982, Texas A&M lured Sherrill to be both the AD and coach by giving him a compensation package worth $1.7 million over six years.
The contract apparently makes the 38-year-old Sherrill the highestpaid university employee in the nation. Though declining to comment on the total value of the pact, Sherrill confirmed in a farewell news conference at Pitt that it was for six years and said that his base salary would be $95,000 a year. But the addition of benefits – including a home, new cars, insurance policies and money-fund investments – brings the entire package, the sources in Texas said, to an average of more than $280,000.
According to the best estimates of several officials with a broad knowledge of higher-education matters, no other person has ever received so much in pay from an American university.
Was the move a success? Well, initially, the first three years showed no improvement in the record. But Texas A&M played in three straight Cotton Bowls from 1985 to 1987, and beat Texas five straight years with Sherill as coach. His tenure ended in resignation after the 1988 season, when the program was placed on probation. But the best era of Texas A&M football since World War II followed, with R.C. Slocum’s run in succeeding Sherill.
Texas A&M supporters will hope another bold hire will lead to similar results. Florida State, meanwhile, still plays a game on Saturday to try to make a bowl game, and must come up with an alternative coaching plan quickly.