College football news 2022: Texas A&M problems, firing Jimbo Fisher, $127 million buyout, Ukraine war impact on oil prices


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Aug 18, 2023

College football news 2022: Texas A&M problems, firing Jimbo Fisher, $127 million buyout, Ukraine war impact on oil prices

Money, talent and a national championship-winning coach; few of college

Money, talent and a national championship-winning coach; few of college football's powerhouses have all three of these critical ingredients.

Texas A&M is one of them. The school is located in College Station, Texas - roughly in-between Houston and the state capital Austin - and is a member of the all-conquering SEC conference.

Being able to blend this combination of plentiful talent (Friday Night Lights, anyone?) and the best league in the country means getting the nation's best high-schoolers through the door isn't a problem.

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Having an exorbitant amount of money from their richest fans, or boosters, who are typically involved in the oil and energy industries helps ensure they can afford whatever they need, whether it be building top-of-the-line facilities... or ensuring those recruits are well-compensated. (In a completely legal way, of course.)

And they have Jimbo Fisher in charge - the man with the world's most southern name, who is one of five active coaches to have won the national championship, a decade ago at Florida State.

So why the hell do they suck so much?

Fisher's stint at Texas A&M, after moving across before the 2018 season, had already been problematic even before this woeful 2022 campaign.

He has recruited well; extremely well. In fact, historically well. The best recruiting class in the sport's history is Texas A&M's 2022 group, with seven of the top 25 rated players in the country heading their way.

(For perspective, there are some 120-odd schools at the top level of college football; even if realistically only 30-odd of them are competing for the best players, to get that many of the best players is simply absurd.)

And yet Fisher has never won more than nine games in a season with the Aggies, peaking with a 9-1 campaign during the 2020 Covid year which saw them just miss the playoff. The other three seasons have been almost identical - fine but not great, around the 8-5 or 9-4 mark.

Those seasons are already disappointments at a school that has always believed it should be higher than where it currently sits in the college football pecking order. The Aggies have not won a national championship since 1939, and haven't even won their own conference since 1998, despite always being well-funded, supported and located.

And then you take into account the money Fisher is making. The contract required to poach him from Florida State, even as there were signs of decline since his national title year, was understandably large - a whopping 10-year, $75 million ($AU110 million) deal, and all of that guaranteed.

After the impressive 2020 campaign, Fisher cashed in again, extending his contract with another four fully-guaranteed years that doubled the size of his buyout clause.

For whatever reason, coaches in college football have incredible leverage that forces schools to cough up exorbitant fees if they want to sack them before their contract ends. In Fisher's case, it would cost Texas A&M an absurd $86 million ($AU127 million) to dump him after the 2022 campaign, four times the biggest buyout ever paid.

Now, of course, they’d never consider actually paying that. Right? Fisher's the guy! He's won a national title! And look at those recruits he just brought in; oh boy, here they go, this is A&M's year, I can feel it!

They are terrible.

Texas A&M sits 3-7, holding the worst record in the entire 14-team SEC, behind even Vanderbilt - a school that has strict academic standards that limits their recruiting and is never anything close to competitive for the conference title. The Aggies have lost six straight games and are the only team in the SEC ineligible to make a post-season bowl game (you must go 6-6 or better to qualify).

This would be a bad year under normal circumstances. After that incredible recruiting class, after making an apparent win-now move to sign a defensive coordinator with a horrible reputation, and with all of the money they just recommitted to Fisher? It is bonkers-level bad.

Making matters worse it's clear things aren't right inside the school, including with that famous group of first-years who just signed on. Multiple times there have been groups of freshmen players being suspended, and crucial wide reciever Muhsin Muhammad - the son of the former NFL star with the same name - took to social media revealing he had been benched for wearing sleeves during a game.

Traditionally in college football a powerful coach could just control the narrative and then control the players; he was the clear authority figure. Players had few options, because rules about transferring to other schools were incredibly restrictive, and often required them to give up one of their four years of eligibility before playing at their second college.

But nowadays there is something called the transfer portal, where players can simply enter their name online and make the rest of the sport know they’re up for grabs. They can then move relatively easily to a new school.

Recruiting, therefore, has transitioned from a one-time, pre-college prospect into a full-time job for every player - because coaches always need to ensure their players feel like they need to stay.

"He's made an absolute mess out of this program. His credibility is at the bottom," ESPN college football expert Paul Finebaum declared this week.

"He's easily done the worst coaching job of anyone in college football this year and what are Texas A&M officials going to say leading toward next year?

"I talked to another head coach the other day about the Texas A&M recruiting class and the current players, and he said everyone will get in the portal, whether it's on the record or not.

"Let me back up — everyone will test the portal, which doesn't mean you’re in the portal. We’re six weeks away from National Signing Day. I don't know what's going to happen. I mean, I know what they’re ranked, at least in perception.

"You throw the ball up and see where it goes in terms of what do they do after having the best recruiting class in modern college football history and can Jimbo Fisher keep this program together?"

In any other scenario Fisher would be fired. College football is a pretty trigger-happy sport and teams have been willing to pay big buyouts - just during this season, top-level schools Nebraska, Colorado, Georgia Tech, Wisconsin and Arizona State have paid a combined $56.7 million ($AU83.5 million) to make their coaches go away.

But one school (A&M) paying that plus another 50 per cent on top? Finebaum, and most other experts, believe it's implausible.

"It sits today at $86 million. The money's guaranteed. It goes down to $76 million a year from now, so it's not like it's going to be that much cheaper. It's pretty obvious if this was big business what would happen — the company would write it off and make it back somewhere else," Finebaum said.

"It's really the stigma. We’re talking about big-time college football. $86 million seems like an enormous amount, it seems like malfeasance, but firing him today doesn't sound as crazy as it did four weeks ago I don't think.

"I don't think it's going to happen, but I’m just saying, common sense wise."

The difference for A&M is exactly where their money comes from.

A&M, if you don't know, stands for agricultural and mechanical. The school's engineering department, particularly in the petroleum sector, has helped create a long list of rich boosters who make their money from oil and gas. Their fortunes can be dictated by the current cost of crude oil barrels.

And, well, if you’ve driven a car recently you probably know that petrol is pretty damn expensive at the moment. This is heavily driven by the Russian invasion of Ukraine; as far back as March the Australian Competition & Consumer Competition was warning prices had hit an eight-year high, heavily impacted by the war.

It is not a coincidence the profits of the world's biggest oil companies have this year soared to historic levels. War is good for business in many sectors.

And as national college football writer and Split Zone Duo podcast host Steven Godfrey explained late last month, it might help Texas A&M with its coach.

"The first thing I did on Sunday morning (after an Aggies loss) was, rather than go and talk to a bunch of agents about Texas A&M - because I know what that conversation's going to be - was talk to some people in the energy sector," Godfrey said on a recent Patreon podcast.

"People who work on Wall Street, work in oil and gas, in the energy sector. Because it's not as crazy (to pay Fisher $US85 million) to them.

"You have OPEC Plus (the oil producers’ group led by Saudi Arabia that can determine how many barrels go on the market, and thus prices), you have the war in Ukraine that's about to shift its entire compass into fuel - as in, physical fuel.

"There's a reason Russia is attacking Ukraine in a particular way on their power grid. There's a reason Europe is showing more advanced signs of a recession; all of this has to do with Russia as an exporter of oil.

"All of these things are good things for the oil industry. They’ll tell you that quietly, if you’re friends with them. All these things are great for oil and gas.

"Now are they great enough to eat $85 million? Not yet, was what I was told. You would need a plunge and for oil to be trading much higher for a while, for A&M boosters to get that silly."

We do not mean to be flippant about a war; this is just the real, financial impact of the global energy crisis and how it impacts a bad college football team.

In this case, it might be the catalyst that allows Texas A&M to move on from one of the most expensive bad decisions the sport has seen.