College football’s crazy season – the one in which we watch as our institutions of higher learning play an expensive game of musical coaches – is off and running. Already, the 2023 crazy season has gone slap-dab insane.
On Saturday night, Texas A & M pummeled Mississippi State 51-10 with its third string quarterback accounting for four touchdowns.
Nevertheless, on Sunday, Texas A & M fired football coach Jimbo Fisher, which means the Aggies must pay off the $76 million remaining on his contract. A & M’s football program, fueled by Texas oil money, will pay Fisher more than $200,000 a day over the next few years not to coach. How insane is that?
Monday morning began with the news Mississippi State has fired its coach Zach Arnett 10 games into his first season. The Bulldogs are 4-6 and have lost three straight. Arnett’s buyout is a reported $4 million.
The two buyouts, so drastically different in enormity, are also different in another important aspect. Fisher will be paid in full no matter whether he takes another coaching job. However, if Arnett takes another job, his new salary will be subtracted from his MSU buyout. In other words, in today’s world of NCAA Power Five conference football, State’s buyout of Arnett is chump change. Not so with Texas A & M, no matter how many oil wells Aggie alumni own.
So, what happens next?
Today is Nov. 13. The NCAA transfer portal will open on Dec. 4. Schools can begin signing recruits on Dec. 20.
There will be an urge to hire quickly with those two dates in mind. But, as Lee Corso says so often, “Not so fast my friend…” If we’ve learned anything in the Jimbo Fisher and Zach Arnett sagas, it is this: There is an age-old proverb that goes “haste makes waste.” It applies in college football.
First, let’s go back to the crazy season of 2020-21. Fisher’s Aggies had finished 9-1 and No. 4 in the country during the Covid-ravaged season. Fisher was already making over $7 million a year, but the LSU job was open and there were reports that the Tigers wanted Fisher. So, the Aggies, in essence, panicked and signed Fisher to the 10-year, $95 million extension.
How did that work out?
Mississippi State’s rush to judgment came last December. Granted, the Bulldogs were in a bind because of Mike Leach’s death, the transfer portal, the upcoming signing day and bowl preparations. Four days after Leach’s death, Arnett was promoted to head coach.
We could debate at length whether or not State should have moved so fast. What we can’t debate is this: Not quite 11 months after Arnett’s hiring, State saw fit to fire him.
Would State have been better suited to let Arnett serve as interim coach through the bowl season and then hired a proven head coach – say, Tulane’s Willie Fritz? I’d say, yes.
Arnett, who had never been a head coach, faced a difficult task, and he didn’t make it any easier when he decided to scrap Leach’s offense and hire new offensive coaches. Never mind that he had a senior quarterback threatening to break every passing record known to the SEC. Will Rogers, that quarterback, was steeped in Leach’s Air Raid offense and surrounded by players recruited to play in that offense. Nevertheless, Arnett switched to a more run-oriented offense. You ask me, that was the glaring error of his short tenure. It did not work. Granted, injuries to quarterback Rogers and a running back have hurt. What’s more, State’s defense regressed this season.
You could also make the argument – in fact, Lane Kiffin did make it in his weekly Monday press conference – that State rushed to judgment in firing Arnett before his first season was complete. Said Kiffin, “It’s not like it used to be. It used to be that you had time to build things. You had years to sign classes and see them develop before people make a decision. … To get let go 10 games into your first season when you get hired late, I don’t know how you do that that fast.”
Kiffin is right about that. But patience became a thing of the past when schools began paying millions and millions of dollars with the expectation of immediate results.
I have no idea what direction State will go in replacing Arnett. Whoever comes next faces a gargantuan task. Obviously, the talent level at State isn’t up to the SEC level in a league that adds Oklahoma and Texas next season. NIL and the transfer portal have virtually insured that the rich will only get richer. And that the annual crazy season will only get crazier.
We can only imagine how much Texas A & M will spend next.