Jim Harbaugh and Jimbo Fisher are two identical strangers on similar paths. Both were top-notch quarterback gurus who haven’t been able to find a consistent spark behind center. This season, Texas A&M is on its second quarterback while Harbaugh has been deploying a platoon system featuring J.J. McCarthy and Cade McNamara.
Both coaches are offensive geniuses who can’t pull their offenses out of the mud. Recently, ESPN and The Athletic dug their reporting chops into Fisher’s offensive struggles. Fisher’s seat is beginning to boil as the calendar ticks into October much like Harbaugh’s did last fall. Following Saturday’s 42-24 loss to Mississippi State, Texas A&M plummeted out of the Top 25. With no safety net to catch them, the Aggies have further to fall when they face newly crowned No. 1 Alabama on Saturday. The college football world has turned on Fisher so dramatically that it feels like he might be auditioning for one of Saban’s coveted reclamation coordinator jobs soon.
Sometimes pressure creates diamonds. Harbaugh lived under that same scrutiny a year ago at Michigan. Mobs with pitchforks wanted him gone after the Wolverines tanked during the 2021 season. Harbaugh still glances up at Ohio State in the Big Ten hierarchy the same way Jimbo lives in Bama’s shadow. If he’s ever able to develop a quarterback he recruits, it’ll be the first time he’s accomplished that feat since Colin Kaepernick. However, he’s wrangled those top five recruiting classes into a top-10 team.
Conversely, the pitchforks — and worse — are still out for Fisher. However, all this talk of Texas A&M giving him the boot is premature. Success is relative, but Texas A&M has always felt like a wiener dog that thought it was a Doberman. Fisher swooped in as the replacement for Kevin Sumlin, who had a strong track record of developing quarterbacks at A&M, but couldn’t keep them from transferring — which led to his downfall.
Fisher has been the inverse of Sumlin. His quarterback projects since Jameis Winston led Florida State to the 2013 national title have all been busts. James Foster, Zach Calzada, and Haynes King became recruiting misses — but that’s part of the game. The buzz around A&M climaxed with their claiming the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class in 2022. Unfortunately, those recruits are all still just neophytes who are either redshirting or still learning the ropes in their first season of college football. Connor Weigman, the No. 2 quarterback in the Class of 2022, won’t see the field until next fall. After signing day, Fisher even picked up a commitment from the top player in the Class of 2023, Lebbeus Overton, who graduated a year early and is currently redshirting.
Five years ago, Fisher waltzed into College Station and was greeted by a live band, a red carpet, and more pomp and circumstance than a foreign dignitary. Fisher hasn’t lived up to that over-the-top entrance, but despite recent setbacks, he has accumulated a higher winning percentage than any Aggies coach since R.C.Slocum. So that’s something.
The impulse for programs to fire coaches once they hit a few stumbling blocks is understandable at a powerhouse like Alabama, UGA, Ohio State, or USC. Contemporary college football coaches have smaller windows than ever. Perhaps too short and at times it can backfire and set programs back decades. In the last decade, Power 5 coaches have paid $530 million in buyouts to college football coaches, per the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. This number has grown exponentially over the course of the decade. Between 2017 to 2018, annual buyouts doubled to $48.3 and $104.1 million.
Likewise, Harbaugh assumed the job at his downtrodden alma mater in 2014 after leading the San Francisco 49ers to consecutive NFC Championships and Super Bowl XLVII. In 2020, Michigan exercised caution by opting not to buy out Harbaugh and since then has won 17 of their last 19 games. There’s still a possibility Fisher crashes and burns in 2023 as well, but even then it’s worth not setting $95 million on fire on a wing and prayer that the next guy they throw millions at turns A&M a perennial title contender they aspire to be.