Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a member and past president of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year 10 times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
Like It Is:
Candidates know Texas A&M has deep pockets
The student section of Kyle Field waves flags as the Texas A&M Aggies kick the ball off of against Auburn during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)
While Texas A&M prepares to ante up more than $30 million in the next 60 days to Jimbo Fisher and his staff, it has to brace itself for what it is going to cost to hire a new coach and staff.
Fisher was making more than $9 million annually. So who is going to be willing to take a job for less at a school willing to spend $77 million to fire Fisher?
That may be the most times the word “million” has been written in the first two paragraphs of this column.
That’s what college athletics has become, a multi-million dollar business.
Of course, Fisher hadn’t yet cleaned out his office and guesses were being made as to who would replace him.
Names include Lane Kiffin, who is already making $9 million at Ole Miss and not the type to take a pay cut to live in College Station; Mike Elko from Duke; Mike Norvell, although it seems unlikely even the Aggies would go to Florida State for a coach again; Dan Lanning from Oregon; and Jeff Traylor, a former Arkansas assistant and now the head coach at Texas-San Antonio.
And last, but not least: “Neon” Deion Sanders, who made a tidal wave entrance to this season as the Colorado coach, knocking off TCU — which played for the national championship last season although the Horned Frogs were blown off the field 65-7 by Georgia — before defeating Nebraska and Colorado State for a 3-0 start.
That brought ESPN’s “College GameDay” to campus and the world of perspiring arts was focused on everything Sanders did and said.
Since then, however, the Buffaloes are 1-6. When it appeared Sanders and Colorado might be a Cinderella, the head coach said we hadn’t seen anything yet, that this was just a start.
Colorado’s current recruiting class is ranked No. 63, but Sanders’ shift for the Buffaloes, who won one game last season, was through the transfer portal.
Just for the record, Texas A&M’s recruiting class is ranked No. 10, but that could change with the firing of Fisher.
Not every coach may want a job where every day he’s trying to figure out how he’s going to beat Nick Saban, Kirby Smart, Brian Kelly, Kiffin and the list may now include Missouri’s Eli Drinkwitz, who has the Tigers 8-2 and on course for a New Year’s 6 bowl.
Lanning has already said he’s not interested. Oregon does have Phil Knight and Nike behind it.
To have a chance to compete in the SEC, a coach has to be unconventional and Fisher was very conventional, which leads to the speculation he was not giving Bobby Petrino a free hand as offensive coordinator.
Petrino is an unconventional offensive genius.
So much so that if Mississippi State wants to win, it needs to at least interview Petrino, although there seems to be a head of steam to bring back Dan Mullens, who left the Bulldogs for Florida.
In his nine seasons with MSU, Mullens was 69-46 and 33-39 in SEC play.
He was 34-15 at Florida and 21-14 in SEC play when he was fired.
The favorite to replace Jimbo Fisher might be Elko. The Aggies love tradition — former basketball coach Shelby Metcalf once declared if the Aggies do something three times, it is a tradition — and familiarity.
Elko was defensive coordinator for the Aggies from 2018-2021 when he got the head coaching job at Duke.
In his first season with the Blue Devils, he went 9-4 and is currently 6-4. His initial contract was for $2.1 million a year, which was $200,000 more than he made at A&M. An extension raised him to $3.5 million.
He might consider A&M for less than most, but most likely he would want some heavy incentives and, like all other likely candidates, he knows the Aggies have very deep pockets.
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