Behind the scenes at Texas A&M as Jimbo Fisher starts to put his stamp on the Aggies
Texas A&M did well enough Wednesday to set the stage for Fisher's attempted takeover of the SEC West
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- To be clear, Jimbo Fisher is killing it in recruiting. Texas A&M proudly boasts the nation's No. 4 class according to 247Sports.
Well, in 2019.
"We'll end up being one or two," Fisher said Wednesday during the 2018 National Signing Day. "I'm talking about 10 guys that are right [there]. I'm talking about first-, second-round draft pick guys. There's some phenomenal players."
Again, next year.
As for Wednesday's signing day, the second of the 2018 cycle, consider it a heck of an appetizer for Fisher and Texas A&M. That's maybe the best you can expect when you arrive 15 days before the first Early Signing Period in December having to go head-to-head in the state of Texas against the likes of Lincoln Riley, Mike Gundy, Tom Herman and Gary Patterson.
But after a few last-minute flips and fast closings, the Aggies finished a respectable 17th, according to the 247Sports Composite. In eight years as a head coach at Florida State, Fisher finished out of the top 10 only once (11th in 2013).
CBS Sports spent Wednesday with the Aggies and their 52-year-old coach. Jimbo is still that ball of energy, that national championship coach who is now also the highest paid coach (total dollars) in history.
The day dawned at Texas A&M with 15 scholarships still to give. That was the most in the nation's top 35 -- at least. During December's Early Signing Period, a large portion of coaches signed 75 percent of their classes.
"It's like the old days 15 years ago," Fisher said as the fax machine whirred, "when everyone waited until the last minute."
The day ended with an official signing class of 22. Quite a recovery. Fisher's hiring was announced Dec. 1, 2017, and made official Dec. 5. After that, he had to move from Tallahassee, Florida, round up an early class and hire a staff. In the case of one staffer, that meant lining up his new linebackers coach who came close to death.
Wednesday, then, was a bit of a recruiting mulligan. Fisher signed only 10 players in the early period. Wednesday marked a back loading of a class that will be charged with winning the SEC West -- for starters.
Both sides hope this relationship lasts forever. His first A&M class was sprinkled with what Fisher said were main needs -- running backs, tight ends and linemen.
But the best is still to come. With two signing days and a lot of time to kill in between, Fisher -- like a lot of coaches -- got an early start on a 2019 class that will include at least one five-star.
Still, there's nothing to apologize for in 2018. But even one of the country's top coaches endured the typical job-switching transition in recruiting.
Wednesday began a return on that massive investment. The Aggies haven't won a conference title since 1998. Their only national championship came in 1939. If recruiting is a case of, What have you done for me lately?, winning is a case of, What can Jimbo do for the Aggies in seven months?
"We have enough guys that we think we can win SEC championships with and national championships with," Fisher said.
8:12 a.m. CT
Jimbo's voice is booming from behind the thick glass walls that shield his office. That's Fisher. He is clearly at home because Jimbo is at home wherever he is. The attire on the second signing day is stylish -- untucked shirt, no socks, cool shoes, all business with a phone stuck to his ear.
"This one's huge right here," Fisher said staring at his device. "He's legit. He'll have a chance to walk across the stage [at the draft]."
Jimbo is now gushing. As the day wears on, he will have beaten his old boss, Nick Saban, and his old employer, LSU, for prospects. Jimbo edged Alabama for four-star defensive tackle Bobby Brown. Tight end Glenn Beal came from LSU territory in New Orleans. Fisher also reached out to the West Coast for defensive end Jeremiah Brown.
"He had 45 in a basketball game the other day," Fisher said of Brown. "Shot six threes, had four dunks. Had 35 the next night, 33 the next night."
Bruce Matthews' son Luke -- a 305-pound offensive lineman -- is the latest legacy from Bruce Matthews' famous football family to become an Aggie.
"Welcome to the family, OK?" Fisher says into his phone with four-star running back Jashaun Corbin on the other end.
"What else did I say, great running backs are all what? They're ugly. [Running backs coach Jay] Graham's ugly."
He's kidding regarding the coach who recruited Corbin. Meanwhile, Corbin is coming, rejecting Jimbo's old employer (Florida State) in the process.
The recruiting process is fickle. Texas A&M was ranked 35th in the 247Sports Composite as of Sunday. On Monday, Fisher got a commit from Leon O'Neal Jr., a four-star safety. The Aggies shot up to No. 23 and finished in the top 20. O'Neal was one of the Aggies' top targets until Kevin Sumlin got fired. Fisher then re-landed O'Neal, who announced his commitment with a rather curious hype video.
In any year, those rankings are as flimsy as a pair of second-hand Dockers. But always, there is hope they are a foundation. Herman had no problem labeling his first class last year at Texas last year a "transition." Saban's first class at Alabama in 2007 was ranked 12th nationally and seventh in the SEC. He hasn't had a class ranked below sixth (this season) since. Jim Harbaugh went from No. 20 to No. 37 to No. 8 to No. 5 in his first four years at Michigan.
A No. 15 class for this rock star coach isn't bad.
You want to know why a national championship coach who could have won forever at FSU came to College Station? Well, sure, there is the money ($75 million over 10 years). But there is also this:
"This school is utterly amazing. Top 20 public university. Top 10 in jobs coming out. More alumni than anybody. The Aggie network is like a cult: They take care of Aggies. There are more CEOs of more Fortune 500 companies from here than any school in America. Not Harvard, Yale, Princeton, any of that."
At that moment, Fisher has let you into every pitch he's made in every living room he has visited over the last two months.
Going from one football giant to another, the same teenage shenanigans still apply. In this digital age, coaches still hang on the stirrings of that fax machine, which transmits the National Letters of Intent. Until they are received, coaches can't utter prospects' names … or they risk the NCAA's wrath.
"We're waiting for the actual fax to come in, but a page is missing," said Mark Robinson, Fisher's director of football operations who came with him from Florida State. "You talk to these guys, they get so excited. They get on Twitter. Then they forget to fax it in."
The offender turns out to be Marcus "Tank" Jenkins, a massive 325-pound offensive lineman from Alabama. The class starts to fall in line when he completes the task. We are told there won't be much drama after lunchtime. In fact, the class is pretty much wrapped up by mid-afternoon.
Robinson is not unlike hundreds of "DFOs" across the country. He is the chief contact, right-hand man, Fisher's running-around guy. Nothing happens until Robinson runs it through the coach. That includes travel, budget and logistics.
One year at Arkansas, offensive line signee Austin Beck couldn't get a car out of the driveway because of an Oklahoma snowstorm.
"He rode a tractor to the high school to fax his letter," Robinson said.
You can cut the tension in the staff room with a menu.
As the coaches gather to watch the announcement of four-star quarterback James Foster, a spirited discussion breaks out regarding the best hamburgers.
Offensive line coach Jim Turner -- a former Marine -- endorses Whataburger.
"And then, McDonald's fries," Jimbo chimes in, adding, "You ever have BurgerFi or Five Guys?"
These guys will break down anything.
Turner finally concludes: "We're not talking about vegetables."
No, we're not. The attention turns to the streaming announcement of Foster. The signal caller turns out to be the only top-tier quarterback in the class. In the current quarterback culture, most of the top signal-callers commit as juniors. Fisher, though, has landed Foster to go along with returners Kellen Mond and Nick Starkel.
Before his announcement at a school assembly, Foster makes sure to jack up the drama. A slickly produced video shows how Foster was run over by a car at age 14.
"I was burned, bruised, but not broken," Foster said. "I was given another chance. I'm not going to get anything for granted."
The video ends with the usual hat dance. Foster tries on Alabama, LSU and Florida State lids before settling on Texas A&M and saying, "Gig 'em."
Fisher raises a fist. There are cheers all around the war room, coaches bumping fists. One reason why Jimbo is at a school that produced a Heisman Trophy winner five years ago (Johnny Manziel) is because Jimbo produced a Heisman winner himself four years ago (Jameis Winston).
Who knows if Foster is that good, but one of the nation's finest quarterback whisperers has his new guy.
"Boom," yells a staffer.
At first glance, it looks like Bradley Dale Peveto is trying to bring back the fanny pack as he strolls through the lobby of the football office. Then you notice that from that fanny pack an IV snakes its way into the right arm of the Aggies' linebackers coach. In early December, the 55-year-old Peveto was about to go in for a procedure to treat an abscessed liver.
Peveto had just decided to leave Ole Miss for A&M. His recruiting efforts were ultimately reflected here in the signing of Beal and Jenkins.
"You know Bradley," Fisher said. "He's always 109 miles an hour."
But whatever miracles happen here today in recruiting, they can't compare to the fact that Peveto is still alive.
"They about lost me," he said, a device in that fanny pack pumping fluids into his still-recovering liver. The procedure went well enough but only after Peveto took a call from Fisher as he went into the operating room in Oxford, Mississippi.
"My wife says, 'You're not going to take that call are you?' I said, 'He might not call back.'"
Shortly thereafter, something went way wrong. Peveto went into septic shock. He blacked out and went into convulsions. For three hours, Peveto's temperature shot up to 107 degrees. Eleven days later, he popped out of the hospital ready to join Jimbo. The two had worked together at LSU with Les Miles.
"My doctor told me, 'You're the only person I've ever had with a fever that high who walked out of here,'" Peveto said.
Hitting 109 mph will have to wait.
In the lobby of the football office Wednesday morning, video of TexAgs Radio is streaming on the 70-inch HD screen. Still up for bids: wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, one of the top uncommitted prospects in the state.
"Hey kids, if you're listening. You don't want to play for Nick Saban. Life is not fun," chides Seth McKinney, a former Aggies' all-Big 12 center and on this day a guest analyst.
It's been a "tough" day for Saban. Alabama has dropped all the way to No. 6 in the rankings, its lowest spot since 2007. But midway through the afternoon, Waddle becomes the only top 15 player in Texas to leave the state.
"You don't get everyone you want," Fisher said.
By the end-of-day press conference, a recruiting scramble had become a recruiting success. It's to time unwind. There is a coaches' dinner tonight. The staff has a couple of days off.
Jimbo's 12-year-old son is coming to town for a hunting trip with A&M chancellor John Sharp. According to Fisher, they will shoot game out of a helicopter.
"This can be everything you want here," Jimbo sums up, at least from a football standpoint. "You sew up your state, bust your ass. You get that 18-22 guys. Why can't you be everything in the world?
"I'm not saying it arrogantly, [because] we've done it everywhere."
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