There's an iconic scene in the movie "Heat" in which Lt. Vincent Hanna and criminal Neil McCauley -- played by Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, respectively -- sit down in a restaurant and discover that, despite their game of cat-and-mouse, they actually aren't all that different from one another.
If Texas A&M and UCLA were to sit down across the table from each other, they'd realize, too, that they're not so different from each other. They're sleeping giants in the college football world. They have all the resources -- facilities, fertile recruiting grounds, tremendous administrative support -- to compete for conference championships, playoff spots and the ultimate prize of a national championship. They just historically haven't been able to put all the pieces together in a long, long time.
All they needed was the right coach to wake them. And, boy, did they nail it.
On Nov. 25, UCLA tabbed Chip Kelly as the new coach of the Bruins. Kelly had been serving as an ESPN analyst after two unsuccessful attempts at coaching in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers, but there's no doubt he was an innovative coach at Oregon when it came to offense and sports science. In four seasons in Eugene from 2009-12, Kelly went 46-7 with the Ducks and made an appearance in the 2010 BCS National Championship, losing to Auburn 22-19.
A week later, Texas A&M hired Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher in the this coaching carousel had to offer. Though Florida State was 5-6 this season under Fisher, he had an overall record of 83-23 in eight seasons as the Seminoles' head honcho and won the BCS National Championship in 2013.
Kelly, like any coach in his prime, wanted back in the game. Fisher, on the other hand, needed a change of scenery. Things had gotten stale for him in Tallahassee. Though he coached his tail off to get Florida State to 10 wins in 2015 and 2016, the other side of that coin is he made things harder on himself. He let staff members hang around too long. Player development at certain spots -- offensive line and wide receiver among others -- became an issue even though the Seminoles overall were landing championship-caliber classes full of blue-chip recruits. Team motivation was clearly an issue this season. The low point was a 35-3 loss at Boston College in October.
Kelly and Fisher are not without their faults -- no coach is -- but they are undeniably two of the best in the game. One is the early adopter, the innovator. The other is the relentless recruiter.
And here's the thing: in their own way, they've both failed. I like good coaches who have failed. They usually come back better.
And now, they've been given a fresh start to do what UCLA and Texas A&M haven't done in years: win at the highest level.
Both programs went for broke to get their guy. They busted open the piggy bank, searched underneath the couch cushions and called in every last IOU to make it happen. UCLA owes fired coach Jim Mora more than $12 million in buyout money and will pay Kelly nearly $24 million over five years. A&M not only owes its former coach Kevin Sumlin $10.4 million in buyout money, it must start paying him pretty much immediately ...
... which makes its reported fully guaranteed contract for Fisher -- the most lucrative in the history of the sport -- all the more eye-popping.
Texas A&M officials have approved a 10-year, $75 million contract for Jimbo Fisher, which is the richest deal in college football history in terms of total value, sources told ESPN. He'll be the second highest paid coach in the FBS with an average... https://t.co/FT30WXd0w4— Mark Schlabach (@Mark_Schlabach) December 1, 2017
That's a lot of dough in the hopes of elevating the program to new heights, but this is a program desperate to change its underachieving ways. A&M has always had the potential to be great, but its last conference championship came nearly 20 years ago in 1998. Its last national championship was 1939. Recently, it spent north of $483 million to renovate Kyle Field. It shelled millions more to make its locker room look like a resort.
UCLA knows what that's like, too, as its last conference championship was also in 1998 with its only claimed national title coming in 1954. But the Bruins just opened the 75,000 square-foot Wasserman football center this year and now have a coach familiar with the southern California recruiting scene.
Facility improvements are an ongoing arms race, but for now, A&M and UCLA have done enough to stay ahead of the game. They both lay in heavily mined recruiting regions, but regions where they can win those battles all the same. And now they have their coaches -- despite the price tag.
Still, even after all of that, there are no guarantees. Money can buy a lot of things, including disappointment. We know history has not been on the side of either of these programs, but there are reasons. There have been 13 different national champions in the BCS and College Football Playoff eras. The formula in the star system era says you need to be in a region flush with blue-chip talent or a national recruiting player. Either way, you need to recruit at a top-10-ish level with an elite coach to boot. That's why blue bloods are almost always college football's national champion in this modern era of football.
Will Texas A&M or UCLA ever be Alabama or Ohio State? No. They will always fight an a battle with at least a notable incline. But can they be a Clemson? Can they be an Oregon? Can they be a program that, with the right coach at the right job with the right razzle-dazzle, get to the big stage once in a while?
Can they be new-money good?
With Kelly and Fisher, the answer is "yes."