Before he ever coached a game at Texas A&M, Jimbo Fisher received a . Chancellor John Sharp presented the faux award, leaving a two-digit space to inscribe the year when his hyped new coach would lead the Aggies to a natty.
You shouldn't have to be reminded: Four years later, Fisher still has the honor of being awarded a national championship plaque at Texas A&M without having earned one yet.
Going into the Year 5 of the Fisher Grand Experiment, that is the grand issue. Texas A&M hired him because of his success with two national champions (2003 as Nick Saban's offensive coordinator at LSU, 2013 as Florida State's coach). But will Fisher ever win it all in College Station?
Because that remains the mandate. Not just to beat Alabama -- as Fisher did last season, becoming the first Nick Saban assistant to beat his mentor -- but seal the big, ol' hairy deal.
The same real-world obstacles exist as the day Fisher was introduced. It's the SEC West, completely outfitted with a cement ceiling.
Last season was somewhat of a wasted opportunity. A breakthrough victory over Bama could not be celebrated too long as the Aggies ended sluggishly with an 8-4 finish (including four conference losses).
Is Fisher where he wants to be five years in?
"No," he said. "We haven't won a national championship. At the same time, I think we're more equipped right now, going for the future, the depth of things we have in place."
If you can't sell winning (it all), you always sell the future. It's College Coaching Marketing 101.
The problem for Texas A&M -- No. 6 in the Preseason AP Top 25 -- is that, sometime soon, the future must be now.
You might have heard Fisher signed the best recruiting class ever this offseason with eight five-stars prospects and potential superstars all over the field. That directly led to Saban and Fisherarguing over how that class was assembled. But that missed the point.
Texas A&M is already good. Going forward, will the Aggies be good enough?
"I believe that we left a lot on the table [last season] because we expect so much more from us," offensive lineman Layden Robinson said. "Coach Fisher said we left a lot on the table, some mistakes were made."
Texas A&M is loaded this season … but in a different way. The Aggies beat the Crimson Tide with a backup quarterback now at Auburn (Zach Calzada). There is plenty of talent still at quarterback, especially with sophomore Haynes King back from an injury. Robinson is part of an improved offensive line. Sophomores Bryce Foster (center) and Reuben Fatheree II (right tackle) took their lumps as freshmen.
There are playmakers on both sides, including running back Devon Achane, who led the SEC in yards per carry. One of those five-stars, wide receiver Evan Stewart is expected to contribute right away. Four of the five-star freshmen are on the defensive line.
"I believe all of the [freshmen have to contribute]," Robinson said. "All of them have to be prepared. I'm a big believer in the scout team. It got instilled in me when I was a freshman. Coach Fisher used to say some of the greatest players, some of the hall of famers played scout team."
But Texas A&M isn't a developmental program, and the Aggies aren't going to be playing against air. No. 1 Alabama is favored to win it all (again). The SEC East crossover games include a trip to South Carolina and a home contest against Florida. Miami arrives in town Week 3.
So, when does that future arrive? The last and only national championship was more than 80 years ago (1939). That's the impetus for this whatever-it-takes mentality.
There is a not-so-fine line between top-tier recruiting classes and winning (big). The last program not to win a national championship within four years of finishing No. 1 in 247Sports Composite team rankings was Florida in 2010.
Not only does that history say the Aggies are in line for a natty, it will be a huge underachievement if they don't achieve one. That doesn't forgive Fisher of his present responsibilities, though. For Texas A&M to fulfill its destiny under Jimbo, some of those freshmen will have to contribute immediately.
"They don't have to play," Fisher said of the freshmen. "We have some other good players. Some will, it's inevitable. That's the fine line for coaching. Kids know when they're ready to play. The good ones, if you don't start playing 'em now, they're going to leave in three years anyway. You got to get them on the field as quick as you can. They have to earn it."
So, is this a gap year for Fisher before expectations heighten further in 2023?
Saban isn't going away. He just signed an extension that makes him the third FBS coach earning $11 million per year since December. That's a long way from Texas A&M seemingly resetting the market with Fisher's 10-year, $75 million fully guaranteed contract in 2018. (He has since been extended, too.)
That imitation national championship plaque remains waiting to be inscribed. Aggie Nation has been marking time a lot longer.