Shock, awe and Jimbo: That's so SEC
Most days it feels like the Southeastern Conference revolves around Nick Saban. Wednesday was not one of those days. First major upset of the year.
Even though the one-man stimulus package of SEC football renewed his long string of royal visits to the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey Hotel for Media Days, minus his adoring subjects in a COVID-protected lobby off limits to colorful crimson characters, it was one of Saban's princes in the profession standing at the intersection of Stop the Presses. Breaking news in wildly meaningful, ominous and opposite directions shattered the comfortable polo and khaki feel of this welcome attempt at a return to something resembling normal.
Call it six degrees of Jimbo Fisher. The Texas A&M coach stepped to the podium, greeted us with a "Howdy" and boy, it was on, a new chapter of "Saturdays in the South" playing out in real time.
First came the sorrowful report that Fisher's original mentor, the 91-year-old legend Bobby Bowden, "has been diagnosed with a terminal medical condition." A statement from the family asked for privacy while confirming the heartbreaking reality. One of the finest men to make football his ministry, who coached like the GOAT and served like a lamb, is nearing the finish line.
Fisher reminded everyone in some detail that, through playing for son Terry at Samford, working for him at Samford and Auburn and apprenticing under father Bobby at Florida State, he's about as Bowden as anyone who doesn't bear the name.
"It's sad. It really is," Fisher said. "But if there's anybody ready to be with the good Lord and if things come in time, it's him because there's no one who preaches about the Lord and did more for people in that regard. He's one of the great human beings that's ever coached and one of the great coaches that's ever coached."
Amen. Every one of us blessed to spend time with him is richer for it. Florida State football never becomes Florida State football without Bobby Bowden. Jimbo Fisher doesn't become Jimbo Fisher.
The mood in the room swung as someone mentioned that Fisher won a national championship in his fourth year as Bowden's successor at Florida State and dadgummit if this isn't his fourth season at Texas A&M. The Aggies might've won it all last season if Saban and Alabama hadn't left their spurs in the dust.
Could the fourth year be the charm for Fisher for a second time?
"I'm all for it if that's what happens," he said. "I promise you that."
Alabama's still on the schedule, but Fisher's still sticking by his guns, which he brandished at the Houston Touchdown Club in May when he promised that A&M didn't have to wait for Saban to retire to "beat his ass." And why should the Aggies wait? Fisher is the only Saban coaching protege to win a national title. He obviously has a wealth of respect for the fellow West Virginian who mentored him at LSU, but regrets for that comment? Don't hold your breath.
"I don't have any regrets," Fisher said. "That's what we're here for, isn't it? Isn't that why everybody's here? That's what makes this league this league. That's what we expect to do at Texas A&M."
What no one in the room or at A&M expected was the next mushroom cloud of news that arrived, interestingly, from the Houston Chronicle, which reported that Oklahoma and Texas have inquired about joining the SEC.
"I bet they would," Fisher joked.
The paper also said this seismic possibility could happen within weeks. Non-denial denials came fast and curiously not so furious from Oklahoma, Texas and SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey.
Athletics directors normally don't attend SEC Media Days so it was a fortuitous (for the press) coincidence that A&M's Ross Bjork was in the house. He made it clear to anyone within earshot that, should this alleged move come to a vote, which would require 11 of the 14 SEC schools to say yes to ratify, A&M would be a hard "hell no."
"I'm just worried about A&M," Fisher said. "I control what I want to control here."
Perhaps, at least as much as any football coach outside of Saban at Alabama controls his environment after closing last season with an eight-game winning streak and an Orange Bowl victory. Hey, didn't Fisher and FSU win the Orange Bowl at the end of his third year there, foreshadowing the BSC National Championship triumph to come over Auburn, which ended the SEC's seven-year reign? Yes. Yes, they did. Wouldn't it be so SEC for Fisher and Texas A&M to "welcome" Texas or Oklahoma to the family by beating one of them to seize the next big ring? Yes. Yes, it would.
Wednesday may have been a sneak peek deep in the heart of a new world in college football. Or it just may have been Day 3 at SEC Media Days. Either way, it put the fast-talking, wise-cracking coaching son of Bowden and Saban squarely in the lights that Mike Leach found too bright. Fisher? He didn't blink.
That's so Jimbo.