ATLANTA — The three stenographers had blank looks of relief on their faces and charred fingertips where sparks had been flying only seconds before.
They had been in charge of taking down every word said by Jimbo Fisher during his first ever appearance at SEC Media Days.
He was fast, but not furious.
Instead, he spoke of his love for Florida State, the school where he won a national title and left a fan base behind like it was a bad date.
“I have unbelievable memories of Florida State,” he said. “When you leave, is there ever a good way to leave? You try to do it the best you can, but I had no intentions of ever leaving.”
Until he did. His last year at FSU was a disaster and revealed a chasm between Fisher and the administration over money, which Texas A&M prints like cheap T-shirts.
A little more than a month after Fisher dropped the bomb on Tallahassee, FSU President John Thrasher told a political group in Tampa that he no longer has to have his hand on his wallet when he visited the football offices.
So you can see why Fisher, after taking the job in College Station, said it was a “no-brainer.”
You could almost envision the A&M boosters interviewing Fisher while lighting their cigars with $100 bills.
So here he was kicking off SEC Media Days with his rapid-fire verbiage, switching seamlessly from the guy who used to say the ACC was the best conference in the land to this about his new conference:
“It’s the best league in college football. The regular season schedule in that league is second to none.”
So he traded up from a league that has shown marked improvement to the toughest division in college football. You go from Dabo Swinney to Nick Saban and it’s not going to get easier.
“That’s where I grew up in,” he said. “I was at Auburn for six and LSU for seven. Every week is for the national championship because the teams you play have the capabilities of being there.
And whoever can survive that gauntlet of games and come out of there, you know is going to compete.
“And whoever wins the SEC has a chance to win the national championship. You can play with anybody in the country.”
That’s the thing. In a way, Fisher has cashed in financially, but is taking a risk when it comes to his legacy. Here is a coach who is fourth among active coaches in winning percentage, but don’t you feel we’re about to see how good a coach he really is?
He’s taking over for a guy who went 51-26 and was run out of town. Winning isn’t enough when you are spending the kind of money A&M is and their solution was to simply throw more money at “the problem.”
So they threw $75 million at Fisher despite a mediocre final season at FSU. Just another example of Saban making a lot of coaches rich. Either you’re overspending to try to catch Alabama or you’re paying a ridiculous buyout to get rid of a coach because he couldn’t catch him.
At A&M, where everyone is greeted with a “Howdy,” Fisher has already been presented with a national championship plaque by the Aggie chancellor with an open spot for the date it is actually won.
So it’s pretty clear what is expected of Fisher.
Howdy, Jimbo. Here are some cowboy boots and a huge stadium. Now go big or go home.
He was extremely successful at FSU, yet there were those tough-to-explain losses that always drop him down a couple of notches on the “best college football coaches” lists.
But all his new team can see is that national championship trophy he won in 2013.
“Under him, I think it’s possible,” said offensive lineman Erik McCoy. “I was off the wall (when Fisher was named). I was excited. I was more than excited.”
It’s interesting that Fisher ran into the same thing at A&M that Dan Mullen did at Florida. In both cases, they had to start by toughening up their teams. Fisher on Monday denied he ever called his team “soft.”
Minutes later, McCoy said, “He called us soft after every practice.”
Eyes were opened.
“Everyone on the team is excited about him being here,” said defensive lineman Kingsley Keke. “Jimbo Fisher has a proven track record of winning national championships. He’s a great coach. We all love what he’s done so far.”
Everybody loves a coach who hasn’t lost a game. But you have to give Fisher credit for one thing.
If you want to really prove yourself as a coach, you go to the NFL.
Or the SEC West.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.