I’ve never been shy about my disdain for pressers. Generally speaking, they serve as an adult daycare for lazy journos to ask obvious questions to disinterested players and coaches. Record the disposable quote on your iPhone to load into your pre-written Mad Lib story. Bingo bongo. A job, well.... done, I reckon.
It’s not all the journos’ fault. Sumlin would trot out the punter to weekly press conferences. The journos would then vigilantly volley the same inane questions about punting each week. Insulting on all fronts. Look, coach, it’s super informative learning about how a punt can land inside the 20, but you just got your ass kicked up and down the field by Mississippi State. Send someone out to answer some real questions.
Jimbo held his first press conference at Texas A&M on Monday. Introductory press conferences for a larger than life coach at an insanely proud, rabid school are something all together different. The pomp and pageantry is off the charts. And why shouldn’t it be? Coach is undefeated.
The presser had what you would expect - super important suits sitting on the stage smugly smirking and ensuring they’re captured in as many pics as possible. Softball questions to the new Feudal Lord of Aggieland. A whole bunch of rah rah coach-speak.
All of this is fine. It’s December and the program is craving a jolt and it’s coach’s first day. Jimbo Fisher did say something in particular in his opening address that really got my attention. Fisher said:
We're built on four principles: toughness, effort, discipline and pride. If you're mentally and physically tough, we call that grit. Most successful people have it. It takes effort to be a good person, student and player. It takes discipline to pull those things off too. Sometimes pride has to drive you. On those long days, there has to be a pride in what you do. We want to bring people to Texas A&M that exemplify these qualities.
The skeptic in me wants to write this off as Zig Ziglar cotton candy motivation for the middle managers in Plano and the Woodlands. Just some more Coach Speak, right?
I can’t do that though. I scribbled down the four principles right after he said them...
Toughness. Effort. Discipline. Pride.
I got to thinking, my frustrations with Aggie Football over the last several years are a result of the program having some glaring deficiencies in each of these principles.
You don’t have to be a football expert to observe that this team has gotten its ass kicked in the trenches in countless big games over the last few years. Whether it was depth, conditioning, or simply not giving a damn, the football program had been ascribed the worst virtue of all - soft. All hat, no cattle. A paper tiger.
I hope y’all watched the SEC Championship this past weekend. That is tough football. Both teams were playing their 13th game of the season. They’re banged up and coming off of rivalry games. Georgia had been embarrassed by Auburn only a few weeks prior - especially in the trenches. How the Georgia players and coaches responded in the championship game is a clinic on toughness and giving a damn.
Aggie football’s best teams have been rooted in toughness. It’s ingrained in the fabric of the school. We’re not the city boy trustfunders and debutantes in Austin.
I can live with losses every now and then. I can’t live with teams that don’t play tough. It has little to do with ability and a whole lot to do with, well...
I watch a lot of football from around the country. What has been so maddening the last few years is watching teams with significantly less talent than A&M play with so much more effort and heart. Grit.
We don’t need to get into the specifics of history, but you can vividly recall games where the effort simply was not there.
There are growing pains in any coaching transition, but strong, sustained effort is going to yield Ws in games the Ags aren’t necessarily supposed to win.
To Sumlin’s credit, he ran an honest program. There were rarely rumblings of scandal or doing things the wrong way. He was much more direct and firm with discipline than many of his peers in the league. Off the field, the program is in good shape.
On the field has been another story. Discipline has been a nagging inconsistency. Dumb penalties. Missed assignments. Poor tackling. Rudderless, lost play on the offensive line.
Discipline is doing all the tedious, little shit right. It’s doing the shit that does not Instagram well on @AggieFBLife. It is building habits in July and August so that you can hoist a trophy the first weekend in December.
Sumlin knew he had to shake the culture up when he arrived. He brought a lot of swagger and fun back to Aggie football and it yielded some impressive recruiting classes. Problem was, the culture of the program was lacking discipline.
Johnny could go out drinking all week and roll out of bed Saturday and hang 50 on someone, but the rest of us mortals need some structure and discipline to achieve anything.
This program needs to be gutted of entitlement and empty swagger. I hope I never have to see #itsaboutus ever again.
I had my own litmus test for the program as 2017 unfolded but a little context first. In 2016, Texas A&M took a shiny November No. 4 ranking in the College Football Playoff on the road to Starkville. They had every possible achievement and accolade right in front of them. After a week of having their asses kissed and praised by the national media and locally, the Ags got their teeth kicked in by an unranked, bad Mississippi State team.
Embarrassing. This was the type of loss that should haunt a football player when they’re busting their ass in the off season the following year. These kinds of losses happen in college football. Fine. Like most things in life, it’s how you respond.
Back to my litmus test. I wanted to see how the Ags would respond in 2017 with Mississippi State coming to Kyle Field. This is your test. Proud programs with sturdy foundations take this opportunity to return the favor and kick some ass on their home field. It’s a chance to take out a year’s worth of frustration and anger on an opponent that never had any business beating you in the first place.
So how did the Ags get payback? By getting drilled 35-14 in front of the home crowd. Failed test. Where there should have been renewed pride, discipline, effort, and toughness, there was none.
We here at GBH take a little shit and fair criticism for having been Sumlin apologists for so long. Like most, we wanted it to work for him at A&M so badly. There is so much to respect about him as a man. Several of us were holding out hope even going into the Mississippi State game that things could be corrected and Sumlin could take this young team successfully into 2018.
After the Mississippi State game, we knew - maybe later than some of you heroes - that it just wasn’t working. For all the glitz, glamour, money, and new toys around Aggie football, the foundation was eroding. There was little substance.
It would be easy to take what Fisher said Monday as just typical coach speak. Words like toughness, discipline, effort, and pride are cliche in sports. They’re cliche because they work. They win championships. They’re often the first attributes you think of when considering Alabama football or the New England Patriots.
Why should we believe Jimbo Fisher? Because he’s been there. He’s led teams that were dripping in those qualities. Instilling toughness, discipline, effort, and pride into 100+ young men does not happen overnight, but it will be a rewarding transformation to watch. Here’s to laying the foundation.