Texas A&M gave Jimbo Fisher a maroon blazer at his introductory press conference, just as they did the previous head football coaches, but more importantly they gave him a pair of cowboy boots.
For Fisher to be successful he’s going to have to recruit Texas well, so he best look the part.
“Like I told Mack Brown, you go buy ya’ a pair of boots,” former A&M head football coach Jackie Sherrill said. “You buy ya’ a pair of Levis and a white shirt and park your [butt] at the door of the Texas High School Coaches Association.” And that’s exactly what Brown did.
The retired Texas coach became a fixture at THSCA summer coaching schools, often speaking at the annual event. The Tennessee native who graduated from Florida State had never coached in Texas until taking over in Austin, but he quickly showed an uncanny ability to sign the state’s top talent. The formula helped Brown and the Longhorns win 10 or more games for nine straight seasons (2001-09), a run that included two Big 12 Conference titles, a national championship and a national runner-up finish.
Sherrill said the biggest challenge for Fisher or any new coach coming into the Lone Star state is the relationship with the high school coaches.
“That’s because Texas is different than any state, period,” Sherrill said. “He’s got ties in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. He’s recruited some in the state of Texas, so he knows that to be successful anywhere in Texas you have to have the Texas high school coaches. And that’s never going to change in the state of Texas, because the coaches think so much of these kids. They are like their fathers. And that’s the way it is in a lot of places, but the difference in Texas is the High School Coaches Association is so strong, and the coaches talk to them.”
Recruiting is much different this year for another reason: the initial early signing period from Dec. 20-22. Fisher inherited a class with 17 known commitments that ranked 17th as of Saturday, according to Rivals.com.
A&M immediately lost one of those pledges. Four-star defensive back Leon O’Neal Jr. said he had pledged to A&M because of former coach Kevin Sumlin, so he pulled his commitment.
Fisher didn’t have a class rank lower than 10th by Rivals.com while at FSU, with the last four in the Top 5. He’s been on the recruiting trail the last three days.
“I met him a long time ago when he was at LSU (from 2000-06),” said Katy head coach Gary Joseph, who is preparing his Tigers (11-0) to face Galena Park North Shore this week in the Class 6A Division I quarterfinals. “And when he came in [here recently] with a couple of the other A&M coaches, we just sat down and visited like he was one us, one of our coaches, and we just talked about kids, and we talked about recruiting, and we talked about his background and who he was. He seems like a real good, genuine person, and that’s important for everybody to know they are a genuine person, and that’s important to make sure it’s not that they had to come in or they just did this as a stop-over. He sat down and took time and visited with the kid he was recruiting, and (kicker Seth Small) who’s already committed [to A&M]. I think he’s setting good ground work, and I feel like he’ll be successful in what he’s doing.”
Joseph has sent many players to A&M and other schools since taking over in 2004, going 189-17 with four state championships and four state runner-up finishes. He’s also the president of the THSCA, which at more than 21,500 members is the largest association of high school coaches in the country.
“[Fisher] understands the importance of meeting the high school coaches in the state of Texas, so he can develop some relationships with them,” Joseph said. “After all, it is those coaches that send in the Hudl videos and help with their kids and stuff. I think it’s just a matter of going in and making people and coaches feel like they are appreciated and they are important. And once he does that, I think the recruiting part will become easy for him.”
Fisher signed six players from Texas while at FSU, the last being five-star recruit Marvin Wilson of Houston Episcopal in the class of 2017. The true freshman has played in 11 games this season, making six tackles.
The best Texan Fisher signed at FSU was Denton Ryan defensive lineman Mario Edwards in the class of 2012. Edwards earned All-Atlantic Coast Conference first-team honors in 2014 and was named an All-American that year by Sports Illustrated.
Fisher did the majority of his FSU recruiting in Florida — but just barely. Of the 190 players he signed at FSU, 53.7 percent (102) were from Florida. He also signed 12 from Georgia and eight from Alabama along with multiple players from Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia and just about every other state in the union.
Fisher said in his introductory press conference that players and coaches in Texas “are the lifeline of this organization.”
“That’s where we’re going to get our players,” he said. “This is one of the greatest states in all of America to develop college football, and I don’t know if it means any more anywhere than in the state of Texas and the coaches and the amount of coaching they get, the programs in which they come out of. And developing those relationships are going to be extremely critical. I’ve been in this state at different times. When I was at FSU we came over and recruited some … when I was at LSU and all the different places.
“But I’m really looking forward to getting to know [Texas’ high school coaches], because, like I say, I’ve had great respect for these guys from afar and what they’ve been able to do and develop. That’s going to be the key. Our doors are always going to be open to them, and I look forward to meeting and talking with every one of them.”
Sherrill said every college coach who has been successful in Texas has had a great relationships with the state’s high school coaches. He did.
Sherrill, who came to A&M in 1981 after five seasons at Pittsburgh, won three straight Southwest Conference championships (1985-87) by recruiting well and being accepted by the high school coaches.
Fisher’s resume should help him get started. He owns an 83-23 record that includes a national championship and recruiting and coaching former Heisman Trophy quarterback Jameis Winston. All that and everything A&M has promises to help him recruit nationwide.
And that process is well under way.
Fisher made a recruiting visit Thursday to quarterback Justin Fields from Kennesaw, Georgia, according to Billy Liucci of TexAgs.com. Fields, who is pledged to Georgia, is the nation’s second-ranked recruit by Rivals.com behind quarterback Trevor Lawrence of Cartersville, Georgia, who is pledged to Clemson. Liucci reported that Fisher was accompanied to Georgia by Dameyune Craig, who has joined the staff after working at LSU, Auburn and Florida State.
NOTES — A&M wide receiver Jhamon Ausbon and linebacker Anthony Hines III were named to the All-SEC freshman team Thursday. Ausbon has 38 receptions for 459 yards and two touchdowns, while Hines has 32 tackles. Both have played in all 12 of A&M’s games so far this season.