The Texas A&M football team was in a funk in the days immediately following Thanksgiving weekend.
But who wouldn’t be? The Aggies lost their head coach — Kevin Sumlin was fired hours after the final regular-season game at LSU. He couldn’t bring his team out of a five-loss funk, but it’s no question that players loved and respected him. Then Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher reached a tentative agreement to be the next coach within five days.
But as Christmas nears, the mental fog has lifted, finals are over and players have returned to the familiar. That’s practice in College Station and game preparation for the Belk Bowl and Wake Forest in Charlotte, N.C. on Dec. 29.
They’ve determined that they have two goals for the final game of the season:
- Impress Fisher.
- And win the game for Sumlin.
“I know (a win) would mean a lot for us, this university, coach Sumlin,” said A&M receiver Christian Kirk. “To close out his era, do it for him, to do it for the team. We’ve been through a lot, especially this past month. For us to go out there and put on a show one final time as this team, especially for coach Sumlin, that would be awesome.”
Sumlin has yet to find a new coaching gig. He and some of the players have kept in touch, usually via text message. He did not meet with his team after he was fired on Nov. 26.
Meanwhile, Fisher has spent most of his time recruiting and trying to put together a staff. A&M has made no official announcements regarding hires. But Darrell Dickey, the offensive coordinator at Memphis and former head coach at North Texas, already has announced he’ll have the same position in College Station. Ace recruiter Tim Brewster, who was on Fisher’s staff at Florida State, also has moved to College Station.
A&M played host to several recruits this past weekend, including offensive lineman Brey Walker, Oklahoma’s top-rated commitment who has been pledged to the Sooners for two years.
Fisher also had an in-home visit late last week with Justin Fields, the top quarterback prospect in the country. But Fields, who had considered Florida State when Fisher was the coach, reaffirmed his commitment to Georgia.
The first national signing period starts Wednesday. It’s unclear how many prospects Fisher and the Aggies will sign. The class is ranked 16th in the country, according to the 247Sports composite team rankings. There are 15 commitments, only one of whom has committed since Fisher was hired.
Fisher has attended one A&M practice, but said he’ll be at the bowl game.
Jeff Banks is A&M’s interim coach for the bowl game. He has the tough task of trying to keep the team mentally together and focused on Wake Forest, which has one of the most potent offenses in the ACC.
Banks said this season’s coordinators — Noel Mazzone and John Chavis — are in charge of game-planning for Wake Forest. Banks has accompanied Fisher on some recruiting trips, but said Sumlin’s assistants were focused most on the bowl game. It’s unclear how many of Sumlin’s assistants will be retained. Defensive line coach Terry Price is believed to have the best chance at staying in College Station.
As for the mood of the team, Banks said: “They have really good energy, they were bouncing around. I think they’ve made the transition nicely.
“There are a lot of good kids in that locker room who are team guys, not ‘I’ guys,” Banks said. “I think they want to do the best job they can, not only in the absence of coach Sumlin, but also for the incoming coach, coach Fisher. … Obviously they know where we’re at right now in terms of where we’re headed and I think that’s important for the kids to know in regards to the big picture.”
Texas A & M vs. Wake Forest, Dec. 29, noon, ESPN, 1370