New Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher is still learning, but he’s got the “howdy” part down pat.
That’s how Aggies greet each other. And the 52-year-old Fisher, who is in his seventh month as the Aggies football coach, gave a big howdy holler to a crowd of A&M fans who gathered in a ballroom on the top floor of the Austin Convention Center Sunday night.
The fans were there for the pulled pork, smoked sausage and double helpings of an amazing chocolate dessert. But they were mostly there to hear the fast-talking Fisher, who packed 90 minutes worth of words into an impassioned 45-minute speech that served to motivate and educate the faithful about his intentions for the program.
There were 900 fans who attended Fisher’s first-ever A&M Coach’s Night. Fisher will be headed to five other stops across the state. Officials with the Capital City A&M Club said Sunday’s crowd was its largest in a decade, since the event was held at the Travis County Expo Center. For context, it was twice as big as last year’s subdued barbecue, which was to be Kevin Sumlin’s final one in Austin.
Fisher admitted he still was learning all the Aggie ways. He said he was presented with a thick book when he was hired back in December to offer him the back story as to why A&M’s Muster, 12th Man and other traditions were so revered. He quipped Sunday that the only book thicker is his play book. He’s recently added a team tradition after experiencing his first Aggie ring ceremony — he made each player write down what the A&M helmet means to them.
No doubt, Fisher has given variations of the same speech before, especially when he talked about the values likely gleaned from former bosses like Nick Saban or Bobby Bowden or offered “dadgum” quips about life growing up on a ranch. He leaned into the dais and never used notes. And curiously, given his proximity to the University of Texas, he never mentioned the Longhorns, a school the Aggies haven’t played since 2011 due to the Aggies divorce from the Big 12.
What was on Fisher’s mind?
He doesn’t plan on “being average,” although he didn’t promise a specific win total for the season or name who will be the starting quarterback. A&M opens at home against Northwestern State on Aug. 30. But in September, the Aggies play host to Clemson and then travel to Alabama two weeks later.
Fisher really doesn’t love recruiting services. “Don’t believe what you read,” he told the crowd, noting that every prospect runs a 4.3 40-yard dash in high school that slows to a 4.5 at the NFL combine.
Aggie fans may want to do adore recruiting these days. A&M currently has the second-best class nationally behind only defending national champion Alabama. The class, which stands at 16 prospects, picked up three commitments this past weekend and includes two five-star players.
Fisher loves “grit.” That’s “when you set your teeth into it and don’t let up till you get it done.”
His example of a perfect player is NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice. Fisher said Rice came to speak to one of his football camps back in Florida. He’d been retired for three years, but rather than talk, Rice worked out in front of them for three hours, diving for balls and running 50 yards after the catch.
Rice illustrated the Fisher phrase “we are what our habits say we are.”
He said he hired defensive coordinator Mike Elko because he was a “big pain in the tail” to face back when Elko was at Wake Forest and Fisher coached at Florida State. He said he lured away strength coach Jerry Schmidt from Oklahoma because Schmidt has won a national championship at every stop.
“He owes me one,” Fisher said.
The crowd gave Fisher two standing ovations.
“I promise you I’m not very patient,” he said. “We’re going to make you proud and represent you in the right way.”