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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The Battalion May 4, 2024

How to ruin a football team: A step-by-step guide to the dissolution of an ego on turf

Freshman+WR+Evan+Stewart+%281%29+catches+a+pass+from+freshman+QB+Conner+Weigman+%2815%29+during+Texas+A%26amp%3BMs+game+against+Ole+Miss+at+Kyle+Field+on+Saturday%2C+Oct.+29%2C+2022.
Photo by Robert O’Brien

Freshman WR Evan Stewart (1) catches a pass from freshman QB Conner Weigman (15) during Texas A&M’s game against Ole Miss at Kyle Field on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022.

Editor’s note: Casey Stavenhagen is a former student and former sports editor of The Battalion.
“The ego refuses to be distressed by the provocations of reality, to let itself be compelled to suffer. It insists that it cannot be affected by the traumas of the external world; it shows, in fact, that such traumas are no more than occasions for it to gain pleasure.”

– Sigmund Freud, Der Humor
This quote doesn’t really mean what it reads as; it’s intended as a reflection upon dark humor. But I’m going to use it anyway because I was a liberal arts student. Now, I’m not a student, but I like to think back to when I was — I was mostly happy then.
Texas A&M football had just finalized the No. 1 recruiting class of all time. Mastermind head coach Jimbo Fisher was signed to a near-$100 million contract. Every day I was inundated on social media with juice box emojis and ‘We ain’t done yet’ GIFs. It was great; this was MY team that I had criticized and received angry Twitter messages from athletes’ parents, all grown up. I was like the father who was too scared to tell you he was proud.
Every sports journalist enjoys watching the teams they cover succeed, though we set that aside in writing. It’s just more fun to cover a good team.
Jump forward 10 months, and the Aggies seem to be on a rollercoaster slathered in maroon paint that has gone straight off the rails and into the molten core of the Earth. The seats in the carts are a scratchy upholstery blended from three wins, seven losses and no bowl appearance. Everyone is screaming on the way down, not because they’re afraid of death, but because they’re pissed at the ride’s operator for dooming them. Why did we ever get on this ride? Did we not see the flashing neon sign screaming “excruciating pain ahead?” How the hell did we get here?
We watched it unfold in front of our eyes, cloaked behind flashy graphics of each blockbuster recruit and quotables from the beloved West Virginian personality. It was during the months when even the most jaded and baggy-eyed journalists in Aggieland were enthusiastic that fate was sealed.
There is a formula to failure this catastrophic, and I’ll lay it out for you. But first, here’s the kicker — the buried thesis — this was the only way A&M would ever escape the 8-4 jokes.
Step 1: The monomyth
Fisher’s journey to only his second losing season as a head coach has been interesting. He worked under Nick Saban at LSU for four years and under Bobby Bowden for two at FSU. A coach can’t ask for better mentors than those two.
He became one of only five active head coaches to win a national championship, and his program at Florida State began to decay. From 14-0 to 13-1, to consecutive three-loss seasons, to finally ending on a 5-6 note as he headed to A&M just four years removed from the ultimate prize.
Sure, flukes happen in the world of college football. But Fisher coached three excellent seasons with the Seminoles and six or seven great ones. He was surely searching for more. Maybe more money, maybe a nice place to retire when the time comes, but definitely more wins.
And he found all of those in Aggieland, especially wins. Not once in his first four seasons did he lose more games than in his finale at FSU. Things looked good, the program just kept recruiting better and better and Fisher’s system was working. So why did it snap?
Step 2: Isolation
In winning the 2013 National Championship, Fisher had Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston under center. When he arrived at A&M, Fisher had Kellen Mond. Fans look back at Mond fondly, as he was a steady, dependable shot caller. The duo of Fisher and Mond won three bowl games together. Mond would appear in press conferences and talk about poise and camaraderie; he handled everything, losses included, with infectious charisma. Sound like anyone we know?
Fisher seems to talk about those things a lot still. The only difference is there is no quarterback appearing in front of the media — nobody has talked to one since Mond. There are no coordinators appearing in front of the media, either. Even with a massively successful defensive coordinator in Mike Elko, he only spoke in press conferences three times.
Elko departed in the offseason. In his stead, Fisher hired DJ Durkin, who I can almost guarantee will never appear in front of the media.
Fisher has enacted measures to make him stand alone as the brand of A&M football, intentionally or otherwise. Off the top of your head, who is A&M’s offensive coordinator? Technically there are two, but in name only. Fisher calls the plays. Its special teams’ coach? There isn’t one. There is one face for Texas A&M football and it’s Jimbo ‘We Ain’t Done Yet’ Fisher. He must be the lifeblood of the program. He must prove that without Kellen Mond, without Jameis Winston, without Bobby Bowden, without Nick Saban, he is the truth.
Maybe he’s too prideful to admit he needs help. Maybe that’s his weakness.
Oh, and Nick Saban.
Step 3: Achilles in College Station
“We’re going to beat his ass,” Jimbo Fisher said of Saban in 2021.
Outside the gates of the SEC Championship game, Fisher beat the ass of the College Football Playoffs’ most legendary warrior: Nick Saban. Yet, upon approaching the doors in Atlanta, the Aggies tripped and fell at the steps. A weakness exists, but nobody can find it yet.
A football team is exactly that. A team. There has to be at least 22 maroon helmets to even play the game. What are the fundamentals of a team, besides just bodies? My gut reaction is these elements: selflessness, good coaching, an on-field leader and talent.
All signs point toward Fisher wanting to be a one-man army while his athletes act as cannon fodder to his football genius. It’s not the team that plays selfishly.
It’s Fisher who, despite media persistence, refuses to hand off the playcalling. It’s Fisher who made the choice to not sign another Elko-caliber right-hand man. It’s Fisher who has named Haynes King starting quarterback for two years despite having a veteran SEC QB and a five-star stud on the bench. It’s clear now, at least to fans, that approach will not work.
Yet, when the program has any success, Fisher is the face of it, the cocky mouthpiece of a cocky fan base desperately reaching for a hero. And when the program has faced any criticism, hold on to your seats.
Step 4: How to kill an ego
Nobody pays attention to a 3-7 record in the SEC when that’s your brand, just ask Derek Mason, Will Muschamp or Barry Odom. They got to hang out, have a few losing seasons in the big chair and head off to be coordinators once again. They’re not calling Nick f****** Saban a “narcissist” and then proceeding to have their ass beat. They’re not picking fights with the entire landscape of their sport.
A little humility goes a long way. You don’t see any of those other four title-winning coaches having problems nearly like the ones Fisher has. I mean, benching a star player in an already struggling offense for wearing arm sleeves in the cold? Be for real. The Aggies are loaded with talent, at least they were before Fisher suspended a majority of those athletes for running around like they owned the damn place. It’s hard not to imagine a cocky coach and cocky fan base being complicit in the creation of cocky athletes.
Fisher’s ego has been a spike strip on A&M’s road to anything better than decent. The play calling hasn’t changed despite having the country’s 24th-worst scoring offense; the schemes are the same and A&M still runs three-man fronts under Durkin despite having the worst run defense in the SEC by nearly 100 yards.
To be this hesitant to change when answers are under your nose, the only answer can be an attitude problem. Fisher is so insistent on proving that everyone else is wrong that he can’t prove he has the capacity to be a good coach.
Step 5: Without agony, there can be no ecstasy
So many excuses can be made for A&M. They’re young and they’re hurt. Officiating is often questionable, and they tend to come up just short rather than being blown out.
But it’s all deflection. It seems as if they’ve been young and hurt for the last four years. Officiating isn’t going anywhere; we’ve heard about poor “execution” since Fisher’s arrival. To be fixed, you must first be broken.
Without diagnosing problems at their origin, everyone becomes complacent to them. Saban is notorious for being upset with his team after winning by huge margins. He has never shown a sense of, “OK, we’re good now.” A team can always get better.
And lucky for A&M, five minutes on Twitter will yield him 10 football-expert fans who have the answers. I’m not going to pretend I have them all, I’m just a writer. But the focus of the team has to be decentralized from our fast-talking protagonist. Fisher must kill his ego and enlist help somewhere — maybe even everywhere.
There’s no reason A&M can’t be great. This season will undoubtedly hamper it for a while. Nobody knows how many players will enter the transfer portal and how many recruits it will cost the Aggies, but A&M has been good before and has done it without half of what it has now.
If you have the right level of detachment from the team, this season has been the pinnacle of dark humor. Everything was ego-stroking less than a year ago. Reality has set in and ego has blocked any progress. There are two paths forward: use the atrocious season as an opportunity to show the excuses are valid and you’ve been right all along to please the ego, or set it aside and take a new approach.
As of now, what Fisher said of Saban appears to be true of only one man. “The narcissist in him doesn’t allow those things to happen when he’s not on top,” Fisher said.
We’ll see if that changes. This season is the wake-up call.

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  • Freshman DL Shemar Stewart celebrates getting possesion of the ball during a game against the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

  • App State’s Nick Ross (4) grabs freshman WR Chris Marshall (10) at Kyle Field on Saturday, Sep. 10, 2022.

    Photo by Cameron Johnson
  • Freshman DB Bryce Anderson (1) and junior Antonio Johnson (27) kneel in the end zone before the start of Texas A&M’s game against Ole Miss at Kyle Field on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022.

  • Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher walks back to the locker room as Aggies leave Kyle Field after Texas A&M loses to Florida 41-24 at Kyle Field on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022.

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