ATLANTA — Pro-style. Not spread.
Slow. Not fast.
Fullbacks and tight ends. Not empty sets and four wides.
And finally, says Jimbo Fisher, tough. Not soft.
The Texas A&M Aggies are changing, square in the midst of a metamorphosis under their new, $75 million head coach, and the focus, in the most simplistic of terms, is manning up in the biggest of the big boy conferences. “Man don’t think tough, man don’t live tough. Man don’t think he’s tough, man ain’t going to play tough,” Fisher said, encircled by a group of reporters in a dimly lit hotel room.
This is Fisher’s first Southeastern Conference media days, but it feels like old hat. “Welcome back to the SEC,” media days moderator Kevin Trainor told Fisher as the coach completed his news conference in the primary media room. Oh, yes, Fisher isn’t new to this league. He’s actually spent more seasons in the SEC (13) than in the Atlantic Coast Conference (11), he points out to media members.
He knows this league just as well as anyone, six years spent at Auburn and another seven at LSU. He tutored quarterbacks and coordinated offenses in a conference known for its bruising style, and he now takes over a program that, some might say, did not have enough of it.
Maybe that’s why Fisher mentioned the words physical or tough 35 times during his 30-minute address in the main room, and then dozens more as he paraded around various media-filled corners of the Omni Hotel and College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta. This is the SEC’s temporarily relocated media day hub, 150 miles from the traditional setting of the Birmingham suburbs, where it returns next year.
The Mercedes-Benz Stadium, shimmering new host of the SEC championship game, sits a few blocks away, a place in which Fisher was hired to reach. He knows he doesn’t have 10 years—the length of his contract—to figure it out. The timetable is “now,” he said.
He made clear Monday his plan, revealing what’s No. 1 on his to-do list in College Stadium: make the Aggies tougher. But how? “Practice that way. Live that way. Work out that way. Think that way,” Fisher says.
Mark Stoops, Kentucky’s sixth-year head coach, has seen this movie before. He watched its up close while serving as Fisher’s defensive coordinator in the early days at Florida State, and he’s still got what he calls “vivid” memories of Fisher’s strong directives then. “Starts with his attitude and toughness,” Stoops says. “You can see that with his demeanor. He’s so demanding, demands perfection. He’s very hard and very tough.”
The coach has started the process of rounding Texas A&M into a more SEC squad, one might say. He’s beefing up the Aggies, overhauling Kevin Sumlin’s hurry-up spread scheme into a more methodical pro-style set, recruiting and signing a 240-pound running back, for instance, and working the transfer market to land a 250-pound tight end, for another example. He moved a 235-pound linebacker to fullback because, well, he didn’t have any fullbacks on the spread-leaning roster he inherited.