AUSTIN, Texas — What would Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian do with $75 million, roughly the cost of the buyout that the Texas A&M Aggies are now set to pay former head coach Jimbo Fisher by celebrating Saturday’s 51-10 win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs to achieve bowl eligibility by firing Fisher on Sunday?
“I don’t have that in my contract,” said Sarkisian on Monday.
Indeed, Sarkisian does not.
The Texas head coach is in the third year of a $34.2 million contract with a yearly salary of $5.6 million that ranks as fourth-highest in the Big 12 with a buyout just shy of $13 million, light years away from the largest buyout in college football history just paid by Texas A&M to shed Fisher a little more than two years ago after extending his original, fully-guaranteed contract thanks to a 45-25 overall record in College Station, including a 5-7 finish last season.
Asked more widely about what’s going on in the coaching profession, Sarkisian offered a three-minute response that included some strong thoughts on how the timing of the decision with two regular-season games and a bowl game still looming for the Aggies, focusing in particular on the impact of the early signing period that began in 2017.
“What I do know is where is all this change? This has changed because of the early signing period and in actuality because the majority of kids now are signing with the schools that they’re going to go to in December,” said Sarkisian. “Universities are trying to get in front of it to remove their coach try to find their replacement so that the new coaching staff can recruit for a few weeks in December to sign the best class available for the future of the program.”
For a head coach with a relationship-based approach to coaching, Sarkisian believes that making coaching decisions during the season because of the fast-tracked timeline produced by the early signing period is bad for the players.
“Essentially, when you’re firing a coach at this point in the season, you’re telling that current team, we’re given up on you and all we’re worried about is the future,” said Sarkisian. “And so I think that the young men in our sport worked way too hard 12 months of the year to be given up on and the fact that they work so hard and they’re fighting for bowl games and things and futures of their career to say, ‘Hey, this season’s a wash, we’re moving on to next season.’ That’s unfortunate to me.”
Admitting that there isn’t any way around the early signing period since its institution, Sarkisian reflected on his own experience becoming the Texas head coach in early January, weeks after the Longhorns signed 18 high school prospects in addition to McNeese State transfer cornerback Darion Dunn.
“I inherited 18 kids that signed with the University of Texas with a completely different coaching staff and head coach and we did our best to build rapport with them quickly to start that process and a lot of those kids have panned out and turned out for us,” said Sarkisian.
While seven of those players have transferred less than three years later, the class did also include standouts like running back Jonathon Brooks, tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders, edge Barryn Sorrell, and defensive tackle Byron Murphy.
“There’s been a lot of guys in that class that I’m really glad and fortunate that are on our team,” said Sarkisian.
Sarkisian started his comments by expressing empathy for the ripples of upheaval caused by a head coaching change that impact assistant coaches, strength and conditioning coaches, and the array of staffers now involved with big-time football programs like analysts and recruiting operations.
“I’d say this first of all, I think what gets lost in a lot of this is it’s not just the head coach, there’s assistant coaches, there’s staff members, there’s strength and conditioning coaches, there’s trainers, and all those people have families and all those people have kids, too,” said Sarkisian.
“It’s a great profession. I love what we get to do every day. It’s a great profession. But, everybody wants to just point to the head coach getting fired, when in actuality a lot of people are eventually out of jobs and need to go find jobs and they’re getting relocated and kids are changing schools and when you live that and you see the effect it has on your kids that’s a lot, it takes us toll so hey, I’m empathetic for sure for those guys. I’m sure that you know, everybody works hard, everybody’s trying hard to do it the right way and sometimes it doesn’t work and I don’t know exactly all of that.”
Left unsaid by Sarkisian was the potential for Fisher’s termination to positively impact a Texas recruiting class that currently ranks No. 9 nationally with 20 pledges following Sunday’s flip of Louisiana cornerback Wardell Mack from Florida.
Multiple current Texas A&M pledges were Texas targets, including Timpson’s Terry Bussey, a consensus five-star prospect ranked as the nation’s top athlete, Louisiana product Dominick McKinley, another consensus five-star prospect ranked as the nation’s No. 7 defensive lineman. With the absence of a linebacker in the current class for the Longhorns, Jasper’s Tyanthony Smith is also a prospect could try to flip.
Ultimately, Sarkisian is resigned to the current realities of the college football landscape, even if they might ultimately lead to some benefit for his program.
“I understand why it’s happening, but I don’t have to agree with it. But it is what it is. I guess that’s that’s the best way to say it.”