From the back of a ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham, Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher offered a friendly piece of advice to Texas and Oklahoma.
“I’ll say this, though,” Fisher said Wednesday on The Paul Finebaum Show. “Be careful what you ask for if you jump in this league.”
The Sooners and Longhorns are poised to announce their decisions to leave the Big 12 in the next few days, according to multiple reports Friday. The expectation is that they’ll land in the SEC, as first reported Wednesday by the Houston Chronicle.
For now, let’s set aside the complex logistics, potential litigation and unclear timeline on this latest round of conference realignment. Instead, let’s focus on Fisher’s words, which were neither malicious nor threatening but a simple statement of fact: If you want the challenge of competing in the best conference in the country, make sure you know what you’re getting into. The road ahead just means more riches, but it isn’t easy. As Fisher knows.
Fisher didn’t coach in the Big 12 before taking over the Aggies, but he did post the best winning percentage ever at another Power Five conference (the ACC) at Florida State. He also won a national title at the sport’s highest level —something none of the Big 12′s active coaches can say.
Through three years at A&M, he has yet to sniff a division championship, let alone a conference title.
That’s not meant as an insult to Fisher, who has done a fine job so far and has assembled a 2021 roster with College Football Playoff potential. It’s a reflection of how difficult the league is.
There are other reminders, too, of how the SEC is different from everywhere else. Ones that should resonate in Austin and Norman.
Their former Big 12 colleague, Missouri, went 76-40 in its final nine seasons in that league. In their first nine seasons in the SEC, the Tigers are 63-49.
Arkansas finished in the top 15 in four of its last seven seasons playing alongside Texas in the old Southwest Conference. Since moving to the SEC in 1992, the Razorbacks have only three total top-15 finishes.
The Longhorns thought highly enough of Will Muschamp that they named him the head-coach-in-waiting behind Mack Brown. Before he could take over Texas, he was hired by the Gators … and fired four seasons (and 21 losses) later. In November, he was fired from his second SEC job, South Carolina.
Mike Leach won more games at Texas Tech than any coach ever. In his first fall at Mississippi State, he went 4-7 with a quartet of double-digit losses.
“Just every team’s good,” Leach said.
Even the Big-12-to-SEC success stories come with caveats. Texas A&M has seen its profile, wins and bank account all increase since making the leap Oklahoma and Texas are reportedly considering. But the Aggies remain chronic underachievers and are still thirsting for their first title.
Pinellas County native Gene Chizik won a national championship two years after leaving Iowa State for Auburn. But two years after that, he went 3-9 and was fired.
Former Oklahoma State coach Les Miles won it all at LSU in 2007 but was on a perpetual hot seat until he, too, was fired, despite winning the second-most games in Tigers history.
That’s how it goes in the SEC. The checks are large, but so are the expectations — for everybody. That leads to more intense battles and deeper talent pools. Six different SEC teams had at least one player drafted this spring before the first one went from the Big 12. Even 0-9 Vanderbilt had a Day 2 pick.
Texas and Oklahoma will both have the resources and reputation to compete in a new league, if they choose to make that move. Oklahoma’s history is as rich as any team in the nation. Texas has built-in advantages few, if any, programs can match.
But Fisher is right. The challenges are tougher in the SEC than anywhere else. If Oklahoma and Texas want to make that jump, they better be sure they’re ready for what awaits.
This story has been updated to reflect the latest information on a quickly changing situation.
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