Mike Irwin’s Massive Eye Roll at Aggies’ No. 1 Recruiting Class is a Wonder to Behold

Jimbo Fisher

The Texas A&M football program hasn’t won a national championship since the 1930s, but that doesn’t stop its leaders from believing the next one is just around the corner all the same. In 1956, the Aggies had a Heisman Trophy winner in John David Crow but failed to bring home the bacon on account of a 14-14 tie with Houston in Week 4.

Texas A&M had another Heisman Trophy winner in 2012 in Johnny Manziel, but lost two regular season games despite beating a very good Alabama team. Even before entering the SEC, things were not much better. In 1992, for instance, Texas A&M reeled off 12 straight wins to start the season only to get ransacked by Notre Dame 28-3.

So, in lieu of actual national title hardware, the Aggies had perhaps their proudest moment on Wednesday in celebration of the highest-rated signing class of all time. At a time when a five-star comes to Arkansas out of high school only every few years, the Aggies signed seven five-star signees. That included the nation’s No. 1 defensive lineman (Walter Nolen), No. 1 tight end (Jake Johnson), No. 2 receiver (Shemar Stewart), No. 2 quarterback (Conner Weigman), No. 3 interior lineman (Kam Dewberry) and No. 4 cornerback (Denver Harris).

It’s an embarrassment of riches for which Texas A&M football coach Jimbo Fisher is in no way embarrassed.

Even if the class does come with lingering message board accusations that money was the main driver in the haul – that all of the players, in total, agreed to NIL deals worth $30 million.

“This $30 million deal is a joke. This thing that there’s some fund out there and it was written on BroBible by some guy named Sliced Bread …” Fisher said on CBS Sports HQ. “It didn’t affect recruiting at all. The people who wanted to make comments on it have no idea what’s going on. It’s insulting to the players who come here and the people around us.”

It’s understandable if Arkansas football fans feel a little jealousy. Why did Texas A&M of all places get to land the No. 1 class when Arkansas finished 13 of 14 in SEC recruiting rankings, behind the likes of Kentucky, Missouri and South Carolina?

Fortunately, though, Razorback fans can take solace in something the same basic fact that everybody else is enjoying right now: At every point in time after the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, no matter how well Texas A&M does in recruiting, or during actual football seasons, it always finds a way to screw the pooch.

Texas A&M “always finds a way to mess up. I don’t care how much money they throw into this thing, I don’t think they’re going to win a national championship because of money,” Razorback sportscaster Mike Irwin said a few weeks ago on Pig Trail Nation.

Irwin, a grizzled, unapologetic Texas native, has seen the pattern play out again and again since the 1950s.

“They’ve always tried to have an edge. They’re always coming up with something that’s going to help them win a national championship. All this time that I’ve been watching them, they haven’t won. Most of the time they underachieve, like this year.”

Even though the Aggies lost to Mississippi State and Arkansas early on, they bounced back by beating then No. 1 Alabama and reeling off three more wins after that, including a victory over then No. 13 Auburn. An SEC championship game appearance, it seemed, was possible if the Crimson Tide kept faltering. “They thought Alabama was going to lose to Auburn and they were going to sneak in and then it didn’t happen” after Alabama won and the Aggies lost to Ole Miss and LSU in the last three weeks.

How Big of a War Chest for Texas A&M Football?

While Mike Irwin does think NIL money played a role in the Aggies’ boffo class (as it will to some extent with all major programs from here on), he doesn’t think the $30 million price tag is close to accurate. His reasoning starts with looking at the math, the fact schools will have at least four recruiting classes on campus at one time.

“Does that mean they’re actually going to have, when it’s all said and done, $120 million in deals for their 85 scholarship athletes? $120 million for 85 athletes? Are you kidding me? That’s over a million dollar average for each of these guys. What schools are going to be able to sustain that?”

Still, it’s undeniable that Texas A&M has far more alumni, and more wealthy alumni, than the alumni network of the Razorbacks. How much that will widen the recruiting gap, if it does at all, between Arkansas and more moneyed programs like Texas A&M and Texas is unknown.

At Least Arkansas Football Doesn’t Have Lane Kiffin

Another consolation for Hog fans, beside Texas A&M’s historical ineptitude, is that the program got Sam Pittman instead of Lane Kiffin for a head coach. If Kiffin were the Arkansas football coach right now, he’d be giving Hog fans the same kind of heartburn that Bret Bielema caused when he spouted off in press conferences against the likes of Kliff Kingsbury.

In short, as sportscaster John Nabors says it, Lane Kiffin is a troll. A shrewd, often cogent troll, but a troll nonetheless.

He proved it yet again a couple days ago when talking about Jimbo Fisher’s class.

“We don’t have the same funding and resources as some of these schools do to do these NIL deals,” Kiffin said in a Yahoo.com story. â€śIt’s basically like dealing with different salary caps. We now have a sport that has completely different salary caps and some of these schools are five or 10 times more than everybody else of what they can pay these players. I know nobody uses those phrases, but that is what it is.

“I joked the other day that I didn’t know if Texas A&M was going to incur a luxury tax in how much they paid for their signing class.”

Instead, Kiffin absorbed quite a bit of vitriol from Fisher, who lashed back at some of the “clowns” who coached other SEC schools. He also got some flak from John Nabors, who thought it was laughable that Ole Miss couldn’t summon the same kind of funds that Texas A&M could.

“Bro, do you remember the Hugh Freeze stuff? You remember how much you were paying players? You remember what you were doing for them?,” Nabors said on his “Locked on Razorbacks” podcast.

“You weren’t going to get those five stars anyway, so go get some four stars. You’ll be all right. Go into the transfer portal. You’ll be fine. Aren’t you the portal king, Lane Kiffin? Isn’t that what you’re about? So I want to see some regulation. I want to see some rules. I want to see some things change. But I’m also not sitting here feeling sorry for schools like Ole Miss, or even schools like Arkansas.”

“Arkansas is not going to be able to pay what A&M does. But so what? You still got a great recruiting class. You still do well on transfer portal. You still have good coaches. Isn’t that what it comes down to?”

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Make sure to watch Nabors’ entire breakdown here:

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What Arkansas Football Must Do to Reach the Next Level

Although Texas A&M has historically outperformed Arkansas in recruiting, and is spending more in terms of NIL deals, the Razorbacks actually spent more in recruiting budget in 2019 (the last reported “normal year):

Spending this kind of Top 5 money didn’t exactly produce Top 5 recruiting results for Arkansas with the last few recruiting cycles, but it does indicate the the Hogs are taking a necessary first step to show winning in coming years won’t just be a nice add-on, but rather is a fundamental core principle for the program.

That’s exactly the kind of commitment that Georgia made to winning after hiring Kirby Smart in 2016.

“If you need to win, you’ll find the money. You’ll find the money to fit the bill for all the facilities, you’ll find the money to fit the bill to beef up that recruiting budget,” 247Sports analyst Josh Pate said. “You’ll find the money for five extra off field analysts or an overhauled nutrition staff if you need it. There are many different compartments that Georgia has now checked that they use and just did to win a national championship.”

While Georgia did spend a bit more in recruiting, they are not head and shoulders above the rest in total expenditures on football in terms of facilities and staff salaries. While money does play a role in getting you into the club of potential legit contenders, it is not the most important determiner for who among the contenders actually wins the title.

It’s easy to blame falling behind on budget. “No, look in the mirror,” Pate suggests to other potential contenders. The Georgia Bulls “have something inside themselves that maybe you don’t have.”

“You’re not getting out spent — you’re getting out invested, you’re getting out worked.”

Arkansas has never had a problem spending on par with the biggest programs when it comes to budgets and facilities. I disagree with Pate that “working hard” is the issue when it comes to these multi-million dollar coaches. Almost all of them are grinders and put in plenty of hours.

The issue is working smart as well as hard. How efficient are you with your time? What kind of process do you have for players to enjoy learning from their mistakes and not tire of competing against each other in practice? How does everything flow within your program in terms of culture, trust, camaraderie and respect?

These are huge, foundational issues and the best coaches don’t just talk about what should be done – they are living examples. Kirby Smart learned from perhaps the best ever at living the answers in Nick Saban. And Sam Pittman learned his coaching process from Kirby Smart. So far, it looks like he took the lessons to heart.

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Also, Alyssa Orange’s son knows what’s up when it comes to Texas A&M football:

See our latest on Arkansas football here:

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