13. Texas A&M

FILE - In this Sept. 28, 2019, file photo, Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher talks with his team as wide receiver Ainias Smith (17) looks on as they play Arkansas during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Arlington, Texas. Texas A&M's football program was placed on probation and Fisher given a six-month show cause order by the NCAA on Thursday, July 2, 2020, after the Aggies were found to have violated recruiting and other rules beginning in January 2018. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins, File)

Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher uses a tough-love approach to coaching, which still works quite well in these changing times because he does it from the heart.

If an Aggie football player is loafing at practice, you can bet he’ll get an earful from Fisher. But if that same player approaches Fisher with a personal problem after practice, it’ll be Fisher who will be all ears.

“I think you’re learning every day,” said Fisher, who canceled last Friday’s practice, so players could participate in a multi-team march through campus as a demonstration against racial injustice. “I am a very tough coach and a tough love guy ... you want the practices to be tough and push them, so that they do well when those situations occur [in games].”

Fisher seems toughest on quarterbacks. He played the position, and as a play-caller he not only prides himself on play selection, but there’s an exact way he wants all 11 players to run the play led by the quarterback. A&M quarterback Kellen Mond has been a sponge for three years soaking up Fisher’s football expertise, but maybe he’s picked up some of Fisher’s leadership qualities as well. Mond has been outspoken on issues of racial injustice via social media this summer, and he helped lead a march for the removal of the Lawrence Sullivan Ross statue. Other players have followed Mond’s lead, including his roommate, senior wide receiver Jhamon Ausbon. Junior safety Derrick Tucker also decided this week to opt out of the season in support of Black Lives Matter.

Fisher said he’s making himself more aware of social issues and his players’ feelings about them.

“We’re continuing to learn as coaches to learn to listen and let these kids tell us the issues they see,” Fisher said Thursday during a Zoom press conference. “And some of the things that they see we may not even see ourselves. I mean it’s educational for us each and every day.”

Fisher said he wants the players to know he loves them, and the staff will do everything they can for them. Together they’ll work through anything.

“The big thing for us is to communicate players to players, players to coaches, coaches to players and being aware of the issues and that we communicate daily on how you feel, what you do and how we can help you and how we can get better as a unit at the same time,” Fisher said.

Things have changed because of COVID-19 and the current fight against racism, but what happens between the lines and the preparation for that remains Fisher’s domain. Players who screw up are going to hear about it — and maybe even feel it.

Two years ago against Arkansas, Fisher grabbed the facemask of linebacker Tyrel Dodson, who got into a pushing and shoving match with the Razorbacks. Fisher wanted Dodson to focus and not get thrown out. Some questioned Fisher’s old-school tactics, but Dodson said he deserved the scolding, and his teammates agreed. Former walk-on Cullen Gillaspia, who now plays for the Houston Texans, said at the time that “Tyrel’s got to be smarter than that.” Current senior wide receiver Camron Buckley simply called it “tough love.”

Fisher was mad, but he also had Dodson’s back. It was just that simple. Last week, Fisher had his players’ back in a different way.

“He actually cares about us,” A&M senior linebacker Buddy Johnson said. “So when we’re on the field, he wants us to be 100% ready to go, and if a guy is not 100% ready to go, then he’s going to take the time and make sure guys are doing well. I think that Coach Fisher understands everything that’s going on, and he knew that we had to take a step back [last Friday] and address some things and we had great talks about it.”

It’s called teamwork, something we all could use a lot more of these days.

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