MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Jimbo Fisher left Florida State for Texas A&M in December 2017 with a 10-year, $75 million contract. Such a hefty deal comes with lofty expectations.
When Fisher bolted for "Aggieland," it was less than a year after the Seminoles played in their last Orange Bowl game to date and just four years removed from winning a national championship.
That won't be a possibility for the fifth-ranked Aggies (8-1) in Saturday night's Orange Bowl against No. 14 North Carolina (8-3), but a win would signify a similar trajectory for Texas A&M as Florida State found during Fisher's time in Tallahassee.
"We had the Orange Bowl the third year there," Fisher told reporters Friday, recalling Florida State's 31-10 Orange Bowl victory over Northern Illinois to conclude the 2012 season. "I think, first of all, getting in and being able to set your culture, understand what you want offensively and defensively to the players, with any organization, the work ethic, the practice styles, the type of ball you want to play, who you want to have as a personality as an organization, and then in recruiting, going out and getting the kind of guys that you think that fit. There's a lot of great players in this country and you've got to get guys that you think fit your system and what you do."
One season later, Fisher's Seminoles went 14-0 with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston and laid claim to the school's third national championship in program history.
Along the way, the Seminoles won 29 consecutive games, beginning with the first of three Atlantic Coast Conference championships from 2012-14.
The Aggies, who arrived in South Florida on Thursday, own a seven-game winning streak headed into the Orange Bowl.
"Hopefully we can keep heading in the same progression in which we had at Florida State and things we did, and we were able to have great success there," Fisher said. "But you have to get in these situations and play these types of games to understand how to be the team that you really want to be and win championships."
The coach on the opposing sideline believes Texas A&M's championship aspirations are closer to becoming a reality under Fisher.
"Well, Jimbo won a national championship, and to do that you've got to have a plan," North Carolina coach Mack Brown said. "You've got to be confident, and Jimbo knows exactly what he wants in his football team."
Brown, who also won a national championship while coaching at Texas, admitted the challenges the Aggies face playing in the Southeastern Conference against Western Division foes like Alabama (A&M's lone loss of the season) and LSU. But if there's anyone who can accomplish it, Brown said, it's Fisher.
"He knows he's a great coach," Brown said of Fisher. "He's done a tremendous job. He gets them in the right place. They've recruited as well as anybody in the country every year, and I'm really, really impressed with Jimbo Fisher and what he's done at A&M."
The Aggies haven't won a conference championship since 1998 (when they played in the Big 12 Conference) and haven't won a national title since 1939. That was five years before A&M's first and only other Orange Bowl appearance -- a 19-14 loss to LSU.
Fisher, meanwhile, is a perfect 6-0 at Hard Rock Stadium, winning all four meetings between Florida State and Miami in South Florida and going 2-0 in Orange Bowl games, most recently a 33-32 victory over Michigan in 2016.
"I've always recruited Florida even when I didn't coach at Florida State, and to be able to come back to South Florida -- this was always my area -- I feel very blessed," Fisher said. "It's always a good feeling to come back down here. Like I've always said, it's one of the best areas of high school football there is in the country, if not the best. I mean, it's phenomenal. I love coming back here. A lot of great memories. A lot of great battles at the stadium, at the Rock and having great games with Miami, Orange Bowl, different things, and very blessed to come out with some great outcomes. Hopefully we'll have another."
To do so, the Aggies will need to stop North Carolina's prolific but depleted offense.
The Tar Heels lead the nation in total offense (6,123 yards) and rank third nationally in total points scored (473). However, they'll be without four starters, including three on offense, who opted out of the bowl game.
Running backs Michael Carter and Javonte Williams each totaled more than 1,000 rushing yards, while receiver Dyami Brown led the team with more than 1,000 receiving yards. Those are gaping losses for quarterback Sam Howell, who has passed for 3,352 yards and 27 touchdowns and has thrown a touchdown pass at least once in all 24 games of his college career.
It's not lost on Fisher what winning Saturday night could mean for the future of his program.
"Well, I hope so," Fisher said of the program turning a corner. "That's what our plan is. You've got to understand something, no matter what you do in the past and how much success you have, the next day the score is always 0-0. You have to establish that and I think that's going to be, do our young players understand the standard in which we've set down? How do we carry it on and how do we improve it? Because the standard now has to keep going up, no matter what happens, because that's just the way life is. You've got to continue to get better."
So far, so good. A&M has finished among the top six in the national recruiting rankings each of the past two seasons and is poised for another top six finish in 2021. Two of the Aggies' early signees -- four-star running back Amari Daniels and four-star receiver Yulkeith Brown -- both hail from Miami.
"We continue to keep recruiting players down here," Fisher said. "Our brand, and we're recruiting Texas to death, but we're also recruiting nationally. This has always been a great area for us. We've signed guys from down here since I've been here. We'll sign more guys this year, and it's expanding your brand and what you do, and you have a lot of relationships that are in South Florida, and so it's always great to get back down and hopefully see some of those folks and let them see you play."
Come Sunday morning, the championship ambitions of Fisher and his program could be one step closer to reality.