Usually, there is a logic to money. It’s a marker, a commonly understood measure of value, established by the consent of those who exchange it. It signals what’s important to people, what they treasure or need. But Texas A&M’s preposterous buyout of Jimbo Fisher, paying him around $76 million not to coach, robs dollars of meaning. It detaches them from any rationale or coherence, renders them mere tokens. Things that should mean the most are valued the least, and coin has all the worth of tiddlywinks.

The fevered members of the 12th Man Foundation have been hurling their oil-and-gas-sodden bucks at the Aggies’ football program for decades without buying a thing of real significance. They have built a locker room with recessed LED lighting; provided every comfort for their star-studded recruiting classes, including air conditioning on the practice field; and made their coach the highest paid in his realm. But none of it has made Texas A&M a factor in the championship race.

Why? A Texas fan would say, “Because they’re Aggies.” A more dispassionate answer would be that surfeit doesn’t make success. When you break the meaning of money, what you’re liable to get in return is … nothing.

Money in this era is really an abstraction, a “vocabulary of price,” according to Harvard political economist Christine Desan, author of a history of our banking system, “Making Money: Coin, Currency, and the Coming of Capitalism.” Its value is no longer realistically attached to precious material such as gold and silver. Paper money is multiplied and circulated by profit-seeking banks, which have “effectively emptied it of living content.” It has become “more interesting for what it does than is,” Desan asserts. And Texas A&M is an interesting case study of what it can – and can’t – do.

The broad outrage and derision directed at Texas A&M for its buyout of Fisher are not just based in the collective sense that a public university has such badly disordered priorities but in a perception that there is something broadly destructive in its behavior, something . . . bankrupting. In 2021, the school gave Fisher a ludicrous contract extension, a 10-year deal fully guaranteed at $9 million per year. By 2031, Fisher will have been paid $118.1 million for six years of fair-to-middling work, with a record of 45-25. It’s more than triple any other college coaching buyout, ever.

Money is a measure of respect, among other things. But there is something inversely contemptuous and disrespectful in Texas A&M’s profligacy, a suggestion that a college football team is no more or less a worthwhile pursuit than any other rich man’s ridiculously expensive status acquisition, such as his yacht size. Many of the school’s donors and regents, the people who hired and fired Fisher, are self-made successes in oil and gas. Yet when it comes to Texas A&M football, they invoke none of the principles that actually make for success on a team or in any other organization – such as fiscal integrity, stable values and alignment around central cultural tenets. Instead, they lose all discipline.


That’s the sure sign that they don’t respect the game or find much actual instructive or philosophical value in it. One of the things football can teach is organizational dynamics. Texas A&M apparently has learned nothing.

When you break the meaning of “value,” it creates a cascade of deteriorating values, organizationally. Fisher was paid so much that it skewed perspectives across the board. Given the size of his contract, he didn’t dare go about this in any other way but the one modeled by his employers: He had to scoop every available blue-chipper to show he was “winning” in the recruiting wars.

How many times was his instinct or inclination to go for a lesser-rated but desirous kid smothered by the specter of contractual and donor expectations? How much did he forfeit chemistry for a surfeit of talent? According to ESPN, the Aggies signed 70 players ranked in the top 300 under Fisher, behind only Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State, and in 2022, they had the No. 1 recruiting class overall. And yet.

A contract such as that bleeds into everything, not just recruiting but handling grievances, allocating resources, motivating – and diagnosing problems and deciding what to do about them. It can rob you of decisional flexibility. The people who pay you tend to think they can offer you suggestions or even tell you what to do. Pretty soon, your ability to make your own assessments and cope with crisis can be compromised by the wishes of others. Is that why Fisher’s coaching performance deteriorated so significantly after his 2021 extension, despite strong recruiting? The Aggies went just 19-15 after he signed it.

“There was something just not clicking to provide confidence for everyone in the program,” Texas A&M Athletic Director Ross Bjork said. “You have to adapt; you have to evolve. I’m not going to say whether he did or didn’t, but it didn’t work.”

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