OPINION: Stern: Dan Lanning should be apple of Texas A&M's eye


In order to right the wrong of Jimbo Fisher’s massive $76 million buyout with Texas A&M, school athletic director Ross Bjork must lock in on Oregon head coach Dan Lanning as their next leader. Going with anybody else at the helm would be risking a similar outcome that could make the program irrelevant as they transition to the new-look, uber-competitive SEC.

It's easy to see why Lanning was handed the keys to Phil Knight's castle out in Eugene, despite having no head-coaching experience at just 35 years old. Lanning's smart, charismatic, energetic, and possesses all the traits colleges want in a modern day head coach. His impressive 19-4 record speaks to why he ascended from a Missouri high school assistant coach to head honcho at one of the nation's top programs in just over a decade.

That argument that Lanning's success at Oregon has been inflated by joining an already stable program is as foolish as the logic that pointed toward Fisher reaching another level with Texas A&M. Unlike the crusty old coach who was shown the door with a huge buyout, Lanning is the future of college football. It'd behoove the Aggies to pounce on Lanning now, before Alabama's athletic department crowns him the heir-apparent to Nick Saban.

Focusing on the usual cast of characters, like Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin or UTSA leader Jeff Traylor, would only compound the Aggies' issues. With the money to lure anyone, Texas A&M would be wise to invest like a careful trader on Wall Street, rather than a drunken sailor going on a weekend bender.

Kiffin may carry the prestige, and Traylor is deserving of a better opportunity, but neither has the same swagger or ceiling as Lanning. There's no need to risk losing the Lone Star State's top recruits to Steve Sarkisian with Texas or Brent Venables at Oklahoma -- two SEC newcomers -- when the school can still plant its flag and stake the valuable territory. With money a non-factor in this equation, the Aggies can also afford to pick whoever they'd like.

But Texas A&M hasn't produced a double-digit win season since 2012, when Johnny Manziel led them to a Cotton Bowl win over TCU at 11-2. They haven't won more than eight games since that victory. Bjork decided to cut ties with Fisher because the program was "stuck in neutral," and they sure can't afford a miss, considering what's at stake.

College football is rapidly evolving, with conference realignments across the board and constant changes to NIL regulations. Nobody is better positioned to recruit the next generation of top players and elevate a mediocre program than Oregon's current leader. With rumors heating up amidst his own push for a College Football Playoff spot, Lanning still felt the need to vigorously shoot them down while recently speaking to reporters.

Maybe the Ducks have shifted it into an extra gear, but money talks and crap walks... or something like that. To be clear, nobody's doubting that Oregon is one of the most desirable jobs. There's always a new level to reach, however, and spending five years in the SEC has to make Lanning hungrier for success against the toughest competition.

Texas A&M has had next-level resources, and an endless budget for success. But the program just hasn't been able to find the right person to take them to the promised land. Kevin Sumlin and Fisher weren't awful. But an injection of youthful vim and vigor feels like it'd give the Aggies a different vibe and flavor, serving as the ultimate answer to their previous shortcomings. It's not like the "Sean McVay Effect" translates to the college ranks. A career-long defensive mastermind in Lanning, who famously drove 13 hours to interview for a grad assistant role at Pittsburgh in 2011, could be college's version of McVay.

Texas A&M got distracted by Fisher's trophy case during its last search for a head coach, extending his contract out of desperation to ensure they didn't end up with an inferior option. Now it's time to stop focusing on the crumbs on the floor when a five-course buffet is sitting on the table. The first step in regaining relevancy in the crowded SEC is ensuring that a rising superstar in Lanning doesn't become the latest one to get away.

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