Everyone wanted a piece of Jimbo Fisher.

As thousands celebrated on Kyle Field on Nov. 26, the Texas A&M coach required an entourage to get to the locker room. Two uniformed officers worked in front of him to clear the fans craning their necks and extending their smartphones for snapshots. Fisher’s wife, Courtney, walked briskly at his side, her left arm locked into his right, with Fisher’s son, Ethan, also in tow.

“Yes sir, Jimbo!” a fan yelled. “Yes sir, Jimbo!”

Fisher looked up and gave a “Gig ‘em” thumbs-up. He high-fived athletic director Ross Bjork, who sported a wide grin. Fans and reporters walked along to record the moment following the Aggies’ 38-23 win over then-No. 5 LSU.

However, they weren’t celebrating clinching a College Football Playoff berth or even the SEC West. It was the team’s first Power 5 win since September, punctuating a disastrous 5-7 season, Fisher’s worst in five years in Aggieland.

Texas A&M had national championship dreams when it hired Fisher, one of only five active coaches with a title ring, away from Florida State. The Aggies awarded him two massive contracts – the latest a fully guaranteed 10-year, $94.9 million deal in 2021. Yet despite four top-10 recruiting hauls and the highest-rated signing class in history in 2022, they looked this season farther from that goal than they were under predecessor Kevin Sumlin and in the mostly mediocre Dennis Franchione and Mike Sherman eras.

There was a stunning Week 2 home loss to Appalachian State. A six-game losing streak, A&M’s longest in 50 years. Instead of 100,000 swaying fans at Kyle Field, there was an embarrassingly sparse home crowd in the penultimate game vs. UMass.

Multiple freshmen from the Aggies’ record-setting class missed games because of suspensions. Injuries and maturity issues plagued the roster. Texas A&M’s 2022 season was an unequivocal nightmare that left the program at a critical crossroads, with questions about the direction of the offense, the stability of the roster and even Fisher himself, as fans called for his firing.

But it would have cost the university $86 million to do so.

Such a move was never on the table, two Texas A&M sources, who declined to speak publicly about Fisher’s contract, told The Athletic. The buyout is too prohibitive. In fact, said a source with knowledge of internal athletic department discussions, it wouldn’t have been on the table if the buyout had been half that.

But the next year likely will determine whether the Fisher and Texas A&M marriage will work long-term. Can the Aggies keep the core of a talented but as-yet unaccomplished roster from entering the transfer portal? Can Fisher rein in the disciplinary issues that plagued the team this season? And, perhaps most importantly, is he willing to relinquish control of the offense once and for all?

Things felt different in Aggieland in February when Texas A&M signed the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, an honor claimed only by Alabama or Georgia since 2011. College football’s powers took notice.

“You don’t like that we’re coming on?” Fisher said on signing day. “Get used to it. We ain’t going nowhere.”

Inking 18 national top-100 players put Texas A&M in an elite club, one whose members are stocked with the talent required to compete for national championships. The Aggies defeated Alabama in 2021 and would enter this fall ranked No. 6.