Loel Schrader left a job as a columnist at the Long Beach newspaper in California to become the sports editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch at the start of the 1980s.
He brought with him an immense fondness for college football, based to a significant degree on time spent covering the Trojans of Southern California, coached by John McKay and then John Robinson.
Schrader was stunned along with most college football followers in 1982, when Texas A&M — tired of its secondary status in comparison to the Texas Longhorns — lured 38-year-old Jackie Sherrill as its coach away from the University of Pittsburgh.
Sherrill's contract would total $1.6 million for six years, an unheard-of average of $267,000 per season. The Aggies also added the title "athletic director'' to make the contract more palatable.
Sports Illustrated wrote about the contract under the headline: "Jackie Hits The Jackpot.'' The deal was described as "breathtaking.''
That was certainly the case for Schrader. On arrival, he had done wonders to increase the PPD's travel budget, yet it came as a surprise when I was called into his office and told to make arrangements to be in College Station, Texas, for Sherrill's first game:
Sept. 4, 1982 — an evening game vs. Boston College.
This was at a time when BC was known as a mediocre Eastern independent. The Eagles were scheduled to provide early victories for major conference teams.
The opportunity to get access to Sherrill took place at Tom's Barbecue after practice on Friday night.
This was such good barbecue — served right there on butcher paper — it basically guaranteed praise for the Aggies' Board of Regents having the wisdom to pay the freight to bring in this bright young coach.
By happenstance, I sat directly across from Sherrill and had a chance for a one-on-one-interview — although glancing sadly at the dwindling pile of ribs as I took notes.
Jackie had been getting calls for months from coaches around the country congratulating him, pointing out he deserved such a deal for what he'd done at Pitt — and why not?
Four decades after Sherrill seemed to break the bank at $267,000 per year, P.J. Fleck is generally filling two-thirds of the seats in smallish Huntington Bank Stadium, losing back-to-back games to lowly Illinois and lower-yet Purdue, and making $6 million annually to coach the Gophers.
The Aggies had gone 7-5 and defeated Texas in 1981, then fired coach Tom Wilson to make room for Sherrill.
Rated No. 10 in the Associated Press preseason poll, with Gary Kubiak as a senior quarterback, Aggieland didn't get what was anticipated on opening night.
Those sneaky visitors had a not-yet-famous sophomore quarterback, a smallish fellow named Doug Flutie, and BC routed the Aggies, 38-16. Flutie was 18 of 26 for 346 yards and three touchdowns and then stuck in the shiv, postgame:
"The Aggies used some unsound defenses. I couldn't believe some of the things they were doing.''
Sherrill offered a quote familiar to the current generation of Gophers fans: Jackie said not to blame the players, it was on him. He also suggested the Aggies would be a good team by season's end. The 5-6 season ended with a 53-16 loss to Texas.
The Southwest Conference champion was SMU. So creative in recruiting, the Mustangs were headed toward the NCAA's "Death Penalty'' for organized cheating in 1987.
This was based on providing contractually obligated payments to 13 players … approved by a Board of Governors that included an actual two-term Texas governor, Bill Clements.
Sherrill did win three conference titles in seven years. He was gone after 1988, also based on money winding up with players. A&M felt so sheepish over this that Sherrill was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2007.
It's now the SEC for Texas A&M and soon-to-be Texas, but the insanity reached its highest-ever level last week:
A&M's Board of Regents, in a clandestine meeting, approved the firing of Jimbo Fisher and the buyout payment in his contract of $75 million. Two days later, his team defeated Mississippi State, 51-10, to get to 6-4 for the season, and then Jimbo received the happy news of a full buyout — with no discount if he decides to take another job.
The tradition at A&M was to have bonfires on Friday nights before home games. They are such morons down there they might as well renew the tradition with cash.
And, worst news of all, Tom's Barbecue closed in 2001.