ATLANTA — Camera shutters clicked and eyes peered up from computer screens across the College Football Hall of Fame floor Monday as a Nick Saban disciple emerged from behind the stage to make his SEC Media Days debut.
"Howdy," the coach said as he took the podium and adjusted the microphone. "See, ya'll don't know. You're supposed to say 'howdy' back. That's an A&M thing."
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt's turn at the event will come Wednesday. Monday belonged to another newcomer in the SEC head coach club with ties to Saban and experience at Florida State.
First-year Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher's place as an SEC head coach is new, but his understanding of the league is a quarter-century in the making. The former Auburn and LSU assistant, who spent the last eight years as Florida State's head coach, seemed at ease strolling from room to room and addressing his astronomical contract and the expectations accompanying it as he led off the annual preseason frenzy.
Since leaving the SEC for Florida State after the 2006 season, Fisher has watched former boss Saban win five national championships at Alabama. Meanwhile, two defensive coordinators whom Fisher employed in Tallahassee have become SEC head coaches themselves.
Pruitt was the defensive coordinator under Fisher in 2013 when the Seminoles snapped the SEC's streak of seven straight national championships by defeating Auburn 34-31 in the BCS national championship game.
"As I said, he could have been a head coach a long time ago," Fisher said of Tennessee's new head coach. "He has bided his time and got the right job. I think he'll be a great opponent."
Fisher won't face Pruitt this season — barring an improbable SEC championship game matchup — but he will face Mark Stoops, who was Pruitt's predecessor as Florida State's defensive coordinator. An Oct. 6 home game against Stoops' Kentucky team is sixth on the Aggies' schedule.
The 52-year-old Fisher also will have to face Saban in trying to lead the Aggies to new heights. That week four game at Alabama is just one stop on Fisher's SEC reintroduction tour.
"I was at Auburn for six (years) and LSU for seven," Fisher said. "I mean, every week is for the national championship because the teams you play have the capabilities of being there. And whoever can survive that gauntlet of games and come out of there, you know is going to compete. And whoever wins the SEC has a chance to win the national championship. You can play with anybody in the country."
A&M plays Florida State rival Clemson in the second week of the season, a matchup that will provide an early test of Fisher's efforts to toughen the Aggies' demeanor. He denied the assertion that he believed last year's A&M team coached by Kevin Sumlin was "soft," but the Aggies' player representatives Monday seemed to get that message from Fisher and the staff during the spring.
"He didn't make any specific indications whether or not we were soft," junior offensive lineman Erik McCoy said. "He just thought we were soft overall. That's something that we've instilled in our minds not to be."
The expectations of a 10-year, $75-million contract and the not-so-subtle pining for a national championship in College Station reduce the margin for error in the task that lies ahead for Fisher, though he demurred Monday when asked about a time line for winning a title.
"If I didn't think we could win national championships, I wouldn't have taken it," Fisher said of his new job. "I had a great job where I was at, Florida State, and had no plans on leaving. They always say that you get the best opportunities when you're not looking for them.
"You start looking at the resources and the commitments the school makes, and I'm not talking just athletically and facility-wise. It's an unbelievable school. The culture of that university is unbelievable. There's an academic tradition that's second to none."
Then there is the tradition of saying "howdy."
Walking into his second media session of the day, Fisher offered the authentic Texas greeting once again.
"When I say 'howdy,' everybody's got to say 'howdy' back," Fisher said. "Dadgum. We've got to get all this down."