Fisher’s Fantastic Start
By BJ Bennett
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Florida State's Jimbo Fisher might not be getting the credit he deserves.
While the infrastructure was in place at Florida State, ominous foreshadowing was as well. Though Jimbo Fisher was set to take over one of the most recognized programs in the country, he was right in the middle of an emotional transition that tore Tallahassee in two. Being the heir-apparent to Bobby Bowden, major college football's all-time winningest coach, was an incredible honor. With Fisher stepping on a field named after his predecessor, the pressure was even greater.
After Bowden's 34 years with the Seminoles, Fisher debuted in 2010 with a 59-6 victory over his alma mater Samford, where he earned Division III National Player of the Year honors in 1987 and began his coaching career one year later.
The circumstances surrounding the start of the season were tense. In addition to Bowden's controversial departure, Florida State had lost 23 games in four years; three times in that span, the Seminoles finished .500 or worse in the ACC. Veteran defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews recently retired and Fisher's new coaching staff featured turnover in a department that had rarely needed nametags in the past.
In Fisher's rear-view mirror was Bowden's irreplaceable legacy, a half-dozen consecutive losses to archrival Florida and the past-shine of the national stage. The demanding expectations of a program that once finished in the top four for 14 straight seasons undoubtedly remained.
The relative-rebuilding process came with blood, sweat and tears. There was no easy way to move forward from the man who changed the face of Florida State athletics and thus introduced the university to millions across the country. Immediately, Fisher did it the only way it could be done, by winning.
To date, the Seminoles' second coach since 1976 has an albeit-early success rate of 81.8% -- a head coaching winning percentage that compares favorably to almost all of the biggest names in the game: Les Miles (73.2), Mark Richt (73.6), Nick Saban (74.2), Steve Spurrier (73.3), Bob Stoops (80.4) and Bowden (74.3). While the numbers obviously don't reflect a very large sample size for Fisher, they do, at least, serve as a poignant frame of reference.
Florida State, with Fisher leading the way, has an undefeated national championship, three conference title game bids, two league crowns and is a perfect 4-0 in the postseason in his four years at the helm. Fisher's Seminoles are combined 7-1 against archrivals Florida and Miami. They have gone 26-6 in regular season conference games, 28-7 with league title bouts. Including games with the Gators, Fisher is 5-1 against the SEC. Of Fisher's ten losses with the Seminoles, six of them have come by five points or less, three by a combined four points.
A noted offensive guru, Fisher, formerly the coordinator at FSU, has experienced remarkable success on that side of the football. Last season, Florida State broke the FBS scoring record with 732 total points. Quarterback Jameis Winston, who entered the year having never played a college down, became the youngest winner of the Heisman Trophy. He follows 2013 first round NFL Draft pick E.J. Manuel and 2011 first round NFL Draft pick Christian Ponder, who Fisher taught as a head coach and coordinator, respectively.
Riding the momentum of 21 wins in 22 games, the Seminoles will most likely enter this fall as the pre-season number one team in the polls. For all of the talk of change at Florida State, Fisher has helped restore the program's greatest tradition. Given the impossible task of following Bowden, it's an accomplishment that might not be getting the credit it deserves.
Nobody will ever replace Bowden or duplicate all that he did. His legend, building and sustaining a college football dynasty, is beyond compare. To that end, Fisher walks past Bowden's memory, boundless and bronzed, every day he goes to work. The shadow that follows him now, however, is his own.