There is a certain distinction to becoming Florida State’s second head coach in 34 seasons -- one of the most flattering, esteemed promotions in all of college football.
There are also certain expectations, first and foremost being that Florida State becomes a contender again -- quickly.
And for that lofty goal the program turns to a man who has never been a head coach before: FSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher. Following Florida State’s bowl game this year, Fisher will become the Seminoles’ head coach after spending three seasons as Bobby Bowden’s coach-in-waiting. There has been no shortage of on-the-job training for the 44-year-old Fisher, but nothing could possibly prepare him for the day he actually moves into the sprawling, history-rich office of Florida State’s living legend.
It’s time now, though, for Fisher to get acclimated, and to embrace the task of moving Florida State forward.
The most obvious first priority for Fisher will be hiring a new defensive coordinator, and making the necessary staff changes. Expect them to be sweeping. Florida State’s defense finished the regular season ranked 109th in the country in rushing defense, 113th in pass efficiency defense, 108th in total defense, and 98th in scoring defense. Fisher, whose coaching experience has been entirely on offense as either a coordinator and/or quarterbacks coach, needs to make a smart hire similar to the one Clemson’s rookie coach, Dabo Swinney, made in Kevin Steele. Fisher needs a veteran, somebody he can depend on to make the right calls.
And of course, he needs the players to execute them.
Not one player from Florida State was selected to the ACC’s first-team all-conference defense this year. Expect that to change under Fisher. Ten of the Seminoles’ 16-player incoming recruiting class are defenders. Fisher has gotten a head start on building Florida State’s future through his strong recruiting efforts, and it doesn’t appear Bowden’s retirement will cause many if any deflections from the incoming class. Fisher’s hire at defensive coordinator is one lingering uncertainty that could have an impact on recruiting, as now is a prime time to be building and sustaining those coach-player relationships.
Relationships will have to be another priority for Fisher. After 34 seasons, many boosters and prominent alumni turned their backs on Bowden. How long will they embrace Fisher, and how long will they give him to make Florida State a winner? And how long will it take Bowden's fiercest loyalists to warm up to the new face of the program? This is a fan base that grew accustomed to consistent top-five finishes and national titles, but recently, FSU hasn’t even been able to win its division. It’s unclear how much of a role Bowden will still play in fundraising or if he’ll want to be involved at all with the athletic department anymore. If not, Fisher will have to win the hearts -- and the wallets -- of Florida State’s money men again on his own.
Winning, though, needs to be the end result. Fisher desperately needs to beat Florida. He needs to beat struggling teams like Maryland convincingly at home. He needs to leave no doubt that Florida State, not Jacksonville State, is the better team. With Christian Ponder returning at quarterback and leading an offense that returns all but one veteran, Fisher has half of Florida State’s on-field problems solved. Had the Noles’ defense been able to keep up this year, there’s no telling what this team might have accomplished.
It’s up to Fisher to answer that question next season, ready or not.