TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Expectations were that LSU would poach Florida State's coach. LSU was a dream job. It had the recruits, the conference and the money, and yet here was Florida State’s coach turning it down.
"I was always very fond of LSU, and I nearly took it," Bobby Bowden recalled. "I thought Florida State would be just a short stop. I didn’t plan on staying. At the last minute, I decided to stay in Tallahassee."
That was in 1980. Nearly four decades later, history repeated itself. Florida State once again found itself fending off LSU trying to pilfer its coach, and the Seminoles were able to keep their coach this time, too.
Last week, Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher signed an extension that could run through 2026. It will keep him among the highest-paid coaches in the country, raising his annual salary to $5.5 million in 2017. The past two seasons, LSU reportedly targeted Fisher as its favored replacement for Les Miles, who was ultimately undone by an 0-6 record against Nick Saban since the 2012 calendar year.
"You listen to people, you see things and then you make decisions based on the right things," Fisher said.
After the 1979 season, Charles McClendon retired at LSU after compiling a 2-14 record against Alabama's Bear Bryant. The school called Bowden, who finished 11-1 in 1979. LSU's brass offered enough money to pull Bowden, but during that same season Florida State went on the road in Baton Rouge and won, 24-19.
The win, coupled with a budding recruiting base in Florida, convinced Bowden he didn’t need to leave Florida State to win a national title. But staying put presented risks. LSU was a program with a national championship, and Bryant was nearing the end of his career at Alabama. Florida State "was nothing compared to LSU," said Terry Bowden, who was a graduate assistant on his father’s staff in 1979. From 1980-1986, Florida State won 10 games once and went 55-25-3.
"But Dad said 'If I can beat LSU when I got nothing at Florida State, then I can build something here.'"
That foundation Bowden created helped aid a championship environment that Fisher didn’t have to seek elsewhere. Only Alabama is recruiting better than Florida State, and the facilities are among the best in the country. The Bowden family convinced school administrators in 2007 to open its pockets for Fisher, and, now in his seventh season, Fisher has fought for competitive salaries for his assistants. The buyout in Fisher’s new contract is tied to the amount of money owed to the assistant coaches, presenting an incentive for administrators to keep raising the pay for the Seminoles’ assistants.
Though Florida State fell short of expectations this season, optimism persists as the Seminoles could lose as few as seven contributors this offseason. They will be a one of the favorites to make the 2017 College Football Playoff.
"I love Florida State. I always want to be at Florida State. I told them a long time ago I want to be at Florida State," Fisher said. "I love what we're building, and I think we can have a great legacy here and keep the culture that Coach Bowden and everyone else put in place. We've got great young players and I love the hell out of them."
The night before the regular-season finale against Florida -- a 31-13 win that has Fisher within reach of a fifth straight season with at least 10 wins -- the Seminoles watched an advanced screening of a new documentary on Bowden. One of the central themes is Bowden opting to remain at Florida State despite a number of overtures, including Alabama, where Bowden played as a freshman. It was another dream job. In fact, it was the dream job.
Two days before the Florida win, ESPN.com reported Fisher pulled his name from the LSU search. Asked if he saw a little bit of himself while watching the documentary, he said, "You do. Yeah, you do."