Florida State’s long-awaited return to the top of the college football world has arrived. Last season, the Seminoles put together one of the more dominant campaigns in the history of the sport. Florida State scored more points than any FBS school ever, allowed the fewest points-per-game in the country and produced the school’s third Heisman Trophy winner.
Despite all of the Seminoles’ recent on-the-field accomplishments, the architect in charge of reviving the program often gets overlooked when the nation’s best head coaches are mentioned.
What Nick Saban has been able to accomplish at LSU and now Alabama speaks for itself. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has been a winner at every place in which he’s coached while like Meyer, Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly has led perfect regular seasons at two different FBS schools. But what Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher has been able to do in a short period of time in Tallahassee, is nothing shy of remarkable.
As others at a number of schools have tried to do before, Fisher quickly learned that replacing a legend is never easy. Despite a 31-10 overall record, and two 10-win seasons while delivering Florida State its first ACC title in seven years and first BCS bowl win in 14, Fisher had not been fully embraced by the FSU fan base prior to the start of 2013.
For 34 years, Bobby Bowden roamed the Florida State sideline. Bowden not only brought Florida State from a laughingstock to a national power, but his southern charm and playful banter with the media made him a larger than life figure off the field as well.
For all of Bowden’s success which included a pair of national championships, 12 ACC titles and 14 straight top 5 finishes from 1987-2000, the program had fell on hard times. The Seminoles finished just 7-6 in three of the legend’s final four seasons in Tallahassee.
In 2009, Florida State wasn’t losing to just Miami and Florida, but South Florida came in to Doak Campbell Stadium to stun the Seminoles 17-7. That year, FSU also needed touchdowns in the final minute at home to beat the likes of FCS Jacksonville State and a Maryland squad that finished just 2-10.
In four years time, Fisher has brought back everything that was once great about Florida State football. While Florida State’s nail-biting 34-31 victory over Auburn in the 2014 BCS National Championship unseated the SEC as the king of college football, it also masked how dominant the Seminoles truly were in 2013.
While Bowden’s title teams in 1993 and 1999 were certainly talented and dominant, the 2013 team may have been the best ever at Florida State. Though the Tigers gave the Seminoles all they wanted for 60 minutes in Pasadena, Florida State bested its previous four ranked opponents by an average margin of nearly six touchdowns.
As memorable as the 2013 season was and will be for years to come in Tallahassee, Fisher has revived the program in a number of areas. Fisher’s 45-10 overall record compared to 30-22 in the previous four years certainly speaks volumes, but perhaps ever more so in ACC play.
In Fisher’s four years, the Seminoles have played for the conference title three times, winning it twice. In the previous four years, FSU did not win as much as the Atlantic division. The Seminoles’ ACC record during the stretch was an even 16-16 compared to 26-6 under Fisher.
Producing a national championship caliber roster in the state of Florida is never overly difficult, but to do that, one must first be the best team in the state. From 2004-09, Florida State lost to rival Florida every year. In the final five of those match-ups, the Seminoles managed to stay closer than 27 points just once.
In four years with the Fisher at the helm, FSU is 3-1 against the Gators and a perfect 4-0 against Miami with the average margin of victory over the ‘Canes coming by 18 points. Fisher’s four wins over Miami matches the total for Florida State in the previous 11 seasons prior to his tenure as head coach.
Fisher has also reinstalled the home-field advantage that playing in front of more than 80,000 fans at Doak Campbell Stadium was for so long. From 1992-2000, Florida State did not lose a single game at home, although there was one very memorable tie.
In the previous four years prior to Fisher’s arrival however, the Seminoles went just 15-11 in Tallahassee with the lowlight being a 30-0 loss to Wake Forest in 2006. In Fisher’s four years coaching at Doak Campbell Stadium, Florida State is 24-4 in front of the folks wearing garnet and gold.
While fans in Tallahassee won’t soon forget the legendary Bobby Bowden, whose statue sits outside of the stadium he helped turn into one of the premier facilities in college football, Fisher is reviving the proud legacy that Bowden built while enhancing his own.
Though Fisher has certainly been blessed to coach under not one, but two legends in Bowden and Nick Saban, he’s drastically different from both in a number of ways while similar in others. Making Fisher’s accomplishments more astonishing is the fact that he’s succeeded without hiring a true offensive coordinator.
Additionally pressing Fisher for time is the fact that he has to take care of his son, Ethan, who battles a rare blood disease known as Fanconi Anemia. In addition to grinding out victories and putting together top 10 recruiting classes, Fisher is also heavily invested in raising money and awareness for the disease.
Although Fisher does not seem to be mentioned enough as one of the nation’s premier head coaches, the head man at Florida State has already completed as many perfect seasons as Saban. He’s won as many FBS national championships as Brian Kelly, Mark Richt, Steve Spurrier, Frank Beamer and Bill Snyder combined.
While leading a football powerhouse and running an offense is taxing enough, Fisher’s taking of a leadership role in fighting a disease that closely affects his family might just lead one to believe that there’s a little more to Coach Fisher than just what he can do for a football program.