Jimbo Fisher leaving Florida State for Texas A&M the ultimate sign of the times
They always say you never want to be the guy who follows the legend. Instead, you want to be the guy who follows the guy who followed the legend.
Jimbo Fisher followed a legend at Florida State in Bobby Bowden, and it only took him four years to turn a broken program back into a champion. He won the school’s third national title on the arm of its third Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston.
In a move that defies logic for most everyone who follows college football — whether they’ve rooted for the Seminoles since the 1982 Gator Bowl, like I have, or not — Fisher resigned Friday to go to Texas A&M. He will reportedly get a 10-year contract worth $7.5 million per season, which is generational wealth.
Still, Fisher made $5.7 million in 2016 at FSU. Even in the Monopoly-money SEC, only Alabama’s Nick Saban made more.
Fisher came to the ‘Noles in 2007 as offensive coordinator, and soon thereafter he was named the coach-in-waiting behind Bowden. While Bowden single-handedly turned Florida State into a juggernaut in the ’80s and ’90s, his exit was borderline sad.
The Seminoles were still loaded with stars, but they didn’t win 10 games under Bowden in any of his last six years. Both on and off the field in Tallahassee, the entire system was in desperate need of a reboot. Fisher dragged FSU into the 21st century — his apprenticeship under Saban at LSU was obvious — and won liberally every step of the way.
That being said, some of Fisher’s success had to do with the brand he inherited. Could he have done the same thing at, say, North Carolina? Probably not.
And that’s something to be considered as he takes the reigns in College Station. The Aggies are one of the country’s pretend powerhouses. While they carry themselves like blue bloods, their résumé certainly suggests otherwise.
A&M has been playing the game since 1903 and boasts 12 seasons with double-digit wins — just one since 1998, by the way. Bowden won 10 or more games and finished in the Top 5 for 14 straight years from 1987-2000, which are both NCAA records. With a win Saturday over ULM, the ‘Noles will play in their 36th consecutive bowl game, another NCAA record.
The Ags will go to their ninth bowl game in a row after a 7-5 performance with Kevin Sumlin, who handed over his keys Sunday. That’s a school record. It just happens to be one-fourth as long as Florida State’s.
Like the Seminoles, Texas A&M has three national championships to its credit — unlike FSU, the Aggies haven’t claimed one since 1939. Even if the Lone Star State is neck and neck with the Sunshine State for high school talent, A&M only has 28 consensus All-Americans who’ve worn maroon and white. That’s about one every four years.
The ‘Noles have produced 45, or about three every four years. That’s 61 percent more in half a century less time.
Full disclosure: I’m a Florida State alumnus. I’ve gotten increasingly comfortable with Fisher gone, but I’m still puzzled. By all reasonable measures, it would’ve been much easier to win a second ring with the Seminoles than a first with the Ags.
It goes without saying that the ACC is easier to navigate than the SEC, despite the gap narrowing recently. In the ACC Atlantic, the only rival even close to FSU’s level is Clemson. But in the SEC West, Texas A&M — remember, it only joined the league in 2012 — has to deal with Alabama, Auburn and LSU.
Every year so far, the ACC and SEC champions have been in the College Football Playoff. Win and you’re in, so why make it harder?
The aforementioned Saban and Urban Meyer are the only coaches to win a natty at two schools. If Fisher becomes the third, he solidifies himself as one of the all-time sideline greats.
However, he must do it at a place with less of a winning tradition than the one he left. He must do it at a place with less of a presence on the recruiting trail — according to the composite rankings at 247Sports, Fisher’s average class from 2010-17 was fifth nationally, while Sumlin’s from 2012-17 was 12th — than the one he left.
So why did Fisher descend from such a high perch? Because it’s not easy for a notorious control freak to keep hearing “no.”
That was the case throughout his run with the ‘Noles. Florida State isn’t a poor institution, per se, but it’s not a rich one, either. It took way too long for Fisher to get an indoor practice facility. His assistants weren’t always paid top dollar.
When he took the reigns from Bowden, Fisher wasn’t shy about telling the administration that the Seminoles had fallen behind the times from a facilities perspective. Even if he finally got almost everything he wanted — what FSU has now is impressive, believe me — once you enter that arms race, you’re never out of it.
The Aggies won’t be telling Fisher no. The first sign was that deal they gave him. The ‘Noles never would’ve matched it.
From the outside, this seems like a lateral move at best for Fisher. An argument can be made that it’s a step down. You have to go back to 1976 to find a losing season at Florida State. A&M has failed to finish over .500 nine times since then.
But millennials have given us a mountain of evidence to prove that not only do they know nothing about history, they don’t care about it. The Aggies have a bigger stadium, more of a social-media presence — Fisher doesn’t even own a Twitter account — and a fresh uniform combination hanging in their lockers every Saturday.
A&M is trying to buy its way into college football’s most exclusive club. Fisher was expensive, but the Aggies can afford him.