Jimbo Fisher was perfect coach at perfect time for FSU, until he wasn’t

5:43 p.m Friday, Dec. 1, 2017 Sports
Head coach Jimbo Fisher of the Florida State Seminoles shakes hands with Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt after a game against the Miami Hurricanes at Hard Rock Stadium on October 8, 2016 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Fisher dominated his in-state rivals, Florida and Miami, and never lost a game on the road to either team during his eight seasons as coach of the Seminoles. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Jimbo Fisher does not deserve the backlash he is receiving, not after what he did to make Florida State football relevant again.

Fisher was, simply, the perfect hire for Florida State after the disheartening end to the magical Bobby Bowden era.

*Behind-the-scenes as Jimbo’s son battles rare disease

*Who should replace Jimbo?

*Local recruits react to Jimbo’s departure

And now, after eight years as a head coach that will include one season that does not end with a top 25 ranking, Fisher is being scorched for leaving behind a program that was among the best in the country under his watch.

Even if Fisher had his heart set on returning to the SEC, that never took away from his relentless drive to push FSU back to the top, even while dealing with family issues, including his son being diagnosed with a rare, life-threatening disease about a year after Fisher was named head coach.

The ending was messy and could have been handled better. But few end smoothly at the highest levels of a business that has exploded to where the top paid coaches are making in excess of $10 million a year.

I get the angst and anger of the last few days. But to this level? And after the last eight years, a stretch that included the most successful three-year period in FSU football history?

Fisher even tried to hold out as long as possible, hoping to coach one final game Saturday on the Doak Campbell Stadium sidelines.

But that proved unrealistic considering the vitriol

Texas A&M probably is not the first place that came to mind for a landing spot for a coach who made his bones as an assistant at Auburn and LSU. But when a coach who wins 80 percent of his games, three conference titles, a national title and goes an astounding 14-2 against his two main state rivals is felt unwelcomed because of one under-performing season in which the Seminoles lost their starting quarterback in the season opener … maybe it was time.

Fisher had two chances to return to the SEC the last two years, both when LSU tripped over itself in an attempt to woo him back to Baton Rouge. And it was tempting. Fisher enjoyed his seven seasons as an assistant at LSU. He saw how programs that are committed to opening the vault when it comes to college football thrive. Fisher craved to be a part of that.

He finally is.

Fisher resisted that temptation for a while, which should tell you everything you need about how the relationship in Tallahassee deteriorated so quickly. If Fisher had his choice, today, of any SEC job, Texas A&M probably would be no higher than fourth on the list.

But college football is an arms race. It starts with facilities and support staff. Fisher watched his mentor, Nick Saban, turn Alabama into the Patriots of the NCAA with unlimited resources. And he saw one program in his own conference, Clemson, pass Florida State when it comes to commitment and facilities.

While Florida State has made major inroads in facilities and upgraded the locker room, coaches’ offices and players’ lounge and spent $80 million on the Champions Club inside Doak Campbell, this all pales in comparison to the upper crust of the SEC.

Fisher was not wrong trying to push FSU into upgrading facilities. But the timing of his pleas were not the best as the losses mounted this year.

Fisher’s deal with Texas A&M is reported to be $75 million over 10 years (everything is bigger in Texas, even coach’s contracts), but those aren’t the numbers that will matter most to Fisher. Since FSU president John Thrasher arrived, Fisher has been satisfied with his contract at FSU, which, at $5.7 million this season, was sixth among college coaches. And at $7.5 per, he still will fall in behind Saban ($11.1) and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney ($8.5).

The numbers that will matter to Fisher are $500 million and $20.8 million, the former the amount earmarked by Texas A&M four years go to renovate Kyle Field and upgrade football facilities and locker room and the later the amount specifically for renovations of the football complex.

Fisher returned Florida State to its glory years, inheriting a program that was 7-6 in three of Bowden’s final four years. But even after going 12-2 in 2012, many were questioning if he was the right man for the job.

Two years later, he become the toast of Tallahassee. Fisher had just completed a three-year run in which the Seminoles were 39-3, won three ACC titles and the 2013 national title with the program’s first undefeated season (14-0) and had a 29-game winning streak.

But even the down years (2015, 2016) meant just three losses, until one of those everything-than-can-go-wrong seasons has FSU at 5-6 and needing a victory over Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday to extend its bowl streak, which is the longest in the nation, to 36.

And here’s one more number for Florida State fans to consider in their eagerness to push out Fisher: From 2010 to 2017, Fisher never lost a game at Florida Field or Hard Rock Stadium, going 4-0 in Gainesville and 6-0 in Miami Gardens (including two wins in the Orange Bowl).

If he has that kind of success in places like Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Auburn, Ala., and Baton Rouge, La., room will have to made in front of those fancy facilities in College Station, Texas, for statues.