Florida State Football: Why Jimbo Fisher Has Toughest Job in College Football
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Coaching a college football team is never easy.
There are countless inside and outside pressures for coaches to wade through—whether they be from overachieving assistants threatening the head-coaching position or millionaire boosters who want to win no matter the cost.
But there are some coaches who face bigger challenges than others.
It's almost inconceivable to think of a situation more under a microscope than that of Bill O'Brien's at Penn State. Replacing one of college football's most recognized legends while dealing with one of the more disturbing stories in sports history is no easy task—and O'Brien is dealing with it outstandingly.
But O'Brien's obstacles deal more with the public relations side of things, as Penn State is more worried about restoring its image than winning football games at this point. We all know that football programs want to win above all else, but sometimes there are more important things to address.
While the situation in Happy Valley isn't ideal, there is another coach dealing with the pressures of replacing an icon.
With Bowden at the helm, Florida State rose to national prominence and became one of the more successful programs throughout the 1990s. The Noles brought home twelve ACC titles home during Bowden's tenure, as well as two national championships in 1993 and 1999, both with teams led by Heisman-winning quarterbacks.
Towards the end of Bobby's historic career, however, Nole Nation got antsy. Not used to seeing their team struggle, boosters and other FSU faithful called for a changing of the guard in Tallahassee. Firing a legend who single-handedly built your program from the ground up is not the wisest move, however.
So, Florida State brass did the next-best thing—if you can call it that—and named Fisher the "head coach in waiting." After two awkward seasons with whispers about Bobby's inevitable departure, Bowden was unceremoniously forced out of Tallahassee, and Jimbo became the Seminoles' new head coach.
The Bowden discussion is one for another time, but the residual effects from that exchange paved the way for Fisher's monumental expectations. An absolute giant of college football was forced out so that Fisher could take over—FSU fans wanted to see him deliver.
Winning doesn't simply happen by changing the name on the head coach's paycheck, however. Foundations had to be built, recruiting pipelines established, coaching staffs implemented. Jimbo had a few seasons knowing the job was his before actually taking over, however, and much of his system was already in place.
Jimbo is a product of Nick Saban's coaching tree, and he is starting to establish one of his own. His assistants are flying out the door, too, as their accomplishments under Fisher are leading to higher-paying jobs. Dameyune Craig bolted to become the co-offensive coordinator at Auburn, and offensive coordinator James Coley left to take the same position at UM. Such assistants could start putting pressure on Jimbo's status as head coach if things waver too much.
Having great assistant coaches is never a bad thing, though, and Jimbo should feel proud that he has produced such a strong tie to his name and success. Craig and Coley were both prime recruiters, however, and their absence could make an already daunting task even more challenging.
Convincing recruits to play at Florida State with no legend of Bobby is a challenge—especially in the state of Florida. The incredibly deep well of talent in the Sunshine State draws coaches from all over the country to try and woo the next Deion Sanders or Emmitt Smith to play for their team.
In-state rivals—the University of Florida and the University of Miami, most notably—are always a lock to steal some of that talent away from the Noles, too. Both programs have a long history of winning, and their draws are just as big as Florida State's. With Florida State's position in a weak Atlantic Coast Conference, that draw may even be harder to sell than we think.
Playing in the ACC puts pressure on Jimbo's crew. With a program so rich in talent and tradition, packed with the finest players in the country, supported by a booster population with incredibly deep pockets, Florida State is expected to breeze through their conference schedule that features very few real threats.
Any conference loss to a team, other than possibly Clemson, is seen as a huge disappointment (see FSU's loss to unranked NC State earlier this year). As rabid as the Florida State fanbase is, no coach wants to be the one to lose a game like that. Those who pack Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturdays expect an undefeated team to enter the season finale against the rival Gators.
The takeaway from all of this is that Fisher is under an incredible amount of pressure to perform with a team aiming to return to past glory after pushing one of the three greatest coaches of all time out of town—all the while competing with every other program in the country for impact talent.
After a few understandable adjustment seasons, Fisher has the Seminoles back to contending, and after winning the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day, Florida State finally has a marginal amount of national respect.
Fisher needs to continue to build, however, as any stunt in the further growth of this program could lead him to the same fate as his predecessor. If those at Florida State have the backbone to kick Bobby Bowden out, they'll have no problem doing the same to Jimbo Fisher.
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