Whether or not Bobby Bowden should or will step down after the current season is almost a secondary point. The argument can certainly be made that Bowden should call it a career, that the game has passed him by. However, the bigger issue for Florida State is; whenever Bowden retires, who should replace him?
Of course, the current choice is offensive coordinator/head coach-in waiting Jimbo Fisher. Fisher came to Tallahassee in 2007 following a successful stint as offensive coordinator at LSU under Nick Saban.
Fisher was expected to restore the Seminoles' offense to the greatness of the late 1990's. The Seminoles' offense had trailed off significantly since 2000 when offensive coordinator Mark Richt left to become the Head Coach at Georgia. Richt was replaced by wide receiver's coach Jeff Bowden who struggled to maintain Florida State's offensive prowess.
In 2000 the Seminoles offense—led by Richt and all-time great quarterback Chris Weinke- ranked first in passing offense, scoring offense and total offense. Over the next six years the Seminoles' offense fell precipitously to an average of 48th in total offense.
The worst year under Bowden (Jeff) saw the Seminoles' offense fall to an all-time low total offense average of 70th (2006) and a scoring offense of 57th (2004). When Fisher took over in 2007 the Seminoles' offense got worse falling to 80th in total offense and 90th in scoring.
Fisher improved the offense in his second year to 51st in total offense and 22nd in scoring. Fisher's 2008 offense averaged 33.38 points-per-game and 371.85 yards-per-game.
Prior to the 2008 season Fisher was named head coach in-waiting. Fisher was expected to replace Bowden either when he stepped down or following the 2010 season—unless Florida State paid him a $5,000,000 buyout.
Florida State fans have been looking for the team to move forward and turn the corner following a near decade of struggling. The belief around Tallahassee before the 2009 season was that Florida State had turned the corner. The 2009 season was expected to be a huge year for Fisher and the Seminoles' offense.
Fisher had a red-shirt-junior quarterback in Christian Ponder who had started in Fisher's system in 2008—during the offensive resurgence. Fisher had his entire offensive line returning. All signs pointed to the offense in Tallahassee turning around.
The turnaround has not happened. Florida State offense is averaging 401.5 yards-per-game in 2009—a respectable number. However, the Seminoles' scoring offense has plummeted to 28.5 points-per-game. The points-per-game is down significantly, despite all those preseason advantages and the 54 points they put up at BYU.
All those numbers mean little at this point as far as Bowden and the future goes. Florida State's board of trustees chairman Jim Smith announced his wishes for Bowden to step down following this season. The question now has to be asked, if and when Bowden steps down, what should Florida State do about replacing him.
Fisher is currently the apparent plan. But, is Fisher the right hire. The argument for Fisher is going to be that he has improved the offense. He has recruited well. He has been at Florida State for several years.
However, none of those reasons are compelling. We must ask this question; if Fisher were not already at Florida State would he make the short-list of candidates for the job?
That answer has to be an emphatic no. Fisher has never been a head coach. He has marginally improved a mediocre offense at Florida State, and he has done little to persuade anybody that he is a leader who can replace a legend like Bobby Bowden.
If Florida State really wants to get back into college football's elite they must look outside their current staff for a head coach when Bowden retires. Nebraska has never recovered from losing Tom Osborne. Florida made the mistake of going with Ron Zook—also considered a good choice because he was a great recruiter—before finding Urban Meyer.
Florida State must be very careful—and very lucky—to avoid being more Nebraska than Florida. Florida State needs to do a proper search and look at all the options around the country, giving no favor to Fisher—or anybody else—simply because they are already in Tallahassee.
If Florida State wants to return to prominence and have any chance of staying with rival Florida and up-and-coming rival Miami they must go through this process the correct way.
Too many schools have tried to replace legends with lesser candidates just because they were in the room with those legends. More times than not it has take decades to recover, if at all. Nebraska, Alabama and Notre Dame all struggled for years to replace legends by trying to stay "in house."
The best move Florida State can make is to look around the country at the current crop of young, up-and-coming head coaches to find a replacement for Bowden. Sure, replacing a legend is hard, but it is a whole lot easier with an Urban Meyer than it is with Ron Zook. So, why not shoot for an Urban Meyer the first time.