Making The Case For Jimbo Fisher

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By Eric Nahlin, Inside Texas Recruiting Editor
Posted Dec 18, 2013
Copyright © 2018

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National Championship Tower (Photo: Will Gallagher/Inside Texas)

What do you get when you cross-pollinate Bobby Bowden’s coaching tree with that of Nick Saban’s

Total football awesomeness is the easy answer but more precisely you get Jimbo Fisher and the Florida State Seminoles.

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In 2013, you get nearly 7,000 yards of offense while holding your opponents to less than 3,500. You get a scoring margin of 42.3 points.

It doesn’t get much better than being part of football royalty, though unlike the political or monarchal kind, in football it’s earned, though a little bit of luck never hurt.

As luck would have it, Jimbo Fisher was a very good, bad quarterback. Or a very bad, good quarterback. Take your pick. 

He ended up playing Division III football under Terry Bowden at modern day Salem International University in Salem, West Virginia, before following Bowden to Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama for his senior year. Fisher was good enough to be named Division III player of the year. I wonder if he was referred to as a coach-on-the-field?

A couple years later he truly was a coach on the field, reuniting with Bowden at Samford, first as a graduate assistant then as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Fisher was now firmly hitched to Bowden’s star, one that would shoot brightly at Aubrun before fizzling. By this time, Fisher was gaining a reputation as a great quarterbacks coach. Auburn won a lot of games with Patrick Nix at the helm and continued with Dameyune Craig. It’s no coincidence I’m sure that both Nix and Craig have both gone on to solid coaching careers themselves.

After parting ways with Bowden in 1998, Fisher spent a year at Cincinnati before joining Nick Saban’s new LSU staff in 2000. Fisher can spot a winner. Apparently Terry Bowden and Nick Saban can as well.

Fisher’s already solid reputation as quarterback mentor and play caller took the next step while in Baton Rouge. Testament to his prowess he put Matt Flynn, Matt Mauck and JaMarcus Russell in the NFL. Testament to his patience he never once choked Ryan Perrilloux (as far as I know). When Saban left Miami, Fisher continued his same role under Les Miles. They laughed; they won; Fisher pretended to chew grass with Miles like a cautious schoolboy pretending to inhale cigarettes with the “cool kids”.

In 2007 Fisher again took up with a Bowden, this time the legendary Bobby Bowden. Both fortunate and unfortunate for Fisher, Bowden was well past happy hour. Upon his arrival, Fisher was immediately anointed Bowden’s successor. He patiently bid his time with the familiar chores of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He experienced much of the same success as previously, though the wins were more sparse than at LSU. Everyone knew Bowden had stayed too long, including I’m sure Bowden himself, but Fisher remained loyal until his turn came in 2010.

The returns were immediate - FSU had their first 10-win season in some time - and that’s where things get interesting for a Texas fan base searching for the man to rebuild a once proud and dominant program.

“The main positives with Jimbo are quarterback evaluation and development. He had Dameyune Craig at Auburn and I think he had something like five quarterbacks at LSU that were drafted. Over the past few years at FSU he’s had Christian Ponder, E.J. Manuel and of course Jameis Winston. Fisher is a really good guy that knows when to cut his players some slack and when to be hard on them. If you’re hard on them constantly they’ll tune you out. I really think he’s the perfect fit and the staff he’d bring is the best in the country. His defensive coordinator, Jeremy Pruitt, is one of the best defensive minds I know of and is a great recruiter. Sal Sunseri (has coached defensive ends and linebackers) is a technician as a coach and a top five recruiter.” – said a confidant familiar with football and many coaches east of the Mississippi


For Longhorn purposes, let’s deconstruct this quote because it encompasses what Texas needs and has been lacking.

“The main positives with Jimbo are quarterback evaluation and development.”

Whether it was poor evaluations, poor development, playing favorites or not putting quarterbacks in positions to succeed, Texas has struggled mightily at quarterback since 2009. There have been some bad breaks – Garrett Gilbert not panning out, David Ash’s injuries – but for the most part, this shortcoming lays at the feet of Texas coaching.

Fisher’s background suggests underwhelming quarterback play changes upon his arrival and it wouldn’t be a moment too soon. With Ash’s uncertainty, Swoopes’ stunted growth curve and Jerrod Heard being a true freshman, Texas is in desperate need of a man who can not only mold soft clay, but do it while the potter’s wheel is on full RPM.  

While he’s done wonders with quarterbacks, there have been years Fisher has had a successful offense without a game changer at the position, specifically while a quarterback was young and still coming into his own. This trait underlines his ability to develop and I find it just as appealing as seeing the end products being drafted in the first round or his quarterback winning the Heisman.

Fisher is a really good guy that knows when to cut his players some slack and when to be hard on them.

I’m not hung up on a coach being “a really good guy”. Being not a bad guy, suffices, but all things considered, this is a nice little plus for an image conscious school such as Texas. It also plays well in Texas households as proven by Mack Brown.

The second part of that sentence is much more important. It sounds like Fisher truly has the pulse of his team as any good manager does. You don’t yell for the sake of yelling and you don’t coddle to appease. Each expression has its utility but it must be deployed genuinely. Being Mr. Nice Guy results in lack of accountability. Being Mr. Hard Ass means instruction often falls on deaf ears. Each coach has a different ratio and must find what works for him. It sounds like Fisher has struck a nice balance.

I really think he’s the perfect fit and the staff he’d bring is the best in the country.”

Perhaps the most overlooked necessity of a new head coach is the ability to construct a staff. It requires two things; the type of self-awareness that helps you see and understand blind spots and a vast network so you can hire coaches that help navigate those shortfalls. Pining for the comfort of a Saban disciple, Fisher targeted an up and comer in Jeremy Pruitt. The FSU defense has been swarming all year.

Fisher’s staff is a nice mix of young and old. Often times staffs are a mix of great coaches who can recruit a little and great recruiters who can coach a little. Fisher’s staff is well rounded.

His defensive coordinator, Jeremy Pruitt, is one of the best defensive minds I know of and is a great recruiter. Sal Sunseri (has coached defensive ends and linebackers) is a technician as a coach and a top five recruiter.”

Elite results on the field are part and parcel with elite recruiting. It’s fun to romanticize the overlooked three star from a 2A afterthought, but realistically you’re not going to win big with a team comprised of those types. You need warhorses and thoroughbreds. Sure, a fair share of plow horses are good for the locker room and strength and conditioning program but their true value lies in developing them. If you don’t have Jimmies and Joes, it doesn’t matter who’s calling your X’s and O’s.

Almost every single starter for Florida State is assured of being drafted and that’s not counting the players on second string waiting for their opportunity. Not surprisingly, since 2010 Florida State has landed nine five-star players and countless other high ranking four-stars. On top of that, if you were to go back and re-rank players, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is a Top 10 player in the country.

Right now, the Florida State team and staff are clicking on all cylinders. There is talent on every stretch of the assembly line. The talent is then developed, maximized and put in position to succeed.

He’d be a fool to leave this situation, right? I’m not so sure. Over the life of a ten-year contract, Fisher would assuredly make in the neighborhood of 15 million more at UT than at FSU. I won’t pretend to know his motivations, but there aren’t many people in the coaching profession that would turn a blind eye to that.

Fisher has played an integral part in three rebuilds; Auburn, LSU and Florida State. At each stop he’s proved beyond capable. I see nothing in his history that would lead me to believe he wouldn’t be more than up to the task of returning Texas to the top. If so, in a roundabout way, Texas would have Bobby Bowden and Nick Saban to thank.

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