Saturday, June 23, 2018
Colleges

Jimbo Fisher leaves Florida State for Texas A&M

There was no single moment that led coach Jimbo Fisher to bolt Florida State University for Texas A&M.

There was no Jim McElwain death threats incident — no "point of no return" crossed by one side or the other.

This was a slow burn that grew into an inferno and finally ended Friday with the 52-year-old Fisher resigning from a program where he won a national championship, three Atlantic Coast Conference titles and an ACC-record 78 percent of his games.

Some of the embers were public.

Frustration boiled over as a season that began with a top-three ranking crumbled into mediocrity. When a fan yelled for new coaches after an October loss to Louisville, Fisher snapped for the fan to come to the field and say that.

Other embers were harder to see. Before the Clemson game, Fisher raved about his rival’s commitment to facilities and infrastructure.

"Not just building," Fisher said, "but all the things behind the scenes."

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Behind the scenes at Fisher’s own program, those words upset key figures in and around the program.

They had given Fisher almost everything he wanted to fend off annual overtures from other schools (LSU, Texas, Auburn). His $5.55 million salary made him one of the highest paid coaches in the country. Only five schools had bigger salary pools for assistants. FSU delivered an indoor practice facility, a players’ lounge, an upgraded locker room and major renovations to Doak Campbell Stadium — all since 2013.

And now Fisher was asking for more, specifically a football-only complex that was already in the works.

His requests seemed reasonable when the Seminoles were rattling off five straight 10-win seasons and beating Auburn for the 2013 national title. They sounded outrageous during a 5-6 season when FSU had to reschedule lowly Louisiana-Monroe to try to extend its bowl streak to an NCAA-record 36 games.

That ULM game inadvertently became the spark that set the situation ablaze.

Fisher refuses to talk about other jobs during the season. The ULM game extended that by another week, to Saturday. Fisher stuck to his policy, even as A&M’s board of regents discussed replacing Kevin Sumlin.

Fisher’s silence extended to his team and recruits, costing the Seminoles three commitments Wednesday.

"No call, no text," quarterback Deondre Francois said via Twitter after Friday’s news broke. "You could (have) said something."

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Tensions rose.

On Tuesday, FSU president John Thrasher told the Tallahassee Democrat that the Seminoles’ power structure was nothing "reasonable adults" can’t work through. By Thursday, the relationship between FSU and the coach who modernized its program and captured its third national title seemed unsalvageable. Sticking around to coach FSU’s final game became impossible; defensive tackles coach Odell Haggins will serve as interim coach.

Only Fisher knows why, and when, he became interested by A&M, and he did not comment Friday.

The Aggies offered things FSU couldn’t, or wouldn’t. A&M brought in $194 million in 2015-16 — more than any other school and $80 million more than FSU, according to USA Today.

Fisher’s 10-year, $75 million contract is the largest in college football history, according to ESPN.

A&M also offered Fisher a reboot after 11 seasons at FSU — eight as head coach and three as the coach-in-waiting under the legendary Bobby Bowden. That’s an eternity to stay in one pressure-packed spot; only 11 Power Five head coaches have longer active tenures than Fisher.

The longevity led to stagnation. FSU’s coaching staff remained the same for three consecutive seasons, and three assistants had been with Fisher since 2007. He was going to have to shake things up if he returned to Tallahassee.

Instead, Fisher’s the first coach to leave a program where he won a national title for another college job since Johnny Majors ditched Pitt for his alma mater, Tennessee, 41 years ago.

And FSU is forced to do something it hasn’t done in four decades: Conduct a true coaching search.

"The excitement around Florida State is indisputable," Thrasher said, "and a tremendous opportunity awaits whoever is chosen as our new head football coach."

Expect FSU to move quickly. The Seminoles have already started vetting Oregon coach Willie Taggart, a Palmetto native who coached USF from 2013-16. Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente and USF coach Charlie Strong are also options.

All because of friction that burned slowly for weeks before finally turning into an inferno that could not be doused.

Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

By the numbers: Jimbo Fisher

83 Career wins

.783 Winning percentage — highest in ACC history

35-8 Record in November, December and January

27-4 Fisher’s non-conference record

42 Players Fisher has had drafted

8 First-round picks under Fisher

3 ACC championships

1 National title (2013)

29 Consecutive games won (2012-14) — the longest in ACC history

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