SEC meetings: What’s Jimbo Fisher’s legacy at Florida State?

Said one fan: 'Really glad he was here, and also glad he has moved on.'
How should Jimbo Fisher be remembered at Florida State? [ TIMES FILE ]
How should Jimbo Fisher be remembered at Florida State? [ TIMES FILE ]
Published May 30, 2018|Updated May 30, 2018

DESTIN — Jimbo Fisher's return to the state could have been a cause for reflection.

Texas A&M's new coach was here for the SEC's spring meetings at the Hilton Sandestin, 150 miles west of the campus that made him one of four active coaches with national championships.

His white and maroon shirt didn't look too different from the white and garnet he wore during eight seasons as Florida State's head coach.

But Fisher wasn't in the mood for thinking about his legacy.

"I don't believe you think about that," Fisher said. "I don't think you worry about what people think of you, because if you worry about what people think of you, you're not doing what you think is right all the time."

If Fisher wasn't thinking about the past, his time in Tallahassee will have to speak for itself. How should he be remembered at FSU?

"He brought us a lot of joy and excitement for most of his time in Tallahassee, and I think most of us are grateful for that," FSU fan Robert Webster said. "However, I'll also remember the terrible manner in which he handled his departure."

Six months after that dramatic departure, the two are still tied together — the championship highs and the bitter end.

Fisher inherited a program that had fallen behind off the field (in facilities) and on it. A program that won at least 10 games in 14 consecutive seasons during Bobby Bowden's prime went six in a row without hitting that mark.

Fisher changed that.

All eight of his recruiting classes were ranked in the top 12 nationally, leading to six top-20 finishes, three ACC titles, the 2013 national championship and the highest winning percentage in league history.

His fixation on facilities helped send him to College Station, but it also brought FSU into college football's arms race with an indoor practice facility, a player's lounge, a new locker room and major upgrades to Doak Campbell Stadium. Willie Taggart should thank him for all of that.

Beyond the victories and facilities, Fisher successfully replaced a legend in a way few others have done, in any sport.

Consider four of Bowden's peers: Steve Spurrier, Joe Paterno, Tom Osborne and Phillip Fulmer. The men who immediately replaced them went a combined 103-48 (.682 winning percentage) with three top-10 finishes. Despite high-profile upset losses to Georgia Tech, Louisville and North Carolina State, Fisher still finished 83-23 (.783) with four top-10 seasons.

Fisher was also one of the rare success stories of the coach-in-waiting philosophy. Dana Holgorsen has never finished higher than 17th in seven seasons at West Virginia. Will Muschamp never even became the head coach at Texas — although Florida fans probably wish he had.

The odds of a first-time head coach thriving under those circumstances seem low. Somehow, Fisher did it.

He was probably never going to top Bowden, the folksy legend who built the program into a national power. But FSU fans could have made room for him, the way Alabama fans revere Nick Saban alongside Bear Bryant.

"He could've left a legend," Webster said, "and instead he left a bad taste in almost everyone's mouth."

The bad taste came after years of flirting with other programs, when Fisher finally bolted for Texas A&M with one game left in FSU's lost season. Before he took the Aggies' 10-year, $75 million contract, he snapped at a fan, upset boosters with more facilities requests and led a team that woefully underachieved in a year that began with championship expectations and ended in a trip to Shreveport. He became the first coach in four decades to leave a school where he won a title for another college job.

That's all part of Fisher's legacy, too, along with the Heisman Trophy, crystal ball and College Football Playoff appearance.

Maybe the hurt feelings over his exit will eventually become a footnote to one of the most successful coaching stints in state history. FSU fans like Chris Beltz aren't ready for that.

"Really glad he was here," Beltz said, "and also glad he has moved on."