Bobby Bowden and Jimbo Fisher both left Florida State in turmoil. Over time, Seminole fans have largely forgiven Bowden’s decline in the 2000s, but the same can’t be said for the way Jimbo Fisher left the program.
Texas A&M fired former Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher on Sunday. With Fisher collecting a $7.27 million annual unemployment check from Texas A&M boosters through 2031 and the Seminoles chasing the playoffs, there has been talk of letting go of the vitriolic sentiments regarding the end of Fisher’s time at Florida State. There has even been tongue-in-cheek talk that Jimbo is expected to attend the 2013 national championship team reunion this Saturday. Seminole fans have largely forgiven Bobby Bowden for the way his time with the Seminoles ended, and he is rightly celebrated as arguably the greatest figure in FSU history. But with Jimbo, things are different.
Bobby Bowden’s time in Tallahassee ended in less than ideal circumstances. Florida State’s glory days seemed like a distant memory when Bowden retired in December 2009. Bowden and the Seminoles entered the Aughts as the kings of college football. The Seminoles had won two national championships, finished in the AP Top 5 fourteen straight years, and won the ACC every year since joining the league in 1992. But all that would soon change.
Jeff Bowden, Bobby’s son, was promoted to offensive coordinator before the 2001 season. The hiring was criticized due to Jeff’s lack of qualifications and accusations of nepotism. The elder Bowden circumvented Florida’s civil servant nepotism laws by creating the title “associate head coach” for longtime defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews and claiming that Jeff Bowden reported directly to Andrews. This season would see FSU’s Top 5 ranking streak broken and the Seminoles would lose four games for the first time since 1986, largely due to an ineffective offense. The offense continued to slowly decline until the infamous 30-0 loss to Wake Forest in 2006, which forced the resignation of Jeff Bowden and led to Jimbo Fisher coming to Tallahassee.
Bobby Bowden would also bring buddies such as Chuck Amato and Jody Allen onto the defensive coaching staff. The same decline in quality that hit the offense began to affect the defense. In 2009, FSU’s once-legendary defense was giving up an average of 30 points per game, and other than Odell Haggins, no member of the defensive staff had coached for another D1 school during their career.
In Bowden’s final nine seasons, the Seminoles went a combined 5-14 against Miami and Florida, giving him a career losing record against the two rivals. The Seminoles lost 42 total games during that span, compared to just 55 during Bowden’s first 25 years as coach. Additionally, in 2007, the NCAA imposed sanctions against Florida State, resulting in Bowden being recognized as the winningest head coach of all time and the state’s bowl streak. Florida State was recognized as an NCAA record.
Despite five major bowl appearances, three ACC championships, winning 29 consecutive games between 2012 and 2014, and the 2013 national championship, there was still a sense of tension during Jimbo Fisher’s tenure as coach- chief. There was the aftermath of Bobby Bowden’s retirement, the losses to lesser competition, the exploits of Jameis Winston more publicized than the team’s consecutive victories, then the decline of the program from 2016. A disastrous game against Louisville which provided Lamar Jackson with his entire Heisman. Trophy highlights and a loss to Clemson that ended FSU’s run atop the ACC showed that all was not well with FSU.
Then, in Fisher’s final year as head coach, the dam finally broke. The Seminoles were blown out 24-7 by Alabama in a highly publicized Top 5 game, and quarterback Deondre Francois was lost for the year with a knee injury. Then, in October, things went from bad to worse. FSU lost to Miami for the first time since 2009. The following week, Fisher got into a verbal altercation with a fan as he left the field after a 31–28 loss to Louisville, threatening the fan. to “say it to my face”. The month ended with a 35-3 loss to Boston College, which could best be described as the departure of the entire team and coaching staff. When Fisher finally resigned to become coach at Texas A&M, a viral tweet showing Jimbo’s Christmas tree left on the sidewalk summed up the end of his time at FSU.
Despite all the self-inflicted wounds, the fan base never turned overwhelmingly against Bowden. Fans filled the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville to show their appreciation for the legend, setting an attendance record that will likely never be surpassed. Bowden being carried off the field after a game-tying victory is a lasting image for every Seminole fan old enough to remember it. Bobby Bowden truly built FSU football from the ground up and maintained a sustained level of excellence for four decades. FSU football has finished in the AP Top 10 at least once in four straight decades under Bowden.
Most importantly, he made FSU feel special. Bowden interviewed for his dream job at Alabama in 1986, but was unsuccessful. It had such an impact on him that, when offered the job in 1990, Bowden turned down Alabama and was never linked to another school.
Meanwhile, there were two constants of the Jimbo Fisher era. The first was that almost every season his name was associated with a high-profile job offer. He was linked to the West Virginia job in 2009, although he was named FSU’s head coach-in-waiting. Every time LSU considered firing Les Miles between 2010 and 2016, Jimbo’s name was linked by everyone on the LSU beat. Fisher was also publicly linked to the Texas Longhorns during the 2013 national championship season. Seminole fans were just fed up.
The other constant was Fisher publicly berating Florida State’s facilities and the administration’s perceived commitment to winning. While FSU certainly needed a modernization when Jimbo gained full control in 2010, the constant calls for more began to ring hollow. Jimbo Fisher’s FSU teams lost at least one game as a double-digit favorite every year Jameis Winston didn’t start at quarterback. At one point, you can’t blame the lack of dedicated football facilities for losing Boston College, NC State or Wake Forest.
Jimbo Fisher had an incredible three-year stretch between 2012 and 2014 that all Seminole fans should be happy with. But much like Larry Coker’s time in Miami or Urban Meyer’s time in Florida, the highs ultimately came at the cost of prolonged dysfunction that lasted well beyond the coach who initially instigated it. Bobby Bowden has earned forgiveness for his own sins, as FSU football ultimately wouldn’t be on the map without him.