FSU’s expensive gamble

December 20, 2009

Well, here’s the good and the bad about Jimbo Fisher’s 5-year, $9 million deal with FSU.

The good: Paying more for performance. Fisher will get paid bonuses – as much as $250,000 – if he were to lead the Seminoles to a national championship.

The bad: FSU – which is in the midst of a leadership transition – decided to lock up Fisher to an expensive, long-term contract right before President T.K. Wetherell steps down. So now we have an incoming university president wedded to a football coach who has yet to prove if he is capable of being a head coach.

And even though it was time for Bobby Bowden to step down this move could eventually backfire on FSU officials.

FSU didn’t launch a nationwide search for Bowden’s successor. Instead they named Fisher head coach in waiting after his first year on the job hoping that Nick Saban’s success would rub off on his former offensive coordinator.

The pressure to win and win now will be enormous. Fisher will get no grace period from fans since he has been at FSU since 2007 and the players who will suit up next fall are guys that he helped recruit.

Those same fans – who wanted him so badly to take over – will hold Fisher to a pretty high standard. Bowden won two national championships during his legendary span as coach before the program sank into mediocrity. But the fans won’t remember the bad times under Bowden. If Fisher can’t get FSU to a title game the howls for his head will grow quickly and loudly. Just ask former Gators coach Ron Zook how easy it is to follow a popular coach with a pretty good track record.

Two or three years from now the FSU faithful could be wondering whether if they made an expensive gamble by locking in Fisher to a long-term lucrative contract. This is no small matter. FSU’s athletic department is self-sustaining and must turn to donations from the Seminole Boosters in order to balance its books. The day could come when donors are asked to kick in more money to convince a coach to head to the exit.

End of Bowden intrigue doesn’t clear up FSU mess

January 29, 2009
Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Sports Addict Gary Fineout

After a bit of delay, Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden signed a contract extension this week, thereby ensuring that Bowden will coach the Seminoles for at least one more season.

But this hasn’t stopped the blogosphere and talk radio from constantly buzzing about the mess that still surrounds FSU. First there is the still not completely explained reason that Bowden did not quickly sign his new deal. Then there is the pending NCAA investigation that hovers over FSU athletics with radio hosts on Tallahassee radio going as far to speculate that FSU could be forced to forfeit football games. Their take: Does Bowden really want to stick around if he dropped further behind Joe Paterno in the all-time wins list?

Bowden bashers have already weighed in with their dismay that he is still the coach, suggesting it is time to make way for heir-in-waiting Jimbo Fisher.

I just can’t get there. And no, it’s not that I think that Bowden has earned the right to decide when he should retire. I think it’s better to wait for another season and hope that this intractable situation will work itself out on its own. That’s because I am still not sold on Fisher – and – just as importantly I think that the search for Bowden’s successor should be a wide open affair at the time that Bowden actually steps down.

At this point in time, I could make a cogent argument that bounced Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden has credentials equal to Fisher. I’m not saying that Bowden’s son deserves the job, but you get the picture. FSU fans should realize that the entire world of college football could dramatically change in a season and they could have a whole host of good contenders to follow Bowden. And just as importantly, fans would get another year to see whether or not Fisher can return the team to glory. Plus, it will good to see how Fisher responds to pressure. There will be greatly increased expectations that the offensive unit will take a step forward with so many key players returning.

With another year, FSU and its fans can see whether its worth hanging on to Fisher or whether its worth paying him $5 million to go someplace else. Given the fact that Fisher has previously entertained offers to bolt the Seminoles there is a distinct possibility that he won’t stick around anyway. Yes, I know that he has a clause that forces him to pay FSU if he leaves. But I bet that both sides would be willing to waive that penalty if everyone thought it was good to part ways.

Blowout loss raises questions about Jimbo deal

November 30, 2008
Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Nearly a year ago Florida State University promised $2.5 million to Offensive Coordinator Jimbo Fisher for “staying out of the market” the next three years and said the money was his if FSU failed to hand over the head coaching job to Fisher when Bobby Bowden retires.

After the season FSU just had, I say there’s a good chance the university – or more accurately the Seminole Boosters – may wind up coughing that money. Because right now I find it hard to believe that Fisher has given the Seminole faithful a truly compelling reason to hand him the keys to the kingdom.

That point was reinforced in the second half against the Gators when senior quarterback Drew Weatherford was brought in to try to steady the Noles following a lousy performance by Christian Ponder. After the game, it was revealed that Ponder had hurt his back against Maryland and that coaches were worried about how well he would do.

Well, guess what? Weatherford was in his own words “rusty” and not really prepared for the Gators onslaught. Hmm. Think that would have been a different scenario if Weatherford had actually had a chance to play in a couple of earlier games, like say, the Wake Forest game where Ponder was totally ill-equipped to deal with the Demon Deacons defense?

I’m willing to put aside the deception of the FSU coaches, and just dwell on the obvious: Fisher was given complete control of the offense this season and the results were decidedly mixed. He benches Weatherford at the start of the season and goes for the more mobile Ponder as the starter, a recognition perhaps that the young, inexperienced offensive line may not be able to protect Weatherford.

But the decision also said that Fisher was thinking more about the future – read when he is head coach – than he was about this season.

In some games, Ponder was a difference maker due to his legs. But as should have been expected for a young quarterback, his performance as a throwing quarterback was erratic. (FSU’s passing offense was ranked 9th in the 12-team Atlantic Coast Conference.)

Weatherford was never going to take FSU to a national championship. There were times, however, when the Noles offense needed some steady, if unspectacular play. To throw him in the second half against a ferocious UF team after having him on the bench for nearly three months smacked of desperation. That Weatherford was able to lead the Noles on their only touchdown drive of the game just makes you wonder what would have happened if he had been given a chance to play earlier in the year.

Other concerns about Fisher: He appears a bit hot-headed and seems to always be screaming at his players. His offensive game plans were hot and cold. One week he comes with up with a brilliant approach, while in other games the offensive play calling makes little sense. And of course, I would assume that if Fisher is eventually named head coach there will be a complete restructuring of the defensive coaches because it’s hard to conceive that Mickey Andrews and Chuck Amato will want to start taking orders from a person that they view as a peer not as a boss.

I’ll make a friendly little wager: There’s going to be a lot of people urging Bowden to stick around for at least one more year.