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.

Stepping down is the right decision, but Fisher still needs to prove himself

December 1, 2009

In many ways the entire Bobby Bowden saga has played out like a classic tragedy.

 There’s the image of the conqueror laid low by age and betrayals trying in vain to hold on to his pride and to accomplish one last victory before he exits the stage forever. The conqueror has been betrayed by those younger than he, by those unable to appreciate the conquests and the glory that he has brought to everyone. Yet at the same time he mistakes loyalty for wisdom and his mind is clouded with hubris and he stumbles in the end.

There are those, of course, who say that Bowden deserves better, like say Dick Vitale, who insist that the 80-year-old Bowden deserves one last victory lap.

Here’s the truth: FSU’s success has been entirely due to Bowden. Nothing that happens now can take away the 2 national titles, the extraordinary run of Top 5 finishes, or the amazing string of bowl appearances.

But here’s the rest of the story: Bowden has been given fame and fortune in exchange for his extraordinary work. And his decisions in the last few years have damaged greatly the winning tradition that Bowden himself established. Bowden acted as if nothing he did, whether it was give his son a crucial important job, or hiring other coaches out of loyalty, could diminish his life’s work.

There’s part of me that continues to wonder if Bowden’s rage, rage against the dying light is due to his fear that he will go out the same way his idol Bear Bryant did. Bryant died just weeks after coaching his last game at Alabama.

Stepping down, however, is the right decision, no matter how clumsy the university may have handled it. If Bowden truly loves FSU as he said he does then he must realize that another year of this mess won’t help anyone. There’s no more of a guarantee that a national title is in the offing than there was this year. And what’s the point anyway? If FSU were a contender, then everyone would say it’s because Jimbo Fisher was given more say, given more leeway over the team. It’s a no-win situation for Bowden.

Bowden has already proven he’s a winner time and time again. In a few years no one will remember this last year. Instead what they will remember are the titles, the Heisman Trophy winners and the bowl wins.

And of course that’s what Coach Fisher needs to realize. He has been handed the keys to the kingdom over the objections of Bowden. Fisher will have no more excuses. Despite never having been a head coach, Fisher has been given the job of a lifetime. And while everyone has raved about his offensive success, let’s not forget that Bowen was once considered a genius on that side of the ball as well.

In my mind Fisher was given something before he truly proved it belonged to him. And while much of the problems this year were not of his doing, he made enough mistakes along the way – such as poor clock management against Miami – to raise doubts about his abilities.

Bowden’s departure will finally give FSU fans a chance to see whether or not Fisher is up to task, or whether his hiring is another decision that they will soon regret.

FSU president must decide if it’s time for Bowden era to end

October 4, 2009

On the same weekend that the University of Miami upset Oklahoma and completed an impressive four-game stretch, it is clear that the end of an era is coming for Florida State.

When head coach Bobby Bowden is forced to defend himself as vigorously as he did in the moments following the loss to Boston College, you can tell that even he knows that the pressure is mounting against him. Bowden told reporters “What would I gain by stepping down now? What would you do? Fire everybody and bring in a new coaching staff?”

When veteran FSU beat writer Steve Ellis – who has covered the program for years and even wrote a book with Bowden – is now saying it’s time for him to go – then you know that Bowden is running out of allies. The Sentinel chimed in with the same theme.

Plus, it’s apparent right now that Bowden will never catch Joe Paterno.  He’s fallen three games behind the Penn State legend and right now it appears highly unlikely that the NCAA will reverse itself on the decision to strip Bowden of 14 victories due to the cheating scandal that caught up the entire athletics department.

One big problem, of course, is the fluid situation at FSU. Hate to diverge into politics, but the fact that President T.K. Wetherell has already announced his resignation could also play a role in how this plays out. Wetherell himself could force Bowden out since he’s got little to lose by the decision. Or on the very least, he could persuade Bowden that it would be in his best interest to step down before a new president is selected. In other words, T.K. could give Bowden a way to exit somewhat gracefully and have him avoid a confrontation with the next administration.

That way Wetherell would at least have tried to resolve the situation as he heads out the door instead of handing his successor a mess to figure out.

But then again will a new president go along with handing the job over to Jimbo Fisher with no questions asked? Or will a new president be willing to pay $5 million in order to have complete control moving into the future. Wetherell probably has no way of knowing that, but he does have to decide what he wants the next president to deal with.

It is such an unfortunate way for Bowden to exit the stage. Without him there would be no FSU program to speak of. No nice stadium, no national championships. Many boosters would likely say Bowden earned the right to go when he wanted.

But now it’s clear that’s not going to happen. The only remaining question is when and where Bowden will make it official and say he’s walking away.

Anger boiling over as some FSU fans say it’s time for Bowden to leave

September 30, 2009

The Seminoles stunning 17-7 loss this past weekend  to the University of South Florida is reverberating through FSU fandom.

One columnist has already called on head coach Bobby Bowden to pack it in. Meanwhile the Tallahassee airwaves were sizzling as Tallahassee radio host Jeff Cameron has gone on a tear the last two days, attacking many aspects of the program. Cameron defended offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisherwho on Monday said FSU needed to “grow up” and stop accepting mediocrity– and has instead painted a picture of a program in dissarray or “dysfunction” as he calls it. A big source of the dysfunction appears to be the unusual arrangement that FSU has with Fisher, who is the head coach in waiting and will earn $5 million in 2011 if the university does not let him take over the team by then.

But Cameron said that the problem is that Fisher has little power over many aspects of the team. He called defensive coach Chuck Amato “useless” and said the game had passed by Defensive Coordinator Mickey Andrews. He said that Bowden was in “la-la land” and that FSU had catered to his whims for too long.  Cameron then had Ira Schoffelfrom the Osceola on his program where Schoffel said things were going to come to a head in the offseason because he expects Andrews to retire – setting off a potential power struggle over whether Bowden or Fisher gets to appoint the successor.

Schoffel said it has become clear that the decision to make Fisher the head coach in waiting – calling it the “least of all evils” — hasn’t worked out.

“It was a noble idea,” said Schoffel, but he swiftly added that “when you see the inconsistent play really two, three years into this kind of new regime, at this point I think it’s safe to say this isn’t going to work.”

Schoffel said having Fisher as head coach in waiting would have meant something if he had been given complete control over the team with Bowden having veto power over his decisions.

“You have this situation where Jimbo Fisher is still kind of treading water, trying to put band aids on different things,” said Schoffel.

Schoffel made it clear he doesn’t know if Fisher “is the answer” but he said “I do know that he can’t do what he feels is in the best interest of the program.”

Well, you can see where this is heading. There are many scenarios that could play out – including whether Bowden is forced to retire – but it’s clear that if the Seminoles continue to lose that the chorus of discontent will keep building and building.

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.