The Daily Nole

Column: Tallahassee is Big Enough for the Both of ‘Em

Michael Schwarz/FSU athletics

The adage goes that you don’t want to be the guy who follows the guy, you want to be the guy who follows the guy who followed the guy. For most collegiate head coaches, that’s true. In the case of Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, it’s not.

Fisher gave FSU fans a mini thrill last week when he told ESPN prior to the NFL Draft that he planned to retire at Florida State. At the age of 50, that might not come any time soon.

After three years as offensive coordinator of the Seminoles, Fisher took over as head coach in 2010, following the retirement of the legendary Bobby Bowden.

Bowden spent 34 years as the head man for Florida State and compiled winning seasons in each of his final 33 campaigns on the sideline. Bowden transformed a program that had won just four combined games in three years prior to his arrival into one of college football’s most recognized brands.

During the peak of Bowden’s career from 1987-2000, FSU finished ranked in the top 5 nationally every year — a streak unlikely to be paralleled. Over that span, the Seminoles claimed nine ACC titles and a pair of national championships while playing for three others.

Given Bowden’s laundry list of accomplishments, it’s not hard to understand why the field where the Seminoles play their home games bears his name. His likeness can be seen on a stained glass window on the stadium and on a bronze statue outside of it.

Bowden not only enjoyed success on the field, but won media figures over with his folksy persona and his well-timed, comedic southern-isms. Bowden’s unwavering Christian faith struck a chord with players and recruits throughout the rural parts of the old south and more urban parts of the cities.

“Coach Bowden taught you how to live a certain lifestyle without cramming it down your throat,” said James Coleman, an FSU fullback from 2002-05, in January 2015. “The way he talked to us was as if we were his son or grandson and not his employees. He came in and instilled discipline in us and made us productive citizens and that’s what Jimbo’s doing now. When guys like that actively go into neighborhoods with people they look nothing alike, it helps break a barrier and ease the pain that some of us grew up in.”

Replacing a larger than life figure like Bowden is hardly the most enviable of tasks. For all intents and purposes, Bowden was not only the face of the FSU program. He was the program and no one understands that better than Fisher.

“I love the guy”, said Fisher in October 2013, a day where Bowden made his return to Doak Campbell Stadium. “He’s the greatest football coach in college football history in my opinion and the greatest gentleman for sure.”

Fisher has not only taken on that tall task of replacing a legend, but he’s passed with flying colors. Fisher has not only continued Bowden’s strong football legacy, he’s revived it.

Over Bowden’s final four years, the Seminoles finished 7-6 three times and twice, needed bowl victories just to preserve their streak of consecutive winning seasons. FSU had not only become an afterthought on the national scale, but it had become a second-tier program in the ACC. From 2006-09, FSU was an even 16-16 against conference foes.

In 2010 — Fisher’s first season as head man at FSU — the Seminoles won 10 games for the first time in seven years and appeared in the ACC Championship for the first time in five. Over the last four years, Fisher’s teams have averaged more than 12 wins per season, which includes three ACC crowns, two perfect regular seasons and the 2013 national championship.

It’s unlikely that Fisher will coach into his 80’s as Bowden did, but coaching into his mid-60’s is far from out the realm of possibility. If that happens, it would give Fisher more than two decades as head coach of the Seminoles. It’s an endeavor that would be more than welcomed by the FSU faithful.

When Bowden retired, he gave his understudy one simple blurb of advice: do it your own way. Fisher has.

Whereas Bowden served as a “coach the coaches” type, Fisher has taken on a more hands-on approach. Fisher still calls a large bulk of the plays and is very active in the program’s overall scheme.

“Coach Bowden was more laid back; he was definitely more of an overseer,” said Everett Dawkins, a defensive tackle who played under both coaches, in an exclusive interview in July 2015. “Jimbo’s more of a hands-on type of coach; he’s on the field more with the guys. He calls the plays, but he would come over to the defensive side and take a peek and make sure everything there was right.”

With Florida State playing and recruiting at an elite level and one title already in his pocket, it’s possible that Fisher could actually lead FSU to more national championships than his predecessor. While FSU football will always be the program that Bowden built, Fisher is slowly becoming a legend in his own right.

It’s not extremely rare in major college sports to have a prestigious program have more than one successful head coach come through the ranks. To have them serve consecutively and to each span multiple decades is almost unheard of.

Only time will tell whether Fisher sticks to his current hope of retiring at Florida State. Programs like Alabama or Texas or even the NFL could come calling with bigger numbers than what FSU can offer and that could eventually be an offer Fisher can’t refuse.

A bronze statue and stained glass window don’t seem to currently be on Fisher’s list of demands, but if he chooses to go the route of Bowden and spend the final parts of his coaching career roaming the Doak Campbell Stadium sidelines, Tallahassee is more than big enough for the both of ’em.

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