The Daily Nole

Hot Take Tuesday: Leonard Hamilton is an FSU Legend and It’s Time We Start Treating Him as Such

Ken Lanese/FSU athletics

In the big three men’s sports, Florida State has had some absolute coaching legends over the years.

Recently retired head baseball coach Mike Martin won more games in his sport than any college coach ever in any sport. On the gridiron, Bobby Bowden was briefly the winningest coach in college football history while leading FSU to two national championships, a record 11 straight bowl wins and 14 straight top-5 finishes — a streak unlikely to ever duplicated.

Looking for more good news? Florida State still has a coaching legend in a major sport.

You may have heard of him.

His name is Leonard Hamilton.

It wasn’t long ago that #FireHam was a popular hashtag on social media. Like a fine wine however, the 71-year-old FSU men’s basketball coach seems to be getting better with age.

Following Saturday’s 78-65 triumph at then No. 7 Louisville, FSU climbed eight spots in the AP Poll to No. 10. This marks the third time in four years that the Seminoles had dipped their toe into the top 10. Last season, that’s where they finished.

Prior to the last four seasons, there was only five seasons ever where FSU made an appearance in the AP top 10. One of those was under Hamilton — during the 2011-12 campaign. In other words, FSU has appeared in the top 10 in eight of its 73 seasons as a program and half of those were with Hamilton at the helm.

For the #FireHam enthusiasts, there may have been a time where there was a hint of validity to that notion. There were seasons such as the 2005-06 season with Al Thornton and Alexander Johnson, the 2006-07 campaign with Thornton, Toney Douglas and Ryan Reid and the 2015-16 season with Malik Beasley and Dwayne Bacon where the Seminoles had multiple NBA Draft picks on the roster and failed to make the NCAA Tournament.

Fortunately for FSU, those days appear long gone.

Barring a meltdown of epic proportions over the next 16-plus games, Florida State is going to appear in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season. That’s something that has happened just once in program history — and oh, yeah, it happened under Hamilton. The Seminoles have advanced past the first weekend of the tournament in each of the last two seasons. They have never done that in three straight seasons.

After going undefeated at home for the first time since the 1970s and earning the No. 2 seed in the ACC Tournament during the 2016-17 season, FSU made its first Elite Eight appearance in 25 years the following season, thanks in part to its first win over a No. 1 seed (Xavier) in the NCAA Tournament. Last season, FSU set new program records for wins with 29 and ACC victories with 13 en rout to a third ACC Championship appearance (all three have occurred under Hamilton) and a second straight trip to the Sweet 16.

Having to replace six seniors, including its their leading scorer and leading rebounder — both NBA Draft picks — there were legitimate questions as to what to expect from the Seminoles this season. FSU was losing 64 percent of its points, 61 percent of its rebounds, 44 percent of its assists and 80 percent of its blocks from last season. One week into January and FSU finds itself ranked No. 10 in the country with three wins over ranked teams and all of them away from Tallahassee.

When Hamilton arrived at FSU, the Seminoles had suffered through four straight losing seasons and were an ACC afterthought. After two losing seasons in the first three years under Hamilton, FSU entered the 2019-20 campaign having completed 14 straight winning seasons — yet another program record. While we’re on the topic of streaks, let’s not forget that Hamilton’s Seminoles are 10-8 against rival Florida and have won six straight in the series.

While it’s true that FSU doesn’t have the greatest of basketball traditions, Hamilton’s accomplishments speak for themselves beyond just Florida State standards. Among ACC men’s basketball coaches all-time, only Mike Krzyewski, Dean Smith, Gary Williams and Roy Williams have more total wins. Only the four mentioned and Frank McGuire have more ACC wins.

To some however, Hamilton is measured by more than just wins and losses. Prior to last season’s 80-78 heartbreaking loss to Duke, ESPN’s Andrea Adelson went in depth on Hamilton’s trials and tribulations as well as how the impact he has on his players as young men goes beyond anything that takes place on a basketball court. Under Hamilton, the Seminoles have also achieved in the classroom with an impeccable graduation rate.

Although the numbers have increased over the years, fewer than a quarter of the Division I men’s basketball coaches are black compared to more than half of the players. Hamilton is the winngest black head coach in the history of college basketball’s most tradition-rich conference and is the only black coach to win multiple ACC Coach of the Year awards; he could probably have a couple more.

At 71 years old, it doesn’t take a lot of basketball acumen to recognize that Hamilton has more coaching days behind him than ahead. Fans, students and the FSU administration alike should do all they can to enjoy him while he’s here and to celebrate a man who has taken an ACC bottom-feeder and transformed it into one of the 25 best programs in the country.

Mike Ferguson is the editor of The Daily Nole. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson. Like The Daily Nole on Facebook. To pitch an idea, author a post or to learn more about The Daily Nole, email Mike Ferguson at

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