A few days ago I linked an article on Jimbo Fisher from Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples. Staples is one of it not the best college football writer in the country. He played ball for Florida and understands the game. But at the same time, he's analytical and doesn't rely on cliches like "I played the game, did you?" When SI contacted Tomahawk Nation about doing an interview on Jimbo Fisher and college football, we jumped at the opportunity. His responses appear in the shaded quote boxes.
Considering Fisher thinks FSU will be back and in the national title hunt sooner than we think... When do you think the Seminoles will be back to being in the conversation for national championships?
Fisher has good reason to think that. If the defense gets dramatically better, Florida State has the offense and the early-season out-of-conference schedule to catapult into the top 10 by the end of September. A win at Oklahoma and a home win against BYU would get voters' attention. The Seminoles might still have to win every game to play for the national title - the ACC just doesn't have the juice to get a one-loss team in over a one-loss SEC, Pac-10 or Big 12 team - but they would certainly have the opportunity. That's a big if, because that defense was really awful last season. But I understand why they think it could get a lot better. Playing zone will help account for the fact that FSU doesn't have better athletes in the secondary than everyone it plays (nobody has that anymore, really). The defensive line still seems a bit undersized, and I'm curious how many impact freshmen there will be on that side of the ball. I'm on record as saying Lamarcus Joyner is my favorite football player in the country in the class of 2010, and I think he could help right away. I know the coaches are really excited about Telvin Smith. I'm not sure how long Christian Jones and Jeff Luc will need to become impact players.
If the Noles don't get into the conversation this year, they could do it next year. We all know E.J. can play. The line would lose Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon, but Datko and the others would be back. Lonnie Pryor would still be there, and you know some young receivers will emerge between now and than. Plus, that's another year of this staff recruiting. So people have reason to be excited.
Andy is clearly on board with needing size in the front seven. As Fisher said, "FSU needs grown-ass men." Those guys will be in place in 2011 as we pointed out a few weeks ago, and FSU will have one of the 10 largest front-sevens in the country. As for Joyner, I'll follow up with Andy, but I wonder if he didn't mean Joyner will make an impact on special teams.
What was the most surprising thing you got from talking with and observing Fisher?
The most surprising thing was how quickly he's been able to put his plans into action. Usually, new coaches have to fight for stuff like new strength coaches [Fisher just hired the 9th full-time strength coach] and a nutritionist. The administration gave Fisher a lot of what he asked for, and that's a good sign. He's going to have to raise some dough to get his dorm and indoor facility, but the more immediate changes were more critical anyway. New coaches always have a vision for what they want, but oftentimes that vision collides with financial and administrative realities. It seems, in this case, that everyone is on board.
I wonder how much being on staff and talking to administrators and boosters for three years about why FSU was a middle-of-the-pack ACC team helped Fisher to get some of what he wanted?
What in your mind separates Fisher from other unknowns recently hired in the CFB world?
Fisher has a more detailed plan than most. He's most similar to Derek Dooley, another Saban disciple who was hired at Tennessee. The difference is that Fisher inherited a much better situation. As down as you guys have been on the way the previous staff let things slide, at least the program hasn't gone through two violent coaching changes like the one at Tennessee. Though some of the infrastructure and Xs and Os needed fixing at FSU, the program was healthier than many others. It helps a lot that Fisher, primarily through his own willingness to bust tail in recruiting the past few years, has brought in players who will accept his style of coaching. That should lessen some of the resistance that you usually see when a new coach takes over.
Finally, now that you have Mandel's AP vote, can you address the problem of voters focusing only on record and not on resume? Bob Stoops, Mark Richt, and Fisher have all discussed this issue and I don't think it gets enough publicity because the people who would be able to give it publicity (the media) are largely responsible. We're seeing fewer and fewer premier OOC matchups because big schools realize that they won't be penalized for buying wins against North Texas, FIU, etc. I understand writers can't watch every game, but some of the 4 or 5 loss teams play twice or even three times as many difficult games as the teams that dodge the toughies and feast on cupcakes. Seems to me the only way to punish this behavior is by taking a stance and not rewarding schools for their romp over North Texas.
As for the last question, I've had the AP vote for a year now. I vote on resume, not on record, which is why I had four-loss Stanford ranked quite a bit higher than other four-loss teams near the end of last season. That said, teams still have to win games. Did Alabama playing Chattanooga mean the Crimson Tide didn't deserve to play for the national title? No. Even if Alabama hadn't played Virginia Tech to start the season, the Tide still would have had to beat Ole Miss, LSU, Arkansas, Auburn and Florida. That's a pretty rough road. It's not our job to police scheduling with our poll votes, but I do take into account the competition teams have played when I rank them. If anything, it makes for an easy tiebreaker when one team has scheduled tough opponents and one has scheduled easy opponents. Scheduling tough opponents also is good for teams that need a boost. In question one, I mentioned FSU's schedule could help vault the Noles into the top 10. Other schools don't need that push, so why risk it?
I know some people will hit me with the Boise State argument, so please allow me a soapbox moment. We're not comparing apples and apples. It's easy for me to compare teams in the same conference. Last year, for example, Georgia Tech had to be ranked ahead of Virginia Tech because Georgia Tech beat Virginia Tech. Ditto for the Pac-10. Stanford had to be ahead of USC because Stanford pounded USC. But what about Boise State? They beat the only good team they played (Oregon), and that team turned out to be very good. Good enough to win an AQ-conference title, in fact. So where do I put them? Do I downgrade them because they play in the WAC? Well, that's not Boise State's fault. Boise State would join the Big 12 or Pac-10 tomorrow, but no one is offering a spot. So when you rank the teams, you do the best you can. Personally, I try to imagine who would win a neutral site game given the teams' current circumstances (injuries, suspensions, etc.) So when people ask me if I really believe Boise State - who I have at No. 2 in post-spring poll - would beat all those other teams, I answer honestly. Yes. In a one-off, neutral-site situation, I think Boise State beats those teams. I could be wrong, but that's my opinion. That always leads to someone saying that Boise State would lose four games if it played an SEC schedule. That's a foolish argument, because it doesn't take into account the fact that if Boise State played an SEC schedule, it also would have SEC revenue, SEC facilities and - most importantly - SEC players. Give Chris Petersen four years to coach and recruit at Ole Miss or Auburn, and he kills everyone. Don't believe me? People said what worked for Urban Meyer at Utah wouldn't work at Florida because he was upgrading from facing Mountain West players to facing SEC players. Those people must have assumed Meyer was bringing his roster with him from Salt Lake City. They didn't take into account the fact that he was coaching Florida players. You're an FSU fan. How has that worked out for the teams that have played Florida in the past five years? So I have a hard time with the "if they played in a better conference" argument. Believe me, Boise State, Utah and TCU want to play in a better conference. They'd love it.
I see what Andy is saying here, but Boise does not have SEC revenue or SEC facilities. It has Boise facilities, and if this team, in this season played an SEC schedule, it would likely lose three or more games. I think.
A big thanks to Andy Staples for his thoughtful answers and for consistently giving thoughtful, reasoned coverage of the game we love.