Jimbo Fisher: Elite Starter Coach?

I'm sure there will continue to be a flood of fanposts like these from now through the offseason, but I thought now was an appropriate time for mine because as far as I'm concerned the season is over. FSU should beat 6-6 Coastal Division Runner Runner Up Georgia Tech next Saturday to claim the ACC Championship, and readily handle whoever they face in the Orange Bowl. It will be the icing on the best season FSU has had in more than a decade, and hopefully relieve some of the pain from yesterday's bloodletting at Doak.

Jimbo Fisher is a very good coach. Though I'm sure there are people already calling for his head, I am not one of them. Nothing would make me happier than to see him maintain FSU's upward trajectory. But I'm afraid unless some important things change, he wont be able to.

I once had a conversation with a recently remarried woman. She explained to me that her first husband was her "starter husband". Even though it didn't work out, she claimed that he taught her a lot about herself and what she wanted.

Jimbo has definitely shown FSU what it wants.

He got the dadgum indoor practice facility. He got recruiting back on track, putting together three consecutive elite classes. Almost overnight he changed the culture of FSU football. He got us believing that we could be great again. But I'm not entirely confident that Jimbo is capable of greatness unless he makes some rather significant changes.

1) Blinded By Process

Jimbo's process-oriented approach to coaching was the thing I was most excited about when he took over. After a decade of aimless failure under Bobby Bowden, I thought some data-driven, concrete strategies were exactly what FSU needed. A renewed vision and sense of purpose, something to believe in. Believe in the process. Execute. Win.

Here's the thing. I'm afraid this concrete thinking blinds Jimbo to more abstract potential, particularly with regard to the quarterback. EJ Manuel was a shockingly efficient quarterback throughout his career. I doubt anyone who watched him against, say, Florida, or NC State, would believe his QB rating is 160, 9th best in the nation. If I recall correctly, he was ranked much higher before the Florida game, possibly top 3.

But not once this season did I feel I was watching an elite quarterback. EJ's impressive numbers are a testament to Jimbo Fisher's coaching. But I'm afraid that his glaring weaknesses, his horrible execution on zone reads or against the blitz, his inability to find a rhythm and make good decisions, especially against good defenses, are also a testament to Jimbo Fisher's coaching.

How can a quarterback who completes nearly 70% of his throws miss so many wide open receivers?

Because stats don't tell the whole story.

After the NC State loss, someone from the Tallahassee Democrat (I believe it was Ira Schoffel?) wrote a great article comparing Jimbo Fisher to a machine. He argued that Jimbo lacks the killer instinct and passion of coaches like Will Muschamp and Chip Kelly, who appear to coach more intuitively and maximize talent and potential rather than efficiency.

I don't know Jimbo Fisher. But I don't think we'll ever see him call a marquee victory against a hated rival "sexy".

Oregon's true freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota was a 3 star dual threat QB with 4.7 speed. EJ Manuel, a fifth year senior, was a 4/5 star dual threat QB with 4.6 speed. Watching Manuel struggle to get the offense going against inferior ACC defenses, it's tough not to think of Mariota torching PAC 12 defenses. Or how about his fellow true freshman 3 star dual-threat quarterback, Johnny Manziel, torching the best defenses in the nation, including Alabama?

Are Mariota and Manziel better players as true freshmen than EJ Manuel is as a fifth year senior?

It's hard not to think what might have become of EJ Manuel playing for a team like Oregon.

It's also hard not to wonder about the skill players, too. How much of their pedestrian output is the result of EJ's struggles, and how much are the result of the offensive scheme? This is just gut instinct here, but it doesn't feel like Jimbo Fisher's offense allows for breakout performers. Would guys like Marqise Lee and Stedman Bailey have had 1000+ yard seasons at FSU? Are they really that much better than guys like Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw?

What kind of player would Kelvin Benjamin be at Clemson?

Now, obviously we can drive ourselves crazy making these kind of comparisons. It accomplishes nothing. But, as the Democrat article I referred to earlier pointed out, breakout performances are integral to winning in college football. You can't control every facet of the game. Sometimes a kid just needs to go out and make a play. And I'm not sure Jimbo Fisher, who ran the ball on third and nine late against NC State rather than letting his fifth year senior QB make a play, would agree with this.

Which brings me to my next concern:

2) Unwilling to Change

The biggest thing we'll learn about Jimbo Fisher this offseason is whether or not he's willing to adjust. Really, we'll learn how honest he is with himself about "the process". For example, if Mark Stoops moves on and Jimbo promotes Greg Hudson to Defensive Coordinator, the integrity of Jimbo's process will be mud. Hudson shouldn't even be employed by FSU this offseason.

Will Jimbo hire a legitimate Offensive Coordinator and discontinue his charade with James Coley? What exactly does James Coley do for FSU anyhow? I know he's a great recruiter, which is valuable, but under his watch tight ends really haven't done much, and everyone knows he isn't calling the plays. Is this not hurting his coaching resume? It's not like anyone is going to come courting Coley for a top OC job, much less an HC job. And I tend to think the Offensive Coordinator at FSU should be a coveted man, holding a coveted position.

I used to be hard on coaches like Rick Trickett and Lawrence Dawsey, but I have to say the offensive line and receivers have been good this season. Considering how young and inexperienced the line is, and the fact that EJ usually had time to throw to receivers who were open, it's hard to blame Trickett and Dawsey.

Based on the data, I believe Jimbo Fisher needs to replace Stoops and Coley with blockbuster outside hires. The former is far more likely, but both are necessary for FSU to take the next step.

Everyone knows Will Muschamp's defensive pedigree. But when he took over Florida, he went out and got a Defensive Coordinator from the NFL, Dan Quinn. I'm sure Muschamp is involved in coaching the defense, but on game day he trusts Quinn to run it.

When people suggested FSU was no better than a middle-of-the-road SEC team, I was outraged. Because in terms of talent we are absolutely a top five team. But in terms of execution, as Florida demonstrated, we aren't as good as we should be. And that's on the coaching staff.

Frankly, I'm not that impressed with Mark Stoops as a Defensive Coordinator. He's a good coach, and he turned our defense around in one season. But he also has elite talent to work with and coaches in the ACC. He was plainly outclassed against Florida, and I'm not convinced his squad would look nearly as good in the SEC, or even the PAC 12. On the other hand, what could coaches like Kirby Smart or Dan Quinn do with FSU's personnel? Would we even recognize Christian Jones?

Finally, I don't think for one second that Jimbo Fisher will hire an Offensive Coordinator, and I think his unwillingness to do so is indicative of flaws in "the process", and in Jimbo himself. Rather than bringing in an elite coaching talent with fresh ideas, who would also free Jimbo up to focus on being Head Coach, I fear Jimbo would rather maintain absolute control. He has produced some good, highly-efficient offenses in three seasons, but they rarely pass the eyeball test and only dominate drastically inferior opponents. Imagine if he had a guy like Chad Morris running the offense.

Could we not play better with the players we have?

The whole point of any process is to answer this question, objectively, and to come up with solutions. If Jimbo is serious about developing FSU into a Championship, SEC-caliber program, there is no way he can continue to think that balancing HC/OC duties is the best approach. Unfortunately, I'm afraid the real consequences of this aren't revealed in the data. They don't keep stats for poor clock management. FSU is ranked 15th in total offense in the nation with the 9th highest-rated QB.

If only the execution were better.

Jimbo Fisher has accomplished plenty at FSU, and fans should be proud of him. The post-Bowden Era could have suffered a far uglier beginning. But my confidence that he has the chops to lead us to a Championship is fading. If FSU wants to dominate the ACC and remain on the outside looking in on the nation's best, they're on the right path (and still have work to do). If FSU wants to be among the nation's best, Jimbo has got to adjust. Blame the Athletic Director all you want, blame our ACC membership. It can be done in the ACC.

I think Jimbo Fisher believes this more than anyone. I'm just not sure he's capable, or that he'll prove to be more than our Elite Starter Coach, the one who taught FSU what kind of program it wanted, even if we ultimately needed another Coach to get it.

This offseason could teach us a lot about him as a Head Coach. Fingers crossed.

Go Noles.

UPDATE 11/26/12

Based on Jimbo's press conference this afternoon, I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt. From what he's saying, it sounds as though he had a long term vision for FSU. This would explain his promotion of James Coley, and hiring Mark Stoops, a guy I think everyone (Jimbo included) felt was a short term hire. Both would be gone within five years, but recruiting would be booming, we'd hopefully have a few ACC Championships and BCS Bowl wins under our belt, an indoor practice facility, a stronger booster presence.

It would probably be a lot easier to go out and sell that program to OC and DC candidates than the one he inherited in 2010.

A lot remains to be seen but I'm feeling much better after today.

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