A few weeks ago, Jimbo Fisher asked the media if they had any suggestions to fix his Florida State Seminoles football program.
That was before he overplayed his hand with Florida State’s administration and key boosters, trying to leverage a competing job offer for the third-straight year, despite signing a guaranteed contract of more than $40M, and turning in a 5-6 season. This time, the suitor is Texas A&M. Before that, it was LSU, LSU again, Texas, West Virginia, Auburn, etc.
It seems likely that FSU will call Fisher’s bluff. If it does, could he remain in Tallahassee?
Some key power players believe Fisher has so badly overplayed his hand and ruined relationships that he cannot possibly return to Tallahassee at this point.
But others do not share that belief, because his most important relationship, that with president John Thrasher, is still intact. Having a college president that understands and supports football is rare and valuable.
If he is to remain, Fisher has to eat a big slice of humble pie
Fisher has to change how he treats people within the program. He has to focus on controlling what he can control, and let others do their jobs. And he cannot take public shots at boosters or facilities.
As Thrasher said, reasonable people should be able to make this situation work. The implication being that if Fisher cannot, then he is unreasonable.
“This structure has been in place since the Boosters were founded,” Thrasher said. “It has served us well, and I don't see any issues that reasonable adults could not work through.
The sources who believe he has not so poisoned the well that he can actually come back are all in agreement that he has to keep his head down, get back to winning, and stop with the complaining.
“A lot of people will be OK with him again if he works with us and beats Virginia Tech,” the source said.
He is also going to need to change his approach when asked about other jobs. Fisher has been consistent in declining to comment on other jobs. But consistency does not necessarily lead to good results. Fisher’s repeated failure to affirm his loyalty to Florida State, even after FSU agreed to give him $40M guaranteed, has eroded trust between him and his team, staff, fans, and other key pieces.
In the future, Fisher needs to shoot down serious rumors about him jumping to other jobs. He needs to work with Florida State, not against it.
Even those who believe Fisher can still come back in theory have some doubts that Fisher can tone down the pride and tuck his tail. He has to go about rebuilding the trust.
With that said, these are the football-specific things that must be done.
There is no guarantee that this will work, because maintaining programs is hard, much harder than taking over with a clean slate, and most coaches eventually fail at the maintaining part.
For the sake of this discussion, let’s acknowledge that there are serious cultural problems within the program, and that Jimbo Fisher’s insistence that the Seminoles are “inches” or just “one play away” from a quality team is complete and utter nonsense, and that facilities are not at all a reason for FSU’s six-loss season.
Honestly assess whether he can be a maintainer
This is really important. A lot of coaches find maintaining much harder than changing. And that’s okay. Some maintainers aren’t great change agents. It may be that Fisher’s message grates on people until they resent him, tune him out, or both. That sort of approach lends itself better to being a change agent.
If Fisher is to be a great maintainer, he has to determine why he has failed to do so in recent years, and then determine if he can change his approach. But if he comes to the conclusion that he is better as a mercenary change agent, then he should jump at the chance to take the Texas A&M job, with players and staff eager to receive a new message. It’s not a fault, everyone just has different skills. Can Fisher evaluate his own?
Fire the majority of the coaching staff
This step is overdue. Fisher has never fired a coach in his time at Florida State. As we recently explained, if the only way a coach leaves the staff is via promotion to a better gig at a different school, eventually the coaches who are not wanted by other programs build up. And they start to drag down the few good coaches left on staff.
A small number of coaches on staff were clearly not top choices at the time they were hired. A few were, at one point, strong coaches, but perhaps have seen their abilities diminish in their time on campus. And others are still good coaches, whose messages have simply grown stale.
Fisher paid $5.5M annually to manage his staff and is in the best position to see this, but he failed to make the necessary changes after the same errors occurred in the 2016 season.
A moderate amount of change will not suffice. Fisher’s inaction has caused a toxic culture of entitlement, stagnation, and mistrust. If Fisher would have made one or two changes after each of the last few seasons, moderate action this offseason could have worked. But if he is to reclaim his program’s culture, it must be done via a razing.
Hire strong coaches, not yes men
When a superior overvalues loyalty to his detriment, he fosters a culture of yes men. That is what has happened at Florida State.
To fix this, Fisher needs to bring in coaches who can challenge him with new ideas. That means coaches who are younger than FSU’s aged staff. It means hiring a more diverse staff as well.
And importantly, it means being willing to go outside the Nick Saban tree if a better candidate comes from a different system, rather than settling for one simply because he has some long-tailed connection to Saban.
Evaluating the recruiting landscape is also going to be very important. Florida State’s current uninspiring coaching staff over the last few years could walk into living rooms touting a national title, and three ACC rings in the last half-decade. No more. Florida State is just 10-10 in its last 20 games against ACC foes, dating back to the middle of 2015.
FSU needs to make recruiting a strong focus with the new hires, not because FSU’s recruiting has been poor, but because it now has a lessened product to sell and could see a recruiting downturn if the new staff looks like the current staff.
Trust those people to do their jobs
When you don’t trust your subordinates, you micromanage them. Micromanaging was an issue early in Fisher’s career that caused several coaches on his first staff to want to leave, and unfortunately, the problem of micromanaging has returned.
If Fisher continues to micromanage, it won’t matter who he brings in.
People have seen Fisher in person worry about how haggard he looks. They openly wonder if he is too stressed to do his job, if he’s sleeping, and if he’s healthy. All-nighters and sleeping in your office isn’t a long-term strategy for success. Coaches need rest, just like players.
Listen to the new coaches
If Fisher believes that simply getting new coaches will fix the problem, he’s sadly mistaken. His current management approach is not conducive to winning.
Fisher has to take a deep look at, well, his inability to self-scout. That is much easier said than done, but if he fails to address his own shortcomings as a coach, again, the coaching changes won’t matter.
Specifically on offense, if an assistant coach expresses frustration that Fisher’s pro-style offense has too many details for young players, who rarely come from a similar offense in high school, that complaint should be taken seriously.
If the receivers coach expresses frustration that a half-yard difference in a split shouldn’t doom a play, that there are too many route-adjustments to be made during the play that keep certain talented players on the sidelines, or that the offense doesn’t emphasize attacking 1-on-1 matchups down the field, Fisher needs to listen. At some point, the problem of sending only two receivers to the NFL in 10 seasons under Jimbo Fisher falls upon Fisher, not just the receivers coach.
Similarly, if the offensive line coach expresses frustration with the way Fisher wants a play blocked, or that Fisher’s offense asks for too many different pass protection schemes, that is a complaint to be taken seriously. If the offensive line produces players the NFL likes, but the well-respected coach can’t get them to consistently master their assignments as a group, perhaps consider cutting down the number of protections being called.
If the running backs coach complains privately that his backs are getting cut down from the backside because Fisher’s offense refuses to run the QB to keep the defense honest, allowing edge defenders to chase down runners with impunity, that isn’t something that should be ignored.
Stop coaching like you don’t have athletes
This one is pretty simple. Stop applying underdog strategies to a team with superior athletes and depth.