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Time won’t heal the self-inflicted wounds to Jimbo Fisher’s legacy the same way it did for Bobby Bowden

Bobby Bowden and Jimbo Fisher both exited Florida State in turmoil. Over time Seminole fans have largely forgiven Bowden’s 2000s decline but the same can not be said for how Jimbo Fisher left the program.

July 23, 2012; Greensboro, NC, USA; Florida State Seminoles head football coach Jimbo Fisher talks to reporters during the ACC media day at the Grandover Resort in Greensboro NC. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-US PRESSWIRE
July 23, 2012; Greensboro, NC, USA; Florida State Seminoles head football coach Jimbo Fisher talks to reporters during the ACC media day at the Grandover Resort in Greensboro NC. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-US PRESSWIRE

Texas A&M fired former Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher on Sunday. With Fisher collecting a $7.27 million yearly unemployment check from Texas A&M boosters until 2031 and the Seminoles in the playoff hunt, there has been some talk of letting go of the vitriolic feelings towards how Fisher’s time at Florida State came to an end. There has even been some tongue-in-cheek talk that Jimbo should attend the 2013 national championship team reunion this Saturday. Seminole fans largely forgave Bobby Bowden for how his time ended with the Seminoles, and he is rightfully celebrated as arguably the greatest figure in FSU history. But with Jimbo, things are different.

Bobby Bowden’s time in Tallahassee came to an end under less-than-ideal circumstances. Florida State’s glory days seemed like a distant memory when Bowden retired in December 2009. Bowden and the Seminoles entered the Aughts as the kings of college football. The Seminoles had won two national championships, finished in the AP Top 5 fourteen straight years, and won the ACC every year since joining the league in 1992. But all of that was soon to change.

Jeff Bowden, Bobby’s son, was promoted to offensive coordinator prior to the 2001 season. The hire was criticized due to Jeff’s lack of qualifications and accusations of nepotism. The elder Bowden skirted around Florida public employee nepotism laws by creating the title “Associate Head Coach” for longtime defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews and claiming Jeff Bowden directly reported to Andrews. That season would see FSU’s streak of Top 5 finishes broken and the Seminoles lose four games for the first time since 1986, in large part due to an ineffectual offense. The offense would continue to slowly decline until the infamous 30-0 loss to Wake Forest in 2006, which forced Jeff Bowden’s resignation and led to Jimbo Fisher coming to Tallahassee.

Bobby Bowden would also stuff cronies such as Chuck Amato and Jody Allen onto the defensive coaching staff. The same drop-off in quality that plagued the offense began affecting the defense. By 2009, FSU’s once-legendary defense averaged giving up 30 points a game, and aside from Odell Haggins, none of the defensive staff ever coached for another D1 school for the remainder of their career.

During Bowden’s final nine seasons, the Seminoles would go a combined 5-14 against Miami and Florida, giving him a career losing record to both rivals. The Seminoles lost 42 games in total during that time span, compared to only 55 during Bowden’s first 25 years as coach. In addition, in 2007, the NCAA issued sanctions against Florida State that resulted in Bowden not being recognized as the all-time winningest head coach and Florida State’s bowl streak being recognized as an NCAA record.

Despite five major bowl appearances, three ACC championships, winning 29 straight games between 2012 and 2014, and the 2013 National Championship, there was always a feeling of tension during Jimbo Fisher’s time as head coach. There was the fallout from Bobby Bowden’s retirement, the losses against lesser competition, Jameis Winston’s exploits getting more press coverage than the team’s winning streak, and then the program’s decline starting in 2016. A disastrous game against Louisville that provided Lamar Jackson with his entire Heisman Trophy highlight reel and a loss to Clemson that ended FSU’s run on top of the ACC showed not all was well with FSU.

Then, in Fisher’s final year as head coach, the dam finally broke. The Seminoles were blown out 24-7 by Alabama in a hyped Top 5 matchup, and QB Deondre Francois was lost for the year with a knee injury. Then, in October, things went from bad to worse. FSU lost to Miami for the first time since 2009. The following week, Fisher got into a verbal altercation with a fan while leaving the field following a 31-28 loss to Louisville, threatening the fan to “say it to my face.” The month ended with a 35-3 loss to Boston College that could best be described as the entire team and coaching staff quitting. When Fisher finally did resign to become Texas A&M’s coach, a viral tweet of Jimbo’s Christmas tree being left on the curb summed up the end of his time at FSU.

In spite of all the self-inflicted wounds, the fan base never turned against Bowden enmasse. Fans packed the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville to show their appreciation for the legend, setting an attendance record that will likely never be surpassed. Bowden being carried off the field after a final victory is a lasting image for every Seminole fan old enough to remember it. Bobby Bowden truly built FSU football from the ground up and maintained a sustained level of excellence over four decades. FSU football finished in the AP Top 10 at least once in four straight decades under Bowden.

More importantly, he made FSU feel special. Bowden interviewed for his dream job at Alabama in 1986, only to get passed over. It made such an impact on him that, when outright offered the job in 1990, Bowden turned Alabama down and was never linked to another school.

Meanwhile, there were two grinding constants of the Jimbo Fisher Era. The first was how, nearly every season, his name was linked to a high-profile job opening. He was linked to the West Virginia job in 2009, despite being designated FSU’s head coach in waiting. Every time LSU thought about firing Les Miles between 2010 and 2016, Jimbo’s name would be linked by everyone on the LSU beat. Fisher was also publicly linked to the Texas Longhorns during the 2013 national championship season. Seminole fans were just tired of it.

The other constant was Fisher publicly berating Florida State’s facilities and the administration’s perceived commitment to winning. While FSU was certainly in need of modernization when Jimbo was given full control in 2010, the constant cries for more began to ring hollow. Jimbo Fisher’s FSU teams lost at least one game as a double-digit favorite every year he didn’t have Jameis Winston starting at quarterback. At a certain point, you can’t blame the lack of a dedicated football facility for losing Boston College, NC State, or Wake Forest.

Jimbo Fisher had an amazing three-year run between 2012 and 2014 that every Seminole fan should be happy about. But just like Larry Coker’s time at Miami or Urban Meyer’s time at Florida the highs ultimately came at the cost of prolonged dysfunction that last well beyond the coach that initially caused it. Bobby Bowden earned forgiveness for his own sins because FSU football ultimately wouldn’t be on the map without him.