For the first time in 42 years, Florida State is looking for a head football coach.
It’s a remarkable fact, given that more time has elapsed between now and 1976 – the last time the Seminoles had a coaching search – than did between 1976 and 1947, when the Florida State College for Women officially became Florida State University.
As anyone with even a passing interest in college football knows, Florida State hit a grand slam the last time it went through this process.
The Seminoles crushed it with their next hire, too, by tabbing an up-and-coming FSU assistant for the main job two years before he would actually take over.
Bobby Bowden built Florida State football. Jimbo Fisher renovated it.
Looking forward, as the Seminoles take steps that many FSU fans have never seen in their lifetimes, it’s good to remember this:
Florida State football is bigger than any one man. Bigger than any coach, player or administrator.
Bowden gave way to Fisher. Charlie Ward gave way to Chris Weinke and Jameis Winston. Doak S. Campbell gave way to Bernie Sliger, Sandy D’Alemberte and T.K. Wetherell.
That’s how it’s supposed to work.
And while there are no guarantees in college football – just ask Tennessee or Michigan or Nebraska – there are things that programs can do or have to tilt the tables in their favor.
Fervent fan bases, fertile recruiting grounds and — yes — first-class facilities are all part of the puzzle.
Some places might have one or two of those pieces. Florida State has checked all three boxes for generations.
The fans and the talented players aren’t going anywhere. FSU athletics and Seminole Boosters have both committed to making sure that the Seminoles stay at the forefront of the facilities race, too.
The track record is in their favor: The last few years have seen the arrivals of an indoor practice facility, a renovated locker room and football offices, and new dorms for players.
And FSU athletic director Stan Wilcox went on record earlier this year and said that a football facility is in the works.
It feels like too much of an understatement to say that there’s a lot to like about this program.
That’s a credit, of course, to Bowden. It’s not hard to imagine a world in which Bowden never leaves West Virginia for Tallahassee and FSU football never becomes one of college football’s preeminent programs.
There’s no taking that away.
But it’s also to Fisher’s credit, and that will be a part of his legacy no matter where he or Florida State go from here.
By the late 2000s, Florida State needed a breath of fresh air.
Fisher proved a forceful gust, modernizing the program from pillar to post in a sweeping overhaul that included those new facilities, new strength and nutrition regimens and a broad expansion of on- and off-field support staff.
Along the way, he did something that not so long ago might have seemed impossible to some: He moved Florida State football out of Bowden’s shadow and made it his own.
The wins piled up. At least 10 of them in six of his eight seasons, and 29 straight between 2012 and 2014. That includes three straight ACC championships, five consecutive BCS/New Year’s Six bowl berths, an appearance in the first ever College Football Playoff semifinal and, of course, the crown jewel of Fisher’s reign, the 2013 BCS National Championship.
And that’s to say nothing of Fisher’s work with Jameis Winston, who under Fisher’s guidance became FSU’s third Heisman Trophy winner and first ever No. 1 overall pick.
There’s no other way to say it: Fisher’s tenure was a complete and total success, made even more impressive in that he did it while taking over for a coaching legend.
Search throughout the history of college football. When it comes to succeeding an icon, Fisher might not just be a rare exception to the rule. He might be the only one.
Again, ask Florida (after Steve Spurrier’s departure) or Georgia (Vince Dooley) or Alabama (Bear Bryant and, for that matter, Gene Stallings) or Oklahoma (Barry Switzer) or Ohio State (Woody Hayes) or one of maybe a dozen other college football heavyweights how hard it can be.
Some programs waited decades to return to prominence. Some are still waiting.
Fisher had Florida State in the ACC championship game in his very first year.
It feels like a long time ago now, but, for as good as it was, the Bowden era ended in difficult fashion. Pressure and losses mounted in equal measure, uncertainty surrounded the program’s future and lots of smart, reasonable people couldn’t agree on the best way forward.
This has been a tough week to be a Florida State fan, with whispers becoming rumors surrounding Fisher that, as hours and days dragged on, began to feel like an inevitability somewhere around Wednesday afternoon.
That inevitability became reality Friday, when Florida State announced that Fisher had left for Texas A&M, and that longtime assistant Odell Haggins would serve as the Seminoles’ interim head coach.
Fisher went 84-23 in his eight seasons, a run blemished only by a 5-6 record this year.
The thing about it, though, is that even the best coaches rarely leave a job at the top of their game. Urban Meyer didn’t. Bowden didn’t. Even Nick Saban left LSU for the Miami Dolphins after a 9-3 season, and left the Dolphins two years later after going 6-10.
But time has a way of making the good times easier to remember, while the not-so-good times tend to fade.
Eight years since his retirement, Bowden’s national titles and dynasty run (to say nothing of his one-of-a-kind wit and charm) are what we remember. In a few years, we’ll remember Fisher’s drive and relentless commitment that moved the program into modern times – and modern titles.
Bowden gave way to Fisher. Now Fisher will give way to someone else.
No one knows exactly who that someone else is, or how he’ll do once handed the keys to one of college football’s Ferraris.
We do know, however, that thanks to Bowden and Fisher, history is in the new coach’s favor.
And for a program that they created and sustained to be bigger than themselves – or anyone else – the future looks plenty bright, too.