There's no doubt that in the three years since taking over for Bobby Bowden, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher has shown signs of being a potential top-flight head coach in college football. There are very few coaches in the country on the same level as Fisher when it comes to understanding the x's and o's of the game. Anyone who has been around him will tell you that.
But after suffering a tough loss to arch-rival Florida on Saturday, in which the Gators dominated every facet of the game, along with rumors swirling about Fisher possibly having interest in another school, take a moment to reflect on his accomplishments at Florida State.
In addition to his nonpareil understanding of the x's and o's of football, another realm that Jimbo has mastered is sales; regardless of what it is he's selling. Although the two are not directly related, both are very important for a coach to have success at the college level.
Fisher has sold the Florida State brand to recruits and signed a top-five recruiting class for three straight seasons. He has also sold numerous improvements to the boosters, most of which he consider's necessities, that have all been approved.
Fisher has also sold many fans and boosters that he is the man for the job and possesses the skills to get the Seminoles back to the promised land, which merely has face validity and is yet to be determined.
Sure, Fisher is 29-10 at the helm with two games remaining this season, and even has an opportunity to bring FSU its first ACC Championship in seven years. If he can do that coupled with a win in the bowl game, the Seminoles will finish 12-2 on the season with a BCS bowl victory, which is hard to consider anything but a success, right?
However it's the way this season played out, along with the two prior, that leaves room for concern. For now, fans firmly stand behind Fisher due to the state that this program was in before taking over, and the improvement he has shown with each passing season. Don't forget that Fisher took a 7-6 team in shambles to a 10-win season in his first year on the job. But soon enough fans will begin to wonder if the incremental improvement and stability he has brought to the program truly outweigh the void left from a disappointing season where the Seminoles were rather underachieving.
Fisher had the best team FSU has put on the field since 2000, maybe even 1999, entering this season. A team with a fifth-year senior at quarterback who he handpicked as the offensive coordinator, a defense loaded with veteran NFL caliber players, and a plethora of skill position players. The formidable ACC schedule makes it even harder to stomach. The only other legitimate team in the conference, Clemson, had to come to Tallahassee. It was the worst the ACC has been in a very long time and Saturday only verified it as the ACC is now 0-11 against ranked teams outside the conference.
The blueprint was there for FSU to run the table, yet somehow the Seminoles lost to NC State. A team that had no business being on the same field, and no one questions who's to blame for that. Unfortunately, that loss isn't an outlier in the data set of three years as the Seminoles head coach. In fact the opposite is true.
Currently at 10-2, Clemson is the only team Fisher's squad has beaten in his 39 games as the head coach that finished with a 10-win (or better) season. Since taking over the Seminoles have played eight games against opponents with four or less losses, at season's end, and their record in those games is 2-6. One of the two wins is the aforementioned Clemson, the other was Maryland in 2008 - who finished with a 9-4 record. Outside of those six losses, the other four were against teams that finished with at least five losses, and one seven-loss Wake Forest team.
Excluding the three wins against FCS teams, now look at Fisher's other 26 wins as the head coach; the average opponent record is 6-7. There's also a premium placed on winning your in-state rivalry games, of which Fisher is 5-1 in. But these aren't exactly the Miami and Florida teams of the late 90's. Of those five rivalry wins, the 2010 Gators had the best record, which was 8-5.
While there are certainly plenty of factors outside of Fisher's control that contributed to each of those losses as well as the quality of opponent in the victories, at some point you have to look at a body of work. And thus far, Fisher's record against "somewhat quality opponent's" is not all that impressive considering what he has to work with. Assuming FSU takes care of business in its next two games, Fisher is going to have a 12-2 season as window dressing for his agent to negotiate yet another raise.
Granted it has been just three years since Fisher took over, but perhaps the most exasperating part is how close he has come to finally getting the program over that hump. Taking a team from 7-6 in 2009, to 12-2 in 2012 is a remarkable start, but that doesn't make the 2012 season any less disappointing. In other words - Fisher has brought the team so far in his three short years, but not quite far enough. The young 47-year old coach has slowly learned the monumental difference in running an offense, and running a big time program. The time is now for change.