From 1987 through 2000, Florida State was one of the premier programs in college football. From that time the Seminoles played for the National Championship five times (93, 96, 98, 99 and 2000). Four other times during that span FSU had 1 loss seasons. Also during that same time period FSU was 10-3 in bowl games. Since 2000 Florida State has been in seven bowl games and has a combined record of 3-4. Seminoles fans are still trying to figure out what went wrong. From coaching changes, to poor evaluations and recruiting to just becoming complacent Florida State has not been the same for awhile now.
The first major blow to Florida State football program came when offensive coordinator Mark Richt became head coach at University of Georgia. While Richt left on a sour note (loss to Oklahoma) no Seminole fan could have ever imagined what would happen over the past seven years. Where the Richt loss was felt the most was in recruiting. During his time he coached players like Danny Kannel, Thad Busby and Chris Weinke. After he left Florida State has yet to replace Chris Weinke. Richt also was one of the top recruiters on Florida State staff. Those top offensive prospects stopped making Florida State home. The same year Florida State also lost linebacker coach Chuck Amato. When he left Florida State's recruiting in South Florida went by the wayside. There was a little success with Coach Kevin Steele but it was not the same as back in the late 80's and through the 90's. Then the loss of Jim Gladden may have been bigger then anyone could have imagined. The days of Peter Boulware, Reinard Wilson and Andre Wadsworth are long gone. For Florida State to get back to being a dominating defense they need those big time defensive ends to come through the program again.
With coaching changes came problems in recruiting. While Florida State recruiting classes were highly ranked on National Signing day the fact is they produced very little on the field.
Reason #1 for why their recruiting classes while ranked high did not produce: Attrition. The 2005 class for Florida State was considered one of the best on National Signing Day. When you go back and look at that class on paper it looked great but come August most of those guys never made it on campus or if they did were not there for long. Fred Rouse, Callahan Bright, Russell Ball, Dan Foster, Matt Hardrick, Geno Hayes and Clarence Ward are no longer part of the team. That is 33% of a class that was considered one of the best in the nation to no longer be in Tallahassee. Of the ones that remain only seven of those have started a game. The class that should have turned the program around has not produced to the level expected. Players like Bright, Hardrick, Hayes, Rouse and Ward should all be starting at Florida State. Florida State's biggest weaknesses on both sides of the football - Offensive Line (Hardrick 5*), Defensive Tackle (Bright 5*) and Free Safety (Ward 4*).
Reason #2 for poor recruiting: Not taking enough Florida kids. You look at the reason USC, LSU, Ohio State and Georgia all have had success of late. The main reason why is they have kept the top talent home. Florida State plays in one of the most talent rich states in the country. Considering that, the Seminoles have done a poor job of recruiting their home state. In 2000 over 60% of their class was from out of state, in 2001 over 48%, 2005 over 52%, 2006 56% and 2007 over 40%. Florida State should only leave the state of Florida to cherry pick the top prospects from outside of Florida. When you take a look at last years NFL draft 5 players were drafted in the first round from the state of Florida and none of them were from Florida State. Just think what players like Aaron Henry (Wisconsin) and Emmanuel Cook (South Carolina) could have done for Florida State. Both liked FSU and neither was even considered for an offer.
Reason #3 for the fall: Poor recruiting on the offensive and defensive lines. One thing was certain during the dynasty years; Florida State was strong up front. That is no longer the case. When Rick Trickett took over the offensive line last year only 10 linemen were left over from the previous staff. What makes matters worse is only four of those players actually have seen the field. On the defensive line the results were not much better especially at defensive end. By the end of the 2007 season Florida State had only three remaining defensive ends on the depth chart. That is a far cry from the days they rolled out 2-3 units of defensive ends and wore opposing offenses out.
Reason #4 for the fall- Recruiting areas that dried up. During Florida State's run through greatness they had a ton of success in Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, California and Texas. That was before Nick Saban/ Les Miles were hired at LSU, Pete Carroll at USC, Tommy Bowden at Clemson, Mark Richt at Georgia and Mack Brown at Texas. Before these guys took over their respective programs Florida State had their way in those states. Players like Peter Boulware, Warrick Dunn and Charlie Ward probably would have chosen to stay in their home states today. Now not only is Florida State not getting the top players in Florida but they are losing out on recruiting areas that were successful to them in the past. Those hiring all had a major impact on Florida State fall.
Why reason for optimism- Jimbo Fisher, and company. When Jimbo Fisher was hired as the new offensive coordinator before the 2007 things looked bleak for Florida State. Fisher brought some life back into the program. When he was hired along came Rick Trickett and Lawrence Dawsey. These two made immediate impacts on the recruiting trail. Trickett took an unknown offensive lineman (Rodney Hudson) and turned him into a Freshman All-American. Ryan McMahon was a former defensive tackle for Florida State and Trickett turned him into a solid lineman as well. Trickett has already improved the talent along the offensive line and he only has had one true recruiting class to work with. Another reason for optimism was the hire of Tight end coach James Coley. After being hired less then four months ago Coley has already landed two tight ends (Bryan Stork and Bo Reliford) but also one of the top kickers in the country (Dustin Hopkins). He is also responsible for players like Lonnie Pryor and Xavier Rhodes. Both players have Florida State as leaders. With the addition of Chuck Amato it looks like Florida State had made in-roads back into South Florida. Florida State has already landed a commitment from Ed Stinson. All of these new/old additions have already made a major impact.
Another reason for optimism: Recruiting. The reason for Florida State downfall was recruiting. The same reason will be for why they have success again. The 2008 class was one of Florida State's best in a decade. While they lost out on some big name kids late in the process this class may end up being very productive. Not only did Florida State land some studs those top kids are great character prospects. Nigel Bradham, EJ Manuel, Jarmon Forston, Andrew Datko, Nigel Carr, Moses McCray, Markus White and Corey Surrency are not only top rated prospects on the field each is a special kid off the field. These will be the players that bring Florida State program back to the top.
Not only was Florida State recruiting very good in 2008 their 2009 class looks to be even better. Of the 12 players committed to Florida State at this time five of them are considered the best at their position in the state of Florida. Before we also mentioned that Florida State has taken too many prospects from out of Florida and that is no longer the case. The 2009 class has 9 players from the Sunshine State. The 2008 class had 18 players from the state of Florida. Those numbers should always be well over 15 if the Seminoles are taking close to 25 in a class.
Reason for optimism #3- Things can't get any worse. In 2006 Florida State hit a low point when they got beaten like a drum at home against Wake Forest. With an even tougher schedule last season Florida State had the same record. If not for a total meltdown against Miami, Florida State would have had 8 wins and most Seminoles fans would have probably been happy with that after all that happened. For most Seminoles fans' losing has become depressing. But for those that understand how far Florida State had fallen and where they are today, the program has turned the corner.