SEC Country reporter Alex Martin Smith attended Florida State’s media day and preseason practice in mid-August as the Seminoles prepared for their opener against Ole Miss. Stay tuned for more from Behind Enemy Lines.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Bobby Bowden built perhaps the best football program of the 1990s, but Florida State’s elite perch quickly slipped away after the millennium.
When Bowden was forced out in 2009, the Seminoles had failed to reach double-digit wins in six consecutive seasons, and the program’s once-rich talent supply was unrecognizably thin.
Offensive line coach Rick Trickett remembered walking through the doors in 2007.
“There wasn’t anybody in there that looked like the guys I’ve got now,” he said earlier this month. “It was so bad, I almost went back upstairs, called (West Virginia coach Rich) Rodriguez and asked for my job back.”
Florida State is now in the seventh year of the Jimbo Fisher era, during which the Seminoles have reclaimed the national championship — ending the SEC’s streak at seven — earned three ACC titles and averaged 11.33 wins.
The turnaround began when Fisher was promoted from offensive coordinator to CEO. He knew which shortcomings were sinking Florida State and was vocal about changes he believed needed to be made.
“Jimbo fought the fight and kept fighting …” Trickett said. “We had been other places — like LSU with coach (Nick) Saban — and Jimbo knew what was needed.”
Several years later, Fisher is well on his way to having his own statue on campus, but what about his place in the NCAA history books? Might he be slightly underrated, given his immense success out of the gate?
We decided to crunch the numbers and compare Fisher’s first six seasons to coaches who got their start after 1970 and hold the best career winning percentages (minimum 10 total seasons — career win percentage rankings reflect only this group of modern coaches).
|Coach||First school(s)||First 6 W %||Career W %|
|1. Chris Petersen||Boise State (2006-2011)||.924||.817 (5th)|
|2. Barry Switzer||Oklahoma (1973-1978)||.900||.837 (2nd)|
|3. Bob Stoops||Oklahoma (1999-2004)||.848||.796 (6th)|
|4. Urban Meyer||BGSU/Utah/Florida (’01-’06)||.836||.851 (1st)|
|5. Jimbo Fisher||Florida State (2010-2015)||.829||.829 (N/A)|
|6. Phil Fulmer||Tennessee (1992-1997)||.823||.743 (10th)|
|7. R.C. Slocum||Texas A&M (1989-1994)||.822||.721 (14th)|
|8. Jim Tressel||Ohio State (2001-2006)||.816||.828 (4th)|
|9. Lloyd Carr||Michigan (1995-2000)||.784||.753 (8th)|
|10. Mark Richt||Georgia (2001-2006)||.782||.740 (12th)|
|11. Tom Osborne||Nebraska (1973-1978)||.767||.836 (3rd)|
|12. Gary Patterson||TCU (2001-2006)*||.740||.753 (9th)|
|13. Les Miles||Okla. St./LSU (2001-2006)*||.667||.725 (13th)|
|14. Nick Saban||Toledo/Mich. St. (’90, ’95-’99)||.621||.765 (7th)|
|15. Bobby Bowden||West Virginia (1970-1975)||.618||.740 (11th)|
*We didn’t take into account Patterson’s interim loss in the 2000 Alabama Bowl.
As you can see, Fisher is in the thick of this Hall of Fame group, and he’s already won more career conference titles than Fulmer. The challenge now becomes: Can he eventually bridge the gap between himself and legends like Switzer, Stoops, Saban, Meyer and Osborne?
They all have multiple national championships to their names.
Bowden won two national championships at Florida State, and Fisher must walk past his predecessor’s sculpture on the way into the athletic center.
The Seminoles could help Fisher match Bowden (and pass one-ring greats like Steve Spurrier) with another championship in 2016. We’ll break down how that might happen in the final edition of Behind Enemy Lines on Thursday.