January 9, 2007
TALLAHASSEE Jimbo Fisher's name jumped to the top of the list as the leading candidate to succeed offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden at Florida State within hours of the latter's resignation on Nov. 14.
Fisher once was the quarterback at Samford and Salem (W.Va.) College, where Terry Bowden was the head coach and Jeff was the offensive coordinator.
For more than a month, there was rampant speculation that FSU coach Bobby Bowden and Fisher had a private agreement. Whether that was true remains to be seen, but this much is certain: Fisher won't be calling the plays for the Seminoles next season.
FSU yanked its offer of a guaranteed three-year contract, reportedly worth $500,000 annually, when negotiations broke down in early January.
For the better part of three days, FSU athletic director Dave Hart tried to bring the deal together through Fisher's agent, Jimmy Sexton. Finally, the Seminoles ran out of patience, as Fisher mulled offers from Alabama, LSU and the possibility of succeeding Chan Gailey at Georgia Tech, if Gailey decided to take the Miami Dolphins job.
"Florida State will move forward to pursue other options among a number of outstanding coaches who want to share in FSU's traditions and values," Bowden said, in a two-paragraph statement released at 9:45 p.m. on Jan. 6. "Coach Fisher will be a benefit to whatever organization he ends up with, and we will secure the best coach available to lead our offense."
Exactly where the impasse was in those protracted negotiations remains unknown, though it may have been a combination of money and future assurances.
According to a source close to Fisher, he was willing to take less money from FSU than was being offered by Alabama perhaps even as much as $250,000 a year less because the job offered the best path to a head coaching position without burning bridges. That may be true with regard to future head coaching job options at Auburn and LSU, but if Fisher was angling for a direct path to succeed Bowden at FSU, he may have missed his mark.
There is nothing in Hart's history of management to suggest that he would have put any sort of guarantee on the table for Fisher, beyond perhaps the assurance of an interview for the position whenever Bowden steps down. That's good business, an area where FSU has excelled under Hart's leadership.
FSU remains one of a handful of Division I athletic departments that regularly operates in the black, and it wants to stay that way. That will not be easy, as the football staff undergoes the greatest turnover in 31 seasons under Bowden's direction.
For many years, FSU has had one of the lowest-paid staffs among the traditional college football heavyweights. Last season, only two coaches defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews and linebackers/executive head coach Kevin Steele made more than $200,000. Staff stability has had a lot to do with the ability to keep the "cost of doing business" down.
In addition to the coaxed resignations of Jeff Bowden and running backs coach Billy Sexton, FSU also must replace Steele, who bolted for the defensive coordinator post at Alabama, as well as offensive line coach Mark McHale and quarterbacks coach Daryl Dickey, who were not retained.
That was going to force Hart to significantly alter the pay scale for assistant coaches, and it wasn't going to come cheaply. With Seminole Boosters approving guaranteed three-year contracts for three assistants, Hart set out with Bowden to bring in the best men possible.
Rick Trickett was hired away from West Virginia to coach the offensive line and serve as assistant head coach. He received a three-year, guaranteed deal worth $200,000, an increase of $60,000 annually over McHale's figure. Lawrence Dawsey received a $125,000 annual contract to assume the role of receivers coach, which Jeff Bowden held in addition to his coordinator's post for $141,000 annually.
Those contracts, and the half-million dollar offer on the table to Fisher, are signs that Bowden and Hart are intent on resurrecting FSU's football fortunes in short order.
Bowden, however, may have reflected his sense of urgency best when he interviewed Trickett at his home back in December.
"I saw fire in the man's eyes," Trickett said. "I left the house after talking to him feeling that this guy's still got it. This guy is ready to go. I felt that energy. I felt that enthusiasm."
There's no doubt that Bowden had targeted Fisher as his No. 1 choice to succeed his son. That's likely why the negotiations between the parties lingered for as long as they did.
Withdrawing the contract offer to Fisher, who has become well-known in college football circles as much for his self-promotion as for his productive offensive schemes, was yet another sign of the program's intentions. Apparently, Fisher didn't have the same passion for resurrecting the Seminoles that both Bowden and Hart shared.
DOUGLAS EXPERIMENT: BAD START
Toney Douglas' desire to play point guard led the Auburn transfer to Florida State, and while it's too early to tell whether the sophomore will get a grasp on the nuances of running a team, his ACC debut was less than encouraging.
Continuing what appears to be a trend against top-notch opponents, Douglas failed to register an assist in 23 minutes and turned the ball over four times in a 68-66 loss to Clemson.
When asked afterward to assess Douglas' play the first time out against an ACC opponent, FSU coach Leonard Hamilton came up a little short as well.
"It would be unfair to Toney for me to even comment on one particular player in this particular game," Hamilton said, "because I think this was a team loss, to a team that played better as a team than we did."
While there were more than enough errors spread throughout the ranks to support the coach's contention, it is abundantly clear that Douglas is going through some major growing pains.
Against FSU's five toughest opponents Pitt, Wisconsin, Florida, Providence and Clemson 15 games into the season, Douglas' assist-turnover line (seven assists, 14 turnovers) closely replicated the Seminoles' disappointing team stats in that category. And that simply isn't good enough for a team Hamilton admits has "very little margin for error."
To be fair to Douglas, this is the first time he's been his team's primary ball-handler since his senior season at Jonesboro (Ga.) High in 2003-04. It also should be pointed out that despite a recent scoring slump (a season-worst three consecutive single-digit efforts), he ranks second on FSU's team in scoring at 13.5 points per game, second in assists (2.3) and leads the team in three-point field goal percentage (.405).
Douglas' value to the team as a complementary scorer to senior forward Al Thornton alone is significant. Douglas led the Seminoles in scoring against Pitt and Wisconsin, with 23 and 24 points, respectively.
Still, the Seminoles will be hard-pressed to meet their expectations without improved play at the point guard position. In addition to Douglas' struggles against the Tigers, his backup Ralph Mims managed just one assist and five turnovers.
Given Hamilton's track record for player development over the years, it's far too early to consider Douglas' move to the point a failure. There's no better example than junior guard Isaiah Swann, who like Douglas was recruited as a point guard despite significantly more experience on the wing.
Swann starts at wing guard for the Seminoles, but his ball-handling and offensive decision-making have improved dramatically over his three seasons. He even leads the team in assists (3.3) and is one of only two Seminoles with a positive assist-turnover ratio.