THE MUSIC CITY BOWL
Florida State (7-5) vs. Kentucky (7-5), Dec. 31, 4 p.m., ESPN
By Bob Thomas
December 18, 2007
TALLAHASSEE While the Florida State football team sat idle for 21 days between its humiliating, regular-season finale at Florida and the start of bowl practice, the program hardly sat still.
In that span, FSU president and de facto athletic director T.K. Wetherell announced a succession plan for legendary coach Bobby Bowden that theoretically will lead to the promotion of offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher to the top spot.
The precise details of the deal remain unclear, because the parties have only an agreement in principle and have yet to sign contracts.
Nevertheless, Bowden will receive a renewable, one-year contract that will net him close to $2.5 million. Fisher will get a pay raise of approximately $200,000, pushing his annual salary to somewhere between $600,000 and $700,000 and making him the highest-paid assistant in college football.
While there is no designated date for Bowden the all-time leader in victories among Division I-A coaches to step aside, a two-way buyout provision, along with the raise, will make the wait worthwhile for Fisher.
"I'm in no hurry, because I know what this program is and what it can be, and I'm content to wait for it," Fisher said. "When we take it over, it'll be in great shape. Coach Bowden is Florida State, and I think we all have to respect that, know where we stand, and we'll be very patient in our time. I'm excited to have this in my future, know where my future is, especially for my family."
Wetherell and the rest of FSU's movers and shakers are happy on several fronts as well.
Financially, the investment in Fisher's immediate future could pay big dividends down the road. By having him locked away, the school will not have to go out and hire a replacement or perhaps several, considering that he might have taken assistants with him had he landed another head coaching job. As long as the staff stays largely in place, there won't be a huge financial burden to the school when Bowden retires.
More to the immediate point, Fisher's "coach-in-waiting" status is certain to stabilize the recruiting in-roads he and the other four first-year FSU assistants have established. The Seminoles already have 22 commitments, virtually all of whom greeted the news of Fisher's elevated status enthusiastically.
Interim athletic director Bill Proctor, who teamed with Wetherell in the negotiating process, admitted that recruiting played a large role in the decision to execute a succession plan.
"We think it gives stability to our program and provides continuity of the program," Proctor said, "and it should help us to maintain the momentum in our recruiting effort that is currently under way."
Though Bowden long has been considered one of the premier recruiters in the country, the 78-year-old no longer has to try and convince high schoolers that he will be there through their careers.
"I've had to fight that daily, and really, when you're 78, and I'm trying to convince a kid I'm going to be here 10 more years I think this is more realistic," Bowden said. "It's a plan I'm happy with, and I hope Jimbo is. I think he is. But it's very important he stays with us."
Beefing up FSU's recruiting effort, especially given the now apparent talent disparity between the Seminoles, rival Florida and even a number of ACC programs, is critical to turning things around.
If you're looking for more evidence of that importance, just consider FSU's practice schedule in preparation for its Dec. 31 Music City Bowl date with high-powered Kentucky.
Heeding the advice of his assistants, Bowden altered his quarter-century-old formula for bowl preparation. The Seminoles had never taken three weeks off at the conclusion of the regular season before returning to the practice field.
They did this time, in an effort to get as many allowable coaches on the road for face-to-face visits with commitments and hotly pursued prospects. Though no coach would say as much on the record, addressing FSU's talent shortcomings is far more important than a win over the Wildcats.
While the succession plan was the biggest piece of news, the school also was dealing with an academic scandal that had taken a turn for the worse.
Wetherell publicly admitted that a number of players who previously had claimed no involvement in the scandal recanted those stories during a second round of interviews with school-hired counsel. That means the team could be without the services of several prominent players, who would be declared academically ineligible until they are cleared by the NCAA.
At this point, a full-blown NCAA investigation of the scandal, which revolved around the unethical acts (providing test answers and written papers) of a former academic counselor, seems inevitable.
Just how much the Seminoles will benefit from a date with the Wildcats in Nashville is up for debate. Nine senior starters must be replaced before next season. At the end of a long season, 15 additional practice days don't figure to have that great of an impact on the future.
It's clear now, more than ever, that the Seminoles are looking forward.
"When I brought in Jimbo and these other coaches, there's one thing in mind that was to win another national championship," Bowden said.
Fisher shares the same vision. That means recruiting at a very high level today, and winning big in the near future.
"Our main goal right now is to go out and find the best players we can," Fisher said. "We're having a very good recruiting year, in my opinion. Now if we can finish it off and (do the same) for the next year's (recruiting class) and pick up another national championship, that's our main goal right now."
A 13th game won't determine whether quarterback Drew Weatherford is capable of taking the Seminoles to that point as a senior in 2008. Likewise, it won't reveal whether his backups, Christian Ponder and D'Vontrey Richardson, are ready to take the reins. And after four months together, it's highly unlikely that defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews suddenly will stumble into an answer for the season-long woes of his secondary.
Wetherell brought the whole picture into focus with his closing comments during the Bowden-Fisher succession press conference.
"At Florida State, we know what our future is, and we know what our past is," he said. "Bobby Bowden will coach Florida State University for a while, but when he decides to step down, Jimbo Fisher will be the head coach at Florida State University."
At this juncture, it's clear that the Seminoles are a program in transition between their storied past and, theoretically, bright future. It's the present or at least the bowl game that seems to be lost in between.
PK Gary Cismesia, RG Jacky Claude, WR De'Cody Fagg, RT David Overmyer, FS Roger Williams
OL Shannon Boatman, DE Alex Boston, CB J.R. Bryant, DT Andre Fluellen, OL/TE John Frady, RV Anthony Houllis, LB Anthony Kelly, P Brent Moody, DS Garrison Sanborn, WR Joslin Shaw
2008 RETURNING STARTERS^
Pos. Name Ht./Wt. 2008 Class
QB Drew Weatherford 6-3/215 Sr.
RB Antone Smith 5-9/187 Sr.
WR Richard Goodman 6-0/186 Sr.
TE Charlie Graham 6-3/238 Jr.
TE Caz Piurowski 6-7/276 Jr.
LT Daron Rose 6-5/286 Jr.
LG Rodney Hudson 6-2/285 So.
OC Ryan McMahon 6-3/275 *So.
NG Budd Thacker 6-2/268 Jr.
DT Letroy Guion 6-4/295 Sr.
DE Everette Brown 6-4/255 Jr.
DE Neefy Moffett 6-1/254 Sr.
LB Geno Hayes 6-2/218 Sr.
LB Derek Nicholson 6-2/226 Sr.
LB Dekoda Watson 6-2/230 Jr.
RV Myron Rolle 6-2/215 Jr.
CB Tony Carter 5-9/175 Sr.
CB Michael Ray Garvin 5-8/180 Sr.
Special Teams (1)
P Graham Gano 6-1/195 Sr.
- has utilized redshirt season
^ - six/more 2007 regular-season starts
- has utilized redshirt season
OTHER TESTED RETURNEES
OC Dumaka Atkins, WR Greg Carr, RB Jamaal Edwards, FB Seddrick Holloway, QB Xavier Lee, RB/WR/PR Preston Parker, FB Marcus Sims, FB Joe Surratt (if re-instated)
LB Marcus Ball, NG Paul Griffin, FS Darius McClure, DE Justin Mincey, CB Jamie Robinson, CB Patrick Robinson, NG Kendrick Stewart, LB Toddrick Verdell
Year ACC Overall Postseason
1998 7-1 (1) 11-2 Fiesta Bowl (L)
1999 8-0 (1) 12-0 Sugar Bowl (W)
2000 8-0 (1) 11-2 Orange Bowl (L)
2001 6-2 (2) 8-4 Gator Bowl (W)
2002 7-1 (1) 9-5 Sugar Bowl (L)
2003 7-1 (1) 10-3 Orange Bowl (L)
2004 6-2 (2) 9-3 Gator Bowl (W)
2005 5-3 (1A) 8-5 Orange Bowl (L)
2006 3-5 (5A) 7-6 Emerald Bowl (W)
2007 4-4 (4A) 7-5 Music City Bowl
ACC: 61-19 (.763)
Overall: 92-35 (.724)
Team 2007 Record^
Boston College 10-3 (6-2)
Clemson 9-3 (5-3)
Virginia Tech 11-2 (7-1)
Wake Forest 8-4 (5-3)
Chattanooga 2-9 (2-5)
Colorado 6-6 (4-4)
Florida 9-3 (5-3)
Western Carolina 1-10 (0-7)
Georgia Tech 7-5 (4-4)
Maryland 6-6 (3-5)
Miami 5-7 (2-6)
N.C. State 5-7 (3-5)
^ - before bowl games (conference)
Note: Finalized times/dates TBA.