Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher just led the Seminoles to a perfect season and a national championship, doing so in the shadow of Bobby Bowden and every naysayer who wondered whether this program would return to the top.
So now the question becomes: Is Fisher an elite level coach? Does winning a championship automatically vault him into that conversation?
It is a debate worth having when you consider what Fisher accomplished this season. Not only did he win every single game, he helped guide a redshirt freshman quarterback to the Heisman Trophy, and made it look like his completely revamped coaching staff had been working together for years. Oh, and he produced an even better team than the one that lost a record 11 picks to the NFL a year ago.
Looking back, it is hard to believe the two biggest questions headed into this season revolved around Jameis Winston and the new staff. Those were never liabilities but terrific assets throughout the course of the season. Winston proved his worth and so did defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, whose new, aggressive scheme took full advantage of the athletes he had on his side of the ball. Fisher deserves credit for not making one bad hire in the bunch -- another sign of a good coach.
Now, you can say the significant pay raise Fisher received (now in the $4-million club) and interest from Texas already have him in the elite coaching club. His success has been validated in both ways.
But it still feels as if his efforts this past season were somewhat overshadowed.
Fisher won zero national coach of the year awards and was not really considered for ACC Coach of the Year honors, either. Much of that has to do with the position itself. When you coach at Florida State, you are expected to win -- even when you start the year ranked No. 11. This is to take nothing away from the coaching jobs David Cutcliffe and Gus Malzahn did at their respective schools. There were many outstanding coaching jobs done across the country this season worthy of recognition.
But it also is true that doing the unexpected draws much more national attention. Duke, Auburn and Missouri had stunning seasons. Florida State went 14-0 but the reaction was not, ‘Surprise!’ It was more along the lines of, ‘It’s about time!’
Fisher has had to live with a reputation for not being the strongest play caller, one that he seemed to put away throughout the course of 2013. But those concerns showed up again in the BCS national title game, when he was outcoached for the first half by Malzahn and the Auburn staff. Once again, to his credit, Fisher made the necessary adjustments and helped steady Winston enough to win the game.
Fisher has had two of the best mentors in the business in Nick Saban and Bowden, but he has developed into his own man with his own identity. Fisher already has equaled them in undefeated seasons -- they all have one. It only took Fisher four seasons as a head coach to get there, compared to 14 for Saban and 34 for Bowden.
If Fisher keeps winning, he will continue to be mentioned with them but for a different reason. Instead of following behind them, he could end up being right in step with them.