Fisher signs new deal; speculation lingers

Florida State announced Tuesday that Jimbo Fisher has signed a new contract that might keep him coaching the Seminoles through the 2018 season.

But until FSU releases details of the new contract, which is expected to raise Fisher’s salary from $2.75 million to about $4 million annually, we won’t know whether he’s officially off the market for other vacancies.

FSU officials aren’t expected to release details of Fisher’s contract until early next week, presumably after the No. 1 Seminoles play No. 2 Auburn in Monday night’s Vizio BCS National Championship at the Rose Bowl.

Then we’ll know the details of the fine print in Fisher’s new contract, most importantly what he would have to pay to leave Florida State for another school.

Fisher, who guided the Seminoles to a 13-0 record this season, is considered among the top targets at Texas, which is searching for Mack Brown’s replacement.

Fisher might not be ready to leave Florida State anytime soon. He and his coaching staff have stockpiled talent in Tallahassee, so much so that the Seminoles will be a popular choice as the No. 1 team in preseason polls heading into 2014.

The Seminoles will return a boatload of talent, including reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. But Winston figures to play only one more season in college before leaving for the NFL draft, so Fisher will have to consider his long-term future if the Longhorns indeed want him.

Fisher is smart enough to know that jobs like the one at Texas don’t come open very often. If the Longhorns really want him, they’ll be prepared to pay whatever it takes to buy him out of his contract with the Seminoles and make him one of the highest-paid coaches in college football. And Florida State probably isn’t in a financial position to get into a bidding war with Texas for Fisher, who has a 44-10 record in four seasons with the Seminoles. Everything is bigger in Texas, including the Longhorns’ bank account.

Fisher, 48, seems like the perfect fit for the Longhorns. Texas initially wanted Alabama coach Nick Saban, who wouldn’t leave the Crimson Tide, and Fisher has been the most successful Saban protégé. Just as importantly, Fisher has experience replacing a popular coach; he succeeded legendary Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden at a time when FSU’s fan base was divided. He didn’t need long to unite it.

When Fisher became FSU’s coach before the 2010 season, the Seminoles had fallen way behind rival Florida, which won two BCS national championships under former coach Urban Meyer. It didn’t take Fisher very long to catch the Gators and then surpass them.

Whoever replaces Brown at Texas will face a similar predicament. The Longhorns are the state’s flagship team, but they’ve limped through four straight mediocre seasons since losing to Alabama 37-21 in the 2010 BCS title game. UT has fallen behind not only longtime nemesis Texas A&M but even former cellar dweller Baylor in the Big 12.

UT athletic director Steve Patterson told reporters in San Antonio on Monday night that he hopes to have a new coach in place by Jan. 15. The UT search has been very quiet since Brown announced his retirement earlier this month, so we can assume the Longhorns have identified their candidates and are waiting for their current teams’ seasons to end.

Among the other coaches reportedly on Texas’ radar: Baylor’s Art Briles, Louisville’s Charlie Strong and Vanderbilt’s James Franklin. If Fisher isn’t interested, Briles would seem to make the most sense -- if he’s willing to leave the Bears.

Briles, who also recently agreed to a new contract with his current school, is a former Texas high school coach who knows the state well. His connections in the state might make it easier for the Longhorns to upgrade their talent quickly.

But, if UT officials decide Fisher is the coach who can get them back to the top, the Longhorns will make it very difficult for him to turn them down.