It’s now been almost 18 months since Jimbo Fisher’s Christmas tree famously laid on the curb of his Tallahassee home as the head coach bolted for oil-rich College Station and a $75 million contract.
Fast-forward to mid-May 2019 and the bitter taste from Fisher’s departure continues to sour in the mouths of Florida State fans. His successor, Willie Taggart, struggled mightily in his first season as head coach of the Seminoles, finishing just 5-7 — the first losing season since 1976.
But as time continues to go by, it’s becoming more evidence that Taggart didn’t inherit the mound of gold that many, including Taggart himself, would have led people to believe. To Taggart’s credit, he’s blamed no one else.
Amid the Fisher fallout late in the 2017 season came some reports and widespread speculation of cultural issues inside the program. Aside from a candid interview from former linebacker Jacob Pugh, the need for players sign promise notes to play harder and Fisher’s apparent indifference to quarterback Deondre Francois skipping Senior Day festivities to spend the day in Orlando, the evidence was more speculative than tangible.
Last week, Academic Progress Rates for the 2017-18 academic year were released and Florida State had the lowest score among all FBS programs. After scoring just a 922, FSU is left with a multi-year score of 936 — six points above the minimum threshold necessary to participate in postseason.
With major college sports now being a multi-million dollar industry, it’s understandable that many scoff at the academic aspect of college athletics. Fans and boosters will always care more about final scores than test scores. Still, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that a program be in a position where postseason eligibility isn’t something it should have to fret over.
It’s not surprising that prestigious academic universities like Michigan and Stanford have very high APRs, but others like Clemson, Alabama and Washington are doing just fine when it comes to combining football success with achievements in the classroom.
During a time where scathing New York Times stories for the program were as common as prime-time kickoffs, many FSU fans were quick — and perhaps justifiably so — to defend Fisher when he would talk about the character of his players and the integrity of his program. This piece isn’t to suggest that wasn’t the case or that Fisher didn’t care about his players or the integrity of the program, but it is also fair to assert that he is responsible for the predicament that Florida State is in from an academic standpoint.
College coaches tend to give a lot of lip service to the “student” portion of student-athlete and most probably legitimately believe in its merits. During the latter part of his tenure however, Fisher failed in this regard and left Taggart to clean up his mess.
Since 2012, Florida State hasn’t had more than two football players make the ACC’s All-Academic team in any year and the 11 total over that span is the fewest of any school. It should be noted that one of those selections, Jaiden Lars-Woodbey in 2018, wasn’t even recruited by the Seminoles until Taggart was hired in December 2017. This comes at a university that ranks among the 70 best in the country.
Failures of Fisher’s staff aren’t limited to the classroom, however. After another disappointing NFL Draft, the case could easily be made that Fisher and his staff failed to adequately develop players late in his tenure.
After setting a modern-day record with 29 players selected over three drafts from 2013 to 2015, the Seminoles have had just 14 players drafted since 2016 and twice, had only two players get taken. That may not seem minuscule, but considering that Fisher’s final four recruiting classes never finished lower than sixth, per the 247Sports Composite, it is certainly underwhelming.
None of this is meant to diminish what Fisher was able to accomplish during his tenure as FSU head coach. After inheriting a program that finished 7-6 three times in four years before taking over, Fisher led the Seminoles to six 10-win seasons, five major bowl appearances, three major bowl victories, three ACC titles and one of the most dominant national championship runs ever in 2013. On his watch, the Seminoles also set the aforementioned draft record and from late-2012 until the 2015 Rose Bowl, won a school-record 29 straight games.
Only time will tell how Fisher’s tenure in Tallahassee is ultimately remembered and odds are that it will be something of a mixed bag. As mentioned before, a disappointing ending doesn’t completely whitewash his otherwise accomplished tenure nor does it completely absolve Taggart for his team’s dismal performance in 2018. As time goes by however, the evidence has never been more clear that Taggart inherited a program with issues much larger than an offensive line that couldn’t block.