No matter who you are, when you take a new job you have shoes to fill. Sometimes those shoes are tiny, sometimes they fit perfectly, and sometimes the size is intimidating and seemingly impossible to fill. Turner Gill has tiny shoes to fill in Kansas, Joker Phillips has perfectly sized shoes to fill in Kentucky. But, the shoes that new Florida State head football coach Jimbo Fisher must fill are enormous. And he better understand that, or his shoes will quickly go out of style.
The Sporting News characterizes Fisher’s challenge as simply returning the Seminoles to glory. Nothing to it. For the former LSU offensive coordinator, this is no easy task. The Seminoles are ranked around 14 in most polls. Why? It is hard to understand. A potentially great quarterback in Christian Ponder is coming off of right shoulder surgery. The team hasn’t had an explosive, breakout player on offense since Anquan Boldin. The defense, which dominated and helped carry the Seminoles through a decade of lacking offense, is no longer helmed by Mickey Andrews – who coached the group for 26 consecutive seasons.
The expectations are enormous, far outpacing reality. The excitement for change has taken hold of Tallahassee, and Jimbo Fisher is under the gun to deliver.
Fisher will need a brilliant season out of himself and his staff to restore FSU’s aura. He recruited well, but he must kick start an offense that has struggled. But, one of the reasons it has struggled in recent seasons is a lack of a strong, capable leader. Ponder answers all of those questions. He is smart (he’s working on advanced degrees while tossing the pigskin around) and an experienced leader. He is also an efficient quarterback leading an offense with nine returning starters. The players have all been in Fisher’s scheme for several seasons and understand how the coach works. Oh, and of those nine returning players – five are on the offensive line. Fisher faces an uphill battle, but he’ll have an experienced offensive unit to help him.
The defense, however, is a different story. There are some talented players in the defensive backfield, but the talent that Seminole fans are accustomed to having in the front seven has not yet materialized. Plus, without Andrews there to guide the unit, question marks will persist and every missed tackle, dropped interception, and touchdown given up on defense will result in frustrated fans and media. Fisher will have a substantial challenge managing the expectations of everyone – and living up to the huge expectations he’ll be unable to completely control.
Of course those are actual football circumstances. The previously mentioned shoes belonged to Bobby Bowden, one of the most legendary college football coaches in the history of the game. Without exaggeration, Fisher must prove he’s worthy to fill them. It’s no fun following a legend, but someone has to do it. And the right person to fill those shoes must absolutely want to do it.
Fisher must also prove that he’s worthy of running a college football program. He has never been a head coach yet has been a high profile head coach in waiting for several seasons. Like a newly promoted AA baseball player, no one is quite sure if Fisher can make it. He is a high buzz prospect with real pressure faced yet. That all changes this weekend.
In a way, it’s fitting to use this shoe analogy to describe the situation Jimbo Fisher is in… as the NCAA football coach with the most to prove. Steve Spurrier once joked, calling Florida State “Free Shoes University” after two prominent players were accused to receiving free shoes as gifts a decade ago. Now that seemingly unshakeable stigma is finally loose. All Fisher has to do is win a few games to permanently bury the past and begin a new era. No pressure.