Last night I watched FSU’s football team squeak out one of its ugliest wins in my lifetime, while also enjoying a thrilling back and forth battle between Clemson and Texas A&M. The juxtaposition prompted reflection on my school’s previous and current head coaches, namely Jimbo Fisher and Willie Taggart, respectively. For the first time since rumors culminated in the jarring realization that Jimbo was leaving, I considered how I should feel about him and his departure.
Now, let me be clear. Not many felt the twinge of rejection when Jimbo left more acutely than I did. As a nostalgic romantic and aspiring story-teller, I sunk my teeth into a self-crafted, poetic narrative of my years at FSU ascending with the football team’s success under Jimbo. My freshman year was Jimbo’s first as head coach, 2010, and my senior year was his finest, 2013. I attended every home game during my four years and made the trip to Pasadena to watch us win an all-timer against Auburn.
All of that followed a lifelong fanhood, having grown up rooting for the Noles. Both my parents went to FSU. My dad used to take my three older brothers and me to Doak Campbell on Saturday mornings after the season ended to toss the football around on the field. I bleed garnet and gold. Shoot, I have a tattoo of Bobby Bowden’s signature on my leg. I hoped, and came to expect, that Jimbo would follow in Bowden’s footsteps, leaving a legacy of winning on the field and high-character devotion off it.
Just four years in, he was well on his way. During my internship at the Tallahassee Democrat, I attended Fisher’s weekly Monday afternoon press conference throughout the 2013 season. Like one of his players, I soaked up his old-school wisdom, carrying it with me throughout my week. I told a good friend that one day I would write a story about my appreciation for Jimbo. That day arrived sooner than I anticipated and this post exhibits a different tone than I imagined it would back when I first envisioned the story.
Most of my FSU friends harbor what I would call a sports hatred toward Jimbo. When the news broke last December, I shared a similar sentiment. Watching the two games last night, I realized I couldn’t hate Jimbo. After some rhetorical jousting in a group chat, I explained why with a familiar, albeit perhaps overused analogy.
Jimbo is like your first love. Things start off fun, get going steady, and in no time you feel like you’re on top of the world. Then you hit a rough patch, feelings get hurt, things get said and appreciation wanes. Next thing you know, along comes some hedge fund manager asking her out to a steak dinner. You’re appalled that she would even consider. Your buddies have been saying for a while that you can do better than her anyway. Before the door hits her on the way out, a pretty young thing jumps at the chance to be with you. She’s exotic and energetic, much more fun and all your friends love her. She’s crazy about you.
After a while, exotic and energetic turns into maddening and exhausting. Meanwhile, ole girl is blowing up your IG feed with pics at rooftop bars and picnics in the park with her new beau. The rich jabroni has nothing on you – when you’re going for that max rep at the gym you dream about him trying you – but he is a good guy and treats her right. The pain of her leaving never goes away, but neither will your memories of the fun you had together. Your bitterness fades and you realize you could never hate her. Maybe she took you for granted and she will realize that when this guy grows stale on her. Regardless, it’s over for good.
Back to reality. So here I am Saturday night sitting watching Taggart’s impotent offense sputtering against an FCS school while Jimbo’s slow and steady pro-style attack wears down the best defense in college football. Up-tempo seemed fun at first, but now I miss the I-formation.
Despite my sentimentality, I am able to dispassionately evaluate Jimbo’s decision to leave and find my fellow fans’ perspective often unreasonable. Yes, the split was ugly. No, he didn’t handle it well. Yes, he should’ve been more honest. In what scenario would his leaving have gone smoothly, though?
Here are some established realities:
- Jimbo always felt FSU should invest more money into football-related resources
- FSU felt they had given him enough and he was being unreasonable in demanding more
- Texas A&M has far more money and willingness to grant Jimbo’s financial requests
- Jimbo has a longstanding friendship with Texas A&M AD Scott Woodward
- Jimbo did not see eye to eye with FSU AD Stan Wilcox and booster president Andy Miller
Imagine you enjoy tremendous success at your first job out of college. After five years, your performance slides and tensions build with your coworkers. You disagree often and you feel these disputes impede your success and the flourishing of the company. Then your friend of 15 years comes to you with a significant pay increase, in a nicer office, asking you to do the same job. Who wouldn’t take that?
In the college football world, the answer is an alumnus, which Jimbo is not (of FSU). I get that recruiting teenagers to sign binding contracts to the school he chose to leave muddies this comparison, but he’s not to blame for an imperfect system.
When FSU hired Willie Taggart, most local pundits and fans agreed the coaching carousel probably benefited all parties. Yet the Fisher lambasting is unremitting. Moreover, it’s obnoxious, fruitless and lazy. Jimbo Fisher was a great coach for FSU. Now he’s gone and I wish him well. Not everyone has to embrace the latter half of that sentence, but it won’t change the former. The best thing to do from here is move on and remember to appreciate the good times when you’re in them.
I’m not giving up on Taggart after two games, or even one season for that matter. Nor am I convinced that Jimbo will lead A&M to a national championship. But when I see him look up from those old-man reading glasses to glance at his QB in the huddle, nothing will stop me from grinning, as all the sweet flashbacks of four euphoric years of football memories flood my mind. If he’s playing Clemson, Bama or UF, I’ll even let out a hearty “Gig ’em!”
Otherwise, it’s Go Noles till I die.