March 12, 2013
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Give Jimbo Fisher credit; the man knows how to put together a coaching staff.
The first group of assistants he compiled as Florida State's new coach three years ago turned the Seminoles back into Atlantic Coast Conference champions and BCS bowl-game winners. And with Jay Graham and Tim Brewster officially on board as FSU assistants, Fisher's second attempt at revamping the 'Noles' coaching staff figures to result in similar -- if not greater -- success despite an off-season defined by a head-turning number of coaching moves.
Other college football programs poached seven of FSU's assistants because of their success and reputation as great teachers and tireless recruiters.
Kentucky plucked Mark Stoops and D.J. Eliot from Tallahassee and the results are already speaking for themselves in Lexington (just look at the excitement around Big Blue Nation and the recruiting class Stoops secured). Eddie Gran's addition to Tommy Tuberville's staff as offensive coordinator figures to help the Bearcats become more disciplined and effective on Saturdays and more of a factor in recruiting talent-rich South Florida throughout the year. Greg Hudson should help transform a Purdue team that allowed nearly 420 yards of offense per game last year as the Boilermakers' new defensive coordinator and James Coley and Dameyune Craig figure to be successful coaches and monster recruiters at Miami and Auburn, respectively.
When Fisher put together his first staff he knew they wouldn't all be together for more than a handful of years. That's not how college coaching works now. Gone are the days where coaches stay on the same campus for 20-plus years.
But that's OK. Fisher understood and welcomed that reality and, like his mentor Nick Saban, wanted to become known as a coach that only helps his players achieve better positions but that his assistants experience an upward career-trajectory as well.
So far so good.
All of the assistants that left FSU over the past few months accepted next-step-in-their-career jobs. From Stoops getting his first well-deserved chance at being a head coach to Coley getting the chance to call his own plays, each assistant used his time under Fisher as a stepping stone to something even better.
The other schools that hired these coaches, of course, didn't care about timing. In the world of college football, being polite and waiting for coaches to finish their seasons or cap off a recruiting class isn't how it's done.
And that's what makes Fisher's behind-the-scenes moves over the past few months all the more special. Not only did he rebound, rally and then send a message to the nation that a major coaching overhaul won't stop his program from signing a top-10 nationally ranked class but he also showed that he can go out and add some top-flight coaching talent even when the unexpected happens.
When Billy Napier surprisingly elected to leave his new job as FSU tight ends coach for a spot on Saban's Alabama staff, the timing wasn't ideal but Fisher still had an answer.
First he went out and hired Graham away from his alma mater Tennessee. Then he swiped Brewster from Dan Mullen at Mississippi State. Not only did he wrap up his coaching staff with a pair of proven coaches but he also added two more ace recruiters. (Sorry, rest of ACC.)
Graham helped bring Marcus Lattimore to South Carolina when he was with the Gamecocks and he was the only Volunteers assistant retained (before he left for Florida State) by new Tennessee coach Butch Jones this off-season in part because of his reputation on the recruiting trail. Brewster has a long history of being a force when it comes to signing elite high school talent and for the first time in his long career his own coaching backyard is the mecca of high school talent in the United States. (He also boasts an active Twitter presence and is worth a follow.)
How FSU's players respond to these moves remains to seen. Another Saban protege, Derek Dooley, had to replace seven coaches at Tennessee before last season and he has since been fired by the Volunteers before getting hired this off-season as an assistant with the Dallas Cowboys.
Needless to say, major change like what the Seminoles went through isn't easy.
But that won't stop Fisher and his staff from giving it everything they've got as one goal-driven machine on a quest to bring a national championship back to FSU. And with spring practice set to start March 20, Fisher is confident that the turbulent off-season of change won't negatively affect what he hopes is the sustainment of his program's success.
"It's not been hard because those guys come off the same tree," Fisher said at the conclusion of the team's 4th Quarter Drills last week. "They've been in the same system, same environment. They hit the ground running easier than the old group did. Sometimes it took a year to get to. That's nothing against those guys; those guys did a tremendous job when they were here, but a lot of these guys have been in the same system.
"They've hit the ground running. It has not been an issue at all."