Logan Stanford / Warchant.com
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Jimbo Fisher can’t worry about the fans right now.
After another ragged performance Saturday, even though it ended with a win, Florida State’s fan base appears to be equal parts frustrated, confused and disappointed.
They’re disappointed that this season almost certainly will end with the Seminoles out of contention for national and ACC championships. They’re confused about why a team that has recruited at such a high level for so many years suddenly looks far inferior to -- and often less-prepared than -- the better teams in the country. And they’re frustrated that Fisher didn’t make any changes when last season’s team also fell far short of expectations.
When you mix those three ingredients -- confusion, frustration and disappointment -- you have a recipe for anger. And make no mistake, many in this fan base are angry.
Even the Seminoles’ first victory of the season, a last-minute thriller Saturday at Wake Forest, provided little comfort. Sure, it’s nice to win. It beats the alternative. But it doesn’t change the fact that this team has turned in three baffling performances in three games. And this from a team that entered the season with a No. 3 national ranking and a roster littered with returning starters.
So, the fans are angry. And they have every right to be.
Since Fisher took over as Florida State’s head coach eight years ago, he has ushered in a change in philosophy. At his very first press conference, he spoke at length about creating a new culture. About building the infrastructure to produce a program that could help student-athletes accomplish their dreams and also produce championship-level teams on a consistent basis.
Gone was the folksy, homespun style of Bobby Bowden. In was the corporate approach of Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and the new breed of college coaches.
That fresh start was welcomed warmly by most in the Florida State fan base. Die-hard Seminoles loved everything that the legendary Bowden did for their program, but they knew the game was passing him by. They longed for the more modern methods espoused by Fisher and the like. With so much money now at stake now in college sports, they understood the need for a more businesslike approach. They were more than ready to trade in their comfortable mom-and-pop shop for a Fortune 500 conglomerate.
And when Fisher led Florida State back to the promised land -- winning the 2013 national championship and reeling off an incredible 29 consecutive victories -- they rewarded him the way big businesses reward their CEOs. Fisher now is one of the few highest paid coaches in the country, and he and his staff have received raises and contract extensions nearly every year. When defensive coordinator Charles Kelly was courted by Auburn two years ago, the administration stepped up in a way it never had before for an assistant coach; Kelly was given an unprecedented five-year deal worth more than $4 million.
The FSU administration, with the help of Seminole Boosters, also have worked to give those coaches all the materials they might need to get the job done. New facilities have been constructed, like the $15 million Indoor Practice Facility and the fancy new dorms for student-athletes. Old buildings have been modernized, including the locker rooms, the coaches’ offices and players’ lounge. A feasibility study is under way for a new standalone football facility -- something similar to the $55 million project recently completed at Clemson and others being constructed at the University of Florida and elsewhere.
College football is big business, and FSU has proven it is committed to competing at the highest levels. Seminole Nation has taken on exactly the mentality Fisher wanted them to embrace when he was named head coach in 2010.
But nothing in the business world comes without a price. And the price for Fisher and his staff is heightened expectations and hard-line consequences. The same ones that exist at all big businesses.
You don't need an MBA to know that if a publicly traded company falls short of Wall Street’s projections several quarters in a row, the CEO will have to implement major changes or risk losing his job. It doesn’t matter that there were legitimate issues that caused the slowdown. The shareholders won’t care about the why; they’ll want results, and they'll want them now.
Fisher is entering that territory at Florida State.
There are reasons why the Seminoles are struggling in several areas. Losing quarterback Deondre Francois was a major blow. The scheduling delays caused by Hurricane Irma made matters worse. And the combination of untimely injuries (including three along the offensive line on Saturday) and some bizarre officiating haven’t helped.
But like those investors on Wall Street, Florida State fans aren’t trying to hear any more excuses. They feel like they have invested in a CEO who has promised results, and they’re not seeing them.
As I said at the beginning, Fisher can’t worry about those fans right now. He has to do everything he can to get the most out of this season. He has to be completely focused on figuring out why his team isn’t playing sharper, why even veteran players are making alarming mistakes, and what he can do as a playcaller to help kick-start his beleaguered offense.
Making in-season changes to a coaching staff is almost never a good long-term strategy. So that’s off the table for now. But when this season ends, Fisher will have to objectively evaluate every aspect of his organization -- from the assistant coaches on staff to the schemes being run to the motivational tactics being employed.
Three games is a relatively small sample size, and things can still turn around this season. But the Seminoles lost three games in 2015, three games in 2016, and they look like a team that will lose more than that in 2017. When you consider how many juniors and seniors will be leaving for the NFL next spring, it’s no wonder FSU fans are so concerned. And disappointed. And frustrated.
Fisher can’t worry about those fans right now, but he will have to reckon with them eventually.
They’re not just anonymous faces in the stands.
They are his shareholders.
This is the culture he desired.
Contact managing editor Ira Schoffel at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @IraSchoffel on Twitter.