Friday, December 05, 2008

Coachapalooza: welcome back, Jimbo Fisher


Oh, this Jimbo:

He'd probably make the better coach.

First: would he come? You would think hiring an ACC assistant to be your SEC head coach wouldn't be that difficult, but this is Auburn, so everything coach-related is difficult. For starters: Auburn's already burned through $5.1 million (plus assistants) and would likely have to burn through some part of another $2.5 million for Fisher's buyout, and that's before we start talking about his salary (plus assistants).

More importantly, there's the question of whether FSU let him go without offering him some sort of deal he couldn't refuse--a sudden Bowden retirement, perhaps?--or if he'd even be interested in taking the Auburn job rather than waiting the old coot out. You hear all sorts of scuttlebutt on those latter questions--FSU doesn't even want Fisher any more, Bowden's going to finally get the back of FSU's hand and be forced to step aside, Fisher (a West Virginia native) is waiting to go to West Virginia when Coach Stew gets the inevitable boot--so getting a good read on the situation here is, as with virtually every candidate on Auburn's list, murky.

My completely uninformed guess is this: Jacobs sounded confident enough about Auburn's finances that the buyout won't be a dealbreaker. Which means it comes down to what Papa Bowden is planning. Fisher wants to be a head coach, and soon: you don't willingly sign up for the UAB job if you're lovin' life outside the big chair. It's been one season of the waiting game in Tallahassee so far, and frankly, it doesn't seem like Bowden really wants to step aside, for what I can only assume are JoePa-related reasons. Especially with the 'Nole job maybe not looking like the plum position it was a few seasons ago, would Fisher be willing to wait two, maybe three more seasons for his shot?

The guess here, homerrific as I know it is, is that a man who'd jump into the cesspit at UAB isn't really that fired up about waiting too much longer of a job that's not substantially better than the one Auburn's offering right now. (And as well as FSU pays him, he'd also be landing a gigantic raise.) Call it 60-40 he comes ... again, if that's who Auburn settles on.

Pros: No Kelly- or even Leach-style adjustments to the lay of the SEC land for Fisher, that's for sure: after serving as 1) Terry Bowden's quarterbacks coach for the entire duration of Tater Tot's tenure on the Plains 2) Nick Saban's and then Les Miles's offensive coordinator for seven solidseasons on the bayou, Fisher will have a very, very clear idea of what he's getting into. And, one would assume, will have by now formulated some ideas about what would work in what he's getting into.

Besides, the ideas he had back in his days of running the LSU offense weren't too shabby. Of his seven years at the helm in Baton Rouge, only three times did they finish outside the top 40 in total offense, with particularly impressive 11th-place finishes in 2001 and 2006. That '06 season with Jamarcus Russell taking snaps was particularly monstrous: the Tigers finished with an eye-popping 6.6 yards a play that year, only .1 yards behind even Leach's flying circus. For however much its' worth, it's probably also worth noting that that was his offense winning the 2003 crystal football, even if in the Tigers' two biggest wins of the year--the 17-10 home showdown with Georgia and the 21-14 Sugar Bowl win--it was the Tiger D that did the heavy lifting.

In his time at LSU, Fisher also proved adept at using the talent at hand rather than trying to force the team into a preset scheme. The 2000 and 2001 Tiger teams (ith Rohan Davey) swung heavily towards the pass, ranking 29th and 11th; when Matt Mauck, Alley Broussard, Justin Vincent and crew came along a couple of seasons later, Fisher swung the other way, ranking 27th and 20th in rushing in '03 and '04 while finishing 43rd and 72nd in passing. Given the collection of spare parts he's likely to find when he arrives at Auburn, this might mean his first critical season or two on the Plains might go more smoothly than it would for an ideologue like Leach or Johnson.

Even given his offensive prowess, probably Fisher's biggest asset is his experience. Even at the relatively young age of 43, Fisher has spent the last 15 years playing major coaching roles for major college programs, and for the last 10 years has worked under two of the better college coaches of all time in Saban and Bowden. (What he's managed to learn under Bowden the last couple of seasons is probably more along the lines of what not to do, but still.) As well-respected as he's been for as long as he's been, it's hard to see him being a complete bust and if he can recruit, he should mold Auburn into a solid program.

Can he recruit? This falls under the heading of neither pro nor con, because I don't think we know. LSU recruited like mad during his tenure there, but, uh ... he was working for Saban. His arrival may have helped FSU : the 'Noles went from 21st in 2007 to 9th in 2008. But 2008's group is a bloated and possibly overrated 30-member class, and given FSU's recruiting history over the last several years 2007 may have just been a random fluke. I don't think we can draw a definite conclusion one way or the other here.


Sure, a lot of Fisher's offenses have put up big numbers. But how much of that is Fisher and how much of that is having the likes of Davy, Russell, or the 2003 tailback extravaganza around?

In 2002, or "the Marcus Randall year," LSU finished an ugly 86th in total offense. The Tigers were 53rd in 2000, 60th in 2005. Even some of Fisher's better teams at LSU, if they were consistent, weren't exactly explosive: the '04 squad that ranked 38th went five straight weeks scoring between 24 and 27 points.

As for his two seasons at Florida St., well, they haven't exactly confirmed Fisher's genius. The 'Noles finished 80th in 2007 and improved only to a still-mediocre 56th this season.

Put simply: without an NFL-quality quarterback around, Fisher's teams may have good, even very good in a couple of cases at LSU, but they weren't brilliant. Frankly, that Marcus Randall team and his bumbling FSU teams are probably most representative of what Fisher will have to work with at Auburn, for at least his first two years; what Auburn have might, in fact, be a lot worse. So maybe that flexibility I mentioned will help, but the evidence we have is that if Fisher doesn't have the talent, it doesn't matter much.

And again: will he be able to recruit that talent? Who knows. Will he be able to hire a solid DC and manage in-game decisions and run a clean program? Who knows, who knows, who knows, although at the very least we can't say he's helped FSU's ongoing off-field distractions. It might be relatively safe to assume Fisher will be a competent coach after acquiring as much experience as he's had ... but it's still an assumption. There's a lot we don't know.

Final endorsement? Well, he's better than Nutt. It basically all hangs on Fisher's ability to recruit: if he's terrific in that department and can find the athletes he needs to run his stuff, he'll do great. If his recruiting is merely capable, the offense will probably only be OK. If he can't recruit ... 86th nationally, here we come. And of course, none of that even gets into how well he'd do at finding a DC or managing all the other aspects of the team.

Because of how long he's been around and how generally capable he's believed of being, Fisher's floor shouldn't be too low. It's unlikely he'd descend into the Orgeronian depths of back-to-back 3-8 seasons. But is there anything in his track record that clearly signals an ability to rise above, say, a consistent 7-5 or 8-4? I don't see it. The first thing an Auburn coach has to do is get everything he can out of his players, regardless of talent, and neither his time at LSU nor Florida St. suggests he's capable of doing that.

In short: there's not a ton of risk, but there's enough, and I don't see the reward. If Nutt and Fisher really are the front-runners, I want to get off this ride right now. I want my money back.


gerry dorsey said...

good stuff. the last two paragraphs are pretty much exactly how i feel about fisher. as a rival fan i fear leach's potential, but not fisher's.

Brandon said...

If Auburn settles on Fisher, 90% he takes it. I seem to remember that the reason he didn't go to Bama w/ Saban is that "Auburn is my dream job, and I think that coaching at Alabama would jeopardize my chances of ever getting that job." I'm paraphrasing, but that's what he said.

Kevin @ Fanblogs said...

Jerry - respectfully... there is absolutely no chance in Hades that Jimbo comes to Auburn. Let's explore....

1- Jimbo has wanted to be at FSU his entire life. A classic shot of Fisher on the sidelines as a QB at Samford wearing an Noles ballcap is the only proof I can offer above his own words for the past three years.

2- Jimbo is a Bowden, for all intents and purposes. He's played for a Bowden and coached with two. Taking over for Bobby may seem like losing battle, but for Jimbo it is almost like succeeding his own father.

3- If money were his goal, Jimbo could get as much (possibly more, I'm not sure) by staying at FSU. Forget the buyout, Jimbo is guaranteed a top salary in two years when he takes over for Bowden. His contract is rumored to be guaranteed at $3.5 for 10 years. Cha-ching.

4- Perhaps above all, Jimbo has an extremely close friendship with Terry Bowden. To even interview with Auburn would be a serious affront to his longtime friend and mentor.

There are probably other reasons, but I can't think of them right now.