Bobby Bowden took a look at the college football landscape in the state of Florida when he arrived at Florida State in 1976 and decided the quickest way to put the Seminoles on the map was to “beat the folks down south.”
South of Tallahassee, he meant. Or the University of Florida.
“I did single them out,” Bowden said this week. “We had to beat our in-state rivals.”
Nearly 40 years later, Jimbo Fisher has taken Bowden’s blueprint … and doubled down on it.
Fisher is 9-1 against his two in-state rivals during his five years as coach, the best five-year stretch against Miami and Florida in school history. Bowden’s best was 7-3 from 1995-99.
“You are very well accepted during that time,” Bowden said. “Your booster dinners were larger. Your meetings were larger. Everyone was happy. It was very important to win those games.”
But when Fisher replaced Bowden in 2010, Florida State had dropped its six previous games to Florida and 8 of 11 to Miami. Now, Fisher is looking for his 10th win against his in-state rivals Saturday when No. 12 Florida State (4-0, 2-0 ACC) hosts Miami (3-1, 0-0) at 8 p.m. (ABC).
Fisher’s success, though, has extended beyond state borders. FSU is 62-11 under Fisher, and only Alabama has as many wins (62) during that span.
And although Fisher, and every coach, will say every game, especially those within the conference, is important, he understands beating a rival can buy you a lot of goodwill.
“I know the fans get the bragging rights, and we know the importance of it,” said Fisher, who is 5-0 against Miami. “And I think the emotion of it is probably greater. But for us when you win it, we say, ‘It’s the next win,’ and you move on.”
How impressive is 9-1? Dennis Erickson was at Miami for six years (1989-94) and was happy going 4-2 against the Seminoles. “I’ll take that any day of the week,” he said.
Erickson, currently the assistant head coach for No. 4 Utah, has been a part of several bitter in-state rivalries as a coach at places such as Washington State, Oregon State and Arizona State.
“You better win that game or you won’t be there long,” he said.
The two most successful coaches against their in-state rivals at Miami were Larry Coker, 8-0 from 2001-05, and Jimmy Johnson, 7-2 from 1984-88.
Butch Davis was an assistant on Johnson’s staff and the Miami coach from 1995-2000. He was 1-6 against FSU, partly because of NCAA sanctions from previous infractions.
“It’s huge,” Davis said of having success against the other two schools. “Especially in the state of Florida where most of the kids grow up and have watched all three of the programs and envision themselves playing for one of the three. It gives you credibility on the home visit.”
Ahhh, the recruiting angle. The lifeblood of any program.
Close to 100 recruits are expected to be on the Doak Campbell Stadium sidelines Saturday, and Fisher’s success on the field has been a product of his prowess on the recruiting trail.
In the past five years, FSU’s average recruiting rank, according to 247Sports, is 4.6. Miami’s is 19.2 and Florida’s is 9.6.
And some of FSU’s biggest recruits have come from Miami’s backyard.
Craig Haubert, the recruiting coordinator for ESPN, believes Fisher’s recruiting success has as much to do with the Seminoles winning a national championship and 29 consecutive games from 2012 to ’14 as it does from dominating Miami and Florida.
Luck and good timing can be as necessary as talent and coaching. In 2010, the stars were aligned in FSU’s favor.
At Florida, few believed Urban Meyer was in for the long haul after a bizarre couple of days late in 2009 when he resigned only to return a day later. Meyer then quit for good following the 2010 regular season, and the program went into steep decline under Will Muschamp.
At Miami, Randy Shannon lasted four years before being fired in 2010. Al Golden was hired and soon after it was revealed booster Nevin Shapiro had been providing Hurricanes players with extra benefits for the past decade, leading to more NCAA woes.
“The timing was perfect for Florida State,” Davis said.
But all coaches know, you better take advantage of those good times — which Fisher has at Florida State — because they won’t last forever.
“I don’t see any of those guys staying down for very long,” Erickson said.