SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg breaks down the Auburn Tigers’ and Miami Hurricanes’ big wins and what it means going forward.
Texas A&M is expected to inquire about the interest level of Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher once its separation from current coach Kevin Sumlin is official at the end of the season, according to two people familiar with the situation.
Those people spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because Texas A&M has not made an announcement on Sumlin’s future and due to the sensitivity of the matter.
Though Fisher has never given serious consideration to leaving Florida State previously, rebuffing interest from LSU the last two years, one person close to Fisher pointed to his longstanding relationship with Texas A&M athletics director Scott Woodward and the current disappointing season at Florida State as reasons why Texas A&M’s pursuit might be more realistic.
Woodward arrived as an administrator at LSU in 2000, the same year Fisher was hired there as offensive coordinator under Nick Saban. They have remained in touch and friendly over the years, according to a person familiar with Fisher’s thinking.
Pursuing Fisher would make sense for Texas A&M, which has shown a willingness to spend big money to reach the elite level of college football. Beyond Fisher, who won a national title in 2013, there are few, if any, candidates for the job who would be a guaranteed upgrade over Sumlin.
It’s far more uncertain whether Fisher would ultimately decide to leave a school where he has invested eight seasons as a head coach and three as the coach-in-waiting under Bobby Bowden, restoring the Seminoles to their former glory during a run of three consecutive ACC titles between 2012-14.
Fisher also has security at Florida State, as he is signed at $5.55 million annually through the 2024 season. The contract contains two automatic one-year rollovers that go into effect after each nine-win regular season.
Another significant factor is his family situation. Fisher and his ex-wife Candi divorced in December 2015, and their youngest son Ethan battles Fanconi anemia, a rare blood disorder. In previous discussions, staying close to his children has been a factor in Fisher’s thinking about other jobs.
However, this season has gone poorly for Fisher, as the Seminoles started at No. 3 in the polls but have stumbled to a 3-6 record. If he stays, Fisher will be expected to tweak his coaching staff, as the Seminoles have been out of the ACC title race by the end of September each of the last two years.
Last month, after Florida State’s 31-28 home loss to Louisville, Fisher confronted a fan who yelled “New coaches, new coaches!” as the team walked off the field.
Last week, when Fisher was asked about Florida State’s rivalry with Clemson, he added fuel to the fire with a comment that seemed to indicate he believes Clemson, with its new $55 million football facility, has surpassed Florida State in its financial commitment to winning national titles.
“I think their rise has come from their commitment to football,” Fisher said. “They’ve been committed but their administration has done a tremendous job of spending and doing and building. Not just building, but all the things behind the scenes.”
Asked what commitments he’d like to see from Florida State, Fisher responded: “Those things are a major, major deal. Unfortunately, in this business, when you get into the facilities business, you’re never out of it. You’re never out of development. Your company can never quit growing. Whether it’s that or behind the scenes things, support staff, all that can never happen. It can never go away. If it does, people fly by you like crazy. And there’s numerous examples across this country. If you don’t understand that, you’re missing the boat.”
Those comments were not well-received among FSU fans and administrators, particularly given the contract extension Fisher received last December and the multimillion-dollar facility upgrades the school has made under his watch.
Texas A&M has been on the cutting edge of the facility wars, opening a new $20 million operations complex in 2014 and a $485 million stadium renovation.
Fisher’s contract states that his only buyout responsibility to Florida State if he left would be the amount guaranteed to his assistant coaches — potentially as much as $7.2 million, but likely far less — as the contract is written in a way to protect the school from having to buy out those staff members should a new coach decide not to honor those contracts. In other words, if Fisher brought some or most of those staff members to a new school, their salaries likely wouldn’t be owed to Florida State.
There is mitigation language that would reduce the actual amount even further if coaches who didn’t go with Fisher found jobs elsewhere.
Should Fisher leave, it would raise the stakes on the coaching carousel, which is already in motion with high-level openings now at Florida and Tennessee. The specter of Florida and Florida State simultaneously looking for new coaches would be particularly interesting in that state, as it would put pressure on both administrations to compete with each other in the marketplace.