A few hours before kickoff Saturday, a small invitation-only gathering took place on the Florida State practice fields.
Jimbo Fisher wasn’t in attendance, understandably. He had a huge football game to prepare for.
But the group of Florida State officials and heavy-hitting boosters in attendance certainly were there to celebrate his vision. With golden shovels and golden helmets featuring FSU’s trademark spear, they were breaking ground on a $15 million indoor practice facility — a building Fisher has lobbied for since he arrived at Florida State as an offensive coordinator almost six years ago.
For practical purposes, it’s nothing more than a place for FSU’s football players to practice when lightning forces them inside.
But what it symbolizes is something much greater. It’s a commitment by Florida State’s administration and boosters to make football a greater priority. To catch up with the Joneses. To show recruits and the world that the Seminoles, who for years did it on the cheap, were ready to step up and play (or is it pay?) with the big boys.
And it dovetails nicely with some impressive new student dorms, which recently were approved by the university’s Board of Trustees and will house a large number of student-athletes (assuredly, many football players).
These are all pieces of the future Jimbo Fisher has mapped out for Florida State football. A future Fisher has been selling since he first arrived on campus. To compete with powerhouses in the Southeastern Conference and around the country, Fisher has told anyone who would listen, the Seminoles would need to loosen the purse strings and start thinking big.
And for the most part, FSU’s supporters have risen to that challenge. While other athletic programs on campus have had to forgo coaches’ raises and improvements to facilities, the football program has gotten more and more and more.
More money for assistant coaches — it’s one of the highest-paid staffs in the country. More tools to work with. And now a $15 million facility to make sure not a minute’s worth of practice time is lost.
But what happens when the future isn’t coming fast enough? Even worse, what happens when your biggest rival appears to be passing you by, despite the fact you had a tremendous head start?
That is the dilemma Florida State fans will face in the coming days.
Once the initial pain wears off from a 36-27 home loss to the rival Gators, Seminole Nation is going to start asking itself some tough questions:
• How is it that Will Muschamp, in his second season, has turned Florida’s program around so quickly? One year ago, Muschamp called his team “soft” because it appeared to get whipped physically by FSU at home. Now 12 months later, the Gators appeared to do the same thing to the Seminoles. Muschamp’s team has played a tougher schedule and done so with a first-year starting quarterback, and they suddenly look like a prime candidate to play in the national championship game, while FSU is limping toward the finish line.
• What exactly has Fisher accomplished during his first three seasons as FSU's head coach, other than collect wins against a weak ACC? While he had a 5-0 record against Miami and Florida heading into Saturday’s loss, these haven’t exactly been vintage Gator or Hurricane squads. The two Florida teams he beat went 7-6 and 8-5. And the Hurricanes were 7-6 in 2010, 6-6 in 2011 and they improved to 7-5 this season with a win Saturday against Duke. So the first good rival FSU has played was this year’s Gator squad, which … well, we know what happened Saturday.
• How bright is the future, really? While the Seminoles appear to have established themselves as the class of the ACC this season, 2013 could present some pitfalls. They will be breaking in a first-year starting quarterback, and there’s no telling how many key players will be gone from the defense. Three starters on the defensive line will be gone for sure, and junior Bjoern Werner will have a very tough decision. The same can be said for cornerback Xavier Rhodes and one or two others — not to mention defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, who turned down several overtures to stay at FSU this season.
The 2013 schedule won’t be any easier, either. FSU will have to go on the road to Clemson, where the Seminoles haven’t won in more than a decade, and they also will have to play the Gators in the Swamp. That doesn’t usually lead to positive results with a new starting quarterback.
The reality is this was the year that the talent and experience on Florida State’s roster was supposed to match up so well with an easy schedule. But when you lose two games under those circumstances, what can anyone really expect when some of the experience is depleted and the biggest games are on the road?
Alas, FSU fans can take solace in one thing — the Seminoles won’t miss a single practice because of lightning.
And in the meantime, they can only hope that nifty, new building won’t be Fisher’s greatest legacy.
Written by Ira Schoffel at firstname.lastname@example.org