As the final seconds ticked off the clock at Florida field on Nov. 29, 2009, it become patently obvious to even the most die-hard Seminole fan that the fragile seams holding the football program together were unraveling. Florida State was dominated for the third straight time by in-state rival Florida, and was barely able to finish the regular season with a .500 record. That game was on the heels of one of lowest-attended FSU home games in recent school history.
Making matters worse, the prospects for the future looked pretty grim.
With the team spiraling downward and home attendance dropping by the thousands, former Florida State president T.K. Wetherell made the extremely difficult decision to push Bowden out from the program he built. That opened the door for head coach in waiting Jimbo Fisher.
When the rookie coach took over in early December of 2009, he had the daunting task of pulling together a recruiting class that appeared destined for mediocrity. But within days of him taking over, top-flight recruits began to poor in and FSU miraculously fished with the No. 10-ranked recruiting class according to Rivals.com.
"There comes a time when a program needs a change at the top simply because of perception. In FSU's case, it was perception as well as the product on the field so the move to Jimbo Fisher, as hard and as awkward as that appeared, was crucial," said National Recruiting Director for Rivals.com Mike Farrell. "The energy increased immediately surrounding the program when it came to recruiting and Jimbo was able to sell his vision to prospects that likely would not have either jumped on board or stuck with FSU.
"I remember talking to some big-time guys who raved about Fisher's involvement in recruiting, his passion to turn around FSU and how he sold them on how much they were needed to bring back the great tradition of the Seminoles. Bobby Bowden was a great coach and seemingly always relied on a strong close to finish near the top of recruiting, but the charm he possessed was overshadowed by the clear fact that FSU needed an influx of energy. Jimbo provided that energy."
Just nine days after it was announced that Bowden would be stepping down, Fisher reeled two of the biggest fish on everybody's recruiting radar - five-star defensive back Lamarcus Joyner and Rivals100 linebacker Jeff Luc.
Both players were major recruits, especially in the state of Florida, but it was Joyner who was the springboard for Fisher to close out the 2010 class with a flourish.
"Joyner was a very quiet prospect throughout the recruiting process but the respect that other players in state and around the country had for him was amazing. He was the No. 1 player in the state, the top cornerback in the country and a guy FSU couldn't afford to lose," said Farrell of Joyner. "Without Fisher being elevated to head coach, who knows if we'd be watching Joyner play at Florida or Ohio State right now. He's a player that recruits continue to look up to even now in 2014 and he's such a classy and beloved figure at Florida State that it's hard to imagine the program without him right now. He definitely paved the way for bigger names from up and down the east coast especially to jump on board."
Joyner not only committed to a coach that had zero head coaching experience, he did so without knowing who his position coach or his defensive coordinator would be. That's a huge leap of faith for a player that could have signed on with any school in the country.
"I kind of got recruited by him (Fisher) on my visits," Joyner said. "Got to meet him and sit down in the office with him. I bought what he was selling. I thought he was a very genuine person, a wholehearted person. That's the kind of thing I look for. Everybody especially when you're a top recruit, they love the red carpet and fairy-tale stories. I think coach fisher was very up-front with everything."
Fisher admits that Joyner's early commitment and trust in his ability to turn around the program legitimized what he was doing and provided a springboard for other recruits follow.
"It really solidified a ton of things, it really did," said Fisher of Joyner's commitment. "He was a very vocal guy that went and tried to get other guys. He's a unique guy. You don't get many of them
in a lifetime."
In the case of Smith, making a final decision wasn't easy. Despite his early commitment to FSU, Georgia and Mark Richt made a strong push down the stretch and he nearly changed his mind on signing day. But the fact that Fisher had already landed several big time recruits legitimized the program in his eyes and was enough to convince the elite prep linebacker to stick to his original commitment.
"I felt like I was the best coming out of high school and had the attitude of being great and he (Joyner) proved himself in the state of Florida so that was big having those big time guys come in," explained Smith. "Jeff was another big time guy, and Christian... He was one of the biggest reasons. I was like 'heck, I've got to come to Florida State'."
The group of players that signed in 2010 would go on to make enormous contributions. Ten would go on to become full-time starters, including three that are already playing in the NFL - Bjoern Werner, Mike Harris and Anthony McCloud. The other seven are currently starters on FSU's roster.
"That group was a huge foundation," said Fisher. "That senior leadership right now is really doing a great job."
That 2010 class not only formed the basis for a program that is currently undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the country, but also set the table for future recruiting classes including a 2011 group that was ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 by the various services. That class makes up nine of FSU's current starters and also included former starter Tyler Hunter, who is out with a season-ending injury, and Tank Carradine, who was selected No. 40 overall in last April's NFL draft.
"I don't think there's any doubt because you got quality guys and you got them away from some big time people," said Fisher of the influence of the 2010 class on the next class. "They committed to us (knowing) what the future could be and what they saw here. I think they helped sell that to the other classes that came in during the recruiting process."
"I think they really set the tone, those were people that Jimbo actually picked," added James Wilder, Jr., a member of FSU's 2011 class. "So it's his perfect empire that he's building now is starting to show."
Members of FSU's 2010 class were convinced that with Fisher at the helm, they were going to be the group that brought the football program back to its glory days. It now looks like that faith in Fisher was well founded.
"We came in saying we were going to be the class to go out and win it, bring it back on and bring the swag back," said Telvin Smith. "Some people say the class before with Greg (Reid) but we felt like we were the bigger contributors being Jimbo's first class and started that new era."
30 DAYS FREE OFFER - Get Warchant.com's award-winning coverage of FSU's national championship run & the football recruiting scoop free! Click for details..