Florida State’s Derwin James Shows Class in Message to Departing Jimbo Fisher

It’s been a rough last week or so for Florida State football fans. First, the entire school was in an uproar over the departure of head coach Jimbo Fisher, who took his talents to Texas A&M after the first subpar season during his eight years on campus. Then, star safety Derwin James announced on Tuesday that he’d be leaving school early to enter the 2018 NFL Draft, officially ending his time in Tallahassee.

Suffice it to say, there’s been some significant backlash, at least towards Fisher.

Since assuming the head coach role in 2010 following the retirement of the legendary Bobby Bowden, Fisher has watched the Florida State football team flourish. In those eight seasons, he led the Seminoles to a National Championship and helped Jameis Winston win a Heisman Trophy, all while compiling an overall record of 83-23 (5-2 in bowl games). Although there were some bumps along the way, Fisher’s time at the helm was undoubtedly prosperous.

Fans, however, appeared to be caught off guard by Fisher’s willingness to jump ship after one tough season. After watching a number of stars depart for the NFL, the Seminoles took a sizable step backwards in 2017. They were unable to keep their streak of five straight seasons with double-digit wins intact, mustering a miserable 6-6 record on the year (5-6 before his departure) — the program’s worst effort since 1976. It’s understandable why Fisher was unhappy with the direction of Florida State football, but bailing on one of college football’s most successful programs in recent years for Texas A&M seemed a tad dramatic.

As hateful as some of the school’s faithful following has been, James didn’t waiver in his support of Fisher. Within his announcement of his decision to go pro via the Player’s Tribune, the redshirt sophomore safety showed complete class and humanity towards his former head coach.

Honestly, I was surprised he even wanted to talk with me. There were a bunch of blue chip recruits on visiting campus at the time, and I hadn’t even played a single snap of high school football yet. What would we even talk about? But what you learn about Coach Fisher is that he has a way of pulling the conversation out of you. We ended up speaking in his office for about 30 minutes. But, honestly, I was so young and such a fan that I don’t think I really understood what he was trying to tell me. I was just kind of thinking, Am I really here right now? Is this actually happening?

It wasn’t until we left Coach Fisher’s office and met with Coach Odell that it actually registered what had gone down.

My head was still kind of spinning when Coach Odell said, ‘You know he just offered you a full scholarship, right?’

It’s not a terrific comment on Fisher’s ability to clearly deliver a message, but it could also have been James’ naivety and inexperience at 14 years old that enabled him to miss the takeaway of the conversation. That’s neither here nor there, though.

James added a bit more about Fisher, thanking him for the opportunity to grow and thrive at the school of his dreams:

And finally, thank you to Coach Fisher. For everything. Throughout my time here, you showed me how to handle success and more importantly, how to handle adversity. I have nothing but great things to say about how you coached and mentored me since that first meeting we had all those years ago. I know I’ll always feel nothing but love for you, coach.

Except if we ever happen to face you in a bowl game 😈

There’s no hostility. There’s no malice or resentfulness there. And while you can say James is essentially in the same boat as Fisher in terms of his decision to leave the school, it’s easy to overlook the fact that we all have to do what’s right for us. The former Florida State head coach exercised that right, and now finds himself embarking on a new journey in College Station. It happens every day as folks leave jobs, leave relationships, leave gym memberships. Shouldn’t a college football coach be able to do the same without enduring a firestorm of hatred?

There’s one final piece of James’ writing that really strikes a cord. As Florida State fans rabble over the sudden departure of Fisher, they must realize that this historic program is about so much more than just one player or coach. The Seminoles survived the retirement of Bowden, and should have no problem transitioning from Fisher to new hire Willie Taggert, previously the head honcho for the Oregon Ducks. Let James tell it from an FSU perspective:

As I move on, one truth I’ve always known about FSU seems clearer than ever. This program is special not because of any one player or coach. It’s not about any particular scheme or strategy. It’s still all about that spear. That’s the foundation of everything — since way before my time until long after I’m done playing. Florida State football was built on a culture created by a lot of amazing players, coaches and especially fans. None of that has changed. It never will.

Fisher and James now both move onto new opportunities, fresh starts in unfamiliar territory. Florida State fans may not like it, but that’s life. Pursuing what you believe is best for you shouldn’t be reserved only for average folks who don’t coach prolific football programs or possess NFL-caliber abilities. Fisher should be lauded for taking on a new challenge at Texas A&M, as should James for his leap of faith into the world of professional sports.

Above all, the young safety deserves a “thank you” — he’s a breath of fresh air amongst a salty sea of Seminoles fans.