Florida State College football in 1902
As early as the 1890s, Florida State had a football team. Florida State University traces the start of its athletic program to 1902, when Florida State College played the first of its three seasons. From 1902 to 1904, the institution then known as Florida State College fielded a varsity football team called "The Eleven" that played other teams. The Florida State players wore gold uniforms with a large purple F on the front. Their pants were lightly padded, but their upper bodies were largely unprotected. Leather helmets with ear guards covered their heads, and shoehorn-shaped metal nose guards were strapped across their faces. In 1905, the state reorganized its secondary education under the Buckman Act and the football team moved to the University of Florida. In 1947, Florida's university system faced a heavy influx of returning soldiers taking advantage of the G.I. Bill. To accommodate the demand, on May 15, 1947, the Governor signed an act of the Legislature returning Florida State College for Women to coeducational status and naming it The Florida State University. This is recognized as the beginning of Florida State University's current program.
In 1902 Florida State College students, supported by president Albert A. Murphree, organized the school's first official football club to play against other schools and teams. The team was known as the "" and W. W. Hughes, professor of Latin and the head of men's sports at the school, served as the first coach. They played their first game against the Bainbridge Giants, a city team from Bainbridge, Georgia, defeating them 5–0. The team then played back-to-back matches against (which later merged into what is now the University of Florida) one week apart, winning the first 6–0 and losing the second 0–6. The following season student enthusiasm grew even more, and the Eleven arranged a full schedule of six games. They competed against teams such as the University of Florida in Lake City (as Florida Agricultural College was then called), , and the (another school that merged into the University of Florida), and finished the season by competing against in Jacksonville for The Florida Times-Union's Championship Cup. The Jack Forsythe, later the first head coach of the , replaced Hughes as coach, and the Eleven won the unofficial "state championship" by defeating in Tallahassee. Jock Hanvey assisted Forsythe.
This would be The Eleven's last season, however, as the Florida State Legislature passed the Buckman Act, which reorganized Florida's six colleges into three institutions segregated by gender and race: a school for white males, a school for white females, and a school for African Americans. Florida State College became Florida Female College until 1909, when it became Florida State College for Women. Four other institutions (including the University of Florida in Lake City and the East Florida Seminary) were merged into the new white men's-only University of the State of Florida in Gainesville. Males who formerly attended Florida State College were required to transfer to the Gainesville campus, although several former FSC players transferred to Grant University (now the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga), with five joining Grant's football team. In 1909 several veterans of the FSC Eleven founded a city team named the Tallahassee Athletics, but this folded after one season. Except for this, until 1947, Tallahassee's only organized or collegiate football team were the team from the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College for Negroes (now Florida A&M University).
Foundation of the modern team (1947–1959)
The inaugural Florida State University football team
The end of World War II brought enormous pressure on the university system in Florida, which saw an influx of veterans applying for college under the GI Bill. The Florida Legislature responded by renaming the Florida State College for Women to Florida State University and allowing men to attend the university for the first time since 1905; football then returned to the university, beginning with the 1947 season. From 1948 through 1959, the Seminole football program achieved much success under coaches Don Veller and Tom Nugent.
Ed Williamson, who introduced football to the school, served as the first coach of the Florida State Seminoles. In his first and only season with Florida State, the Seminoles posted an 0–5 record. Williamson has the worst record out of all the head coaches at Florida State and the only coach to have a winless mark.
As the second coach at Florida State, Don Veller coached at Florida State for five years and compiled a record of 31–12–1. Veller was the first coach to find success coaching the Seminoles. In 1950, Veller led the Seminoles to an 8–0 record, the first unbeaten season in school history.
Once Veller left the school, Tom Nugent became the third coach at Florida State. He stayed at Florida State for six years and compiled a record of 34–28–1. In one of his most notable accomplishments, Nugent gave the Seminoles their first win over an SEC opponent with a 10–0 victory against Tennessee in 1958.
The fourth coach at Florida State was Perry Moss who coached the Seminoles for one year after compiling a 4–6 record. He became the second Florida State coach to leave the school with a losing record and the second to coach at the school for only one season after leaving to coach in the .
Bill Peterson era (1960–1970)
Under Peterson, the Seminoles defeated the Gators for the first time.
With the arrival of head coach Bill Peterson in 1960, the Seminoles began their move to national prominence. Under Peterson's direction, the Seminoles beat the Florida Gators for the first time in 1964 and earned their first major bowl bid. Peterson also led the Seminoles to their first ever top ten ranking. During his tenure as head coach, Peterson also gave a young assistant by the name of Bobby Bowden his first major college coaching opportunity.
Although not widely known, the Seminoles achieved their first ever number one ranking during this period. In October 1964, the Dunkel College Football Index, a popular power index of that era, placed the Seminoles at the top of their poll after a stunning 48–6 win over highly ranked Kentucky (AP #5, Dunkel #3). Peterson would be named UPI national coach of the week after this program changing victory. In an era of very few bowl games, Peterson's innovative offensive system helped earn the Seminoles four bowl bids from 1964 through 1968. During this time, only Alabama and Mississippi appeared in more bowl games than did Peterson's Seminoles. In 1968, Peterson's eighth year at the helm, the Seminoles claimed their third straight bowl bid as Florida State became the first major college in the state of Florida to earn such a distinction. The Seminoles would not repeat this feat again until the ninth season of the Bobby Bowden era.
In the summer of 1967, Peterson also engineered another first for the Seminole program when he decided to begin the recruitment of African American football players. Apparently, he did so without approval from either the school president or its athletic director. On December 16, 1967, the Seminoles signed Ernest Cook, a fullback from Daytona Beach. Several months later, the Seminoles would sign running back Calvin Patterson from Dade County. Ultimately, Cook decided to switch his allegiance to Minnesota where he would become an All-Big Ten running back. In the fall of 1968, Patterson would become the first African American student to play for the Seminoles as a starter for the Florida State freshmen football team. In the fall of 1970, J. T. Thomas would become the first African American to play in a varsity game for the Seminoles.
Larry Jones and Darrell Mudra eras (1971–1975)
Following Peterson's successful run, the next two coaches had disappointing tenures. Larry Jones was appointed as the sixth head coach at Florida State. Jones coached for three years from 1971-1973 and compiled a record of 15–19, becoming the third Florida State coach to have a losing record. Darrell Mudra was then hired to be the seventh coach of the Seminoles. Mudra lasted just two years from 1974-1975 and compiled a record of 4–18. He became the fourth head coach to have a losing record at Florida State.
Bobby Bowden era (1976–2009)
Bowden is credited with Florida State's rise to prominence.
Under head coach Bobby Bowden, who came to Florida State from , the Seminoles became one of the nation's most competitive programs, greatly expanding the tradition of football at Florida State. The Seminoles played in five national championship games between 1993 and 2000, and claimed the championship twice, in 1993 and 1999. The FSU football team was the most successful team in college football during the 1990s, boasting an 89% winning percentage. FSU also set an NCAA record for most consecutive Top 5 finishes in the AP football poll – receiving placement 14 years in a row, from 1987 to 2000. The Seminoles under Bowden were the first college football team in history to go wire-to-wire (ranked first place from preseason to postseason) since the AP began releasing preseason rankings in 1936. On December 1, 2009 Bowden announced that he would retire from coaching after the Seminoles' game on New Year's Day 2010 against West Virginia, Bowden's former team, in the Gator Bowl. His legacy has led to the creation of two awards in his honor, the Bobby Bowden Award, an award presented to college football players, and the Bobby Bowden National Collegiate Coach of the Year Award, an award presented to college football coaches.
In the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, the Seminoles had 14 consecutive seasons with 10 or more wins and a top four finish, with a record of 152–19–1 between these years (11 of their 19 losses were decided by seven points or less), and one of the best home records of the era. FSU's accomplishments in these 14 seasons included eleven bowl wins, nine ACC championships, two Heisman Trophy winners, and two national championships.
In the spring of 2007, several FSU athletes including football players were accused of cheating in an online music history class. The NCAA ruled that Florida State was guilty of major violations, announced that it would reduce scholarship limits in 10 sports and force Florida State to vacate all of the victories in 2006 and 2007 in which the implicated athletes participated and placed the university on probation for four years. FSU vacated 12 football victories from the 2006 and 2007 seasons, Bowden finished his career with 377 career wins.
Jimbo Fisher era (2010–2017)
Coach Fisher led the Seminoles to the 2013 national title.
On January 5, 2010, Jimbo Fisher officially became the ninth head football coach in Florida State history. Fisher had been a member of the Florida State staff for three years, serving as offensive coordinator. He was named head coach-in waiting during the 2008 season. Fisher's ascension helped lead Florida State to a top-10 recruiting class in 2010 and the #1 and #2 recruiting class in the country, according to ESPN and Rivals. In his first season as head coach, Florida State went 10–4 with a 6–2 record in ACC conference play. The Seminoles went to their first ACC Championship Game since 2005, losing to 44–33, and had their first ten win season since 2003. Fisher's first Florida State team notably beat both of its in-state rivals, the Miami Hurricanes 45–17 and the Florida Gators 31–7, for the first time since 1999. Florida State would go on to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, where they would beat Steve Spurrier's team, 26–17. In his second season, Florida State went 9–4 with a 5–3 record in ACC conference play. For the second year in a row, the Seminoles defeated both of their in-state rivals. Fisher's second Florida State team also defeated in the Champs Sports Bowl. Fisher brought in another top-ranked recruiting class in 2012. In his third season, he led the Seminoles to their first conference title in seven years and defeated to win the Orange Bowl. In the 2013 season, Jimbo Fisher guided his team to a perfect 14–0 record and a national championship with a comeback win against . In Fisher's fifth season with the Seminoles, he guided Florida State to another undefeated regular season and a playoff berth. Florida State had victories over both in-state rivals, Florida and Miami, in six of Jimbo Fisher's first seven seasons as head coach and won ten or more games in six of his eight seasons.
Fisher resigned as FSU head coach on December 1, 2017, to accept a record ten-year, $75 million contract to become head coach at . Defensive line coach and former defensive lineman Odell Haggins was named interim head coach, becoming Florida State's first African-American head coach, and coached in his first game the next day against Louisiana Monroe. The Seminoles won, extending their bowl streak to an NCAA record 36 seasons. He went on to coach the Seminoles in the bowl game, leading them to a win and their 41st consecutive winning season.
Willie Taggart era (2018–present)
On December 5, 2017, Willie Taggart left to become the new head coach at Florida State. In his first season, the Seminoles finished with a losing record for the first time since 1976 and missed a bowl game for the first time in thirty-six years.