By John Leonhardt
Eastbay Team Sales Staff Writer
It hasn't taken Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher long to make his mark on a football program rich with tradition. In just his fourth year calling the shots, Fisher lead his team to a perfect 14-0 season, which was capped off in dramatic fashion in the BCS National Championship game. Trailing by 4 with 1:19 remaining, the Florida State offense took the field with one final opportunity to bring a third championship back to Tallahassee. It was a position\ Fisher and his team worked tirelessly on throughout the season.
"At the time you're in that position, you know that's the hand you're dealt. Hopefully that's something you've prepared for," says Fisher. "We work two minute drills exclusively, and I told our team, stick to our base rules: no penalties, no turnovers, no negative plays. Then just execute and do your job. Don't worry about the result. Stay in the moment and in the process of executing each play. And I told our quarterback, trust your eyes and your instincts and play fundamentally sound."
The Seminoles scored, and the rest was history. The season was one for the records, with a Heisman Trophy winner, the highest scoring season in NCAA Division 1 history, and the first 14-win season in the program's history.
Just four years ago, before leading FSU back to the pinnacle of college football, Fisher was chosen as the successor to Bobby Bowden, who coached Florida State from 1976-2009, and ended his career as College Football's all-time wins leader. Following the legendary Bowden was one of Fisher's biggest challenges.
"Replacing a legend – Coach Bowden, was probably the most difficult thing I've had to overcome," says Fisher. "You have people saying, 'Coach Bowden doesn't do it that way,' 'Coach Bowden doesn't do it this way.' My core values were the same, but my way of organizing and running a program in the modern day was totally opposite. I think that creating the culture around here was the hardest thing. It's not just with the players; it's everybody who's involved in the organization.
"People don't realize when you talk about winning – and winning consistently – that until the culture changes from within (the people who work here), you're never going to have the ultimate success. That's why it took us a couple years. We got better and better, and finally we got over that hump and won that National Championship. I think that was the biggest challenge: the day-to-day operations in replacing Coach Bowden. I had to stick to my beliefs and stay strong that way."
Fisher has brought in some of the nation's top recruiting classes in recent years, which includes a 2014 class ranked in the top five by some of college football's most notable recruiting analysts. However, talent evaluation is only a small part of the logistics that go into his recruiting process.
"There has to be a certain talent level that allows you to play at this level," says Fisher. "Once you identify that at each position, then you start getting down to a young man's character. You do as much research on him as you can. You want to know how he thinks, how he reacts, and what kind of teammate he is. How important school is to him? How important are things outside of football to him? It's very important to do well in things you really don't like to do, to develop yourself as a man. To me that's what a man does. A man does what he has to do; a boy does what he wants to do."
Though Fisher's job is to put the best 11 players on the field each week, his recruiting focus isn't zeroed in solely on an athlete's performance in football. Like many coaches around the nation, Fisher is very high on multi-sport athletes.
"I love watching football players play another sport. I really do. I think people tend to specialize too much today. The multi-sport guy is a great thing because it develops them in a different way physically, mentally, and psychologically. You have to compete differently because there are different failure rates and different success rates. I love watching a guy play multiple sports. I love having those kinds of athletes."
For a kid being heavily recruited, or a coach with that kid on their roster, Fisher lends some advice.
"Just tell them to enjoy playing the game. Don't worry about the result. Your objective is to be the best you can be, but enjoy this time. Don't make it so pressure packed that you don't enjoy the moment and enjoy being a kid while you're trying to reach your dream. Remember you're still a kid. Work hard, be organized, be disciplined and all those things, but enjoy the moment. And your goals will come if your objectives are in place. Stay true to the process. Don't put so much pressure on yourself to the point where it doesn't become fun."
When Fall 2014 finally arrives, the defending National Champions will be back on the field with a practice regiment that match the intense Tallahassee heat.
"Our practices are very high in intensity," says Fisher. "They're very physical, very demanding, and very fast paced. Nobody is ever standing around. We divide the field in half. There are usually 2 or 3 drills going on at a time. It's constant motion, constant reps, and constant teaching. It's a very fast-paced, very efficient practice for those kids, to develop them as much as we can.
"I look for the organization and structure. And then the execution of how those things are done, and the communication back and forth between coaches and players, and the players and players."
Despite the fact this will be Coach Fisher's first time entering a season as a defending champs, he doesn't foresee a different approach.
"We've always kind of had a target at Florida State, and our expectations are always high. Our goal is to always win the national championship. Our objective is to play great football. And if we play great football, and our objectives are met, our goals are usually met. We're not going to try anything different, we're just going to try to be who we are, and understand that we have to play well every week – which is what we did this year – and be the best team that we can possibly be."