Fisher, Trickett installing hard-nosed philosophy at FSU
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- When the 20-minute staff meeting concludes at 8:50 a.m., the Florida State defensive coaches leave the room. Head coach Bobby Bowden remains with the offensive coaches. He made some notes on the running backs at the previous practice, two days earlier, and he wants to go over them.
"No. 32 and 35, their running has improved, I think," Bowden says, referring to Joe Surratt and Marcus Sims, respectively. "I saw a difference. Last year, 33 [Jamaal Edwards] danced all the time, you know it? Now he's really putting his pads down. That's encouraging. That's encouraging."
Only tight end coach John Lilly remains from the 2006 offensive staff, which had been headed by Bowden's youngest son, Jeff. Jeff Bowden resigned late last year after a season of stagnant offense and before a booster mob dragged him out of his office. The emotional scars on his father do not show.
Bobby Bowden won't stay long in this staff meeting, and he doesn't travel far down his list of notes before revealing that he's there as much to learn as he is to lead. Bowden regularly asks Fisher questions about his football philosophy. In this meeting, he peppers Fisher about what he does when the defense jumps offside.
"When they jump," Fisher says, "snap it while they're in that neutral zone and take a free play. With a free play, we used to take a knee. We changed that. We're trying to take the outside two guys, run a go -- "
"Take a shot at it," Bowden says.
" -- and take a shot at it," Fisher finishes.
"Good," Bowden replies.
"We're trying," Fisher says. "We got as much jumping [offside] going on as they do."
Bowden soon comes back to Surratt, a senior fullback. He starts a debate about whether Surratt runs out of bounds too easily. Then Bowden argues both sides of it.
"That's a touchy thing," Bowden said. "Come down that dang sideline, I hate for them to -- we ain't getting that toughness we want. Yet you got to use your stinkin' head, too. They could learn to put their pads down and get a nice little collision there. But I don't want him to commit suicide. You got to talk to him about his toughness."
Carter, in the third month of his coaching career, murmurs his assent. He arrived at Florida State as a 160-pound running back and left as a first-round draft choice in 1990. The lack of toughness at the last practice has preyed on the minds of the coaches for two days. It is an unforgivable football sin.
"You're going to have days where timing may be a hair off," Fisher said before the meeting, "but the way you compete and tenacity and toughness that you play with can never be compromised in any way, shape or form."
Bowden stays only five minutes. "That's all I got," he announces. "Y'all go ahead."
He leaves and the mood relaxes the way you might imagine when the boss leaves. It's clear that Fisher is in charge, but the camaraderie is remarkable for a group that has been together only three months. The team will scrimmage this afternoon. Fisher and his staff will spend the next hour and a half planning what plays they want to run.
Fisher talks fast and thinks faster. He starts a sentence and abandons it for the next one, pell-mell, leaving the listener to fill in the missing words that connect the thoughts. Every second or third sentence, he adds, "You know what I'm sayin'," the teacher looking backward to make sure the students are still in tow.
Here's Fisher on being hired at Florida State:
"Coach Bowden could go out and get anybody in the country and for him to ask me to come, first you step back and say, 'Wow.' That kind of caught me off -- from a guy, who he is, what he's accomplished and what he's done, who he could have gone and gotten, it's got to make you think.
"You know what I'm sayin'?"
Florida State paid dearly for the services of Fisher and Trickett, committing $425,000 annually to the former and $300,000 to the latter, signing each for three years. That's nearly $2.2 million invested in two assistants. Bowden says he tried to hire Trickett twice in recent years but couldn't afford him. After last season, Bowden convinced athletic director Dave Hart that Florida State had to pay market price and end the unofficial prohibition of multiyear contracts for assistants.
"This is kind of my last shot," the 77-year-old Bowden said. "Hey, I got to do it with staff. I ain't interested in doing it with somebody else."
But Florida State paid dearly without Fisher and Trickett, too. The offense stagnated under Jeff Bowden. The harder you look at the 2006 statistics, the harder it is to figure out how the Seminoles played well enough to finish 7-6. Florida State scored 345 points in 13 games, a respectable average of 26.5 points per game. But defense and special teams directly scored 56 points, which takes the offense down to 289 points, or 22.2 points per game.
Other statistics match the more meager point total. Florida State averaged only 16 first downs per game. The turnover margin finished at minus-eight. Lorenzo Booker led all rushers with 616 yards. Five of the Seminoles' six losses came by seven points or fewer.
"I think there were three definitely you could have won with a successful two-minute offense," Bowden said. "Now you're talking about a 10-3 record instead of 7-6."
At 10-3, there is no new offensive staff and Jeff Bowden remains the offensive --
"Don't say it," Bowden interrupted. "We might have been over the hump. You never know. Those things you don't know."
Fisher and Trickett first coached together in 1993 at Auburn under Bowden's son Terry. They stayed there through Terry's six seasons, and reunited for the 2000 season under Nick Saban at LSU.
Trickett left to work for Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia, not far from where both Trickett and Fisher grew up. Trickett, considered a master in the art of zone blocking, stunned his home state when he left to coach for Bobby Bowden. His best friend up there, he says, still won't speak to him.
"I think a lot of people thought I went back to West Virginia to retire," the 58-year-old Trickett says in a rasp that surely makes his players lie awake at night. "And I think, you know, anybody that knows me, I've got a little stuff in my neck. I'm not going to be taken for granted."
"Well, now we're meeting at 5:30 in the morning," Trickett said. "If it doesn't pick up and [they don't] do it the way we want to, we may be at 4:00 before the damn week is over with. We're going to do it on the damn practice field, when it's time to do it. If they're going to mess up my afternoon, I'm going to mess up their morning."
Trickett says that he and Fisher share the same philosophy.
"Jimbo is a hard-nosed guy, and is a perfectionist, and very demanding," Trickett says. "I knew he would be a guy I could work for. He's very open-minded. If you have an opinion, you say it. He'll listen. We discuss, we can argue and still go out have supper that night together."
The arguing and the put-downs come throughout the meeting. Fisher begins describing the benefits of a particular screen pass. Trickett gets up, walks over to the diagram that Fisher has drawn on the whiteboard, and adds a squiggle.
"What about this?" he asks.
"We ran that two days ago," Fisher says, and the room breaks into laughter.
"I wasn't watching it," Trickett says, with mock indifference, and the laughs increase. "Well, keep running it. I like it."
Fisher talks about running some plays with three wide receivers. He talks about building in some runs off that formation, including a reverse. He says he wants the offense running the plays at a faster tempo. And then, almost sotto voce, Fisher says, "Hey, we need to learn our base stuff first."
Fisher produced one top quarterback after another at LSU, concluding with JaMarcus Russell, who has become the darling of the NFL draftniks. At Florida State, Fisher must work his magic on juniors Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee, both of whom struggled last season.
"The thing about both of them is their willingness to be coached," Fisher said. "Sometimes you get older, it's hard to change. You know what I mean? Change is always harder on the older guys in the program. They both bought in."
Fisher spent the first five minutes of the first practice talking to the quarterbacks about their heel placement when they drop back.
"You throw the ball from your feet up," Fisher said. "You make decisions from the neck up. If you have no balance, you have no power. You have no power, you can never have consistency. So can how you play the position? That's where your accuracy and everything comes from.
"And then making the right decision from the neck up. The footwork and everything has to be such second nature to you as you learn the plays that when the mind makes the decision, the body naturally goes and the feet follow and the hips and the shoulders and all that."
The quarterbacks don't come up much in the meeting. Fisher is intrigued by Sims, the sophomore fullback whom Bowden praised at the meeting. Sims is the younger brother of former Florida State All-American Ernie Sims.
Fisher is referring to No. 18 at LSU, Jacob Hester. When "us" comes out of Fisher's mouth, it means his team, whether at Florida State or LSU.
"He's a fullback," Fisher says about Sims. "He's a tailback. He can catch it. Like Hester is really a tailback, but he's big enough to block. Sims can be a hybrid guy."
"He's more valuable to a pro team than a little back," Trickett says, "because he can do so many things."
"Think about this," Fisher continues. "All your great college fullbacks became [NFL] tailbacks, [Jerome] Bettis and those big-bodied strong guys that can do all that. [Former Florida State star] Edgar Bennett, Bettis."
"When his weight is under control," Lilly says of Sims, "he'll be that guy. He's just brutal."
Carter mentions sophomore Matt Dunham.
"He broke Herschel Walker's [Georgia high school] touchdown records," Carter said. Carter shouldn't have opened his mouth. Fisher seizes the opening.
"Ever been to the Dexter Carter Hall of Fame Museum?" Fisher asks a visitor. "It's just about two doors down. You got five dollars, you can see it. It's got video."
"Highlight films of all his runs," Trickett adds. "Game balls, everything."
Carter joins in.
"One of the fan favorites is the flag from the 1989 Miami game," Carter says. "That one is requested so much, it might get stolen."
As the laughter subsides, he smiles and says, "They give me a hard time."
The meeting concludes at 10:30 a.m. No one seems in a hurry to leave.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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