Jimbo Fisher ushers in new era at FSU
If former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden were to spend one day in the program he led for 34 years, he might not recognize it.
In a matter of months, first-year coach Jimbo Fisher has changed the entire strength program and weight room, which now includes about 15 plasma-screen TVs. The locker room has been rearranged so that offensive and defensive players alternate and hulking linemen are next to smaller skill players. The offensive and defensive staffs now meet together to break down film instead of watching it separately. The team eats every meal together. The meals are chosen for the players.
"He's taken control of pretty much everything," quarterback Christian Ponder said.
After three seven-win seasons in the past four years, somebody had to.
"Everything is coming from one voice," said offensive line coach Rick Trickett, one of the few holdovers from Bowden's staff other than Fisher, who was Bowden's offensive coordinator the past three years. "He knows what he wants to do. He knows exactly how he wants to do it, and we're doing it that way."
Those within the football program agree that Fisher is doing what's necessary for Florida State to restore its championship tradition, but exactly how long that will take remains to be seen. Some of the pieces are already in place, as all but one offensive starter from 2009 returns, including all five members of the most experienced offensive line in the ACC. Fisher also has the advantage of starting his head-coaching career in the Atlantic Division, which is currently the weaker of the ACC's two divisions. The Seminoles face a challenging schedule, though, one that includes a trip to Oklahoma in the second week and ends at home against rival Florida. And first-year defensive coordinator Mark Stoops is tasked with turning around what was one of the worst defenses in the country last year.
"I think we can be a really good football team," Trickett said. "I don't think Jimbo is looking at it like that. I think Jimbo sees the big picture. More of this is for the big picture, for the total part of the program. We want to win as many as we can this year. He understands we have to set the foundation first for his regime. Once we get that set, then we'll worry about how the wins come with it."
Fisher said the most important thing he wanted to change was the team's attitude.
"It goes back to the process," he said. "If we want to win, what are we doing to prepare to win? How are we preparing our bodies, how are we preparing our minds? How are we preparing to be a teammate and understanding what being a teammate is? If those things take place, the big things come. We have talented players. Do we have the most? I don't know that, but I don't think we have the least. I think we know we're pretty good. Getting the mind right, and getting them to understand and care for each other and take ownership of each other, that's crucial."
The players seem to be buying in.
"We're not having to coach effort anymore," Trickett said. "The kids are busting their butts."
They're also being watched carefully.
The players are on an academic point system in which a missed class equals points that eventually add up to disciplinary measures. The practice tempo and format have changed, with the first and third teams on one field and the second and fourth teams on another so everyone gets more reps. Stoops said that two drills are going on at one time and that until you get used to it, it's "organized chaos."
Each player is assigned a weight category in the cafeteria -- big gain, moderate gain, maintain or lose. Coaches walk through the lines with the players and select their foods, which now include fresh produce.
"A lot of people are going to be surprised by the way we look once the season starts," Ponder said. "A lot of people have changed their bodies. We've always had the talent to win games, and we have the talent still, it's just the small details that needed to be changed. That's what this whole process has been that Coach Fisher has brought.
"I think we definitely needed some structure. Looking back at this spring, our team GPA was a 2.5, which is the highest it's been since I've been here."
On the field, there is still a lot of room for improvement. Last season, Florida State was No. 108 in rushing defense, No. 110 in passing-efficiency defense, No. 108 in total defense and No. 94 in scoring defense. Because the coaches are meeting together, Fisher knows what's going on with the defense as much as with the offense.
"He's very strong, he's very demanding, but I think he's been very fair," Stoops said. "He's like that with the players, and he's like that with the coaches. We've been grinding. We've been working an awful lot and working extremely hard, but he's fair. He's good about it. He understands it's a process. He expects results."
Stoops has been known to deliver them. When he arrived at Arizona in 2003, the Wildcats ranked 109th nationally in total defense. Last year, Arizona ranked 25th. Stoops will run a 4-3 defense with multiple zone coverages and forgo anything flashy.
Defensive tackle Everett Dawkins said FSU "didn't have the players" for last year's scheme and "needed something new." Dawkins said that the defense couldn't even stop its own offense at practice last year but that since Stoops implemented the 4-3 zone, players have been challenging their teammates more.
"We just didn't have the coaching mentally that we needed," Dawkins said. "It was all about being tough, and we were tough, but mentally we were taking the wrong steps. The zone is going to help us out a lot. Coach Fisher, he's put a big point on us to actually learn how to play football instead of going out on the field and counting on our athleticism."
If the offense can count on the defense this fall, Fisher shouldn't have to wait too long to see his game plan for the entire program translate into wins.
"It doesn't appear to me that he's a first-year head coach," Stoops said. "He's definitely got a good, solid plan on how he wants to do things. It really makes life easier as a coordinator or an assistant coach. The structure is there."
The only thing missing now is the wins.
Heather Dinich is ESPN.com's ACC football blogger. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the ACC blog.
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