OCALA, Fla. -- The cover of the program for
As soon as Fisher opened his mouth and began listing all the changes he has in store for the Florida State program he inherited after
Given the demographics of the average southern college football booster, this probably wasn't a political statement. (And if you want to argue about how much you like or dislike the president, please retreat to your respective cable news outlet. We're not talking politics here.)
Political context aside, Obama's campaign bombarded us with the word "Change" in 2008. In 2010, the Seminoles will get an even heavier dose. Fisher wants to change almost everything about a program that once dominated college football and now languishes in the middle of the ACC. He wants to change the way his team eats. He wants to change where his players live. He wants to change how they think. He wants to change how they play defense. He even wants to change the date on which they face their arch nemeses from Gainesville.
Fisher already has pushed some changes through. Others will require more coaching, more money or both. That's OK. It's a process.
There's that word again.
Though Fisher talks a lot faster and though his West Virginia twang remains more intact, his approach to running a program follows the same basic blueprint as his mentor's, Alabama coach
How faithful is Fisher to the Saban Doctorine?
Fisher said Saban isn't his only influence, though. He also draws upon the wisdom of the ultimate coach's coach, and that's why Fisher rarely mentions conference or national championships in front of his players. "Who is the greatest college coach, period?
Still, most aspects of Fisher's overhaul of FSU's program bear Saban's fingerprints. Fisher assigned 12 team leaders to a unity council that will handle minor disciplinary issues on the team. "Last semester, we had seven guys go before the board," Fisher said. "Last year, we would have had 25 in the first week." Fisher hired a nutritionist to ensure his players eat properly. When the Seminoles dine together -- usually three times a day, because Fisher considers them family meals -- weight gainers sit in one section, weight losers sit in another and weight maintainers sit in another. Fisher's hiring of the cutting-edge IMG Academy to mentally train his players is a direct nod to Saban, who utilized similar mental training as he took Alabama from 7-6 in 2007 to 14-0 and a BCS title in 2009. Fisher also has beefed up his ancillary staff. Saban took similar measures at LSU and Alabama.
"We had two full-time strength coaches other than our head strength coach," Fisher said. "We now have eight, and I'm about to hire the ninth guy."
To a fan of a perennial national title contender, this stuff probably doesn't sound revolutionary. It's not, which should help explain how far behind FSU had fallen in the 10 years since the Seminoles won their second national title by going wire-to-wire at No. 1.
Fisher tried to explain all this to the crowd without disrespecting Bowden, who won 304 games in 34 years at Florida State and who engineered possibly the most dominant run any program has ever enjoyed. From 1987 to 2000, the Seminoles never finished a season ranked lower than fourth in The Associated Press poll. To understand how extraordinary that feat is, consider the recent period of USC dominance that came to a halt in 2009. The Trojans never finished lower than No. 4 for seven consecutive years, yet they were only halfway to Bowden's mark.
But times change. Florida State won all those games because it had superior athletes and a great staff of Xs and Os men to make those athletes even better. Some of the better coaches left the program for head coaching jobs. Meanwhile, the remaining coaches lost their touch on the recruiting trail, and Bowden and the administration failed to keep up with the Joneses -- or in their case, the Meyers.
When he speaks to booster groups, Fisher is quick to call Bowden "my hero." He's also quick to remind donors that the football universe has shifted dramatically. "Do you do business the same way you did 10 years ago?" Fisher asked the crowd in Ocala. "Do you do business the same way you did five years ago?"
To do business the way he wants, Fisher needs those boosters to open their wallets. Florida's higher education system has many financial needs. A football dorm and an indoor practice facility aren't among them. So Florida State, which recently became one of a few self-sustaining athletic departments, needs more private donations. Fisher will have to coax those donations from donors who want to see progress before they commit.
Fisher wants to house most of his scholarship players in the same place while still obeying NCAA rules that require an on-campus dorm to contain at least 51 percent non-athletes. He also wants to ensure that Florida's frequent lightning doesn't keep them off the practice field. Unlike Bowden, Fisher doesn't typically play golf at booster functions. Last week in Ocala, Fisher happily took to the links because one of his playing partners was a whale of a booster who might make one of the dreams described above come true.
That's part of the process, too.
All that stuff helps, but the Seminoles will succeed or fail because of their players and their schemes. Fisher has upgraded the talent. Though Fisher didn't hold any official title other than offensive coordinator despite being Florida State's coach-in-waiting since late 2007, the now-departed coaches were more than happy to let Fisher do the heavy lifting on the recruiting trail. When Fisher finally ascended to the head job and put together his own staff, he brought in aggressive recruiters such as running backs coach
Even as head coach, Fisher will remain the primary playcaller on offense. "If I had to sit up there and just watch, I'd go crazy," he said. "I've got to do something." The offense should be fine. The five returning starters on the line have combined for 142 career starts, and senior quarterback
FSU's problem is on defense. In legendary coordinator
Enter first-year coordinator
Unlike Saban, who set an entire fan base salivating when he joked that Alabama receiver
In Ocala, each of Fisher's pronouncements drew wild applause. It's been the same everywhere. Seminole Boosters executive
Now, the king of Sunshine State coaches is Florida's
Florida fans won't like this, either, but Fisher also has a bit of
Fisher is knee-deep in a process that should allow FSU to get back to that level. And he believes the Seminoles might get there sooner than you'd think.
"I don't know when we got into this predicament," Fisher said. "We didn't get into it overnight. We're not going to fix it overnight. But I don't think it's going to take long."