Jimbo Fisher talks so fast that he regularly moves on to his second and third sentences before wrapping up the first. Makes it tough to follow his train of thought sometimes, but never the steely tracks.
Up and up Jimbo keeps going, at first shoveling coal for top bosses like Nick Saban and Bobby Bowden and now, with a perfect national championship season in sight, all by himself out front.
More worrisome to opponents than Florida State’s 13-0 record and the Seminoles’ expected acquisition of the BCS title Monday night against Auburn is the notion that Jimbo has only just now broken into a healthy trot. The real run is upcoming, a continuous state of championship contention on the order of the legend he replaced.
“Everybody wants instant gratification,” Fisher said Sunday in his final pregame press session. “I was interested in building a program. Great teams can come and go, but programs reload every year and can come back every year and that’s what I was very interested in building.”
Turns out the only flaw in the plan to make Fisher the head-coach-in-waiting at FSU in 2007 is that the Seminoles waited too long to make the switch.
Four years in at Tallahassee and Jimbo already has a team in the national championship game with an unbeaten regular-season record. Bowden also had an undefeated regular season in his fourth year at FSU, and went on to accomplish a whole lot more, eventually ripping off 14 straight finishes in the top five of the AP poll.
That kind of extended dominance just doesn’t happen anymore, not with coaches jumping from job to job, but Jimbo just signed a new FSU contract through the 2018 season, detailed by the school Sunday at an average salary of $4.07 million if he stays the whole way. More significantly, Jimbo passed on the real mother lode that Texas might have given him to leave the Seminoles.
Win or lose Monday night, what we’re looking at here is an organization with both glitter and glue, and as much stability as a major college program can claim at any given moment. Florida and Miami had been lapped in the process. UCF, the second-best team in our state, is rightfully thrilled just to be in the club.
As for the rest of the country, well, Saban and Urban Meyer are both on two-game losing streaks and all Jimbo has going for him is a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Jameis Winston, whose 20th birthday is Monday.
Full tilt and full circle, that’s the story here, for Jimbo’s first major-college job was coaching the quarterbacks at Auburn in 1993. With Bobby’s son Terry Bowden as head coach, the Tigers went 11-0 that year but were ineligible for a bowl due to a lingering NCAA probation from the previous regime.
“That was a great time in my life,” Fisher said. “I was 27 years old. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. … It was a great place to live and it was one of the funnest times of my career.”
Now Jimbo is 48 and discovering just how far the son of a West Virginia coal-mine worker and a high school chemistry teacher can go once he figures out where he is going. Originally Fisher went to Clemson on a baseball scholarship, but he got homesick after one semester and checked out. Next came a fine stretch of small-college quarterbacking at Salem and Samford and one year of arena ball with the Chicago Bruisers. It’s been coaching ever since, and networking, too.
What changed when Jimbo took over as head coach at FSU in 2010 was a compilation of everything he’s picked up along the way, plus some fresh ideas on psychological training and even the use of GPS at practice to track specific player movements and speeds. Dadgum, son, that’s a long way from Bobby Bowden, but the result has been a 44-10 overall record and, this year, an average victory margin of 42.3 points per game.
“They’ve been machine-like on offense,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said, and over the roar of that engine Jimbo keeps shouting that FSU still hasn’t played its best game.
Shouting, as a matter of fact, suits Fisher as well as smiling. He gets all over his players on the sideline, Winston included, when the execution gets sloppy, but in the end they feel so loved that dozens of players casually referred to him as just plain ol’ Jimbo during mass BCS interviews and not coach Fisher.
“There’s one thing my old man told me,” Jimbo said. “Be honest and be genuine. They may disagree with you, but have a plan. This is the direction we’re going, this is how we’re going to do it, and by God that’s what is going to happen.”
Every coach talks that way, of course, but most of them wind up getting fired anyway. Jimbo, who sent 11 Seminoles to the 2013 NFL draft and then performed better with their replacements, is different.
He’s the scariest coach in America, and unlike Saban, who’ll have to scramble now to regain that title, Jimbo seems to be thoroughly enjoying the ride.