Florida State beginning a new life after Bowden

Life after Bobby Bowden for Florida State’s players has meant
getting lessons in positive thinking as well as eating more beans
and greens and less fried chicken and fast-food burgers.

For Jimbo Fisher, who succeed the now-retired Hall of Fame coach
at Florida State, it’s finally getting a chance to do things his
way after three years as Bowden’ offensive coordinator. During the
last two, Fisher also held the newly invented and uncomfortable
title of coach-in-waiting.

For Florida State’s boosters and fans it’s given them hope, if
not expectation, that a younger coach with a more up-to-date
approach can duplicate what’s happened just down the road in
Gainesville.

That’s where Urban Meyer, an energetic and relatively youthful
coach – restored national championship luster to the Florida
Gators, the Seminoles’ bitter rivals.

”I think we’ll do significantly better this year,” said Jim
Smith, former chairman of Florida State’s Board of Trustees. ”In a
year or two we’ll be back in the hunt.”

Smith, who last fall successfully pushed for Bowden to retire a
year sooner than he’d planned, is encouraged by a highly touted
freshman class and several promising early verbal commitments for
next year. He’s also excited about a high-powered offense that
returns most of its starters, including senior star quarterback
Christian Ponder. Most of all, though, Smith’s encouraged by Fisher
himself.

”It’s all about coaching,” said Smith, a former Florida
attorney general and secretary of state.

For all of Bowden’s success – two national championships, 14
straight top five finishes and 377 career victories – many Florida
State loyalists thought he’d lost his touch.

Fisher has a long history with the Bowden family that includes
playing and coaching for and with Bobby’s sons. He says he plans to
maintain the traditions and values the elder Bowden established
during 34 seasons at Florida State. But he’s equally clear that
he’s his own man.

”He was my hero, but we have to move forward,” Fisher said.
”I have to control what we do now.”

Controlling is a good description of Fisher’s style. It’s been
shaped by a stint as offensive coordinator under Nick Saban at LSU
where they won a national championship. Saban, of course, now is at
Alabama where he led the Crimson Tide to a national title last
season.

”Coach Saban and myself are what you consider process oriented
guys,” Fisher said. ”Another guy who influenced that even before
was John Wooden.”

Wooden, who died in June, turned UCLA into a basketball
juggernaut, winning 10 national championships in 12 years during
the 1960s and ’70s.

Bowden delegated much of the coaching to his assistants,
particularly longtime defense coordinator Mickey Andrews, who also
retired after last season. Fisher takes a more hands-on approach.
While Bowden oversaw practices perched atop a tower just like his
hero, Alabama’s Bear Bryant, Fisher is on the field.

”Coach Bowden was kind of a CEO type,” said Ponder, who
already has earned a master’s degree in business administration.
”Coach Fisher’s a lot different where everything runs through him.
He’s a lot more involved on the field, coaching different
positions. He still coaches us quarterbacks, yelling at guys and
everything.”

Some of the more significant changes Fisher made after taking
over in January were off the field. He hired a sports psychologist
and brought in outside speakers to preach positive thinking and
mental conditioning.

”They showed us how snipers breathe,” center Ryan McMahon
said. ”If their heart’s beating they’ve got to shoot the shot
between heart beats or it would be off.”

McMahon said players can use the same technique on the field to
keep from losing concentration.

”Sometimes you get too excited,” he said. ”You might have to
take a deep breath and just kind of bring everything back into
focus.”

Fisher also hired a nutritionist to create individual diets,
most heavy on fruits, vegetables and whole grains, geared to
whether a player needs to gain, lose or maintain his weight.

”I don’t eat fast food any more,” linebacker Mister Alexander
said. ”I haven’t eaten fried chicken in I can’t tell you.”

Alexander said the diet has paid off by cutting his body fat
from 13.5 percent to 7.4 percent.

Florida State’s offense already has been shaped by Fisher and
probably will be little changed. The defense that last year was
Florida State’s weakness will be different under new coordinator
Mark Stoops. He previously held the same position at Arizona where
his brother, Mike, is head coach. The Seminoles now will feature
more zone schemes. Andrews had favored a man-to-man approach.

”You’re not chasing everybody around the field,” Alexander
said. ”You’re not getting as tired.”

Fisher should quickly find out where his rebuilding effort
stands. After a warmup against lower-division Samford, Bowden’s
alma mater, the Seminoles travel to Oklahoma, which is coached by
another Stoops brother, Bob. Then Brigham Young comes to
Tallahassee before the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule
starts.

While Smith is confident the Seminoles can emulate Florida’s
turnaround under Meyer, who won national championships in his
second and fourth years, there are differences that may make it
tougher for Fisher.

Since Meyer took over in 2005, Florida State and Miami, his main
rivals for talent in a state known for producing lots of it, have
been struggling. The Seminoles have finished 7-6 in three of the
last four years.

Fisher, in contrast, must recruit against and play a Miami team
that’s on the rebound as well as the Gators, who even in a
rebuilding year seem well stocked.

”I think you’ve got to give a couple years to get his guys in
there,” said Florida State fan John Fillion, an information
technologist from Tampa. ”I don’t think anyone thinks, ‘Hey, we’re
supposed to go to a national championship this year.”’

Fillion said fans’ patience, though, has its limits. If Florida
State keeps going 7-6 or 8-5 in the next four years, he said,
”Jimbo’s probably going to be in trouble.”