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.”