TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida State held its first media day without Bobby Bowden in 34 years on Sunday. The retired coach was not forgotten.
New Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said Bowden’s values and traditions have been retained even though some day-to-day operations have changed.
Fisher took over when Bowden was nudged into retirement in January. Fisher was offensive coordinator for three seasons and had the designation of coach-in-waiting in the final two.
“It’s an advantage to have the knowledge of a man of that character, that stature,” Fisher said. “That was the reason I came to Florida State because I knew I wanted to be a head coach. I didn’t know it would be here.”
The affable and always quotable Bowden amassed 389 victories, second only to Penn State’s Joe Paterno, still coaching with 394. But Florida State has gone 38-28 over the past five years, including three 7-6 seasons.
Fans will forgive Fisher if his oratory doesn’t quite measure up to Bowden’s if he can return the Seminoles to their former prominence.
Bowden has taken some of the pressure off Fisher by keeping his distance, allowing the new guy space to do things his way.
“It’s important for the program,” Fisher said. “I heard him say that years ago.”
It was in 1993 when Bowden’s son, Terry, replaced Auburn’s Pat Dye. The former coach remained on the scene. Fisher was one of Terry Bowden’s Auburn assistants.
Fisher said Bobby Bowden told him when he was named coached in waiting that he wouldn’t be around for at least three years but also said “If you need me call me.”
“That doesn’t surprise you about the man he is,” Fisher said. “He understands it’s not about us, him and I. It’s about the kids.”
Fisher said he has called Bowden but what they talked about is private.
Florida State’s high-powered offense, which averaged 421.4 yards per game, returns largely intact including the entire offensive line and senior quarterback Christian Ponder. He led the Atlantic Coast Conference with 321.8 yards per game in total offense last year.
Ponder said he’s fully recovered from a shoulder injury that ended his season near the end of last year’s ninth game against Clemson. Ponder, who already has earned a bachelor’s degree in finance and a masters in business administration, had considered skipping his senior season to enter the NFL draft until the injury ended those thoughts.
“In the long run it’s definitely better” returning, Ponder said. “A lot of juniors who come out don’t really pan out.”
The Seminoles began practice last week. They will start the 2010 season by hosting Samford, Bowden’s alma mater, on Sept. 4 before a road trip the following Saturday to Oklahoma.
The Sooners are coached by Bob Stoops, older brother of Florida State’s new defensive coordinator, Mark Stoops, the youngest of the three coaching Stoops brothers. It’ll be the first time one Stoops will coach against another.
If anyone on Florida State’s staff is facing more pressure than Fisher, it’s Mark Stoops. He came to Tallahassee from Arizona where he had been defensive coordinator for his other brother, Mike.
Stoops succeeded Mickey Andrews who retired after 26 seasons as Florida State’s defensive coordinator.
“I enjoyed my time at Arizona, but I was just ready for another opportunity, another challenge,” Stoops said.
Last year, Andrews’ defense was Florida State’s weak link, giving up 434.6 yards and 30 points per game. Fisher and Stoops have installed a new defensive philosophy with more zone coverages and an attacking style. Andrews had favored man-to-man coverages and a read-and-react style.
Fisher and Stoops have been encouraged by what they’ve seen in the spring and so far since practice began Thursday.
“We’ll never be a great team until we’re great on defense,” Fisher said. “I like where we’re going. We’re not there yet.”
Bright spots on defense include two young defensive backs, sophomore Gregg Reid, and true freshman Lamarcus Joyner.
Reid made his mark last season with big plays on defense as well as leading the NCAA in punt returns with an 18.4 yard average. Fisher said he’s look for more consistency, though, from Reid.
“That’s what wins football games,” Fisher said. “That’s a challenge for him every day.”
Stoops said he’s excited by Joyner.
“I’m not ready to put him in the Hall of Fame, but I really like his competitiveness, his athletic ability,” Stoops said. “He made a couple plays in practice — you know I’ve coached some pretty good defensive backs and I haven’t seen too many plays like that in the first practice or two.”