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August 3, 2014

Schoffel column: Fisher deals FSU rare opportunity

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The rest of us can only imagine how excited Jimbo Fisher is to step onto Florida State's practice fields Monday afternoon.

He has built arguably the most talented football team in the country, one that will open the season as the overwhelming favorite to win the national title. His sophomore quarterback won a Heisman Trophy and national championship as a freshman. And he absolutely loves his roster and coaching staff.

So while every new season is exciting for every head coach - teeming with possibilities like a fresh deal in poker - very few will ever open a year with the hand Jimbo Fisher is holding. At the same time, Fisher knows that the challenge is only beginning. Even pocket aces can be beat.

It's why he has been working overtime since last January to shape the Seminoles' mindset, hammering home the message that they aren't defending last year's title but instead are hunting this year's. It's why he keeps repeating the phrase "attitude of domination." While Jimbo Fisher learned many lessons during his years with Nick Saban, one of the most important right now is how difficult the path is to repeat as national champions.

Saban (with Fisher as his offensive coordinator) couldn't accomplish that feat 10 years ago at LSU; the Tigers followed a championship season in 2003 with a 9-3 finish in 2004. Saban couldn't do it in 2010 at Alabama, either. The Crimson Tide won it all in '09 but fell to 10-3 the following season - with a team that actually might have had more potential.

It would end up taking Saban three tries to get it right, which he did of course with Alabama in 2011 and 2012.

But that's the nice thing about learning from great teachers - if you do it right, you can adopt the practices that work well while eliminating the ones that don't. That's probably why Fisher has been able to achieve more at a quicker pace than his former boss.

Fisher won a national championship in his fourth season as a head coach. Saban didn't do that.

Fisher claimed his first title before he was 50. Saban didn't do that, either.

And if things go right, this 2014 season could go a long way in determining Fisher's place among the elite coaches in college football. Fisher already is gaining that respect, at least in some circles.

Earlier this year, Athlon listed him as the seventh best coach in the game. More recently, a listing on NFL.com had him at No. 13. That last one seems low, when you consider where Florida State was when Fisher took over - 30-22 in Bobby Bowden's final four years, and 45-10 since - but it's not all that surprising.

For starters, there's a perception, at least nationally, that it's easy to win at Florida State. That the locker room is always overflowing with talent - even during the final few years of Bowden's tenure. Those of us who follow the program closely, of course, know that is a fallacy. There were starters on some of those teams in the late 2000s that wouldn't have a chance to make FSU's roster today. Recruiting and talent evaluation are two of the most important skills needed to be an elite college football coach, and Fisher is among the very the best in the nation at both.

Then, perhaps most significantly, there is the Saban factor.

Because Fisher follows so many of the same principles as Saban and often speaks the same language, there are some who see him as little more than a carbon copy - as if working closely with a great coach is a ticket to quick success. (Has anyone checked on Derek Dooley or Will Muschamp lately?)

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Yes, Fisher believes in much of what Saban espouses. But it's not as if he simply lifted those philosophies -- he helped refine many of them while they worked together.

Fisher also deviates from the Saban script on occasion. He is far better at dealing with the media and the public, and most would describe him as more of a "players' coach" than his former boss. Those, of course, are some of the traits he learned during his years around Bobby Bowden.

Fisher is proud of both of those influences - Saban and Bowden - and he should be. But a carbon copy he is not.

Jimbo Fisher has evolved into his own coach.

And on Monday, he officially will begin his quest to accomplish something that neither of his mentors could - follow up his first national championship with another.

He's starting out with the best hand at the table.

Unlike in poker, he dealt it to himself.

Contact Warchant.com managing editor Ira Schoffel at [email protected] Follow @IraSchoffel on Twitter.



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