Jimbo Fisher waits in the wings as a legend closes his career at FSU
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher sits on the horns of a dilemma. It's early April, and after spring practice, he will hit the road to recruit. During that recruiting period, the Florida State offensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting occasionally will join his boss, Bobby Bowden, as Bowden greets the faithful.
"You know what's bad?" Fisher asks, a smile curling his lips. "Coach Bowden is one of the best speakers in history. You'd think at least if the guy was a great coach, he'd be a bad speaker. But he's the greatest speaker in the world. He's the greatest coach in the world. I have nowhere to turn."
A month later, Fisher reports in from the road. At tour stops in Panama City and Tampa, his "A" material drew chuckles from the garnet-and-gold masses. Not as many laughs as Bowden, mind you. "I get a few," Fisher says, "but I don't speak as long."
Actually, those who love the Seminoles are keenly interested in what Fisher has to say. FSU president -- and former FSU football player -- T.K. Wetherell cooked up this succession plan to quiet some of the grumbling that the legendary Bowden had lost his edge. Even after back-to-back 7-6 seasons, no amount of grumbling could force out the winningest coach in Division I-A history, especially when his president is a former player. Besides, Bowden has more than earned the right to go out on his own terms. After all, he did lead the Seminoles to a top-five finish every year from 1987-2000. Wait a second. Let that stat sink in. FSU finished in the top five for 14 consecutive seasons.
Of course, that success makes it easy to understand why fans and boosters won't accept mediocrity. Also, assurances had to be made to recruits who were understandably nervous about signing to play for a 78-year-old. So Wetherell handed Fisher, who came to Tallahassee from LSU last January, a fat salary ($625,000) and a promise that if he doesn't ascend to the big chair in three years, FSU owes him $2.5 million.
Fisher, who turned down West Virginia's head coaching job in December, says he didn't feel any different when he stepped on the field for his first spring practice as the heir apparent. Sure, he sells the idea of a stable handoff of power to recruits, but it doesn't change the way he lights up his quarterbacks when they don't make the proper reads. It won't change him, says someone who should know.
"This year," Gloria Fisher says, "if the weather stays good, he'll be in the hayfield."
Gloria is Fisher's mother, and like his boss, she's a septuagenarian. She still teaches chemistry and physics at Robert C. Byrd High in Clarksburg, W.Va., and during the two-week stretch when Jimbo visits each June, she'll send him out to work on the family's 300-acre farm. Not that Jimbo minds. The work reminds him of more innocent days when he would tend cows in the morning and then head off to school. His late father, John James Fisher, worked as a foreman at a nearby coal mine. He would watch Jimbo and his brother, Bryan, play sports in the evening; then he would head off to work the graveyard shift at the mine and get home in time to run the family's small beef cattle operation.
"It gives me a quiet calm. ... You remember where you came from and where you're at," Fisher says of his time in his hometown. "It makes me appreciate where I'm at."