Jimbo Fisher waits in the wings (cont.)
Fisher has a theory about why so many excellent coaches -- Nick Saban, Rich Rodriguez and Jim Grobe, to name a few -- hail from West Virginia. It was either college or the coal mine. Gloria never gave her boys a choice. They were going to college.
Fisher went to tiny Salem College, where he played quarterback for Bowden's son, Terry. When Terry moved to Samford, Jimbo transferred there. Not long after graduation, Fisher returned to Samford as a graduate assistant and ultimately rose to offensive coordinator. He then followed Terry to Auburn. By then, the elder Bowden could tell Fisher was a rising star. "I've watched him grow to where he really knows his stuff," Bowden says. "He really knows his football."
That's why Bowden accepted the succession plan. "It's a pretty wise thing," he says. "Here I am, 78 years of age. My years are limited. So what are you going to do? Instead of leaving a question mark out there, you've already got it settled."
So when will Bowden pass the baton? He isn't sure. "I've always signed five-year contracts at Florida State, and this year I did not," he says. "Anyone knows I'm not going to coach until I'm 83. I'm on a one-year basis now, and every year I'll let them know if I'm going to coach another year."
Fisher is already stocking the cupboard so that when he becomes FSU's executive chef, he'll be cooking haute cuisine. When Fisher arrived last year, he brought the 'Noles' recruiting practices into this century. In the '90s, FSU coaches were masters at scooping up the nation's top talent close to signing day. Now, the best players commit in May and June. So far, FSU has nine commitments for the class of 2009. Of those, Fisher recruited five.
For his part, Fisher says he won't trouble himself worrying about when he'll take over. Someday, Bowden will retire, and he'll have to "take the training wheels off and go."
If anyone can hope to fill Bowden's shoes, it's Fisher. Some schools can get away with hiring the latest version of Coachbot 9000. (Sample quotes: "It-is-what-it-is. My-oil-is-low.") But at FSU, they've been spoiled. Bowden drew up the puntrooskie, and he can spin a yarn with the best of them. Fisher, meanwhile, can work a room as well as he can a dry-erase board. He's one of those guys who in two minutes can make you feel as if you've known him a lifetime. When he says, "YouknowwhatImean," and he says that a lot, you do know what he means.
Most important, Fisher isn't afraid to follow a legend. He knows who he is, and in case he forgets, he'll get a reminder next month as he bales hay beneath the West Virginia sky. "I'll never be Bobby Bowden," Fisher says. "All I can do is learn from Bobby Bowden, but I can't be Bobby Bowden. I have to be Jimbo Fisher, no matter if I was following Bobby or not."