Fisher bringing change to FSU (cont.)
All that stuff helps, but the Seminoles will succeed or fail because of their players and their schemes. Fisher has upgraded the talent. Though Fisher didn't hold any official title other than offensive coordinator despite being Florida State's coach-in-waiting since late 2007, the now-departed coaches were more than happy to let Fisher do the heavy lifting on the recruiting trail. When Fisher finally ascended to the head job and put together his own staff, he brought in aggressive recruiters such as running backs coach Eddie Gran, who tag-teams South Florida with tight ends coach/offensive coordinator James Coley, the author of one of the most consistently entertaining feeds on Twitter.
Even as head coach, Fisher will remain the primary playcaller on offense. "If I had to sit up there and just watch, I'd go crazy," he said. "I've got to do something." The offense should be fine. The five returning starters on the line have combined for 142 career starts, and senior quarterback Christian Ponder, who already holds an MBA, may be in the Heisman hunt by season's end.
FSU's problem is on defense. In legendary coordinator Mickey Andrews' final season, the Seminoles finished 94th in the nation in scoring defense and 108th in total defense. Andrews' dogged reliance on man-to-man coverage hearkened back to a day when FSU had the fastest players on the field. Now everyone has fast players, and many of the popular spread offenses were designed as a response to the defense FSU used to dominate the '90s. Even worse, the old staff used FSU's best athlete, cornerback Greg Reid, as a nickelback instead of playing him full-time.
Enter first-year coordinator Mark Stoops, who brought zone coverages with him from Arizona. Now, if a cornerback gets beat deep, he has help. Now that lost gambles won't always result in touchdowns, defensive backs can be more hawkish. Reid, who also was the nation's top punt returner as a freshman in 2009, earned the defensive MVP award in spring practice because the zone enhanced Reid's preternatural knack for snagging passes.
Unlike Saban, who set an entire fan base salivating when he joked that Alabama receiver Julio Jones might play some defense, Fisher is serious about getting Reid the ball on offense. "Some guys move chains, some guys change numbers on the scoreboard," Fisher said. "It seems like every two or three times he touches [the ball], some number changes on the scoreboard in our favor."
In Ocala, each of Fisher's pronouncements drew wild applause. It's been the same everywhere. Seminole Boosters executive Charlie Barnes, who accompanied Bowden for about 800 such speeches, said the excitement is palpable. And Barnes believes Fisher is capable of bringing the Seminoles back to a national championship level. "I was joking the other day that any decent coach in the state of Florida could win a national title," Barnes said. "That's when I realized that every decent coach in the state of Florida in the past 25 years has at least one."
Now, the king of Sunshine State coaches is Florida's Urban Meyer, winner of two national titles in the past four seasons. Meyer should be concerned, though. Because as much as Fisher talks like Saban, the vision for the future Fisher has outlined in his travels throughout the state sounds an awful lot like the one Meyer laid out when he barnstormed as the new shepherd of Florida's program in 2005. The response, from everyday fans and boosters alike, is similar as well.
Florida fans won't like this, either, but Fisher also has a bit of Steve Spurrier in him. One of Spurrier's pet causes was moving the Florida-Florida State game to the beginning of the season. Fisher now champions that cause, though he doubts the folks in Gainesville -- winners of six in a row in the rivalry -- will acquiesce unless FSU proves to be an elite program again. "If we get back to the level where we're playing for those national championships, once we get there, they may want to do that, too," Fisher said.
Fisher is knee-deep in a process that should allow FSU to get back to that level. And he believes the Seminoles might get there sooner than you'd think.
"I don't know when we got into this predicament," Fisher said. "We didn't get into it overnight. We're not going to fix it overnight. But I don't think it's going to take long."
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