Jimbo Fisher has grown a beard, albeit just light fuzz, but nonetheless, after about three weeks, quite well-groomed and not unattractive. If Las Vegas made odds on that beard not making it into the regular season, though, it would have to be a two-touchdown underdog.
“A little something different every now and then,” Fisher said during a recent chat at a Florida State booster club outing in Ocala, Fla. “I just got lazy while I was at the NFL draft. I let it go a couple of days and it was kind of cold and windy, so I said, ‘I’m going to leave it on there.’ Then I found out it was just easier to make about five swipes (with the razor), so I just left it.”
Actually, the beard is just one of several changes in the life of FSU’s coach, who turned 50 in October and apparently has turned down chances to leave Tallahassee. He’s also recently gone through a divorce after 22 years of marriage. But one change he apparently won’t make is a change of scenery.
He certainly wasn’t talking like a man with plans of leaving his current job anytime soon. “I plan on retiring in Tallahassee,” Fisher said. “I’ve got a great job and it’s a phenomenal place. They’re doing all the things we had to do to be successful in developing the kids as students and players.”
When you have posted numbers like Fisher has at Florida State, you’re always on somebody’s “A-list.” It’s hard to believe he already has logged six seasons as Seminoles coach, with a record of 58-14 that includes a national championship and five other bowl appearances. That’s probably why his phone kept ringing after last season.
There was an unconfirmed report that the LSU job was his to turn down, but suddenly the folks in Baton Rouge fell back in love with Les Miles. Maybe the timing was not right for Fisher and he said no. Or maybe that Les Miles had a $15 million buyout – which would have to be paid by a school already in financial crisis mode – convinced LSU to stay with a pat hand.
With the influx of more promising recruits, things still appear on the rise for the Seminoles, who will be co-favorites with Clemson to win the ACC. That can pretty much be decided on October 29 at Doak Campbell Stadium
With the run Fisher has going in Tallahassee, with the cupboard loaded and a massive facilities upgrade under way, why would a fellow want to opt out anyway?
“That’s what I’ve been saying,” Fisher said.
Yes, we’ve all heard that before and maybe he really means it. When the Brinks boys roll up to your house with bagsful of money, though, one tends to waffle on such noble plans. We shall see.
The 2015 campaign wasn’t a great season by Fisher’s standards. A 38-24 loss to two-touchdown underdog Houston in the Peach Bowl marked the Seminoles’ third defeat of the season, something about as rare as – well, a coach with facial hair.
Fisher spent three years as Bobby Bowden’s quarterback coach and offensive coordinator before taking over at FSU. Except for a lingering moment or two by Bowden, the changeover seems to have been seamless. Florida State is still winning.
Growing up in West Virginia, Fisher was a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan. He remembers playing in his front yard at age 9 and listening on his father’s truck radio to Terry Bradshaw’s “Immaculate Reception” flip to Franco Harris. He remains a Bradshaw fan. During our conversation, he stopped to talk with Bradshaw on the phone.
“Terry’s coming to speak to my team this fall – maybe during camp,” Fisher said. “The guy was a great player and he’s a great speaker.”
Fisher went on to recount how he admired Bradshaw’s guts and his willingness to throw the ball down the field – and keep on throwing it even after he got one picked off.
“He was tough, man,” he said. “And he wasn’t afraid to take chances.”
There is this group of quarterback gurus and play-callers who are the chess-masters of college football. In the secret society of X’s and O’s, they all have admiration for each other – especially the risk-takers and the original thinkers. Fisher, for instance, respects the way Florida’s Jim McElwain throws downfield. And he had glowing things to say about former Seminoles nemesis Steve Spurrier.
“I got to know Steve my first year as head coach at the Chick-fil-A Bowl and I enjoyed every minute with him,” Fisher said. “His wife, Jerri, was phenomenal. Great people. You’re talking about one of the all-time great minds who changed college football. He was a great player, a great coach and he changed the SEC.”
Nobody was ready when Spurrier hit the SEC, Fisher said. “One of the all-time great coaches as far as wins and losses,” he said. “But also very revolutionary at how he looked at the game and coached it.”
Fisher is one of those coaches who also handles his quarterbacks. He has become sort of a “quarterback whisperer.” He won a national championship with Jameis Winston and has a good track record of sending quarterbacks to the NFL.
Losing the Peach Bowl didn’t seem to impact the 2016 projections, as the Seminoles seemingly are in everybody’s top five. With 17 starters returning – with just six being seniors – they are legitimate contenders for a playoff berth.
“An experienced but young team – a rare thing to have,” he said. “The thing about maturity is that it creates competition. I was really pleased on both sides of the ball with the amount of competition, with the young guys pushing the old guys.”
He sounded pleased and confident going through most of his offensive and defensive starters, offering high praise, never saying if he was going to start Deondre Francois or Sean Maguire at quarterback because it will be decided in fall camp. And never mentioning the name of his best player, running back Dalvin Cook, who will challenge Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson for ACC player of the year honors.
Talent is going to make the difference in this newly fortified league. All of a sudden, the ACC has some coaching muscle not named Jimbo Fisher and Dabo Swinney. Enter Mark Richt at Miami. Add Bronco Mendenhall at Virginia after a splendid run at BYU. Mix in red-hot prospect Justin Fuente, hired by Virginia Tech. And even former Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi at Pittsburgh. They could make the schedule tougher for Bobby Petrino at Louisville, Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech, Larry Fedora of North Carolina and David Cutcliffe of Duke – among others.
Which is to say, the ACC ain’t your father’s basketball conference anymore. Probably a good reason for Jimbo Fisher to embrace the change.