Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher knows he's just getting started and has a long way to go before restoring the Seminoles to elite status. But he can accelerate the process with a win Saturday over visiting No. 1 Oklahoma.
Fisher, 45, is in his second season as Florida State's coach following a three-year stint (2007-09) as coach-in-waiting behind Bobby Bowden. Fisher debuted with a 10-4 record in 2010, winning the ACC Atlantic Division crown. This season, expectations are sky-high. In fact, some think Florida State could be a national title contender.
Saturday's game will determine if the Seminoles are worthy of elite status. Beat the Sooners, and FSU will have a great chance to put itself in position to advance to the school's first BCS title game since the 2000 season.
The program definitely had fallen under Bowden, whose last ACC title was in 2005 and last double-digit win season came in 2003. Florida State lost six games in three of Bowden's final four seasons. It was a far cry from the school's run of dominance from 1987-2000, which saw the Seminoles win at least 10 games and finish in The Associated Press top five each season.
Fisher has been close to the Bowden family for years. Fisher played quarterback at Salem College (W.Va.) and Samford for Terry Bowden. Fisher later coached at Samford (1991-92) and Auburn (1993-98) for Terry before joining Bobby Bowden's FSU staff as offensive coordinator in 2007. Before joining the Seminoles, Fisher was offensive coordinator for Nick Saban at LSU (2000-06).
Rivals.com talked with Fisher about the matchup with the Sooners and a variety of other topics.
What have you been most impressed with about your team thus far?
"I think we have been doing a really good job on special teams. We are kicking the ball well, we are covering the ball well, we are returning it well. Defensively, we are developing a lot of depth and have good size up front and have good players in the secondary and up front. I think our quarterback is progressing very nicely. The young receivers are catching the ball and doing some really nice things. I like our backs. I have been pleased with our team, I really have. I think we have a good football team. We have a lot of areas we have to get better at, but I love their attitude and the way they work."
"He just needs to get in the game and play. He can make all the throws and all the reads, all the checks; he does everything. It's just a matter, as they say, of getting the saddle time, getting out there and doing it. He's getting better each time he steps on the field. He's a great athlete, great leader, a tough guy. I have been very pleased with him."
What's the biggest difference between Manuel and Christian Ponder?
He's 6-5, Christian was 6-2. They are more similar than they are different. They can throw, they can run, they understand, they lead, they are tough, their teammates respect them. They are a lot more similar than they are different."
Do you have Florida State where you thought it would be in your second year?
"I never really thought about it like that. I just have been saying that we need to get better here, better here, better here, and I think we are progressing that way. Hopefully we are doing what we need to do. We have some big games coming up and we'll find out. I really like the way we are going and how we are recruiting, and the administration is backing us up. We have good players. As far as a timetable, I never really did that. I just have been trying to get better every day, try to win the league and be a national team that can get up there in the rankings."
FSU's defense has improved a great deal since you took over. To what is that attributed?
"The big thing we did was the emphasis on recruiting players. I joke all the time that no offensive coach recruits more defensive players than I do because I believe you win championships with defense. My first goal when we got here was to revamp the defense, get the d-linemen, the corners, and become a great defensive football team. We then wanted to become a great special teams team, and then focus on the offense. We put a premium in the first two recruiting classes on getting defensive players.
"[Defensive coordinator] Mark [Stoops] has come in and done a terrific job. He's a great coach and great guy. And we have a bunch of good young players, and he and his staff are doing a good job."
Do you think the head-coach-in-waiting model is good?
"I think in the right scenario, they are good. A lot of people say they aren't good, but I don't believe that. I really don't. If it's handled the right way and done the right way and you are on a timeline and things are explained, I think it makes more sense. I think the turnover time is less, I think it's money-saving for the university, and I think you can solve so many problems by being there and knowing some of the problems going in than when you come in blindly."
As an offensive-minded guy, do you have a preference in facing a 3-4 or 4-3 defense?
No, I really don't. I think both have their strengths and weaknesses. It actually gets down to, in my opinion, your people and personnel. If you have four great guys who can rush the passer, you let them go. But the 3-4 causes problems with the blitz packages. You can be a little more multiple in your coverages sometimes, but you also have bubbles inside to run the football. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. It all goes back to players for me, so it depends on your personnel."
Do you think 3-4 defenses are the trend?
"I think they are because not everyone can get defensive linemen. There are more intermediate guys ... that are linebacker-types that you can play with or big safety types with big bodies who you can play a 3-3-5 and 3-4 with because there are more those kind of guys playing football today, so people can get them. Those defensive linemen are the premium. If you have them, it can make a huge difference."
What's your take on conference realignment and "super conferences"?
"If I was a betting guy, yes, it sounds like it's where it's going. I don't know that or have any insight, but that's my opinion, especially with all the talk about Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech and all that. There is too much smoke for there not to be some fire."
Would Florida State be a good fit in the SEC?
"I think Florida State would be a good fit anywhere, but we love the ACC and like where we are and like what we are doing. We think it's a great conference and are very happy here. But Florida State is a school with its football tradition and ability to create a national audience that makes it a good fit anywhere."
The ACC has a lot of critics who point out that the league hasn't been to the BCS title game since the 2000 season. Why has the conference come up short?
"It all goes in streaks. Why did Miami and Florida State win them all in the 1990s and the SEC only a couple? Now, they are winning them all. The Big Ten has won [once]. The Pac-10 has won, what, only one? The Big 12 only has two in that stretch, too. It will happen. It's funny how it goes in cycles. I don't know why."
"Yes, we still own. It works out. We never are there at the same time. It never has been an issue."
Do you still talk to Bobby Bowden?
"We haven't in a while because I have been so busy and he has been speaking. I didn't want to bother him. He's out speaking all the time, doing book tours and on the road constantly. I have bumped into Tommy [Bowden] a couple of times. Coach and I have shared messages through people. But we haven't talked much, but I still love him and we are still good friends and have a good relationship. It's just he has been busy and I have been busy."
How big and important is the Oklahoma game?
"It will be one of the big games in college football, but it only counts as one game. It will be two great teams competing. Oklahoma has a great program and Bob [Stoops] is a great coach. They do everything right. We will compete and have a good game. The good thing about it for both of us is it's one win and one loss. And it's early, which is the other thing. But it does have some implications out there if you are successful in it. It's a great barometer for both teams for where they are at early in the year."