Over the past 20 years many a four-letter word has been used to describe the Florida State football team.
Most of them have been uttered by opponents left battered, bruised and beaten by the Seminoles.
That was, until recently. FSU has lost almost as many games in the past five seasons (22) as it did in the 15 seasons prior to 2002 (23). The program hit a low point last season, going 7-6. It was the most losses for a Bobby Bowden team since his first season in Tallahassee in 1976. The Seminoles were embarrassed at home by Wake Forest – Wake Forest? – 30-0.
The swagger had been replaced by a stagger. The new four-letter word to describe the 'Noles? S-o-f-t. Highly recruited Downy.
Bowden had earned enough goodwill that no one publicly called for his scalp. His son Jeff, the offensive coordinator, wasn't so lucky. Ultimately he resigned. The father was reluctant to accept. The FSU faithful rejoiced.
Bowden then revamped much of the coaching staff, most significantly bringing in LSU's Jimbo Fisher to replace his son and luring offensive line coach Rick Trickett from West Virginia. They were hired to restore order, instill a "chew nails and spit lead" attitude.
Spring practice went from laissez faire to grizzly bear. Trickett took one look at the players he was inheriting and said at his first FSU news conference that "Jenny Craig was going to be here tomorrow. We've had a good holiday. We've got to lose some weight. We've got to get our strength back.'' Conditioning became priority No. 1. The Seminoles were put through their paces with a purpose.
Fisher put the quarterback under center. Trickett pushed the linemen to move better and get quicker. The Seminoles ran stretch plays and traps, stuff they hadn't really done much of in years.
"When I arrived it seemed there was a little confusion on what we're doing and how we're doing it," Fisher said of the offense he found in place. "It has been real interesting. We're trying to get the kids in better shape and be in condition to compete harder and run longer."
Fisher says he's committed to the run. In the spring the Seminoles showed multiple formations, including traditional and offset I's, split backs and even some H-back motion as a lead blocker.
"We'll be under center more no doubt," Fisher said in reference to FSU's previous use of the spread offense. "We'll also throw and run from the gun, but I believe in being able to run and do play action."
Fisher, 41, is steeped in the ways of the Bowdens. He played quarterback for Terry Bowden at Salem College and followed him to Samford, where Fisher was the Division III Player of the Year in 1987. After playing one year of Arena Football, Fisher got his first coaching job … on Bowden's staff at Samford. He followed Bowden to Auburn in 1993 and spent six seasons as the Tigers quarterbacks coach. A few of those seasons were alongside offensive coordinator Tommy Bowden.
PATTERN OF CONSISTENCY
Jimbo Fisher established his reputation during seven seasons at LSU, the last six as offensive coordinator. Here's a look at how his offenses ranked nationally during his tenure with the Tigers:
Fisher landed at LSU as the QB coach in 2000, and was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2001. The Tigers were 31st nationally in total offense and 19th in scoring offense in 2003 when they won the national championship.
Under Fisher's tutelage quarterbacks Josh Booty, Rohan Davey, Matt Mauck and JaMarcus Russell were All-SEC selections, and Russell was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.
Certainly a large part of Fisher's allure in Tallahassee is his ability to develop signal-callers. The only staple of the position at FSU in recent years has been inconsistency.
"We should be an improved football team," Bowden said at the conclusion of spring practice. "It's the first time in 31 years that I practically replaced the whole staff – which I hated to do, but we did. The kids seem to have responded and bought in."
Fisher has a longtime ally in Trickett. The decorated U.S. Marine Corps veteran also was on Terry Bowden's Auburn staff for the duration. He and Fisher also were together at LSU in 2000.
Bobby Bowden has been pleased with what he has seen from both.
"I think they both have come in and answered a challenge real well," Bowden said. "Trickett gives us an offensive line coach as good as anyone in the country. Jimbo is the same in a QB coach and offensive coordinator.
"I let Jimbo have it all and he spread it all over the field."
Bowden has placed much faith in his new staff that also includes a pair of guys who played for him in the Garnet and Gold - running backs coach Dexter Carter and wide receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey. At least in overhauling his staff the elder Bowden hired coaches with whom he was familiar and who were familiar with each other.
"I felt like when we made the changes … this is my last shot. I'm 77, and I doubt if I can go past 87. I had to hire people who could get the job done."
Fisher understands the responsibility. He's here not just to further his own career but to spit-shine the one of the legend for whom he'll be working.
"How we play is something we hope fans can be proud of," Fisher said. "We want to be disciplined, mentally tough, physically tough. We can win close games that way.
"It's a great league (the ACC), and those intangibles are the key to us getting back to where we were. We want to have a total commitment to compete and be relentless and give effort on every play."