With the retirement of legendary head coach Bobby Bowden, Florida State's program must make up for a decade of spinning its wheels. A lot of Florida State fans are left wondering what new head coach Jimbo Fisher will do to improve the program. How about listening to Fisher himself:
Fisher did a nice job on ESPN's gameday to show the proper respect for Bowden (which I have heard is genuine), and also hinting that he will follow Saban as Nick builds as good an infrastructure around his players, like Jimbo and him did at LSU and like Nick has done at 'Bama. This article will focus on that new infrastructure and practices that can get Florida State back on top faster than some might think.
For almost a decade, Florida State's actions were not those of a program attempting to play football at an elite level. And in a competitive multi-billion dollar industry, if you're not innovating and trying to get better, you're getting worse. Florida State fell behind on the field in large part because they had a coaching staff that just wasn't competent-- be that ability to coach or ability to work the 90-hour weeks required of elite coaches. But FSU also found themselves far behind the times in other areas that weren't as visible to the average fan. So, what changes can we expect under Fisher? Bowden and co. wouldn't let Fisher implement a lot of the changes he desired, but now FSU looks to be committed to winning. Expect Fisher to turn FSU into an SEC program. Hopefully this piece will help you to understand why FSU didn't make a real effort to compete over the last decade.
Playing the best players. This is pretty simple and we've already seen it on the offensive side of the ball as Fisher has repeatedly relied on freshmen and sophomores (7 of FSU's starting 11 players on offense are underclassmen) to produce the ACC's best offense of the decade. Expect Fisher to foster a culture of competitiveness. There will be no seniority preference. If anything, there may be a decided slant against seniority, if a younger player is as good as a senior.
Replacing departed assistant coaches with other quality coaches. This was a major bugaboo for Bowden and his hires in the decade were unquestionably terrible. Fisher has already hit two homeruns with James Coley and the recent hire of Eddie Gran. There's absolutely no chance you'll see Fisher hire former players who have zero coaching experience at any level.
Expect Fisher to put Florida State first and demand that other coaches do the same. They are all going to be paid extremely well and FSU should never tolerate its coaches missing events because they are napping or because they prefer to give speeches at events rather than visiting recruits when scheduled.
Increased accountability throughout the program. Fisher is a Saban clone and Saban is all about process, toughness, and accountability. Bowden flat refused to fire even the most worthless of coaches. Fisher shouldn't and won't care if a coach is a good family man if he is not performing his job to the level that Jimbo demands. The offense already does this, but look for the defense to prepare more like the offense before games, during practices, etc. Will be hearing from the defense that practice is more intense than the game itself (the true way to prepare for anything). The defensive players will have one coach who is definitively the man they report to- the defensive coordinator. A clearly defined leadership structure should help the defense a lot.
Expect FSU to keep better track of its players and utilize technology in a 21st century way.. Electronic keyfobs that track player's class attendance should be implemented. That way when a kid says he was in class, the staff can pull up the record on the computer and see exactly how long that player was in class. In addition, look for increased social media monitoring. Some of these kids have myspace and facebook profiles that are embarrassing to the university to say the least. This is a good example of something an 80-year old head coach just would not think of. Other ideas like loading game plans and notes on Video IPods for players should be expected.
Florida State's support staff should double, and maybe increase three-fold. It means every player gets more individual attention. Team psychologists (a certain champion SEC school has three on staff!). Lots of "video guys" who are actually performing some coaching function. The big programs now do this and the NCAA really can't do anything about it. The more manpower the better. Bowden didn't see the need for this and allowed FSU to fall behind because of his lack of evolution. Lots of turnover in the support areas of the program should be expected. I would look for FSU to release Andy Urbanic, who some believe has caused strained relationships with former players Fisher will need to reach out and bring back. Like many change agents, Jimbo will force his own clean slate. If a current employee hasn't clearly shown their worth, they could very well be gone.
I'd also look for major improvements in the areas of strength, conditioning, and nutrition. Todd Stroud, FSU's current S&C coach will be out. He's not a bad S&C coach, but FSU can definitely do better. Fisher wants someone in the mold of Tommy Moffit, from LSU, widely considered the gold standard in college strength and conditioning programs. A few months ago, we identified two possible guys from the Moffit system- one at WKU and one at SMU. Barring some miracle that sees FSU land Moffit himself, or Alabama's Scott Cochran (very doubtful), look for FSU to go after the SMU or WKU guy. In addition to that, FSU's nutrition program is horrible. Players routinely fail to put on the necessary bulk. While UF has multiple nutritionists on staff, FSU doesn't have a single nutritionist on staff. Florida and Alabama regularly conduct blood testing on their players to make sure they have the proper levels of protein, vitamins, etc. Gator and Tide players regularly receive an individualized vitamin and mineral concoction upon getting to the complex. That's not happening at Florida State. Another benefit of that blood testing is that it allows the support staff (again, FSU needs at least double the staff they currently have) is that it allows the program to detect drug use. Football players at all major D1 schools smoke a tremendous amount of weed. The trick isn't getting them to stop (not going to happen), but rather in getting them to cut back and stop before the tests. These drug tests allow the program to get these kids the required help they need in order to pass the "random" drug tests. Players at Bama and Florida each have a different mix of Gatorade that the staff mixes for them! Offensive lineman Walker might need 17g of sugar per 8oz serving but lineman Smith might need 10g per and a different electrolyte concoction. I'd also expect FSU to have a lot more "trainers" and medical staff on hand for all events to make sure that kids aren't slacking off.
I would also expect a lot of roster turnover. The 85 man scholarship limit is the great equalizer in college football. Any way of abusing the limit gives a program a distinct advantage. Many people don't realize, however, that scholarships are year-to-year agreements. They don't have to be renewed. Some old school coaches treated them like 4-year agreements (Bowden), but guys like Urban Meyer and Nick Saban do not. They play within the rules but take it to the limit. If a kid isn't developing as planned, don't look for him to be at Florida State the following season. This may upset you, but you have to decide whether you want to be an elite level program. Think of college ball as minor league football and it will make this much easier to stomach. There are exceptions, but there won't be any 4-year flops on the roster any longer. To that end, look for double-digit forced transfers in the first two years. this is pretty much a given. Lots of dead weight that hasn't been forced to work hard, especially on the defensive side. To go with the support idea, To go with the support staff idea above, look for more certainty in terms of which players will and will not be back due to a decrease in accidental academic casualties. More support staff means more one-on-one attention for the players. It means better monitoring of a player's academic progress. Having a better grasp on which players are not likely to return for next season due to academic ineligibility means that Fisher can cut players who just aren't buying into the program and developing. You should also look for Increased use of the medical disqualification scholarship. It's a great way to free up a roster spot for a kid who has an injury that would make it difficult for him to transfer. And opposed to cutting the player, this helps him finish his education. Again, roster manipulation.
In recruiting, you've already seen a big improvement as FSU, with just 5 of 9 coaches actively recruiting, has vaulted from the 37th best class the day Bowden retired to the 25th class. I won't discuss all the improvements made in recruiting since Fisher arrived (2 top 10 classes in 2 years), but one area that I would look for FSU to excel in is over-signing. Again, churning the roster, shedding that dead weight, and bringing in a lot of kids. FSU needs to abuse the ACC's lack of a maximum recruiting class size rule (the NCAA caps how many players you can enroll (25), but not how many you can sign. The SEC capped signings at 28. Houston Nutt signed 37 guys last year. The remaining guys either don't qualify, are sent to JUCO, or are otherwise dropped). I expect Fisher to sign so many kids each year that the ACC, like the SEC, will eventually impose the rule. This is an advantage FSU has on Florida right now and it needs to exploit it as hard as it possibly can until the ACC closes the loophole, which could take two to three years. This also helps FSU to improve their relationship with certain junior college programs, specifically those in Mississippi.