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It's not what you say, it's how you say it: Expect Jimbo Fisher to handle the media with more tact than Saban

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Changes abound in Tallahassee as Florida State's new head coach Jimbo Fisher attempts to bring the program up to the level most think it should be.  And many of those changes will involve keeping things in-house.  That means media access will be severely cut.  This is classic Nick Saban, Bill Parcells type stuff.  Assistants will almost always be off limits to the media.  Player availability will be cut down to once or twice a week.  I'm told that the goal is to keep the focus on the process and avoid distractions brought on by the media, whether real or imagined.  

Coach Fisher recently stressed the need to have "one voice" (his) for the program.  It makes sense.  Fisher is the new face and needs to establish his own brand.  While Tomahawk Nation does not rely on official access, other media outlets do.  And they aren't happy about  that one voice.  The media is undergoing an adjustment period.  But the fans probably will not care.  And I doubt Fisher will care if he makes the jobs of a few writers more difficult, especially if the fans don not care and the team wins. 

Having lived in Tuscaloosa for the entire Nick Saban tenure, I've seen the media changes first hand.  The fans certainly don't care.  When reporters complained, the fans defended their head coach and issued a collective "yawn."  I expect that FSU fans will react in similar fashion.  They just want to win.  

But will FSU's new media policies perfectly mirror those of Alabama?  Likely so.  But the negative impact will be far less.  And the reason for this is Fisher's media savvy.  Fisher said that he learned things from both Saban and Bowden.  My guess is that the stuff he picked up from Bowden media-relations related.  Saban conducts press conferences like a cyborg.  Before hiring his son, Bowden was as masterful with the media as one could be.  While much of FSU's new policies will likely mirror Alabama, Fisher is likely to explain and deliver those polices in a much better fashion.  For instance, I don't think you'll catch Fisher comparing a loss to 9/11 or Pearl Harbor.  

Yikes.

But there's also the handling of smaller issues as well.  And each question from the media presents an opportunity for a positive or negative response.  While Saban often goes out of his way to lambaste the media, Fisher has shown the ability to answer part of the question or simply brush it off.  He beautifully played the Bowden situation.  Unlike Saban, it appears that Fisher does not believe it is his job to teach the media how to do its job.  And while the policies certainly won't help endear him to the media, his attitude and relationship with them will go a long way towards making sure they don't think of him in a Saban-like way.  And at some level that is important, given that the media can shape public opinion.

Which brings me to the issue of the depth chart.  This is a great example of what I am talking about.  With a new coaching staff, FSU fans want to know who will be starting come fall.  And they are definitely interested in finding out the depth chart for Spring ball.  Saban doesn't believe in having a depth chart until competition begins.  And Saban has blown up about this topic for the last three years.  Watching his mini-tirades on the local news is quite entertaining.

2007

"THERE IS NO DEPTH CHART: Once again, Saban made it clear Tuesday afternoon that he’s upset at media members who have written about the Crimson Tide’s depth chart or the lack of one.

During interviews Monday, wide receiver DJ Hall and quarterback John Parker Wilson volunteered — without being prompted or questioned about the depth chart — that sophomore wide receiver Mike McCoy worked with the No. 1 offense in Saturday’s scrimmage. Wilson also informed media members that Mike Johnson was working with the starting offense at right tackle. Backup quarterback Greg McElroy told media members that he worked exclusively with the No. 2 offense.  But for the most part, the players aren't aware of a "1s v. 2s." style depth chart.  Players are rotated in practice and given every opportunity to shine.  

"If they make a comment about the depth chart, you’re just putting them in harm’s way," Saban said. "We don’t have a depth chart and our players are not supposed to evaluate other players. You guys are going around the back door and you’re putting them on the spot and I don’t think that’s fair to them."

"We don’t have a depth chart now. You guys are so result-oriented. You have to know what it is right now and the final results. We’re still training for the race and trying to get everybody to improve.

"It’s not trying to keep a secret or not wanting anybody to know. From a competitive standpoint, I want all the players to feel like they have an opportunity and a chance."

and then...

2008

"Ya know, I want our fans to know out there that we don't have a depth chart here, aiight!?" Saban said, just getting warmed up. "So anyone out here in the media who writes about a depth chart and really kinda disrespects some of our players based on their depth chart is really not being very professional. Without checking with us first."

Ouch. He wasn't done...

"(It is) based on little or no legitimate information to make such a judgment," he said. "We don't really have a depth chart, I've tried to tell you guys that. We have guys that work in groups for administrative reasons."

Now, we get a little concession. Yes, he'll admit, a few guys have won starting jobs.

"There are some guys on our team that have proved they can be starters and you know who they are," he continued. "There are a lot of other guys who have an opportunity to compete to be starters or to be backups and we're going to continue to evaluate those guys and put them in different positions so that they have a chance to do that. That does not mean they're first-team or got demoted from first-team."

"It would be very similar to me putting on the Internet," said Saban, who really doesn't know how to use the Internet, "that one of you got fired and replaced by somebody else when that's really not true. The whole world (would) think it's true. And you would come to me and say, 'How could you say that about me? How could you do that? You're so unprofessional of you. That's mean.' But that's what y'all do to our players, just to try to create something, so..."

"I'd appreciate if you think that something like that is happening... we'll be glad to tell you," he said. "We'll be glad to tell you... when we make that decision, we'll be glad to tell you."

Saban does this pretty much every year.  And he did it again this year (go to the 2:25 mark)

Will Fisher deny the existence of a depth chart?  Probably.  Until he's ready.  Maybe.  But I doubt he'll treat the media in such a Saban-like fashion.  My guess is that he will probably echo the reasons laid out by Saban without unnecessarily belittling the reporter.

So while the policies might be the same, I think you'll see Fisher deliver them in a much more tactful way.  And maybe the best example of this is that you probably didn't even realize all of the changes are taking place.