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The impossible task of transcribing Jimbo Fisher

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Spouting player nicknames and customized schematic terminology at warp speeds in a West Virginia twang, the Florida State Head Coach is the toughest interview to transcribe in sports.

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It was a slow day for Jimbo Fisher at the Friday press conference before the ACC Championship Game, at least compared to what the Seminoles' head coach typically deals to the local media. For the national media that has never had to experience Fisher, though, there was some shell-shock.

For one woman in particular, a Fisher interview means she must be at the very top of her game.

Meet Kristen Humphrey, the woman in charge of transcribing Jimbo Fisher's weekly press conferences for ASAP Sports, a transcription service. I spotted her typing furiously on a machine resembling that used by a court reporter and caught up with her after to ask about Fisher.

"He's the toughest in sports," Humphrey said, shaking her head. "He talks twice as fast as others I have to transcribe."

How fast? Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson spoke for 22 minutes Friday and the transcript was five pages. Fisher spoke for 23 minutes and produced seven pages. Trying, and failing, to record what Fisher is saying is a rite of passage for new members on the Florida State beat -- a burden now eased thanks to transcripts of Fisher's weekly press conference and his post-game address, provided by Humprey.

She uses a machine similar to that of a court reporter that has been modified specifically for sports, with a predictive sports dictionary.

"I can write about 250 words per minute with my machine, and Jimbo well exceeds that capacity. He's upwards of 350," Humphrey said.

"I can write about 250 words per minute with my machine, and Jimbo well exceeds that capacity. He's upwards of 350," Humphrey said.

"350? That's an auctioneer," I said (auctioneers typically average about 275-400 WPM).

"It is. It's ... fast,"  Humphrey said, laughing. "Our software records the audio as we go, and then we go back and check [the spots they miss], because our fingers cannot possibly keep up with him in real time."

But it's not just the speed that makes transcribing Fisher such a tough task. Fisher is very bright, and where many coaches resort to soundbites and cliched coach-speak, Fisher often elects to answer a person's question to the best of his ability.

Doing so, however, can mean that Fisher gives answers in a stream-of-consciousness format, bouncing from topic to topic without warning, not finishing one thought before starting another, only to come back to the original thought, often in crazy run-on sentences mixing in multiple rhetorical questions.

"In addition to being really fast, he's really difficult to punctuate," Humphrey said.

But that's not all. Fisher, as much as any coach in the country, is willing to go into detail about scheme and strategy. And that means complex, and sometimes custom terminology. And he'll often combine that with a tendency to refer to players by nicknames or first names like "Bobo," or "Kermit", or worse, by their jersey numbers.

Fisher, who has a well documented ability to recall obscure sports facts and statistics, will also jump from sport to sport, from college to pro, and make analogies referencing players who aren't on the Florida State roster, or those for any other college team, for that matter.

"He sort of has his own style of speaking, especially when he is talking about the ins and outs of the actual plays of the game," Humphrey said of Fisher's use of his own personalized shorthand. "Thankfully, Google helps with that."

A hypothetical answer to a question about why FSU's opponent had an open receiver might be "Yeah, they were getting us in in green (term used for FSU's 3-4 defensive alignment) with 21 (a personnel grouping, meaning 2 running backs and 1 tight end) and they were getting the 3 (third eligible receiver when counting from the sideline) singled up on Reggie [Northrup] and 15 (Mario Edwards, Jr.)."

For local writers who know football fairly well and have an intimate knowledge of Florida State's roster, the level of candor is great. And it creates opportunities for stories on which national writers simply won't pick up.  But for Humphrey, it's an incredible challenge.

And the stakes were raised last January as Florida State played for and won the BCS National Championship in the Rose Bowl. As the game ended, Humphrey's had just begun, as she was asked to transcribe Fisher's post-game presser live.

"When we had him at the National Championship Game this year, we did what's called web scripting, where a projection screen is up so that the transcription is next to the stage for writers who were Twittering to see and use in real time, so there was tremendous pressure to try and get it right, and really, I was sweating it the whole time."