John David Mercer/US Presswire
Florida State's Jimbo Fisher went 10-4 and defeated South Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Bowl this past season, his first as head coach of the Seminoles.
John Crist: After covering the Bears for the better part of a decade, I did some research and saw that you have a few Chicago ties yourself. You played a little quarterback for the old Chicago Bruisers of the Arena Football League. What did you think of the city?
Jimbo Fisher: Yeah, back in 1988. I loved Chicago. It was a great city. Very good city, very fun city. I liked the people. I was there about five, six months, whatever it was. It was nice. It was very nice. I enjoyed my time there. I really did.
JC: Having been an NFL guy professionally for quite some time now, I've gotten used to the game at the highest level. But when you were on coach Nick Saban's staff at LSU and he left for the Dolphins, did you at least have a conversation about leaving the college game?
JF: You never say never, but I'm very happy in the college game. I don't have a driving ambition to go to pro ball. I'm not saying I don't respect it or not saying I wouldn't go coach in it, and I've had opportunities to do it. It just hasn't been the right time, and I love what we're doing in college. I love living in the smaller towns. The environments, the atmospheres, what you do raising family. There's not a burning desire to do that.
JC: If I can quote you here, when you first took over for coach Bobby Bowden, you talked about having "the structure, the staff and the support resources" to build Florida State back into a championship contender. Do you feel like there were some stones left unturned when you were an assistant, and did you think these were the types of things that may have held the program back a bit?
JF: It was, and I just think you're always fighting for that edge. For the most part, everybody's got good players, so you've got to develop players. Player development -- mental capacity, physical capacity, and then training, nutrition. There's so many facets that you have to touch, and wherever you can get an edge or get an advantage, you've got to try to create that inch or two inches or whatever it may be that gets you ahead. They get to spend so much more time with these guys in the offseason than you do, and all the people that are around them, that support group and every facet of everything you do, I think, has to be critical.
JC: At a program like FSU, with two national championships, a pair of Heisman Trophy winners and one of the most successful decade-and-a-half runs the game has ever seen, how do you balance embracing the history without necessarily living in the past?
JF: We have to create our own history, and that's what every player wants to do. We emphasize on the now, living in the now and what it creates for the future, preparing yourself for the future. But your principals and your core values don't ever change, so that way you embrace the history. Me and Coach Bowden, believe it or not, have the same core values and principles in how we do things. I just go about my day-to-day business a little different. In business, you always say you don't do business the way you did 10 years ago, five years ago, two years ago, one year. You have to always change to stay on that edge, and that's what we're hopefully doing. But still the core values of what you're trying to accomplish aren't changing. Just how you're trying to accomplish them, and I think that's how you keep the tradition. But you keep up with what's going on and promote your program for the future.
JC: I want to ask you a very generic question since this is our first conversation of any length. If somebody handed you a piece of paper and asked you to write down what your coaching philosophy is, what would you write?
JF: I think it's creating an atmosphere and an environment that's conducive for players to be successful -- off the field, on the field and in the classroom. And that's developing accountability and dependability throughout your players. And the person, because you've got to develop the person first. Even people that say education, I don't believe that. I think being a good person is more important than being anything. Being accountable, being dependable and having the right core values, because you can be the most educated person in the world. If you don't have core values, you're not accountable and dependable, then what good are you? Then you're developing the student. The education is going to affect the quality of your life more than anything else. It's going to open up more doors. It's going to give you more avenues for things. But if you're not a good person, you're not accountable and dependable, you ain't going to go to class, you ain't going to study, you ain't going to do those things. Third is develop the athlete -- playing for championships and doing things right. And every player says, "Is it winning and playing for championships?" Well, it is. Because if you're winning championships, usually everything in your program is going right. You don't win championships by just having good players. You have to do that. And then helping them launch their career when they're done. Ball's going to end at some time. Who are they going to be as a person, and what kind of job and what kind of contribution are they going to make to society? And I think that's it.
JC: You touched on academics. Let's say I'm a player and I come up to you one afternoon and say, "Coach, I can't go to practice today. I've got a final tomorrow morning, and I really have to study for it." Is a conversation of that nature even possible on your watch?
JF: Yeah, but it also depends on what did you do previously to that. Because you not only have a responsibility as a student, you have a responsibility to your team. Did you goof off and miss five classes and not do your work before that came? You know what I mean? That goes into the factoring of how you make a decision like that. For the most part, because of the monitoring we keep on our kids as far as our study halls, our tutoring, our classes -- everything's mandatory. We check everything they do. There's an attendance check on everything we do and accountability to it, and usually we can stop that. We don't have an issue. Usually that doesn't [become] an issue. But I have taken guys out of spring ball that I thought needed to concentrate on academics. I've taken guys from a practice that I thought had to do a paper. I have done that, yes.
JC: Obviously, your primary goal is to win games, but how much of your job is preparing your players for the NFL? If a player is a candidate to play defensive end in the pros, but then you slide him inside to play defensive tackle, is that something you take into consideration when making a decision?
JF: That's an adjustment. That happens in high school. A guy playing quarterback in high school, but he's going to be a receiver, a DB or a running back in college. I think it's my job first of all to win games for our team. But help them be put in the best position to have a career, there's nothing wrong with that. But we have to win games. Also, you want to go somewhere... just like you want to be an English major, you don't want to go to a school that it's primary thing it puts out is sciences. I think there is something to that. It's like quarterbacks. You have spread quarterbacks, you have pro quarterbacks. Are you going to go somewhere that gets you ready for that game? There's two different avenues of looking at it. But I think it is. That's everybody's goal, and I hope we can develop all of them to do that. But I hope they can also develop to understand that there's an educational part of that, but there's also a part of that that, again, going back to being a good person and having a career and having a life afterwards.
JC: Gut instinct, deep down inside, before you actually come to your senses and make an important call on game day, are you a punt-and-play-defense guy or a go-for-it guy?
JF: I'm going to be an aggressive guy. Well, I say that. Everybody wants to say that, but I think it depends on where the strengths of your football team are. I think you have to play to your strengths and where you are, because you can win in a lot of different ways. People love aggressiveness, which I do, too. I love throwing the deep bomb. I've had great offenses, but we've won with average offenses. I've won with great defenses. I've won with average defenses. What do you got to do to win the game? I think that's how the decision is made. What do you think at everything you do. Every decision is based on winning. If not, it's a wasted decision. And then what do you think you have to do to win the game.
For Pt. II of NoleDigest.com's exclusive interview with Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, Click Here.
John Crist is an NFL analyst for Scout.com, a voter for the Heisman Trophy and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America.