NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher walked into a hotel ballroom Tuesday morning and posed with each of the Seminoles’ four championship trophies.
First was the most treasured, the crystal football for winning the Bowl Championship Series title game Monday night. Fisher then posed with trophies from The Associated Press, National Football Foundation and the Football Writers Association of America.
Fisher did not pose with Bobby Bowden.
Other than taking part in Monday’s pregame coin toss, the legendary former Seminoles coach stayed out of the way leading up to the championship game against Auburn. He has been careful since being forced to retire after the 2009 season not to be a constant presence.
Bowden, who won two national championships at Florida State and resurrected a program that went 0-11 three years before his arrival, kept the promise he made in the late 1980s at his football camp where Fisher handled the quarterbacks. Fisher called Bowden’s decision not to interfere “tremendous,” allowing him to build the program the way he preferred, one that would give the Seminoles their third national title but first since 1999.
“(Bowden would) always say whenever he left, he was going to get out of town and leave whoever (was) the head coach — he said this 25 years ago — because it happened to him at one time in his career,” Fisher said. “And he saw what happened to (son) Terry (Bowden) a little bit at Auburn, when the old coaches hang around, and they’re always doubting and questioning.
“To me, it shows the class of a man and who he is and what he is, and I like to say, he’s as good a man as has ever walked the sideline in college football.”
The key moment in the 34-31 victory over Auburn at the Rose Bowl could have been plucked from Bowden’s playbook. Bowden loved gadget plays, using them and a wide-open offense to make Florida State an exciting and unpredictable team under his watch.
So down 21-3 and with the BCS championship slipping away after a season of dominance, Fisher knew he couldn’t play it safe. He called for a fake punt near midfield late in the first half.
If the call didn’t work, the Tigers would have had an excellent chance to put away the game. But the play worked, and the 7-yard run on a reverse by running back Karlos Williams led to a touchdown that got the Seminoles back in the game.
“Momentum is critical in football games,” Fisher said. “We talk about Xs and Os and all that, but when you’re 18 to 22 (years old), momentum and the whole psyche of the situation is critical. We had to change the momentum. We weren’t doing it on offense, we weren’t doing it on defense, so we had to do it on special teams.”
Perhaps it was fitting Florida State closed the 16-year BCS era by winning its final championship. The Seminoles played in the first three BCS title games, winning one.
College football moves to a four-team playoff next season, and Fisher cautioned being careful what is wished for in a season that becomes longer.
Playoffs can be a grind, but that’s also the life of a football coach.
Fisher said he celebrated in his hotel room with family but already was turning his attention to recruiting and preparing for next season. That was the path followed by Alabama coach Nick Saban, who never seemed to enjoy the moment in winning three of the four previous BCS championships.
The two are friends, cut from the same fabric, both what Fisher called “old hillbillies” from West Virginia. The coaches’ families shared in this celebration, and it didn’t hurt that Florida State’s victory came at the expense of Alabama’s greatest rival.
Fisher was Saban’s offensive coordinator on the 2003 Louisiana State team that won the national championship but went 9-3 the following season.
“What kids do, what fans do, writers do, players do, you take success for granted and how hard it is to grind and win football games,” Fisher said. “You can’t lose that edge. If you ever lose that edge, that chip on your shoulder, you’re just another team. I don’t care how talented you are.
“This team has to go back, get its own identity, get its own leadership and develop that, and that’s going to be our challenge now.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.