Florida State beginning a new life after Bowden

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TALLAHASSEE, FLA. (AP) - Life after Bobby Bowden for Florida State’s players has meant getting lessons in positive thinking as well as eating more beans and greens and less fried chicken and fast-food burgers.

For Jimbo Fisher, who succeed the now-retired Hall of Fame coach at Florida State, it’s finally getting a chance to do things his way after three years as Bowden‘ offensive coordinator. During the last two, Fisher also held the newly invented and uncomfortable title of coach-in-waiting.

For Florida State’s boosters and fans it’s given them hope, if not expectation, that a younger coach with a more up-to-date approach can duplicate what’s happened just down the road in Gainesville.

That’s where Urban Meyer, an energetic and relatively youthful coach _ restored national championship luster to the Florida Gators, the Seminoles’ bitter rivals.

“I think we’ll do significantly better this year,” said Jim Smith, former chairman of Florida State’s Board of Trustees. “In a year or two we’ll be back in the hunt.”

Smith, who last fall successfully pushed for Bowden to retire a year sooner than he’d planned, is encouraged by a highly touted freshman class and several promising early verbal commitments for next year. He’s also excited about a high-powered offense that returns most of its starters, including senior star quarterback Christian Ponder. Most of all, though, Smith’s encouraged by Fisher himself.

“It’s all about coaching,” said Smith, a former Florida attorney general and secretary of state.

For all of Bowden’s success _ two national championships, 14 straight top five finishes and 377 career victories _ many Florida State loyalists thought he’d lost his touch.

Fisher has a long history with the Bowden family that includes playing and coaching for and with Bobby’s sons. He says he plans to maintain the traditions and values the elder Bowden established during 34 seasons at Florida State. But he’s equally clear that he’s his own man.

“He was my hero, but we have to move forward,” Fisher said. “I have to control what we do now.”

Controlling is a good description of Fisher’s style. It’s been shaped by a stint as offensive coordinator under Nick Saban at LSU where they won a national championship. Saban, of course, now is at Alabama where he led the Crimson Tide to a national title last season.

“Coach Saban and myself are what you consider process oriented guys,” Fisher said. “Another guy who influenced that even before was John Wooden.”

Wooden, who died in June, turned UCLA into a basketball juggernaut, winning 10 national championships in 12 years during the 1960s and ‘70s.

Bowden delegated much of the coaching to his assistants, particularly longtime defense coordinator Mickey Andrews, who also retired after last season. Fisher takes a more hands-on approach. While Bowden oversaw practices perched atop a tower just like his hero, Alabama’s Bear Bryant, Fisher is on the field.

“Coach Bowden was kind of a CEO type,” said Ponder, who already has earned a master’s degree in business administration. “Coach Fisher’s a lot different where everything runs through him. He’s a lot more involved on the field, coaching different positions. He still coaches us quarterbacks, yelling at guys and everything.”

Some of the more significant changes Fisher made after taking over in January were off the field. He hired a sports psychologist and brought in outside speakers to preach positive thinking and mental conditioning.

“They showed us how snipers breathe,” center Ryan McMahon said. “If their heart’s beating they’ve got to shoot the shot between heart beats or it would be off.”

McMahon said players can use the same technique on the field to keep from losing concentration.

“Sometimes you get too excited,” he said. “You might have to take a deep breath and just kind of bring everything back into focus.”

Fisher also hired a nutritionist to create individual diets, most heavy on fruits, vegetables and whole grains, geared to whether a player needs to gain, lose or maintain his weight.

“I don’t eat fast food any more,” linebacker Mister Alexander said. “I haven’t eaten fried chicken in I can’t tell you.”

Alexander said the diet has paid off by cutting his body fat from 13.5 percent to 7.4 percent.

Florida State’s offense already has been shaped by Fisher and probably will be little changed. The defense that last year was Florida State’s weakness will be different under new coordinator Mark Stoops. He previously held the same position at Arizona where his brother, Mike, is head coach. The Seminoles now will feature more zone schemes. Andrews had favored a man-to-man approach.

“You’re not chasing everybody around the field,” Alexander said. “You’re not getting as tired.”

Fisher should quickly find out where his rebuilding effort stands. After a warmup against lower-division Samford, Bowden’s alma mater, the Seminoles travel to Oklahoma, which is coached by another Stoops brother, Bob. Then Brigham Young comes to Tallahassee before the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule starts.

While Smith is confident the Seminoles can emulate Florida’s turnaround under Meyer, who won national championships in his second and fourth years, there are differences that may make it tougher for Fisher.

Since Meyer took over in 2005, Florida State and Miami, his main rivals for talent in a state known for producing lots of it, have been struggling. The Seminoles have finished 7-6 in three of the last four years.

Fisher, in contrast, must recruit against and play a Miami team that’s on the rebound as well as the Gators, who even in a rebuilding year seem well stocked.

“I think you’ve got to give a couple years to get his guys in there,” said Florida State fan John Fillion, an information technologist from Tampa. “I don’t think anyone thinks, ‘Hey, we’re supposed to go to a national championship this year.’”

Fillion said fans’ patience, though, has its limits. If Florida State keeps going 7-6 or 8-5 in the next four years, he said, “Jimbo’s probably going to be in trouble.”

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