TALLAHASSEE, FLA. (AP) - Jimbo Fisher’s last play on a football field was for Samford. His first play as a college coach will be against the same small Alabama school.
After more than two decades as an assistant coach at a handful of southeastern schools, Fisher debuts as Florida State’s head coach Saturday when the 20th-ranked Seminoles open their season against the small Baptist-affiliated school in Birmingham where he claims to have enjoyed some of his happiest years.
“That was a great time in my life,” said Fisher, who played one season for the Bulldogs before joining Terry Bowden’s Samford coaching staff. “Maybe one of the most fun times I’ve ever had, developing as a person, developing as a coach, building a program. A lot of my roots are there.”
Fisher was the Division III Player of the Year at Samford in 1987 when he threw 34 touchdown passes. He spent the next 11 years on Bowden’s staffs at Samford and Auburn, establishing a connection with the coaching family that resulted two decades later in Fisher being the choice to replace Bobby Bowden at Florida State.
Fisher, 44, is not only stepping in behind one of the most successful and revered college coaches of all time, but Saturday marks the first time he’ll be in charge of a game as the head coach.
“It’s really starting to dawn on me right now,” Fisher said during Wednesday’s Atlantic Coast Conference coaches teleconference, acknowledging he was getting jittery as Saturday’s noon kickoff draws nearer. “Anxious butterflies.”
Fisher, however, can achieve something Bowden failed to do _ win his first game at Florida State. Memphis State defeated the Seminoles 21-12 in Bowden’s Florida State debut in 1976.
After a 5-6 start in his initial season at Florida State, Bowden finished with a pair of national titles during 33 straight winning seasons.
Samford, which is also Bobby Bowden’s alma mater, was known as Howard on its last trip to Tallahassee _ 60 years ago with the elder Bowden starting at quarterback.
“It’s a banner day for Samford in that it starts off with coach Bowden, playing on a field that’s named after a Samford graduate … a legend,” Samford coach Pat Sullivan said. “Then he’s been replaced by another Samford graduate. For us to be able to be there, I think it’s tremendous for us.”
Fisher knows his Seminoles are a prohibitive favorite against the Football Championship Subdivision school, but he invokes the long-standing coaching standard of saying only nice things about an outgunned opponent.
“You’ve got to expect a great game,” he said. “We’ve got to stay aggressive.”
After two years as coach in waiting to the iconic Bowden, Fisher was named head coach less than 72 hours after archrival Florida throttled the Seminoles for the sixth straight time, leaving Florida State with a 6-6 regular season record for the second time in four years. A win over West Virginia in the Gator Bowl in Bowden’s coaching finale left the Seminoles with a 7-6 record for the third time in the last four years.
Bowden will not attend Fisher’s debut Saturday. He has said for years that he wanted to give his successor plenty of space and avoid any second-guessing. Bowden will, however, be in town the previous day for a book signing.
Samford, which is in the Southern Conference, finished 5-6 last year under Sullivan, the former Heisman Trophy winning quarterback from Auburn.
Fisher, a West Virginia native, said earlier this week that he’d prayed for years that one day he’d get an opportunity to coach at a major university. Now that day is here.
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