Jimbo Fisher is hardly the sort of coach to wax sentimental. Typically a goal-minded, results-oriented, kind of head coach, just Sunday morning Fisher took the opportunity to downplay his senior class’ last practice and the entire concept of Senior Day.
“You can’t worry about that, you see that’s the thing about these last practices,” Fisher said as his team finished its final Orange Bowl practice at Nova Southeastern University. “It’s like Senior Day, hate to say [this]. Senior Day’s a great thing, but it does nothing to help you win a game.
“Every emotion you have on Senior Day or the last practice is actually opposite of what you [need] to make you play good. Because you don’t want those feelings, you think about this when it’s all over. You have to learn to put this behind you and play the game. You reminisce about all the old things after everything’s done.”
But when asked about his attachment to this year’s class of seniors — one of the first classes Fisher helped recruit at Florida State — the typically business-minded coach couldn’t help himself.
He got sentimental.
“This team is one of the most unique teams I’ve been around as far as what they’ve overcome,” Fisher said. “I think the attachment comes from the seniors, from watching a 6-6 team that struggled to get in a bowl game, to keep the bowl streak alive when [quarterback] EJ [Manuel] had to win those games when he was a redshirt freshman.
“What they’ve achieved over time as they’ve fought through expectations and fans and people who say ‘you’re never going to get there, you can’t be there, you can’t do this.’
“Those guys just believed in each other. They never turned on each other when everyone doubted them. They kept staying together and they won the first [Atlantic Coast Conference] championship [in seven years], and how they did it is the legacy that this class is leaving.”
When Florida State’s current crop of seniors first arrived in Tallahassee they bore witness to the decline of a college football legend. Bobby Bowden was in the twilight of his career, there was in-fighting among some of the coaches loyal to Bowden and the new coaches brought in by then-head-coach-in-waiting Fisher.
It was a caustic environment that lead Florida State to a 2-4 record during the first half of the 2009 season — including a low point in the program’s history when the Seminoles lost to USF at Doak Campbell Stadium.
After starting quarterback Christian Ponder (now with the Minnesota Vikings) was lost to injury late in the season, Manuel had to lead the Seminoles to three victories in their final four games just to gain bowl eligibility and avoid the first losing season since Bowden arrived at Florida State in 1976.
A few short years later the Seminoles are 11-2, ACC champions, and the senior class responsible for the turnaround is an Orange Bowl victory from achieving the third 12-win season in Florida State history.
It’s a remarkable turnaround, and one which has created an affection in Fisher he has never had in his entire coaching career.
“There’s a genuine unity and love within this team for each other,” Fisher said. “One of the most unique that I’ve been around in the 25 years that I’ve been coaching. It’s very special to see. You can see it, you can feel it when you’re around it, you can feel it when you coach them.”
Don’t expect Fisher to get misty as the Seminoles run through the tunnel at Sun Life Stadium on Tuesday night to play Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl. This Florida State team still has one order of business left, and the senior class still has one more goal to accomplish before it has the opportunity to reminisce.
Regardless of Tuesday night’s outcome, even the battle-hardened 47-year-old Seminoles coach admits he’s going to have a hard time letting go of this class.
“This is a very unique team, and I feel very close to them,” Fisher said. “Hopefully, we can do that in the future and keep those kind of teams, but that doesn’t always happen like that.”
To Fisher, this class was truly special.