For example, Fisher kicked Winston, his starting quarterback and the Heisman Trophy winner, out of practice the day before the Seminoles left for Southern California. That’s right. Winston went Winston during a two-minute drill, which can mean several different things. On that practice day, Winston lost his cool and started screaming at people, including his coaches, and Fisher was forced to send his best player away.
On Monday, that same player marched FSU down the field in less than a minute and delivered the Seminoles their first national title in 14 years. Winston went Winston once again, but in a good way. So, he’s still learning. That’s the point here. Winston is learning how to be an adult while winning championships, and sometimes that’s confounding for the coaches.
Understand, Fisher didn’t simply take Winston out of the drill on Dec. 30 and substitute in the backup. No, FSU’s coach kicked Winston off the field and into the locker room. After three weeks of preparation for the biggest game of both of their lives, with a plane ride to the BCS National Championship Game only a few hours away, Fisher had no choice but to remove his starting quarterback from his teammates and the assistant coaches.
Winston needed to learn something important during that two-minute drill and his confidence, ego and personality — three of the things that also make him such a splendid player — were getting in the way. This has been the way with Winston since high school. He is an exceptional quarterback, but coaching him isn’t all that easy.
Teaching a lesson
It’s a delicate thing, harnessing that energy. Sometimes the reactor melts. Sometimes all that raw nature explodes.
So, what was the point of the lesson?
“It's not about you,” Fisher said.
And the coach had to put the prodigy in his place.
“We had some points and he had some points, so it’s good to be the king,” Fisher said. “He’ll be the king one day. When he’s in pro ball, he might have thrown the coach out.
“But the thing about it, though, and I say this, he waited for me to get off the field and we had a long discussion and we had it out.
“He's an unbelievable guy to be able to process and transition and go right back.”
That little story was told by Winston in the postgame news conference following the final BCS National Championship Game, and then confirmed by Fisher in his day-after news conference Tuesday morning in a hotel ballroom in Newport Beach.
“It was his passion for wanting to do something,” said Fisher, trying to explain Winston’s temper tantrum. “It was just a point I thought I needed to make to him at the present time as a young guy, and like I say, sometimes you have to be their coach. You can’t be their friend.”
So, Winston is in good hands with Fisher, whose own powerful personality — a little player’s coach, a little father figure — has helped his quarterback focus all that spit and rage. Winston passed on playing for Nick Saban, a decision that turned out well for all parties.
Of course, Winston learned the lesson that day at practice, and the lesson is this: during a two-minute drill, get the ball to your future NFL receivers as quickly as possible and let them do the rest.
“The key to those [two-minute drills] is using all the weapons around you, and I think he did that in that game, and I think how you manage the clock, how you manage the situation, you're not always playing your opponent, you’re playing the clock at the same time,” Fisher said.
The clock is the primary opponent, Fisher explained Tuesday, and “the opponent is No. 2,” and Winston, on that day in practice when he was being stubborn, was following neither the numerical order, nor the coaches’ orders.
“The mind-set — I just saw it drifting,” Fisher said.
Figuring it out
And there was some drift there in the Rose Bowl for the better part of three quarters. Winston started the game 11 of 25 and didn’t really adjust to Auburn’s pass rush until late in the third quarter. It mattered little, however, on the final drive.
Following that wonderful touchdown run by Auburn’s Tre Mason, Winston and the FSU offense took over with 71 seconds on the clock and 80 yards to go.
The redshirt freshman completed five of his six pass attempts on the drive, including a quick throw to junior wide receiver Rashad Greene, who split two Auburn defenders at the line of scrimmage and then carried the ball another 49 yards down the right sideline.
It all happened so fast and seemed so easy — the drive and the season. What now? Where does Winston develop and how?
“That’s going to be fun to see,” Fisher said. “I don’t know. We’re going to have to work on that.”
One thing is certain. Managing the clock gets a lot easier when you can manage the player.