Jimbo Fisher approached his co-offensive coordinator Randy Sanders about calling plays two years ago. Fisher discussed it with Sanders again last year.
Each time the Florida State coach kept wearing the extra hat, as Fisher wasn’t ready to give up calling plays -- even on a part-time basis.
“He would always say ‘If I ask you to call [plays], would you be comfortable?’” Sanders said.
Sanders, who joined Florida State as quarterbacks coach in 2013, told Fisher he was prepared to call plays. He was an offensive coordinator for several seasons in the SEC and can handle it.
“Well, he would call [the plays],” Sanders finished. “And that’s kind of the way it went.”
During the course of this season, however, Fisher called Sanders into his office and asked again if he was comfortable. When Sanders reiterated he was, Fisher told him he was planning to relinquish play-calling duties part of the time.
Over the second half of the season, Fisher and Sanders split play-calling responsibilities. That should be the case once again Thursday, when No. 9 Florida State plays No. 18 Houston in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
Fisher is one of the most respected offensive minds in college football, orchestrating the 2013 Florida State offense that set a number of offensive records, including points.
“It's a tremendous compliment, no question, that he has the confidence, that he has the trust,” Sanders said.
The Seminoles are among the younger teams in the ACC and nationally, relying on a number of freshmen this season. Florida State had a player drafted at every offensive position earlier this year, and the defense lost several key starters. Over the previous three seasons, the Seminoles had 29 players drafted.
If Florida State wasn’t rebuilding, it was at least retooling.
“We had to grow in so many areas and I had to spend a lot of time in other areas,” Fisher said. “... I don’t know if I’m totally ready to [to completely relinquish calling plays]. You just got to have the experience to know where you need to be with the team at times. I know I have a guy there [Sanders] who can do a great job with it.”
The 2015 season was a pivotal year for Fisher’s defensive coordinator, too. Fisher said his confidence never wavered in Charles Kelly after the unit struggled in 2014, Kelly’s first as the Seminoles’ coordinator.
The defense finished worse than 100th in third-down defense and sacks in 2014, but Kelly’s defense regrouped in 2015 to rank 36th in sacks and 58th on third downs. The Seminoles also finished 14th in yards per play, 16th in total defense and fifth in scoring defense.
“He’s a great coach and he coaches us very hard, but when it’s time to turn us loose, he really lets us play,” cornerback Jalen Ramsey said.
Ramsey said part of the issues in 2014 stemmed from poor chemistry. Fisher also alluded to former players struggling with leadership roles on the defense last season.
“What he was doing was sound. What he was doing was right,” Fisher said of Kelly. “We put it back on [the players].”
The defense once again became among the country’s best, and as a result Auburn was rumored to be pursuing Kelly once Will Muschamp departed. The coach a portion of the Florida State fanbase was ready to run off was now reportedly being pursued by an SEC program.
“He wants to be here,” Fisher said of Kelly. “He likes the program we have. He likes the staff we have. We want him here. Charles is a tremendous coach and a better person.”