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With notes from his mentors, Jimbo Fisher has made FSU his own

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The three-story slope from Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher's swank new office to the field named after his revered predecessor might as well be three miles. Overlooking Bobby Bowden Field is a new video screen that will be the envy of all those outside of JerryWorld. A crane sits 15 yards from the No. 4 Seminoles as cameras shutter for the start of team photos, millions of dollars in renovations still ongoing.

This is the restored Florida State that Fisher envisioned when named head coach in December 2009 -- a modern, forward-thinking program with "The Process" coursing through its veins.

But what he inherited from Bowden was a Ford T-bird -- a relic model that resonated nationally but was no longer suited for college football's 365-days-a-year drag race -- and a university initially unmoved by appeals to refashion it.

Fisher repeatedly heard, "Well, that's not the way we used to do it," when soliciting financial support for his desired changes.

"When I first got here, I said, 'I'm going to throw you out the window if you say that again," Fisher recalls. "I hate that saying. That was good, but now show me why it's still the best way."

There's no evidence Fisher has ever actually sent a staffer or administrator somersaulting out his window, but given the state of the Seminoles when named head coach, it likely wasn't an empty threat.

With his foundation and infrastructure in place, it didn't take long for a fan base indebted completely to one coach to deify the next. In six seasons, Fisher has won 68 games, three conference championships and the Seminoles' first national title since 1999.

He's done it through continued insistence on setting the trend instead of following it.

From 1987 to 2000 Florida State won at least 10 games every year and never finished lower than fifth. The nine seasons before Fisher was head coach, however, the Seminoles won double-digit games just once and finished outside the AP top 10 every year.

FSU was idly watching the rest of the country's elite programs race by, while antiquated philosophies among its own staff and administration matched the stale facilities. Florida State's reluctance to recalibrate had a pernicious influence on a football team planted in a state, region and conference that lend themselves to sustainability.

In 2007, Bowden, a person Fisher reveres, tapped Fisher as Florida State's offensive coordinator. He was also named head-coach-in-waiting.

While Fisher idolized Bowden, whose son Terry cultivated Fisher as a coach and player, his adopted plan from mentor Nick Saban was to establish a remodeled Florida State rather than rebuild Bowden's work. In three seasons as an assistant, Fisher was able to see firsthand the updates Florida State needed to enact. Those teams still belonged to Bowden, who retired as the second-winningest coach in major college football, so Fisher saved his program outline for the eventual transition.

"You put notes in your computer -- here's things I would do differently, this is what I want and how I'd do it. And the key is who can help me. This is who I go to for that," Fisher said. "... I had talked to [administrators] about how we'd do things and how we'd change, and I wasn't able to affect those things, and I didn't want to [as an assistant]. That's Coach Bowden's team, and I didn't want to. ... That's the way he did it and I respect that."

On Dec. 1, 2009, an awkward changing of the guard took place. Bowden, in place as coach since 1976, was forced out. With a fan base, university and athletic department divided, Fisher stepped into a new role. "No doubt" there were people not on board with Fisher's hiring, he said.

"That's human nature. That's expected. You do what you do and say 'This is your responsibility' and you hold people accountable," he said. "You work with a lot of people who might not agree or like it, but they have to respect it."

There's a certain confused look the 50-year-old Fisher offers back when someone counters that some details are just too small. It's a bewildered, perplexed countenance that serves to reinforce that autumn Saturdays are a reflection of winter weekdays.

Why wouldn't it be a good idea to rearrange the locker room to seat offensive players next to defensive players, as Fisher did when named coach? Why not hire as much support staff as possible? Why not stump for an expert in interpersonal communication among teammates?

Those were all points Fisher argued during his first meetings with administrators to help FSU catch up to the Joneses.

"It's your interaction of learning to look outside the straw. People see things through a straw, only what affects them," Fisher said. "That is great because you have to have people who are focused, but it could also be one of the biggest detriments to the program."

"... [Every year] you try to get another 1 percent out of this area, 1 percent here, 1 percent here. And people say it doesn't make a big difference. No, but cumulatively it does."

The blueprint to recreate Florida State crystallized during a five-year apprenticeship under Nick Saban at LSU beginning in 2000. It was Saban who educated Fisher on removing the cone. While other first-time head coaches might be unprepared for new responsibilities, Fisher said there wasn't anything unexpected. Saban took Fisher out of his offensive coordinator role and into the head coach's chair often, leaving him with CEO responsibilities.

Fisher thought like a head coach even as an assistant, so when it was time for Fisher to suggest changes to Florida State as head coach, he knew what to pitch. He needed more academic support and wanted to turn over the strength and conditioning system. Everything involving recruiting would be overhauled, and once on campus there needed to be a better way to monitor the health of players. The Seminoles needed a nutritionist.

The financial assistance from administration, though, did not come easy.

"A lot," Fisher said when asked how much resistance from administration he received. "I still get it, and I don't mean it [negatively], because if you don't stay on top of it, other people are. We're no different than a corporation. You need to change and get that edge. At the beginning, people couldn't understand [changing] because it was totally foreign. 'That wasn't the way we ever did it and we always had success.' Man, I don't wanna hear it no more."

According to a USA Today database, Florida State athletics spent $11.7 million more in 2011 than 2010. Of the top-20 teams listed in the database, only Iowa, Michigan and Penn State had a bigger increase in 2011 from the previous year.

"Jimbo fought the fight and kept fighting the fight and kept fighting the fight and will keep fighting the fight," said assistant Rick Trickett, who came to Florida State with Fisher in 2007. "We had been other places like LSU with Coach Saban and different places, and Jimbo knew what was needed. He's a hardheaded West Virginian. He likes to fight."

He regularly wrestled with himself finding ways to innovate to stay ahead in a changing college football landscape. Not long after becoming head coach, staffers approached Fisher about using cutting-edge GPS monitors as a way to surpass the field by shattering the traditional workout model. Fisher was pitched on a product never before seen in the United States that would overhaul the Seminoles' practices.

He spent restless nights debating whether to introduce the risk. When presenting it to his assistants, some were reluctant. They were invested in methods, which were often based on intuition, developed during their long coaching careers.

"They think you're crazy? Oh yeah," Fisher said. "When you're trained your whole life to think one way, it's hard to change. It was hard for me, but I understood it. Sometimes you got to have faith."

That Florida State has recruited some of the best players in the country to wear those monitors is a big reason for the program's re-emergence. The most talented teams are often the most successful, but Fisher is among the best at developing talent. Part of it has come through embracing the sport's mental aspect, sometimes a taboo subject.

Among his first hires in 2010 were three mental conditioning specialists -- Trevor Moawad, Kevin Elko and Lonnie Rose. Moawad, who helps coordinate Florida State's year-round mental conditioning component, remembers Fisher's philosophy at the time of his promotion: Change is inevitable but growth is optional.

At Florida State, Fisher spends months and millions on conditioning his players' minds. It's part of the reason why the Seminoles won so many close games in 2014 and 10 games last season despite losing 29 players to the NFL draft the three years prior.

Moawad estimates 98 percent of coaches are unwilling to invest or too tepid to properly effect a team.

"It's fascinating so many other places debate whether to even have one [mental conditioning] person involved," Moawad said. "Coach Fisher's willingness and open-mindedness is very unique in football."

Fisher is framed as an old-school coach. He grinds his quarterbacks, continuously echoes fundamentals and has a permanent soapbox waiting after practice to harp on society's eroding toughness. But here he was trendsetting.

It's why the Seminoles are one of only three teams to be ranked No. 1 in the AP poll in multiple seasons since 2011. It's why they're the only team other than Alabama to finish with ESPN RecruitingNation's No. 1 recruiting class during the same span, doing it twice.

It's why Florida State went from unranked in Fisher's first year to a national championship in his fourth, and why he could win another in 2016.