TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The sun is just starting to peer over the horizon when Jimbo Fisher wheels his mammoth, black Chevrolet Silverado Z71 truck, complete with a menacing grille in the front and camouflage stripes down each side, into a Dunkin' Donuts drive-thru for a cup of coffee.
It's a morning ritual for the eighth-year Florida State head coach as he makes the 30-minute commute down Thomasville Road to campus. He orders his cup two-thirds full because he hates lids and doesn't want to spill coffee all over himself. The same woman is usually waiting on him at the window with his coffee already made exactly how he wants it when he pulls up.
His routine is precise, rehearsed and reminiscent of what he preaches to his football team. Like most coaches, Fisher is a creature of habit.
"Think about it. Really, what are sports and football?" says Fisher, sipping his coffee. "It's consistency and performance, doing it over and over again. People talk about a guy being fast. Well, he ran fast once. Can he do it 70 times? Sports aren't about doing it once. They're about repeating it every play."
On this muggy August morning, Fisher's thoughts are racing as usual.
"I think as fast as I talk," cracks Fisher, a notoriously fast talker who hasn't lost his West Virginia twang. "A million things pop into your head. It's one of the reasons I like a longer drive to work. It gives you time to think."
Fisher agreed to grant ESPN a behind-the-scenes look at the Seminoles' preseason camp with full access to practice, meetings and film sessions. It's a preseason with a little extra juice, too. The first game just happens to be against Alabama on Sept. 2 in Atlanta, a pair of top-five juggernauts kicking off the season with their sights set squarely on ending it in the College Football Playoff.
Who knows? Maybe it's the first of two meetings this season between two of college football's preeminent blue bloods, but Fisher can't see past the 7:30 a.m. staff meeting and finding a way to get better today -- a day for him and his staff that won't end until sometime long after the sun goes down.
"It's the next practice, the next play, the next chance to improve," says Fisher, whose average of 11.1 wins per season ranks first among all active head coaches in major college football. "If that's not your focus, what happens at the end of the season probably ain't going to matter much."
If you didn't know better, you'd swear it was Fisher's counterpart on Sept. 2 talking, Alabama coach Nick Saban. But then, Fisher was Saban's offensive coordinator on LSU's 2003 national championship team and mirrors Saban in a multitude of ways, particularly when it comes to being hands-on and developing a total program.
"We all evolve over time," Fisher says. "The thing about Nick is that as soon as you think you have him down, he will throw you a curveball. I know this: They are going to play hard. They are going to be well-prepared in all phases. You have to beat them. They aren't going to beat themselves. That's hopefully what we do, too."
Speaking of mentors, Fisher slowly steers his truck past Doak Campbell Stadium as he circles toward his parking spot in the rear of the stadium, passing Bobby Bowden's statue on his way.
"It always reminds me of the legacy he left," says Fisher, who worked under Bowden for three years as offensive coordinator before replacing the FSU legend. "There's a responsibility to keep that going and bring the kind of honor he did to this place."
The Seminoles' staff meeting starts right on time, and there's not an empty chair in the room. Fisher, wearing a black FSU coaching shirt and jeans, sits at the head of the table. He goes over a list of the players' updated weights and also gets a report from Kratik Malhotra, FSU's director of sports science, on the GPS data the Seminoles use on the players to get a baseline on how hard to push them and when to ease up. Trainer Jake Pfeil gives his report on injuries; there are always a few nagging ones during camp.
"It's the next practice, the next play, the next chance to improve. If that's not your focus, what happens at the end of the season probably ain't going to matter much."Jimbo Fisher
One of the FSU assistants mentions that some of his players are fighting blisters and calluses on their feet, and Fisher rips off his reading glasses.
"There's a reason one of the first things John Wooden did with his players was teach them how to put on their socks the right way and how to tie their shoes," Fisher says. "What's more important to a football player than his feet? These guys have to take care of their feet."
Fisher munches on breakfast as he leads the meeting. He picks up a piece of crisp bacon, looks at it and laments, "I want some soft bacon."
In the same breath, he mutters, "I shouldn't be eating it anyway. I'm trying to lose weight."
By this time, somebody has put a big box of doughnuts on the counter. Fisher, who works out religiously each day around noon, huffs, "Who brought those in here?"
Randy Sanders, the Seminoles' co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, shoots back, "What you need to do is wrap a piece of that bacon around one of those doughnuts."
Sanders and running backs coach Jay Graham both played and coached at Tennessee. When the subject turns to players occasionally doing anything they can to get out of the dog days of practice -- including insisting they have to go use the bathroom -- Sanders recounts that when he was at Tennessee, a player once defecated in his pants and kept playing.
Fisher, wearing a sheepish grin, smirks, "That's normal for you Tennessee guys."
Later in the morning, Sanders notes: "Don't worry. There are plenty of West Virginia jokes, too."
Fisher, who still calls the Seminoles' plays on offense, is also front and center in the quarterbacks meeting. Fisher is a stickler for writing things down, and he pounds away at his quarterbacks with questions. If it gets too quiet, he gets testy.
"You better start answering, or you're going to start running," Fisher tells his quarterbacks.
They're watching the red zone work on tape from the day before, and Fisher and Sanders continually point out the good and the bad. Sanders, one of the most respected quarterbacks coaches in the country, has tutored everyone from Tee Martin to Andre Woodson to Randall Cobb to Jameis Winston.
"Play aggressively and intelligently," Fisher repeats over and over again.
Always teaching, Fisher looks at one of his quarterbacks later in the session and says, "What did you see?" followed by a reminder to hold the safety and read the corner.
"If you don't think that way, you ain't going to play that way," Fisher says pointedly.
After the team meeting, the coaches and players hustle over to the indoor practice facility for the offensive and defensive walk-through. Every minute of the day is accounted for this time of year, and Fisher is anything but a CEO. When one of the offensive linemen doesn't look for the safety the way he's supposed to, Fisher explodes.
Granted, Fisher isn't tall enough to go face-to-face with the towering lineman, who's about a foot taller than Fisher. But the Seminoles coach stretches his neck plenty far enough to get his point across. If you don't do it right, there's nowhere to hide. Fisher and the FSU coaches aren't the only ones doing the policing, either. The Seminoles' alpha dogs, players like star safety Derwin James, are quick to jump in and provide guidance, direction or even a verbal blistering -- and it's usually animated.
"It's not just me. We have a lot of leaders on this team," James says. "We play for each other, but we're honest with each other. That's the way it's got to be."
It's part of the culture Fisher has created, one he knows all too well.
His late father, John James (Big Jim), was a coal miner in West Virginia and also worked full time on the family farm. His mother, Gloria, taught high school chemistry and physics for more than 50 years and still substitute teaches occasionally. Not a day goes by that Fisher doesn't think about his parents, especially when he's doling out any kind of discipline, be it to his players or his own two kids, 16-year-old Trey and 12-year-old Ethan.
"When I punish kids, is what I'm doing going to change behavior?" Fisher says. "At the end of the day, that's the way my dad always put it to me: 'This is what I want, and this is why I did it.' Everything I do, my mom and dad flash back to me constantly."
After breaking for lunch, the FSU players spread out into specific position groups prior to the afternoon practice. One of the most talented positions on the team is defensive end, headed up by veteran coach Brad Lawing, who knows what a marquee pass-rusher looks like. He coached Jadeveon Clowney at South Carolina and has remained close with the former No. 1 NFL draft pick.
Lawing, who has worked under Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier and Mack Brown, has a box sitting on one of the tables in the front of his meeting room, and the first thing players do as they file in is drop their cellphones into the box. And if they're wearing hats, they also come off. Lawing is not a big fan of the chairs in the room. When he was at South Carolina, he'd make his guys sit on those big bouncy workout balls during meetings.
"That way, if they start to nod off to sleep, they fall into the floor," Lawing explains.
Even the freshmen in FSU's defensive ends corps look like they've been in a college program for two or three years. Lawing relentlessly challenges every one of them, both in the meetings and on the practice field. The Seminoles led the country in sacks per game last season (51 in 13 games), and Lawing grades his guys on points, both positive and negative.
"We don't give grades. That's for math. We're looking for production," Lawing says. "Every drill where there's competition, we grade them on production."
Junior Josh Sweat, who had seven sacks in the final eight weeks last season, racked up 37 points in the previous day's practice.
"That's a kick-ass day, a kick-ass day," says Lawing, his voice rising. "That's big time right there. When we get everybody to have positive points, then we're in a situation where we're a dominant group on this defense."
Lawing combs through the previous day's tape with his players. He lectures them on everything from armbars, to fish-hooks, to bull-rushes and even drops in a Freddy Krueger reference. And most importantly, he's making sure his guys are keeping their eyes on the quarterback.
"You've got to, especially this one [Alabama's Jalen Hurts], because he's so athletic," says Lawing, demonstrating the proper armbar technique. "With our linebackers so involved in coverage, if you take your eyes off the quarterback -- which you will do unless you're in the right armbar position -- the quarterback will take off."
The Seminoles catch a break with their 4:55 p.m. practice. Thanks to overcast skies, the heat isn't unbearable, which is rare for this time of year in Florida -- but Fisher is as fiery as ever. He may have an offensive background, but he's all over the field. There's no such thing as a detail too small, whether it's a glitch on special teams, a guard stepping the wrong way or a receiver running a sloppy pass route.
The offending receiver feels Fisher's wrath, too, when he makes the mistake of looking away when Fisher is talking to him.
"The next time I'm talking to you and you're not looking at me, you might as well go pack your bags," Fisher barks. "All those sacks we gave up last year  weren't all on the line. A lot of them were on you guys for not being where you're supposed to be."
Fisher doesn't apologize for coaching his kids hard. That's what he promises them and their parents he's going to do when he's recruiting them.
"That's why so many great players want to come play for Coach Fisher," says James, recently ranked by an ESPN panel as the No. 1 overall player in college football entering the 2017 season. "He's going to push you until he gets everything out of you. It's the same way with this team. He never lets up."
At the same time, James says Fisher is just as quick to hug his players' necks and even stick out his own neck when defending them. Fisher was roundly criticized for the way he staunchly stood behind Winston during the sexual assault allegations. Winston was cleared of wrongdoing in a student conduct hearing, but FSU later settled with Winston's accuser for $950,000.
"It's somebody's life both ways," Fisher says. "If they are wrong, they are wrong and accept punishment. If they are right, I am going to stand with them until the end of time. Understand this: I stood behind Jameis because of the facts and what came out. I love him to death. That's the way I was raised and the way I'm going to treat all of my players."
The players' day at the football complex draws to a close with a guest speaker, former mob boss Michael Franzese, who was able to escape from a life of crime to start his own ministry. Franzese is part of an impressive and diverse lineup of speakers this preseason for the Seminoles, including Hall of Fame running back and CBS analyst Marcus Allen, former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf and inspirational speaker Kevin Elko.
"It's our responsibility to send these kids out into the world as better people, not just better football players," Fisher says. "Whatever we can do to help make that happen, we're going to do."
This is Fisher's 30th preseason camp as an assistant or head coach. The whole dynamic of camp has changed dramatically, particularly with all the technology that's available now. After all, they weren't putting GPS devices on kids when Fisher broke into the coaching profession in 1988 as a graduate assistant at Samford.
For Fisher, what hasn't changed is the importance of helping to unite kids from different backgrounds, different cultures and different races into one team with one heartbeat. It's the part of football Fisher loves the most, and the reason every preseason camp still feels like his first.
"Football is different than every other game, and I've played them all," Fisher says. "There are 22 moving parts at all times. If only 10 of your 11 on one side of the ball work, you're in trouble. You have to have all 11. Your race, your religion ... it doesn't matter.
"Between those white [yard] lines, it's like a sanctuary. It's amazing to watch these kids evolve."