Fisher back at start
to finish his goal
It's a coincidence even Jimbo Fisher can't escape. Twenty years ago, he was in his first season at Auburn University — in charge of quarterbacks — at his first Division I-A job. Now in his fourth season as head coach at Florida State, Fisher will try to win his first national championship with the Seminoles against the program "where I cut my teeth in Division I football." No. 1 FSU will play No. 2 Auburn on Monday in Pasadena, Calif., in the final BCS title game. While there will be no conflicted emotions for Fisher, he has spent the past few weeks reflecting on his first major college job. Here is a look at Fisher's tenure at Auburn and his thoughts on his time there, the program now, and on facing the Tigers for a chance to win it all.
The early years
Fisher joined Auburn in 1993 after spending five years at Samford under coach Terry Bowden. On Aug. 18, 1993 — a few months after the new staff had arrived led by first-year coach Bowden — the NCAA hit Auburn with severe penalties based on taped conversations by a former Auburn player in which previous Tigers coaches and boosters were said to have provided improper cash and gifts to players.
Those sanctions prohibited Auburn from television games and postseason play. And that kept the Tigers from playing in the SEC championship game or a bowl game. That season, Auburn finished 11-0 and ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press poll.
Ultimately, Auburn was the only major college football team to finish the season undefeated, but Florida State won the national championship.
The sting of not being able to compete for a national title remains today, said Fisher, who is front row fifth from left in the staff photo above from the mid 1990s.
"That first year we were undefeated," Fisher said. "I always tell Florida State this: We should have had half of that national championship in '93. We were the only undefeated team in the country. We were undefeated. But that was great years at Auburn. I enjoyed my years at Auburn, I really did. I was 27 years old when I went there. I was a quarterback coach and got to coach some great players and great people, and that's part of this business. It'll be a great opportunity. I know a lot of those folks, and as I said, that was where I cut my teeth in Division I football."
At Auburn, Fisher was part of a staff that led the Tigers to 20 consecutive wins (including the undefeated season) and a six-year record of 49-20-1.
Offense then, offense now
Auburn's offense averaged 32.1 points per game during the 1993 season. So Fisher has a great appreciation for the Tigers' current offense, which is averaging 40.2 points and 505.3 yards, and realizes the challenge it will pose to the Seminoles' defense.
"I think they're doing a tremendous job," Fisher said. "(Coach) Gus (Malzahn) does a tremendous job, because they can handle the speed sweep, they outflank you, they have great receivers and motion guys that way, they can run the ball inside with great power and the quarterback can run it and play action off of it, which is like a four-headed monster. You talk about a three-headed monster, they have a four-headed monster and they have an excellent offensive line. The productivity is amazing, what they've been able to do, and we all know that the SEC is an outstanding league and they play great football, and what Gus has done is really amazing, and they'll be a tremendous challenge for our team."
True to himself
Fisher acknowledges he learned a lot from coaching in the SEC, and isn't shy about giving credit to the league that has won seven consecutive BCS titles. But he says any talk that he has patterned the Seminoles after SEC programs is untrue. In four years, he has strived to build a program that is a consistent championship contender.
"I built our program like I thought we needed to build it to win a championship," he said. "We don't model ourselves after nobody. We're Florida State. We do things the way we do them and the way I think you have to play to win a championship and the kind of team you have to have to win a championship. That's the way I think we tried to build this team."
Florida State played in the first BCS title game in January 1999 and will play in the final BCS title game. The SEC has won seven consecutive national titles. Knowing the SEC tradition as well as he does, Fisher likes that it's the SEC and the Seminoles who will close out the BCS era.
"The SEC has great tradition, they play great football, they're coached well," Fisher said. "It's very important there. They make sure they have the resources and things they have to do to be successful, so from that standpoint it is (a fitting end). It is very unique to play against the SEC and the last one is probably appropriate because the dominance they've had now and the dominance that Florida State had earlier, it's probably appropriate that these two teams are playing."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.