WINTER HAVEN — Florida State offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher spent last Friday night getting his feet wet.
He chatted up fans, signed whatever scraps of paper were handy and posed for countless pictures, all things a coach — and not an assistant — typically does at a booster club function.
But then he isn't the typical assistant.
Fisher's the king in waiting; the designated successor to Bobby Bowden. One day, Bowden's diverse duties will be his and Fisher's taking advantage of this time to get a feel for what that will be like.
"It is like wading in (the pool) as far as getting educated on the whole process and the time constraints that go with it," he said. "Getting introduced to the people across the state that I haven't had the time to meet that Coach Bowden already knows … so we can start a relationship for the future."
Since coming to FSU in 1976, Bowden has spent his springtime crisscrossing the state to connect with the fan base, playing golf in the morning and doing the "meet-and-greet" in the evening at a dinner. That's been critical as he's helped the booster organization raise the millions of dollars necessary to transform a once moribund program into one of the most elite.
This is the first year that Bowden's sharing that part of his job.
Fisher has joined Bowden twice at the dinners and will do so again as many as six more times, including in Tampa tonight and in Pinellas County on May 16. As part of the contract that made him the heir, Fisher, 42, will receive $200,000 for the work.
"Is it awkward? Not for me. Now if I just started coaching, it would," Bowden said, laughing. "I'd say, 'They've got my replacement and I ain't through yet.' … I'm glad he's here. He's getting a little taste for what I do."
Meeting and greeting
Fisher's day last Friday, unlike Bowden's, didn't begin at a posh country club with a couple hundred others grouped into foursomes. He's more into hunting and fishing.
"I will golf at times," he said. "Trey, who just turned 7, wants to start golfing, so I may have to start playing (more) again."
Instead, he flew into Bartow in the afternoon for one of several informal, private meetings with a small group of prominent area boosters, the kind who write checks with lots and lots of zeroes.
Just as important, folks want to get a read of Fisher.
"They want to know your vision, where you see Florida State going," he said.
While Bowden can disarm you with down-home charm and G-rated humor, Fisher can win you over with affability and an infectious passion that's easy to detect as he talks faster and faster about a subject.
"It's been real positive," Charlie Barnes, the executive director of Seminole Boosters Inc., said of the response to Fisher. "People see youth and enthusiasm."
By around 6 p.m., the gymnasium-turned-banquet-hall just down the street from Cypress Gardens began to fill up. As usual for a tour stop, a good number of folks lined one wall to wait to have their picture taken with Bowden. On this night, others milled around in the back to wait for another kind of keepsake:
The chance to meet Fisher.
"He seems to be a wonderful person and a lot like Coach Bowden," said Bill Dawson, 42, of Winter Haven.
Jan Coachman, 63, of Lakeland was ecstatic after her introduction ended with a Kodak moment.
"I just had my portrait made with Jimbo Fisher," she crowed to a friend.
"We're hanging onto this," added Emilie Deas, 64, of Winter Haven as she clutched a Fisher autograph.
While he's not one to make a joke about his wife's driving or shopping as Bowden does so famously, Fisher's not a neophyte when it comes to big audiences. He spoke at club meetings while an assistant at Auburn and LSU.
What is different is when he's on stage and has to introduce Bowden as he did in Winter Haven and will again tonight. How, he asks, do you do justice to all that his boss has accomplished in a few moments?
"There'll never be another Bobby Bowden," he told the crowd. "But the thing that impresses me the most about him is the dignity and class in which he's done it. He's what's right about college football. I just hope that when my time comes, and that's whenever Coach Bowden wants it to, I can do it with half the dignity, half the class and, we'll say, half the wins of Coach Bowden."
Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3347.