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Jimbo Fisher replaces Bobby Bowden at Florida State with the legend's support

For Jimbo Fisher, everything about his job at Florida State is suddenly far larger.

His responsibilities. His office space. His compensation. And, oh yeah, the pressure to win big, which will be increased by this little fact: Fisher is following a legend in Bobby Bowden.

"Don't fear it," said Fisher, who officially will be introduced today as the Seminoles' new head football coach after two seasons as the designated heir. His five-year, $1.8 million contract went into effect Tuesday. "Like I tell our kids, 'If you're scared, buy a dog.' This game is all (about) challenges. … You've got to embrace those challenges."

As if re-establishing FSU's storied program after nearly a decade absence from the national championship picture isn't enough, now he must do that while standing in the shadow cast by a Hall of Fame coach who became synonymous with the school and helped raise its profile internationally.

That's not an easy task.

Just ask Earle Bruce, who followed Woody Hayes at Ohio State. Or ask Gene Bartow, who followed John Wooden as the UCLA basketball coach.

"I figure this nostalgia for Coach Wooden will pass in about a year," Bartow told Sports Illustrated in his first season in Westwood in 1975, "… as long as UCLA keeps winning. … But they love him here, don't they?"

Bartow won plenty. He went 52-9 in two seasons and made a Final Four, but that wasn't Wooden-esque. That guy won 10 national titles in 12 years. Bartow left Westwood to become the athletic director and basketball coach at Alabama-Birmingham in 1977. He was recently inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

Or ask Ray Perkins, who left the NFL's New York Giants to return to his alma mater, Alabama, in 1983 to replace the legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant.

"Call me crazy if you will or if you want, but I wanted to be the guy who followed Coach Bryant," Perkins said in a recent interview. "I considered it a great honor to do so because you're talking about, in my mind anyway, the greatest coach who ever lived."

But when the Crimson Tide didn't win SEC titles, let alone national titles as it had done regularly during Bear's era (1958-1982), Perkins had to bear barbs and comparisons.

"There's supposed to be that," he said. "People are so used to it being done a certain way for so long and it being successful and the minute it doesn't work, that's when you're going to get the most criticism. And I understood that."

Before he died, Bryant predicted life for Perkins would be easier since his final Tide team was a pedestrian 8-4, including a win in the Liberty Bowl, and just 3-3 in the SEC.

It didn't quite work out that way. Perkins was 32-15-1 in four years, going 3-0 in bowls before leaving Tuscaloosa to take over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not bad. But …

Perkins was measured by the best, not the worst, of the Bear.

"It's not only him as a coach," Perkins said. "I think what's going to be remembered forever is him as the man."

That can make it even tougher for the next guy regardless of his success on Saturdays. Bryant, who died shortly after retiring, had told Perkins he had to do things his own way.

It's the one piece of advice Perkins would offer to Fisher.

But with a couple years to ruminate on this situation, Fisher said he never considered trying to be a clone of Bobby Bowden or his other mentor, Nick Saban.

"(I'll) try to apply some principles and values they've taught me, but be myself," he said. "Be who I am."

For his part, Bowden said he hopes to make that easier for Fisher by distancing himself from Tallahassee so as not to be a constant, palpable reminder of the past beyond the bronze statue in front of the athletic department offices and the football field that bears his name.

"When I leave a job, I've always felt like I ought to get out of town and let the other guy have a free reign instead of people saying, 'Well this is what Bobby would have done,' or, 'Why didn't you do this? Bobby did that,' " he said. "I don't want that to occur."

Bowden and wife Ann will keep their house in Tallahassee but plan to leave soon for their beach home in Panama City. He said he might stay away for at least a year, rooting for the Seminoles from his living room sofa. Bowden, however, said he would remain a resource for his successor.

"We've talked about that," Fisher said. "They bought him a cell phone at Christmas so I can get him. I've got to teach him how to use it."

"It's always been a difficult thing down through history and there's a minimum number of people who can get it done," Bowden said of following a coach who has succeeded for years at one school. "I think Jimbo can."

At his core, Fisher is a competitor who welcomes and thrives on a challenge.

No matter what it is.

"I'm not patting myself on the back, but whoever thought a coal miner's son from West Virginia who had to drive 6 miles to town would ever be fortunate enough to be where I'm at?" Fisher said. "That was a challenge in itself. It's the way you've got to look at it. You've got to fight and you've got to claw."

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.

Jimbo Fisher replaces Bobby Bowden at Florida State with the legend's support 01/05/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 5, 2010 9:09pm]
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