CLEARWATER — Jimbo Fisher is still the head-football-coach-in-waiting at Florida State, but his wait to take over for Bobby Bowden, albeit for one night and for one specific duty, ended Friday.
Bowden has an ear infection and was told by doctors not to fly, forcing him to cancel his scheduled booster club stop in Clearwater and pressing Fisher into taking his place.
Fisher, who must be offered the head coaching job in January 2011 or be paid $5 million, does have speaking engagements and has joined his boss at the head table before. But Charlie Barnes, executive director of Seminoles Boosters Inc., who has traveled with Bowden for about three decades on the annual tour of booster clubs, said this was a different.
"This is the first Jimbo Fisher banquet," he said in introducing Fisher.
Fisher didn't disappoint the crowd of about 170 at the Feather Sound Country Club. He opened with a vintage Bowden joke, easily and authoritatively ran through an assessment of many returning players, position by position, and then enthusiastically fielded questions, some of which offered a glimpse of coming attractions.
• About discipline in the wake of several off-the-field problems: "There's always five knuckleheads on your team," he said, adding, "that's not an excuse."
Fisher said the key is changing thought processes, and FSU is implementing new programs in the summer, one of which will pair each newcomer with a veteran.
"Every freshmen will get a mentor, a guy who does it right," he said, rattling off players including Christian Ponder, E.J. Manuel and Dekoda Watson. "It's a thing I've seen work."
• About rewarding a walk-on such as receiver Louis Givens a scholarship: "If we can, we will."
The problem, he said, is that many top prospects finish high school early so they can enroll in January and enhance their chance to contribute immediately. That makes it difficult to establish how many scholarships are available.
• About his view of a playoff: "I knew somebody was going to ask me that," he said, laughing.
He said he's not against the idea — "I'd like to have a true national champion" — but he first wants someone to lay out how it will work.
Will the games be played at neutral sites? How will fans travel and buy tickets for multiple rounds? And, sounding very much like Bowden, he said the bowl games make major college football unique for several reasons, including how much a bowl win can mean to a team, especially a young team, and how much the game can mean to a community.
Note: Bowden also will miss a booster club stop tonight in Fort Myers (longtime defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews will fill in), but he is expected to be okay to fly to North Carolina on Monday as scheduled.