TALLAHASSEE — A problem that began last spring and helped end Florida State's championship hopes in the fall led coach Jimbo Fisher to use a colorful approach to offseason football workouts.
Fisher and his staff rated the Seminoles' conditioning drills not by performance but by effort. Players who approached FSU's fourth-quarter workouts with what coaches considered championship-level intensity practiced in garnet jerseys.
Players who were average played in white.
Anything worse, or anyone who did something Fisher deemed "ridiculous," had to wear orange.
"That's not always a good color around here, is it?" he said.
The message was clear: If you're not helping FSU, you're helping rivals Clemson, or Miami, or Florida — three teams that should open this season ranked in the Top 25 and that could derail the Seminoles' potentially special season.
Three teams that wear orange.
Fisher said he and other staffs have used the color-coded strategy before, as a way to score intangibles — things that aren't as obvious as a dropped pass or a missed assignment.
"We talk about toughness, mental and physical effort, and discipline and pride," Fisher said. "Those aren't just words. That's how you get things done."
Or how you don't.
Go back to the 37-35 October loss to North Carolina that ended the nation's longest home winning streak. The defining scene wasn't the Tar Heels doing the Tomahawk chop to celebrate their winning 54-yard field goal as time expired.
It was a pair of five-star defensive starters, end Josh Sweat and linebacker Matthew Thomas, slacking in the closing minutes.
Fisher addressed the issue days later: Every player signed a promise to stop loafing and start playing harder. The change showed up on the field the next Saturday. The game-saving moment came thanks to exceptional effort on a routine play: DeMarcus Walker blocking an extra point with 1:38 left to preserve a 20-19 win at Miami.
By then, it was too late to get back into the national championship hunt. It wasn't too early to set the tone for a loaded roster that should begin next season ranked in the top five and will be among the favorites for next year's College Football Playoff national title game in Atlanta.
"I feel like (Fisher) is getting on us more about accountability and trusting the man next to you, because he feels like without accountability, we can't be the team we can be," safety Derwin James said. "I feel like he's stressing that more, and everybody is starting to get it."
They would have to be color-blind not to get it.
Fisher used the different-colored jerseys to let each player know where he and his teammates stood. Internal and external pressure increased.
As offseason workouts wore on, Fisher said, almost every player was practicing in a garnet jersey. He was harsh on those who relapsed.
"The worst thing for a coach — count on somebody, count on somebody, count on somebody and all of a sudden in his biggest moment, he picked that day to take off," Fisher said. "You cross the line, you're going all the way back, end of story."
That's a problem Fisher would rather fix now than in the closing minutes of a must-win game.