When Jimbo Fisher told a Florida State fan to walk his tail onto the field and heckle him to his face, John Stevens was speechless.
“Whoa,” Stevens thought. “This escalated.”
It escalated because of him.
The 34-year-old Orlando-area engineer says he’s the previously unidentified man who yelled the three words — “Jimbo! New coaches!” — that set Fisher off after FSU’s last-minute 31-28 home loss to Louisville in October 2017. Their six-second encounter went viral and turned into a summation of Fisher’s final two months in Tallahassee: Four years after leading the Seminoles to their third national title, Fisher and his fans had turned against each other as the program crumbled.
For Stevens, leaning over a rail at Doak Campbell Stadium to shout at Fisher wasn’t a knee-jerk impulse. It was a conscious decision made after years of pent-up dissatisfaction with the program he loves.
Two years later, his frustration is escalating again.
• • •
Growing up in Jacksonville, Stevens got to pick his school allegiance between FSU, his dad’s alma mater, and Florida, his mom’s. After the Seminoles rallied to tie the Gators in the famed “Choke at Doak” in 1994, Stevens chose FSU.
“Better colors,” he said.
He went to his first game at age 8, graduated from FSU in 2008 and has been a regular at Doak Campbell Stadium through his family’s season tickets.
His unhappiness with the program started after the 2013 national championship season when the Seminoles changed their logo and uniforms.
“The worst thing is, they changed our (expletive) helmets,” Stevens said.
His frustration escalated as the on-field product grew stale.
FSU led the nation in scoring defense during the 2013 title run but ranked outside the top 25 in three of the next four seasons. The low point: a 63-20 humiliation at Louisville in 2016.
Stevens always supported the players; he stood behind Jameis Winston during the quarterback’s sexual assault scandal. Instead, Stevens, like many fans, blamed then-defensive coordinator Charles Kelly and Fisher for retaining Kelly.
In 2016 Stevens stood at the Doak Campbell Stadium rail and yelled for Kelly’s firing after FSU’s best-in-the-nation 22-game home winning streak ended with a last-second loss to North Carolina.
He screamed the same things after a September 2017 loss to North Carolina State ended with Wolfpack linebacker Bradley Chubb spitting on FSU’s logo.
When the Seminoles dropped another home game a month later, Stevens started shouting again.
That time, Fisher noticed.
• • •
With two minutes left and FSU and Louisville tied at 28, the Seminoles lost a fumble just outside the red zone. Stevens turned to his friends.
“It’s over,” he said.
It was. Lamar Jackson led the Cardinals on a 59-yard drive to set up the winning field goal.
Another humiliating FSU loss to Louisville.
Stevens headed toward FSU’s locker-room tunnel and held a sign that said “Support Players Fire Coaches.”
“I had no intentions of actually saying anything,” Stevens said.
Until a law enforcement officer ordered him to take his poster down.
Twenty seconds later, Stevens began to yell.
Jimbo! New coaches!
Fisher walked toward him and fired back.
Walk your ass down here and say it.
“He was red-eyed. He was (mad),” Stevens said. “I was a little thrown back after that.”
Then, as quickly as the incident had begun, it was over.
Fisher walked away. Stevens was asked to leave, with a security officer escorting him part of the way out.
The exchange exploded.
Fisher defended his response after the game, saying, “When they say something to your family, you take up for them.” Stevens stresses that he didn’t curse and was never nasty, as Fisher said he was, but he still had to answer to his unhappy mother.
When Fisher left for Texas A&M six weeks later, FSU got the new coaches Stevens had called for — sort of.
“I’ve had friends say, ‘Why did you do that? You got Jimbo fired,’ ” Stevens said. “Well, my first intention was not to fire Jimbo. Second, my intention was not to hire a coach who has a career losing record.”
That would be Willie Taggart, who was 47-50 when FSU hired him in December 2017.
Stevens’ skepticism of Taggart has devolved into uneasiness. Last week’s collapse against Boise State dropped Taggart to 5-8 at FSU entering Saturday’s home game against Louisiana-Monroe.
“I don’t know if Willie’s going to pan out,” Stevens said. “I don’t have a good feeling about it.”
• • •
Almost two years after Stevens’ viral moment, his frustration that began with a new logo hasn’t left him.
Stevens reached out to the Tampa Bay Times after it published a story this summer on FSU’s financial problems, another sign to him of an athletic department going the wrong way.
He agreed to speak publicly about his run-in with Fisher for the first time because he wants his grievances known. Stevens insisted he isn’t some “toothless redneck” fan. He’s a level-headed Eagle Scout who is just upset with the direction of the program he loves, and he knows he’s not alone.
“There’s a lot of pieces to this and buildup into that frustration that I feel and know other boosters and fans are feeling,” Stevens said. “There’s more to this than just a sign or what I was saying (after the 2017 Louisville game).”
Stevens said he doesn’t regret the sign he held that day or what he shouted or the way things escalated with Fisher. He thinks that moment began the shift in public opinion that ended with Fisher’s exit.
Besides, he wanted FSU to know he was upset.
And he wants the program to know he still is.
Stevens said he wasn’t sure whether he would yell anything after Saturday’s game; it depends on how Taggart’s Seminoles look. But he said he did plan to carry another sign into Doak Campbell Stadium to take down to the rail.
Old logo, new coaches.