January 24, 2007
TALLAHASSEE Bobby Bowden may be in the autumn of his career, but the 77-year-old football coach with more Division I victories than anyone in NCAA history has pumped springtime-like enthusiasm into his once-listing program with the most complete staff makeover in his 31 seasons.
With the complete support of athletic director Dave Hart and Seminole Boosters, Inc., Florida State opened its checkbook to fill five new staff slots in an effort to bring the program back from a six-year run of mediocrity.
"This was an investment in our football program and the future of our football program that we had to make," Hart said. "(Money) was never an issue."
That was readily apparent when the base financial figures of the five new assistants were released. Prior to the overhaul, only two FSU aides defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews and linebackers/executive head coach Kevin Steele were making more than $200,000 annually. Even with Steele's departure to Alabama, that number has expanded to three.
Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher and offensive line coach Rick Trickett were brought in for base minimums of $200,000 or more, as was linebackers/executive associate assistant Chuck Amato, who returned after seven seasons at N.C. State to the school he served for 18 years.
Newcomers Lawrence Dawsey and Dexter Carter, former FSU players who were instrumental in building the Seminoles' 14-year run of 10-win seasons, will serve as the receivers and running backs coaches, respectively.
According to several sources close to the process, four of the five newcomers were Bowden's primary targets from the start of the search. That was one reason Hart sought approval from Seminole Boosters to extend multi-year contracts to both Fisher and Trickett.
If nothing else, that should send a clear message that Bowden's grasp on what the program needs to reinvent itself is stronger than ever.
To be fair, Bowden sought the input of several others along the way, including his son Terry and Hart. Still, the hires were revealing on several fronts:
- Bowden sought men whose reputations were built on toughness, discipline and player development, who would demand nothing less than the best effort and execution of fundamentals.
Trickett, whom Bowden previously tried to lure away from West Virginia after the 2004 season, embodies those ideals.
"I'm not a miracle worker," Trickett said. "I'm a hard worker, and so will be the offensive line. If they're scared of hard work, they're going to have a problem. If they're not, they'll probably be all-conference. If they're lazy, they're going to have a problem. If they're not, they will probably be an All-American. ... We're going to get hard-nosed, and people are going to dread seeing us roll into town."
Dawsey is widely regarded as the hardest-working receiver in FSU history. His precise route-running and tenacious blocking made the former South Florida assistant a Bowden favorite as a player.
- Diversity and youth were issues Bowden was determined to address with his new hires.
Dawsey and Carter fit the profiles perfectly as 30-something African-Americans, joining veteran Odell Haggins. One-third of FSU's staff now fits that profile, which should help in both recruiting and player relationships.
All three coaches also played in the NFL, which is a bonus in a day when credibility goes a long way with players and prospects.
Fisher, 41, also should help in the recruiting and player-relations areas. He brings fresh ideas with him from LSU, where he fine-tuned his skills as a play-caller and developer of quarterbacks.
- Leadership was a top priority.
Bowden privately has said that he was more than willing to turn the team's offense over to the right staff, much as he did with Andrews on the defensive side two decades ago.
Considering that Fisher and Trickett worked together at both Auburn and LSU (Dawsey also was at LSU for a season with Fisher as a graduate assistant), there should be less of an adjustment period for the new staff. Trickett was the first to sign on with the Seminoles, and there is little doubt that his commitment had some influence on Fisher.
"The lure of (Trickett) being here, I was hoping he would if that was the decision I was going to make, because like I said, he is as good as there is in the business," Fisher said. "Fortunately, we just made the same decision, which a lot of times, we do think alike."
Though there was much speculation that Amato might not be the best fit for a return engagement in Tallahassee, his past experiences with Bowden and the school, as well as head coaching experience, should be invaluable. Amato acknowledged that he enjoys the role of playing "devil's advocate" when it comes to decision-making, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
FISHER DEAL REQUIRED REVIVAL
That Bowden and the Seminoles were able to score such a coaching coup came as a surprise to many, especially as it related to Fisher's odyssey. FSU pulled its job offer publicly on a Saturday night, but diligent work by Bowden and Hart resuscitated the deal, which was consummated roughly 48 hours later.
Publicly, many speculated that Fisher was merely using FSU as a bargaining chip to land a more attractive financial package as the coordinator at either Alabama or LSU. He also had head coaching opportunities to consider.
Hart, however, said Fisher never backed FSU into a corner over financial issues. In fact, his total package, which is said to be worth around $400,000, is less than what he was making at LSU or offered by Alabama.
"From day one, Jimbo Fisher never asked for a penny more than was originally offered in the very first conversation that he and Bobby had," Hart said. "Bobby told me this was what we would have to do financially, and I told him that we would come up with that. ...
"Jimbo deserves to be applauded for his unwavering desire to coach at Florida State and for Bobby Bowden, and to come here and accept the challenge to help get us where we want to be as a football program in his role as the offensive coordinator."
Bowden made his desires clear from the start. According to sources, he never spoke with any candidate other than Fisher for the offensive coordinator spot previously held by his son, Jeff Bowden.
In the end, Bowden's persistence paid off across the board.
The Seminoles were willing to spend money to get there, and they likely aren't finished. Bowden's contract also is in the process of being re-worked. So is Andrews' deal, and it would surprise no one if staff returnees John Lilly, Jody Allen and Haggins also were in line for new deals.
Paperwork aside, the only thing left is for the staff to realize the potential Bowden sees for the future of the program.