NEWPORT BEACH, Calif . — It’s easy to see the influences in Jimbo Fisher from the men he has worked for and played under.
He has some Bobby Bowden in him: the folksy manner and the glint in his eye when he speaks about football and religion — at Florida State, like most of the South, they’re permanently intertwined — and about his players and family. If someone told you he was the lost Bowden brother, you wouldn’t be surprised. Heck fire, he even played for Terry Bowden at tiny Salem College in Virginia.
He has some Nick Saban in him. He speaks of a process and not worrying about the scoreboard, even ones as important as the ones at the Rose Bowl, which Monday night will bear the score of the BCS National Championship Game between Bowden’s Seminoles and the Auburn Tigers.
He has a dash of Les Miles in him, too. The objective at Florida State, offensive line and former LSU assistant coach Rick Trickett said, has been to build a strong, run-oriented team that can throw like Terry Bradshaw’s old Pittsburgh Steelers. If it seems Fisher has fashioned a Southeastern Conference team in ACC clothing, one that Saban or Miles would be right at home coaching, you’re not wrong.
“That was a special time in my life, being able to coach (at LSU) for seven years and under two great guys,” Fisher said during Saturday’s BCS media day session. “Nick was tremendous, we had two great years with Les and had great success and were able to move on. And without those guys, you wouldn’t be in the position you are. LSU was very critical in my development as a coach and one of my favorite places I’ve ever been.”
Fisher is clearly his own man as well. He is like Bobby Bowden, yes, but he has embraced high-tech training tools that a coach of Bowden’s generation would found as foreign as the Canadian Football League.
He’s emotional but, unlike Saban, he doesn’t stalk the sidelines with an Old Faithful-like schedule of eruptions. For goodness sake, players like wide receiver Rashad Greene even refer to him as Jimbo, or Coach Fisher — but either way it isn’t a big deal to the head man.
“Everyone here respects him,” Greene said. “What we call him doesn’t bother him. But he’s definitely a guy who’s big on preparing. If you’re slacking off, he’ll get on you. He won’t always be your friend. You need that tough love sometimes.”
Fisher claims he doesn’t believe in destiny. Perhaps that’s to ward off the mojo that surrounds Monday night’s opponent. If any team ever looked like it won destiny’s heart and brought her to the prom, it’s Auburn after the way it won against Georgia and Alabama.
Then again, there is the destiny of what in Fisher’s mind is a higher calling, of blending his success and wealth and notoriety he’s earned through football to do something more important than winning a national championship.
Jimbo and Candi Fisher have two sons, Ethan and Trey, both born during his seven years as offensive coordinator at LSU from 2000-06. Ethan was diagnosed in 2010 with Fanconi anemia.
At first, anemia sounds rather benign. But Fanconi anemia is an insidious disease that can lead to birth defects and a greatly expanded chance of leukemia and cancer. According to CNN.com, virtually every child diagnosed with Fanconi anemia will require a bone marrow transfusion before reaching adulthood. Life spans are typically, tragically shortened.
“It hit me because we were coming off a great season, a 10-win season my first year (as head coach),” Fisher recalled. “Everything was great and it’s all about ball; it made me get back to reality and understand what’s truly important. I hope those are examples I can set as a coach that will show these guys life’s not fair. Life doesn’t care. Life throws those things at you that control you or you control it.”
On Fisher’s left wrist Saturday, next to his silver watch band, he wore a green band that reads “I fight Fanconi.” It is his crusade, his higher calling, what gives his football career deeper meaning and purpose than mere victories and championships never could.
“I love my son more than anything in the world, but I’m not going to let that (disease) control me,” said Fisher, who created the Kidz1stFund after Ethan’s diagnosis to raise money and awareness. “And I’m going to do everything in my power and our power to save him and other children like him.
“I believe God gave us a platform — I really do — to speak not just for Ethan but the other kids who don’t have this platform and be able to raise money and awareness for these kids. Hopefully being the head coach at Florida State can develop players but then save lives on top of that.
“I don’t think there’s a greater calling.”
Turns out Jimbo Fisher is absolutely right. The final score on Monday night really isn’t the most important thing.