Jimbo Fisher went to an ACC championship game his first season as Florida State’s coach. Jim McElwain is taking Florida to an SEC title game in his inaugural season.
“They have high expectations and they force you to meet their expectations. They’re not going to lower theirs,” Trevor Moawad said.
Those expectations are an extension of The Process, which has its fingerprints on Fisher, McElwain and the return of national relevancy for No. 12 Florida, No. 13 Florida State and their annual rivalry.
Moawad has worked with Fisher and McElwain and sees “more similarities than differences” between them. After a decade of mostly inconsequential games between Florida and Florida State, the game has national implications again due to two coaches who branch from the same coaching tree, one rooted in The Process. Moawad is the mental conditioning coach who supplements The Process at Alabama and Florida State. Moawad worked with McElwain at Colorado State, and the two remain good friends.
Fisher and McElwain don’t know each other personally, but the sixth-year Florida State coach can see from 150 miles up the road how the first-year Gators coach has shifted the course of Florida football. It’s the same as how he did it at Florida State.
“I think Jim has come in with great structure, great organization and a great big-picture plan,” Fisher said. “He implemented that and got everyone over there to buy into it and become one. And that's the key. It is structure and organization, which then allows you to start changing culture, which is the most important thing if you're going to turn a program around.”
The rudimentary elements of changing the orientation of a program were learned through Nick Saban, The Process' architect and common denominator linking Fisher and McElwain. Fisher served as Saban’s offensive coordinator at LSU for five seasons. Saban hired McElwain as Alabama’s offensive coordinator in 2008, a role he served for four seasons before becoming head coach at Colorado State.
Under Saban, they learned the nuances of running a sustainable program. Moawad, who works out of Arizona, joined Saban at Alabama as a consultant in 2007. He began working with Fisher not long after he became the Seminoles’ coach in 2010, and McElwain brought him to Colorado State when he left his post as the Tide offensive coordinator. Moawad said both understand how to implement the developmental system on and off the field that yields a consistent program.
The similarities between how Fisher and McElwain operate as coaches are striking, Moawad said.
“Both have a tremendous amount of intensity and their attention to detail is at a world-class level,” he said. “They have the ability to facilitate a vision through a broader group of people. They’re ability to help players become better than they thought they could is at an elite level. They’re tremendous teachers and really good listeners. They’re going to hold you accountable.”
It was demanded players at Florida and Florida State function in a similar manner and live up to the expectations Fisher and McElwain set forth. Former Seminoles players and current Gators upperclassmen talk similarly about how Fisher and McElwain affected the program the first day on the job.
Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III said it wasn’t a choice as to whether players could adjust to McElwain’s new system. If a player object then McElwain would find another player to fit that role.
“If you don’t want to be in what we’re trying to create here, we can find another guy to come in and do it,” Florida fifth-year senior Trip Thurman said.
Jonathan Bullard said the Gators have a number of “great” leaders in 2015, which wasn’t the case previously. At Florida State, one of the things Fisher did upon becoming coach in 2010 was to construct and identify leaders.
“We would do team bonding activities that helped develop leaders,” said Chris Thompson, a former Florida State running back who played for both Bobby Bowden and Fisher. “The best teams are those who are in the best shape physically and mentally. Over the course of the years, it’s shown by how we’ve reached that higher level.”
Moawad said Fisher and McElwain have their own distinct nature, but they’re much more similar than different. It is why he expects more top-15 matchups between the two.
“They learned to manage the pressure of expectations,” Moawad said. “They are not afraid of expectations -- they love it.”