- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Things were different during fall camp this year. The energy was high, but it was a bit less tense. The reason, Lamarcus Joyner thought, was his coach.
When camp ended, and the team gathered together, Joyner decided to take note of Jimbo Fisher’s more subdued approach. He stood up and told his teammates to offer Fisher a round of applause.
“For the most improved person in the program,” Joyner said. “He’s changed tremendously.”
After Florida State’s biggest win in years, with the Seminoles clinging to the No. 2 spot in the BCS rankings, Joyner’s perception is shared by a number of people around the program.
In his first three years as head coach at Florida State, Fisher was intense, controlling, demanding. He’s still all of those things, Joyner said, but now he has the stability of an ACC title under his feet and the promise of a fully formed program -- one that has completely adopted Fisher’s famous “process” — at his disposal. That confidence translates into a more subdued, self-assured head coach.
“He seems more relaxed this year,” linebacker Christian Jones said. “Last year, he'd get more tense about stuff. [This year,] I feel like he has a lot of confidence in the team he has."
It’s a change that’s not entirely discernible to the untrained ear when Fisher is barking scathing commentary of a player’s performance, often audible from well beyond the walls surrounding Florida State’s practice field. And, perhaps, there's really no change at all.
"He's still uptight, and that ain’t ever going to change,” center Bryan Stork said. “There's two guarantees: The sun is going to rise in the morning, and Jimbo is going to cuss you out at practice."
Well, sure. He’s still a football coach, and no amount of personal growth is going to lessen the demands he puts on his team. And for Fisher, the demands have always been immense.
“You can mess up, and he’ll think the whole practice is bad,” said senior Kenny Shaw, who admits to being one of Fisher’s favorite targets over the years. “So you’ve got to work on perfection.”
What’s really changed this year is that Fisher’s team actually meets those lofty standards more often than not.
Chalk it up, in part, to veteran leadership. The seniors on this team were recruited by Fisher and spent their entire careers learning the process. He doesn’t need to preach the practice-field propaganda over and over because those lessons are being taught in the locker room.
Add in a superstar quarterback who has galvanized the team around him while parroting all of Fisher’s favorite mantras, and there’s little need for Fisher to underscore what’s already been said. Jameis Winston offers none of Fisher’s stern sensibilities, but they’re of one mind when it comes to preparation and expectations.
“We've got so much to get better at, it's crazy," Winston said after throwing for 444 yards in a 51-14 dismantling of Clemson.
With Winston at the helm, there’s a different energy, a different attention to detail, and that all adds up to a more relaxed Fisher. And for the players who've heard Fisher's rants for years, that can be a bit jarring.
“Sometimes he’ll throw a joke out like, ‘Dang, you all don’t want me to yell? You’re doing everything perfect,’ ” receiver Kelvin Benjamin said. “But you miss it though, so sometimes we’ll mess up on purpose to get him ticked off.”
When Fisher took over in 2010, the program was in disarray. Recruiting had faltered, leadership had waned, and Fisher’s job was to rebuild from the ground up. It was a massive undertaking.
In the four years since, there has been immense progress. For every stumble along the way -- like last year’s NC State loss -- there has been growth, lessons learned. And this year, Joyner said, the message Fisher has preached since Day 1 seems to resonate more than ever.
“We still have a long way to go, but you see progress,” Joyner said. “After being here four seasons, I see something I've never seen here before, and that's everyone together, everyone believing in each other, eliminating the clutter, sticking together, knowing that it's about us.”
It’s Fisher’s process at work.
Ask the man himself if he’s relaxed in Year 4, and Fisher offers a bemused smile and a prompt, firm and absolute denial. The process doesn’t reward change.
“I’m the same guy,” Fisher said. “Think the same way, believe the same things.”
So perhaps Fisher hasn’t changed, but his players have gotten used to who he is. It’s all second nature, which is exactly how Fisher always wanted it.
“It's not a difference in the coaches, it’s a difference in the players,” linebacker Telvin Smith said. “All the pieces are coming together."
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