JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher hails from a blue-collar upbringing, has deep ties to West Virginia, relies on his faith and insists football isn't the driving force in his life.
Florida State's next football coach -- the official transition is Tuesday -- is not Bobby Bowden, nor does he profess or aspire to be Bobby Bowden. Yet there are plenty of similarities between the outgoing and incoming occupant of the head coach's suite overlooking Doak Campbell Stadium, which figures to help smooth the transition between eras.
"The thing I was blessed with, all through my life, was I had two parents who loved me and who sacrificed everything they had for me to have the opportunities I've had," Fisher said. "We were not rich by any means. We were a very average middle-class family. Dad was a coal miner, Mom was a schoolteacher. ... Hopefully, I remember all that."
Fisher's life won't be average ever again.
He's about to enter a $9 million, five-year contract that could pay him more than $12 million if all incentives are met along the way. He's one of the lucky ones, since in his town, you pretty much either worked in the coal mines -- like his father, who died in 1994 -- or taught school like his mother, who's still teaching chemistry and physics after half a century at Robert C. Byrd High in Clarksburg, W. Va.
And now Fisher -- the offensive coordinator when LSU won the national title under Nick Saban -- has control of one of college football's most revered programs, even after finishing 7-6 three times in the last four years, including this one. Bowden's era ended Friday with a 33-21 win over West Virginia in the Gator Bowl, giving the 44-year-old Fisher a nice springboard into a 2010 season of great expectation.
"Anybody that has coached as long as I have, the next guy coming in has got to be very careful," Bowden said. "I really have a lot of confidence in him. He is one of the sharpest coaches, young coaches I have seen. He will hire well and he will recruit well. I think he will do good."
Keep in mind, Bowden wasn't the one who tagged Fisher with the coach-in-waiting label he's worn for some time at Florida State. That was a university decision; Bowden said if he was ever asked to endorse a replacement, he would have chosen defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, who is following his boss into retirement.
That doesn't mean there's animosity between Bowden and Fisher, just Bowden being honest and loyal to his longtime lieutenant. And from Fisher's perspective, the coach-in-waiting period worked as well as could be expected.
"It definitely has," Fisher said. "Being able to hit the ground running, knowing as I call where your land mines are, who can do what for you, who handles what. When you come in to make changes in a program, you've got to figure the people there, the administrative end, to see who handles this and controls that. We don't have to. And the players already know how I coach, how I do things."
Fisher will make changes, of course. A half-dozen coaches aren't being retained, and some hires are expected to be announced in the coming days. Fisher called for his first new staff meeting Saturday afternoon, saying "we've got work to do," and ready to start that work less than 24 hours after Bowden hoisted the Gator Bowl trophy. The defensive philosophy will be considerably tweaked, though the attacking schemes Florida State is known for won't be abandoned entirely.
Growing pains will likely happen, too. Knowing that, Bowden will give Fisher his space.
"I definitely want to leave town," Bowden said. "I have always said when I finish a job like this, I do not want to hang around and get compared ... have people say, 'Bobby, what would you have done? What should he have done? How come you didn't do like what Bobby did?' I don't want to go through that. So I'm hightailing it out of here as soon as I can."
There will always be ties, though. Bowden's name will remain on the field. Fisher has a relationship with Bowden that goes back for decades, and said he always hopes major college football's second-winningest coach -- Bowden retires with 389 wins at Samford, West Virginia and Florida State -- remains a resource.
But it's Fisher's team now. His time, at long last, has arrived.
"Who ever thought a coal miner's son from West Virginia who had to drive 6 miles to town would ever be fortunate enough to be where I'm at?" Fisher said. "I'm not patting myself on the back. That's the way you have to look at it. You have to fight. You have to claw."
Just like Bowden did.
"He's my hero," Fisher said. "And he's told me more than once, do it your way."