It was the fourth quarter of a game Florida State already had well in hand over its in-state rival, Florida, in late November, but Jameis Winston was angry.
The Seminoles had flubbed the clock management, and when a timeout was called, Winston retreated to the sideline, barking at the coaching staff. Jimbo Fisher responded by grabbing Winston’s face mask, shouting back at his quarterback.
It was a rare, public glimpse of an adversarial side to the relationship between Winston and Jimbo Fisher, but it was hardly uncommon.
“I’ll argue just to make it seem like I’m right a little bit, but he’s always right,” Winston said. “Sometimes we’ll get into an argument where we’re both right -- but he’s righter.”
The dynamic might actually have been explained better by Fisher earlier in the game. As he marched to the locker room at the end of the first half, Fisher was stopped by a TV reporter who asked about his quarterback. Fisher rattled off his usual responses at his usual frenetic pace, but he capped his answer with a bit of insight into their chemistry: Winston and Fisher are extremely similar, the coach said, and sometimes that’s not a good thing.
“It’s how we communicate,” Fisher said of the on-field argument. “It’s normal.”
Winston’s teammates have seen it happen often on the practice field, away from the cameras or the prying eyes of fans. Fisher insists on perfection, and Winston does, too. They just don’t always see eye to eye on exactly how perfection will be defined.
The practice-field barking is nothing new. Fisher is famous for it among his players. But what’s unique about his rapport with Winston is they match each other’s passion.
“They’ve had their arguments, but they’ve always understood each other,” left tackle Cameron Erving said. “I don’t know if Coach Fisher and guys like EJ [Manuel] and [Christian] Ponder, I don’t know if they related on the same level. I feel like that’s what makes Jameis and Coach Fisher so compatible. It’s always passion, wanting to do right.”
It seems an unlikely pairing, really. The unabashedly goofy 19-year-old with the cocky swagger and the throwback coach with the fiercely demanding bravado -- it might be easy to miss how similar they really are.
Winston jokes on the practice field, teasing teammates, singing and dancing in the huddle. But he’s as frustrated by failure as his coach is, and he’s as quick to get in the face of a teammate who needs to step up his game.
“But Jameis really isn’t mean,” Kelvin Benjamin said. “At least not to the receivers.”
Fisher is a no-nonsense drill sergeant. He presides over practice with a stern resolve that has, at times, rattled players with a lesser tolerance for criticism. But he also laughs often and pals around with players, filled with the same childlike enthusiasm about the sport he loves that his quarterback exudes so routinely.
“Coach Fisher likes to crack jokes just as much as Jameis does,” Erving said. “It’s just different ages, different sensibilities.”
That common ground has been a key to this season’s success, Fisher said. He can be hard on Winston because Winston understands why he’s being critiqued. He can bark orders at his quarterback but realizes Winston is already working to correct the mistake.
Fisher was Winston’s protector during the sexual-assault investigation that hung over Winston in November like a black cloud. Winston has been Fisher’s best asset in the locker room, offering the same rhetoric his coach has espoused for years, but with a sales pitch more appealing to the team.
When Winston gave his Heisman Trophy acceptance speech, it’s no surprise the words echoed Fisher’s favorite mantras about process and focus and maturity, or that Fisher wept as he listened to the words.
“Just having somebody that I can relate to, somebody he can relate to, that just makes the situation more genuine,” Winston said. “That’s how you have a successful team, when the head coach and the quarterback get along.”