- Ivan Maisel, College Football Senior Writer
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- At SEC media days last summer, someone asked Alabama head coach Nick Saban if he wears any of his four national championship rings.
"To me, it doesn't make any difference how many game-winning shots Michael Jordan made," Saban said. "The only one that matters is the next one. So there doesn't seem to be any purpose to me. I have them. They're there."
You put that championship in a velvet-lined box and store it in your closet. It has no effect on the future.
Florida State, which plays its Garnet and Gold Game on Saturday, will start next season as No. 1, just as the Seminoles ended last season. The Seminoles have 14 returning starters from the team that won the BCS National Championship three months ago. That includes the best player in the country, quarterback Jameis Winston, and the best defensive lineman in the country, end Mario Edwards Jr., and other talented players too numerous to mention.
Florida State must carry the expectations of a fan base and a college football nation that expects them to improve upon a perfect 14-0 record. That it is possible -- with the two-round playoff, the Seminoles could be the first team in modern history to go 15-0 -- doesn't make it any less daunting.
Jimbo Fisher is a graduate and espouser of the Nick Saban Institute of The Process. Fisher coached for Saban for seven seasons at LSU. The tenets that Saban preaches in the meeting room at Alabama -- smart choices and personal development, focus and discipline -- are heard from the pulpit at Florida State, too.
It would be only natural to assume that Fisher would consult the Sabanic Verses on the subject of following a national championship season. Not only has Alabama done so in three of the past four years, but LSU, with Saban as head coach and Fisher as his offensive coordinator, did so a decade ago.
Fisher knows what Saban believes. He coached it at LSU. And that's what convinced him that it's wrong.
"One of the things I wish we had done better then," Fisher said in his office recently, "was actually remember we were national champions. We were so focused to me on, 'Forget that. Don't get big-headed. Don't do that,' that I think you lost the aura and the confidence of winning the championship."
LSU began that 2004 season needing a miracle to defeat Oregon State 22-21 in overtime. After a 45-16 loss at Georgia, the Tigers fell to 3-2 and nearly out of the Top 25. Only then did LSU right itself, winning its last six regular-season games.
"There's a fine line to me between moving on," Fisher said, "but also trying to move on so much that you negated what you achieved, and forgot the confidence, or the level of what you accomplished to be able to benefit from that to progress to the next year. I think that was one thing after that championship, it was almost like a month later: 'Were we really national champions?'"
Fisher is determined that his team will not forget that they are national champions. During the offseason, he studied the video of the 2013 season. He didn't look for flaws. He looked for what the Seminoles did right.
"We spend so much time in this world talking about fixing the bad, and, 'Don't do this,'" Fisher said. "Wait a minute now. What did we do right? We did something right. And to me, that's what you want to do, repeat the consistency and be able to repeat that performance. Well, if you're always trying to fix what's wrong, you're concentrating on the negative.
"I tried to put as much or more time on, 'This is what we did right.' Now how do we embrace that and move on ... or tweak it just a hair, because the game changes all the time. And people change. We got a different team. But how can we learn from that to be able to repeat performance? Because that's what you have to, to be a champion, you have to keep repeating performance."
Fisher is no walking ray of sunshine, forgiving mistakes with a smile and a pat on the shoulder. To be a winning college football coach, you have to demand, to take young players where they don't know how to go. But Fisher carries a perspective unusual for a football coach. People who are close to him say that dealing with his son Ethan's life-threatening illness, a blood disorder called Fanconi anemia, has softened his hard edges.
In so many ways, Fisher coaches like Saban. Their schemes are similar. Like Saban at Alabama, Fisher is the voice and face and image of the program. Assistant coaches don't do interviews. The idea of Fisher's players embracing their success is a small difference, really, two sides of the same coin.
"We're not complacent," Edwards, the defensive end, said. "We're hunting for another one. The team that won last year has a one-year life span. We have to go get it this time."
The Garnet and Gold Game will be televised Saturday on ESPN. The reminders of Florida State's newest crystal football will be constant throughout a celebratory weekend. Fisher wants his Seminoles to be reminded of more than the result of their journey. He wants his team to remember how they arrived at the championship.
FSU coach wants team to be confident, remember what it did right in championship season.