SEC Country reporter Alex Martin Smith attended Florida State’s media day and preseason practice in mid-August as the Seminoles prepared for their opener against Ole Miss. Stay tuned for more from Behind Enemy Lines.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Rick Trickett had an announcement to make.
“I’m off Facebook now,” the Florida State offensive line coach said. “I got rid of the clutter. I was a posting S.O.B., too.”
It was mid-August, and the Seminoles had entered a social-media blackout. Players are not allowed to tweet, post, share, comment, “Insta,” or any such thing throughout the season. Coaches, too.
“If he tells them to, I do it,” Trickett said. “It’s a team effort.”
The man calling the shots is, of course, head coach Jimbo Fisher, who enters the seventh year of his tenure at Florida State and is obsessed with removing the “clutter” from his team’s collective mind.
The philosophy began in January 2004, when Fisher watched The Last Samurai, a movie in which Tom Cruise vanquishes his personal demons and becomes a Japanese warrior. At the time, Fisher was the offensive coordinator at LSU (head coach: Nick Saban). The entire Tigers program sat through Cruise’s box-office smash in preparation for its title-game tilt against Oklahoma.
One scene featured Cruise attempting to learn the ways of the samurai — and failing miserably.
“They were whoopin’ him, flippin’ him, laughin’ at him,” Fisher said. “And the one guy came up and said to him, ‘You have too many minds.’ In other words: You have too much clutter. … You have to learn to clear your mind. Let yourself be coached.”
You could see where this was going.
“Football’s the same way,” Fisher said. “Social media. Everything causes clutter. And you’ve gotta learn to compartmentalize your mind for what you’re doing. Those are the challenges that truly great teams understand. Good teams get to a point but don’t get there.”
Few people deal with as many young millennials daily than a college football coach, who’s either instructing or recruiting every day.
Fisher has heard his share of backtalk and seen his share of eye rolls.
“We’re in the world now of, ‘It ain’t my fault,'” Fisher said. “Every time we get in trouble at school, somebody’s mom or dad runs out blaming the teacher. Blaming the coach. Blaming everything else. ‘Little Johnny didn’t do that.’”
The 2016 Florida State Seminoles don’t fall into that group.
They are cutting out that dastardly clutter with the help of their many experienced upperclassmen. Ten offensive starters (minus injured quarterback Sean Maguire) are back, including running back Dalvin Cook. The junior will be one of the ACC’s top Heisman contenders this season.
Cook had a particularly unfortunate type of clutter follow him around last year: pain. A hamstring issue kept him out of practices weekly, and then he’d be forced to block out the discomfort — with some help from modern medicine — come game time.
The All-American still found a way to dominate.
He racked up 266 yards and 3 scores against South Florida (the Seminoles’ first 200-yard rushing performance in more than a quarter-century), 222 yards and 2 scores vs. Miami, 194 yards and a touchdown at No. 3 Clemson, and 183 yards and 2 scores at No. 10 Florida to round out the regular season.
Cook is now healthy, in body and spirit. Without prompting, he brought up the “C” word.
“We talk about it every day: clutter,” Cook said. “We need to focus in on ball and film and stuff like that. Everybody knows, once fall camp rolls around, it’s time to shut it down.”
Ole Miss has 27 wins during the past three seasons and a Heisman-hopeful quarterback returning, but the Rebels opened as 5-point underdogs against the Seminoles.
If that’s not evidence enough of Florida State’s clout, feel free to consult the coaches’ poll (No. 4), the Associated Press poll (No. 4) or any number of preseason magazines that listed Fisher’s squad as a College Football Playoff team.
If No. 2 Clemson were not in the picture, ACC commissioner John Swofford already would be shipping the conference championship trophy to the Panhandle.
In a perverse twist on Fisher’s “no clutter” policy, fans will have unprecedented access to the program during Florida State’s championship chase. The Showtime network’s cinematic A Season With … series has been following around the Seminoles all summer, making reality stars out of Cook and his teammates.
When we visited camp in mid-August, former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was providing advice to the Seminoles running backs as the cameras rolled.
“Some of these guys are not camera guys,” Cook said. “Me, I’m a camera person. I love the camera. You just see everybody’s real personalities. It’s a good thing these guys are acting like themselves. I like that.”
The cameras are good for recruiting and branding, but what about college kids trying to prepare for an elite SEC opponent? Fisher’s pedigree — more on that in Wednesday’s Behind Enemy Lines post — is strong enough to inspire faith in the seemingly contradictory decision.
And if you ask Rick Trickett, he’ll tell you the real problem is with social media, anyway.
“There’s too much crap on there,” he said. “You ain’t got time to do all that.”
Ole Miss-Florida State kicks off on Monday, Sept. 5 (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).