NEWPORT BEACH, Ca. - Different events have a different feel. The Super Bowl is big, corporate, sponsor-driven and engulfs the city it's in; bringing the national focus on everything that surrounds it. The National Championship is a mini version of that, but with a much more homey feel. There's some national media, but not much. Whichever network is televising the game has a big presence but most of the reporters asking questions are from TV stations and newspapers near the two schools, campus bloggers and various dot com's devoted to college sports and college football.
At their final meeting with the media on Sunday, FSU's Jimbo Fisher and Auburn's Gus Malzahn showed the difference in their style, their preparation and even how they approached this week. Both agreed that you have to try to keep the routine the same, but it's difficult.
"I like to get up early," Malzahn said of his game day routine. "I'll look at film and keep it as routine as possible."
I could tell you what Jimbo's answer to that was but it might take 5 or 6 paragraphs. In fact, the difference between the two coaches was evident from their opening statements. Malzahn's was 4 sentences. Fisher's filled at least 2 pages.
To be fair, Fisher has been around this kind of situation before and has been in the college game for a while. Malzahn's experience includes a recent hypersonic leap from high school football to head coach of a national championship contender. He likes to keep it simple dealing with the press. He didn't reveal anything new or give any insight to what might be happening with the Tigers on Monday night.
"We don't call them trick plays. Our players call them special plays," he answered when asked about the variety of offensive calls in his playbook.
"She told me I needed to be nicer to my players," was his response when asked about his wife Kristi's role in his success. "She's my accountability."
And when asked about his first few months on the job as the head coach at Auburn, Malzahn said he and the coaches had done "a lot of Dr. Phillin'" to figure out how to get the program back on track. At least I think that's what he said. Malzahn has a reputation among his players for making up words to try and motivate them.
Jimbo Fisher is about to lose his voice. And it's not from yelling at his players. Fisher has answered so many questions this week that he's probably talking in his sleep. And there's no holding him back either from the content of his answer or the length of it. He's not afraid to say what he thinks, tempered a bit with some political correctness but if it's on his mind, it's coming out.
He bristled a bit when asked about last year's losses to NC State and Florida and how he "rebuilt" himself and his team. "If 12-2 isn't good enough then we have something wrong with this business," was his response.
What is evident with Fisher is how much he likes this version of the Seminoles.
"This is a great bunch of guys to be around. They like each other. They love each other.
They know how to have fun and when it's time to get down to business. I don't know I've ever enjoyed it more."
And his admiration for Jameis Winston is also apparent. When asked about how Winston copes with everything around him at 19 years old (he'll be 20 tomorrow), Fisher said Winston is the same no matter what.
"He had pressure when he started against Pittsburgh. With all of the expectations. He approaches every play, every practice as if it's the National Championship."
Since his opponent doesn't have an extensive college resume, Fisher said he doesn't have a problem looking back to Malzahn's high school coaching career to see what he might do Monday night.
"We have a book on everybody we play, every coach. I've coached with and against a lot of these guys so we just go back and see how they've reacted in certain situations."
And if you didn't think FSU had joined the modern era of college football, Fisher revealed that his graduate assistants are working on opponents, "three, four weeks out" and that the Seminoles (like a lot of schools) employ a "mental coach" on the staff.
"We're working with our guys all the time, all year round on how to think, how to deal with different situations, how to make decisions in their lives." FSU's mental coach works with sports psychologists trying to get that job done.
From how the two coaches see their teams a day before the title game, it would be hard to predict a winner. But either way, it won't be from a lack of research or preparation.
They'll both be ready.
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