TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In the winter of 2006, the Florida State football program was in flux. The Seminoles had just come off a 7-6 season in which they’d posted their lowest win total since 1986, and they’d suffered humbling home defeats to Boston College, Wake Forest and Florida. Coach Bobby Bowden promised changes and, by the following spring, he delivered. The Seminoles welcomed four new coaches in 2007, and with them came the hope that FSU could restore its position as a college football heavyweight.
The highest-profile hire, of course, was Jimbo Fisher, lured away from LSU to serve as Florida State’s offensive coordinator. Not far behind was Rick Trickett, the West Virginia offensive line coach who had a reputation for turning out top quality linemen. Finally, the group was rounded out by a pair of FSU football alums: Lawrence Dawsey (1987-90) came on board as FSU’s receivers coach and Dexter Carter (1986-89) joined to coach running backs.
Although Carter is no longer with the program, Fisher, Trickett and Dawsey have since become three pillars of the modern era at Florida State. The 2016 season marks 10 years together in Tallahassee.
“Wow,” Fisher said with a smile. “That’s a way to make me feel old.”
The transformation from old to new didn’t always go easily – the Seminoles went 7-6 in 2007, 8-4 in 2008 and 7-6 again in 2009, Bowden’s last year at FSU.
But starting in 2010, when Fisher took over as head coach with Trickett and Dawsey remaining on staff, Florida State’s turnaround began in full force. And the results have since elevated FSU to college football’s elite class: Sixty-eight wins, just 14 losses, three ACC championships and the 2013 BCS national championship.
“Just watching how (we grew) from 2007 to where we are now, it’s like ‘Wow,” Dawsey said. “With the type of players and athletes we’re recruiting right now, it reminds me a lot of the old days when Coach Bowden was here in the 90s and early 2000s and we had it going.”
‘I kind of like the building of it’
Fisher arrived with the daunting task of overseeing FSU’s offensive renaissance, but the biggest individual job might have fallen to Trickett.
The Seminoles had trouble moving the ball, in large part because they had trouble blocking anyone up front.
Trickett knew FSU wouldn’t have called if it didn’t need help. But the magnitude of the task wasn’t completely apparent until he actually walked into Florida State’s weight room.
“I remember my first offensive line meeting – when I walked in that weight room, there wasn’t anybody in there that looks like the guys I got now, I know that,” said Trickett, who first met Fisher when the two were on staff at Auburn in 1993.
“Matter of fact, it was so bad, I told somebody I almost went back upstairs and called (West Virginia coach Rich) Rodriguez and asked him could I get my job back.”
Kidding aside, the challenge presented at Florida State fell right in Trickett’s sweet spot.
“I kind of like the building,” he said. “The maintaining is OK and it’s good and that’s what we’re doing right now. But I kind of like the building of it.
“I kind of liked coming in here and retooling it, getting it back and watching the process.”
Trickett also made sure to soak up the time spent with his new boss.
At first glance, Trickett and Bowden seem like polar opposites: Trickett the feisty former Marine and Bowden the aw-shucks southerner.
But Trickett said that the two found common ground, especially when it came to the personal side of coaching.
“Coach Bowden, I learned a lot from him about handling people,” said Trickett, who incidentally was hired as an assistant at West Virginia the year after Bowden left WVU for FSU. “He probably toned me down a little bit more than anyone else was able to, and I’ve carried that on since him.
“(Bowden) was good for me. I think the old man upstairs probably knew I needed him.”
A family affair
Lawrence Dawsey’s most memorable moment in a Florida State uniform probably came in 1990, when he caught a 76-yard touchdown pass on the first play of an eventual 45-30 win over Florida.
Dawsey’s most memorable moment as an FSU assistant, however, might have occurred just last week when his son Lawrence Jr., made his way onto the Seminoles’ practice fields for the first time.
A defensive back out of Hillsborough High in Tampa, Dawsey Jr. is in his first semester as an FSU student and recently decided to follow in his dad’s footsteps by walking on to the football team.
“This is probably the most special year for me,” Dawsey said. “Because I had never been in that situation to be able to be around him, to have to coach him. So now I’m going to enjoy that part of it.”
Dawsey’s relationship with FSU stretches back nearly 30 years. His freshman season, 1987, was the first of FSU’s dynasty run of 14 straight top-four finishes. Over his four years in Tallahassee, Dawsey caught 128 passes for 2,129 yards and 20 touchdowns, and he still ranks in FSU’s top 10 in several receiving categories.
In 2003, Dawsey served as graduate assistant at LSU, alongside Fisher.
Four years later, when FSU needed a new receivers coach, a candidate who had played for Bowden and coached with Fisher made for an obvious choice.
“Coach Bowden gave me that opportunity and I’m forever grateful,” Dawsey said. “That’s my guy. He recruited me, and then he brought me back. And Jimbo, I was glad he kept me on to be a part of his staff.”
Ten years later, Dawsey and former teammate Odell Haggins form an exclusive club of Bowden-era Seminoles to coach for Jimbo Fisher – two bridges between the program’s past and its present. (Two other Seminoles, Mario Edwards and Jerry Johnson, are part of FSU’s support staff.)
“I talk to Odell about it all the time,” Dawsey said. “You just don’t know how hard it was when we were going through the down time and trying to get back to this point. I told him let’s enjoy it and let’s try to stay here as long as we can.”
‘It’s great to know they’re on your staff’
Fisher is succinct when asked for his memories of his first few days at FSU.
“Excited, glad, had work to do,” he said.
He’s plenty right about that last part. In addition to his duties as offensive coordinator, Fisher in 2007 also was charged with picking FSU’s starting quarterback – the first of the many times he’s since done so.
Although he didn’t win the job that year, a redshirt freshman named Christian Ponder perked up when Fisher arrived. The son of David Ponder, a former FSU defensive lineman, Ponder didn’t garner much buzz as a recruit and seemed destined to do little more than back up whatever blue-chip quarterback the Seminoles would bring in over the next four years.
Instead, under Fisher’s tutelage Ponder blossomed into one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and, eventually, Fisher’s first protégé at FSU to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
“I thought I would have been lucky to even play,” Ponder said in 2010, before the start of his senior season. “If Coach Fisher didn’t come in, I probably wouldn’t be at this point right now.”
In the years that have followed, Fisher has coached two more first-round draft picks at quarterback. And he’s won more games through his first six seasons as head coach than any “Power Five” head coach in history, to go along with a burgeoning list of championships and accolades.
More than that, though, Fisher has successfully led Florida State’s evolution into the modern era, with the Seminoles now firmly on the other side of those tough times from 10 years ago.
And he’s had two of his closest colleagues, Trickett and Dawsey, alongside him every step of the way.
“You know they’re good people,” Fisher said. “(They) stand for the right things, care about the kids. Coach them hard, get (the best) out of them, but then you know they’re going to recruit well, coach well and just be good people in general.
“It’s great to know they’re on your staff.”