With the NCAA coming down on Florida State in the wake of the cheating scandal, the news has in essence prompted a referendum of sorts on the state of Seminoles football under legendary coach Bobby Bowden.
We had this discussion on Monday's "Outside the Lines" show and my feeling is while FSU hasn't dropped off the college football map, it definitely has dropped off the mountaintop. I spoke with several people who have been on the inside of the FSU program over the past decade for their thoughts on why the program has backslid so much. So what exactly has caused this?
Start with leadership and bad chemistry. A bunch of the guys I've talked to have their own theories and there's actually plenty of overlap. One of the main reasons I heard was that for so long the FSU coaching staff was like a machine, where each part relied on the others. But then when some key guys started to leave (most notably Mark Richt and Chuck Amato), it broke up the chemistry and those other coaches who have slid into their roles couldn't deliver. "The machine broke down," one of the guys said. Then, you've added in some new personalities as Bowden's gotten further removed from the day-to-day operation with Jimbo Fisher getting anointed as the new Noles head coach, and word is there's too much friction between Fisher and some of Bowden's old guard with Mickey Andrews and Amato now that he's back. I'm told that as soon as Fisher gets elevated (if that does in fact happen) he cleans house there.
There's also the complacency factor that any successful operation has to overcome. It is similar to the big problem Miami had recently. Miami had to step into the 21st century two years ago and FSU has struggled doing that. Coaches who have been together for 10, 15 years, get stale and lazy. They feel like because they're "Florida State" they can cut corners and the attention to detail is lacking. That is a big factor in recruiting, because they're not devoting as much time to getting to know the kids they're recruiting, in many cases they don't really know exactly the type of characters they're recruiting. Then, if and when the kids get on your campus, you might end up with some problems, especially if you don't have enough strong leaders on the team to keep the borderline guys on the right path. Of course, FSU can still get some prized players because lots of kids grew up rooting for FSU, but in many cases, more than in past years, there have been too many misfires. And so what you've seen is many players who are undisciplined on and off the field.
Years ago I heard a lot about when Butch Davis worked to rebuild Miami how vital it was to have a strong locker room. Back when he first took over, he felt UM couldn't afford to take any borderline character kids. Eventually he thought he had a locker room with enough winners and high character guys that it could police itself so that the bad decisions would be thought out. But it can become a slippery slope if you start rolling the dice and chasing hyped prospects you don't have a great sense of. And this isn't just about players who might end up in the police blotter, but also those who may be very selfish or not mesh with the team concept. In most cases I think that leads to the downfall of great programs.
Another big reason I heard was that FSU got too caught up in national recruiting: "You have a niche in recruiting, you start to win big, and suddenly kids from all over the country are interested in you. Sprinkle in the Internet and the crazy camp circuit, and top it off with kids committing earlier than ever and you end up turning your back on the kids that made you what you were in the first place." A Prime example, literally, is one-time all-everything California recruit Dominic Robinson, who was set to be awarded Deion Sanders' old number. "Chasing myths and legends" is how one of the former FSU guys put it.
FSU still has enough talent to make a run at the ACC this year, but just the fact that we're talking about "a possible ACC title run" shows you how much things have really changed with the program. I'll also be curious to see what kind of impact the probation has on FSU's recruiting. It's not as if the Noles lost a lot of scholarships or are being barred from appearing on TV or playing in the postseason, so I doubt it will have a big impact. That said I was a little surprised to read some of the comments from recruits in this AJC story:
"Florida State dropped down a lot with me because they got in all that trouble," said Loganville [Ga.] tailback Storm Johnson, who has 10 offers. "They have a great program, but I don't think I want to be any part of that."
My hunch is those kids who probably weren't really thinking about going to FSU now have another reason to shy away and those who are very open to FSU or grew up as Noles fans will still want to be recruited by them.
Anyhow, expect to see more columns like this one from Mike Bianchi from folks saying it's time for Bowden to step down.
• New Syracuse coach Doug Marrone is defiant when it comes to folks knocking N.Y. state football, reports Kevin Stevens."I cannot stand for the life of me people saying how bad New York football is. It's bull. It's bull! And you know what? I am going to prove they're wrong when I get a roster filled with New York kids and we're beating other teams around the country. When I start getting 10, 12 kids a year in this state, we'll be a hell of a football team. One thing I know about this state, we have some tough guys in this state."
As someone who grew up in the state, I appreciate Marrone's spirit. Hypothetically speaking, if you were to keep every player from a given state at the state school, you'd usually have a powerhouse. Imagine how much better Rutgers would've been this year with Eugene Monroe, BJ Raji, Brian Cushing and Donald Brown? But New York doesn't produce as much football talent as most big states do. In some cases players, especially from upstate, put up inflated numbers because the competition isn't what it is around the country. Duke point guard Greg Paulus was a celebrated quarterback up in the Syracuse area, but he really struggled when he was in the Army All-Star Game with other elite kids.
Some of those kids Marrone will try to keep in state from now on and you could put together a solid roster based on: Arizona TE Rob Gronkowski; Maryland TE Dan Gronkowski; Stanford center Alex Fletcher; Penn State DE Maurice Evans; Penn State safety Mark Rubin; Penn State RB Stephfon Green; Penn State OG Rich Ohrnberger; Rutgers DBs Courtney Green, Devin McCourty and Jason McCourty; Rutgers LB Blair Bines; Rutgers WR Keith Stroud; Pitt WR Derek Kinder; Buffalo WR Naaman Roosevelt; Buffalo RB James Starks; Wisconsin RB P.J. Hill; Michigan OL John Ferrara; Notre Dame OG Eric Olsen.
• It'd be hard to dispute that the SEC is better on the field than the ACC, but academically that may not be the case although that's apparently not how Steve Spurrier sees it according to one recruit from the state of Georgia. As Phil Giltman writes, Spurrier drove to middle Georgia to try to convince Perry offensive lineman Johnnie Farms to recommit to South Carolina by explaining that the SEC is academically superior to the ACC.
"It's not even close," said Farms, who committed to South Carolina before committing and eventually signing with North Carolina. "I knew all along the ACC is better academically. I just wanted to see how far he would go. He didn't go too far, but he went far enough."
My three cents: I'm not quite sure what a conference's academics has to do with individual schools. Do all Pac-10 programs get the benefit of the doubt because they're in the same league as Stanford? It does bring to mind the colorful quote of a certain favorite coach of mine who once said about the SEC: There's 10 football schools, a basketball school (Kentucky) and an academic school (Vandy).To go around the college football landscape with Bruce Feldman, become an ESPN Insider.