Former University of Illinois coach Ron Turner will be announced as FIU's coach Friday afternoon.
"I'm excited about everything Pete Garcia and the president (Mark Rosenberg) have been doing to get this thing going," Turner said Thursday night. "Not that it hasn't been successful if you look at the strides made in a short amount of time."
I asked Turner why the return to college coaching when 12 of his last 20 seasons have been in the NFL.
"I love being a head coach," Turner said. "I love the college game. People would ask me which I liked more and I'd tell them, 'Whichever one is where I am.' I love working with young guys as 18 years olds, watcing them grow and leave four years later as men. I've got guys I recruited my first year at Illinois that I still keep in contact with."
Turner was 35-57 in his eight seasons at Illinois, 1997-2004, peaking in 2001 with a 10-1 team that won the Big Ten, then lost the Sugar Bowl. (The Rose Bowl, traditionally Big 10 vs. Pac 12, hosted the Bowl Alliance national championship game with the University of Miami and Nebraska). He said he thought Illinois was on the verge of bouncing back after the 2004 season because of the good young players they had. Ron Zook took over there and after a pair of two-win seasons, went 9-4 in 2007.
Turner said he didnt' have a great amount of experience recruiting South Florida, though they got some players out to go to Illinois, but "we will make every effort to keep local guys here."
Turner, brother of longtime NFL assistant and head coach Norv Turner, spent last season with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers as quarterbacks coach on the same staff with special assistant Butch Davis, long the presumed favorite for the FIU job. According to Ron Turner, this was the only college job he interviewed for this year.
He said though his offensive background tended to be more the so-called West Coast Offense "I believe in pushing the ball down the field and playing up tempo." He said there would be some spread and spread option in his offense, but it wouldn't be exclusively spread. So, yes, FIU fans, you'll be seeing your quarterback under center. Turner said he thought after playing college football in his offense, which incorporates a lot of NFL offensive elements, players would be able to adjust more quickly from college to the NFL. He didn't say this, but that could be a selling point in recruiting, which he has to get hopping on after the American Football Coaches Association convention.
So it was back out to Camp Mitch Wednesday night for the FIU-Florida A&M basketball game. I'm one of the few people who can say that on a night with school still out, the Heat playing at the Jetsonsesque Triple A and the University of Florida getting battered in the Sugar Bowl by Louisville.
Richard Pitino has said he wanted his team ready to play whether the crowd was five or 5,000 and after a shaky first few minutes, FIU looked happy to be home against Florida A&M. The women's hoop team dealt FAMU some pain in Tallahassee with Jerica Coley's 35 points and Finda Mansare hitting a shot with six seconds left for a 70-69 win.
At The Branch, 5-9 Deric Hill played defense like a one-man gnat swarm, deflecting 20 passes by FIU's count and making an official seven steals. At least two other times, his pressure led to steals by others and FAMU's shot clock violation came after Hill discombobulated a possession by deflecting a pass. Meanwhile, forward Tymell Murphy had the rare 20-20 night, 24 points and 20 rebounds, one game after having zero rebounds.
"No," Pitino laughed when I asked him if he saw this night coming from Hill. "He plays very hard and he's a disrupter defensively. He's always given us a lot, but giving us seven steals and eight assists is something I didn't anticipate."
At times, play rambled along with the raggedness and barely controlled speed of a hooptie with turbo. FIU's aggressiveness on defense eventually carried the day as the Panthers pulled away late to a 88-72 win. FIU forced 25 turnovers and ran to a 21-6 advantage in fast break points.
"This is the way I want to play," Pitino said. "I want to play a lot of guys, pressure teams, speed them up. Try to create offense from our defense. And we did that. We had almost 100 offensive possessions. We really got out and ran. We tried to emphasize that because the pace was too slow. We don't want to do that. We want to make conditioning a factor."
Marco Porcher Jimenez also gave FIU valuable minutes, especially in the first half when he had nine points and two rebounds in just six minutes.
"We've got very good walk-ons. Marco's a very good player, Juan (Ferrales) is a very good player, Deric Hill's a very good player," Pitino said. "The thing about Marco I love is he knows how to play, he guards and he can shoot. If you can shoot in our system, you normally are going to be successful. And he's not scared to shoot, too, which I love."
After six consecutive road games, the Panthers were happy to be back in their own house even if there was only about a house party's worth of folks there. (Official attendance was 778. By a late first half count, 278 is closer to actual attendance.)
"I'm very happy with that performance," Pitino said. "We haven't played great at home. We haven't played much at home. But when you're trying to rebuild a culture, you want to show your fans the brand of basketball you're trying to play. With the people who showed up today, they go home, they tell people and they come back and I think that's the way you build your program the way you want to build it."
A couple of conference gatherings, the Sun Belt and Conference USA, will be in South Florida soon. Look for this possibility: FAU and Middle Tennessee making the jump from The Belt to C-USA this coming academic year with FIU and North Texas instead of 2014. Apparently, there's been tension between those schools and The Belt. Middle-philes found it awfully suspicious that their 8-4 team, which finished tied for second in The Belt, played in the winner-take-all game for The Belt title and had beaten Georgia Tech soundly, got left out of the bowl party while 7-5 Western Kentucky went to a bowl. Shortly before bowl bids were announced, Middle announced it was moving to Conference USA.
Some athletic department staff allegedly were told Wednesday that the football coaching search could go another seven to 10 days. That does put it close to the Jan. 15, when Butch Davis will get another $592,000 from the University of North Carolina. What Davis' lawyer told me via e-mail was posted here previously. After almost two decades waking up next to a lawyer (Harvard Law '82, same class as John Roberts and Alberto Gonzales), I know that lawyers who started practicing before e-mail almost reflexively avoid putting things into e-mail that aren't certain.
The American Football Coaches Association convention is Sunday through next Wednesday. Usually, that's a bonanza of interviews as everybody tries to get their staffs filled out before recruiting (college) or free agency (NFL). Mario Cristobal's staff remains technically in FIU's employ and will remain so until the new coach is hired. Then, whomever that person is will be given the option of what to do with the staff.
To those who don't like the use of "sources," you obviously haven't followed a coaching search before. If you've noticed, rarely does a candidate for a job admit on the record that he's even looking for a job, much less has interviewed for it. Nor do schools or franchises often admit on the record who they're going after, especially if the group of folks running the search is small (as is the case here). What the Dolphins did last year, announcing interviews, is far from the norm. More the norm was Dallas offensive line coach Tony Sparano being almost the only person in Dallas who wouldn't talk about Tony Sparano as the next Dolphins head coach in the 24 hours after the Cowboys lost in the 2007 NFL playoffs. I think he was introduced as Dolphins coach two days later.
As I don't spend all waking hours at Camp Mitch -- wouldn't mind it some days -- nor am I Gene Hackman's character in The Conversation or Enemy of the State, several somebodies likely are going to see things I don't and hear things I don't. So I see what I see and sift through a lot of "you didn't hear it from me, but..." or "off the record, I heard..." Sometimes, people are honestly wrong. Sometimes, people lie.
Today, I told you about the two very different things I was hearing about Danny Hope. Back in the days before blogs and 24/7 reporting, I wouldn't have written anything. Or, maybe if this search hadn't gone on for a almost a month, I wouldn't have written anything. I've done coaching searches for over two decades, but this is my first with a blog.
For those who think I'm angry about things said in the comments, I'm not. Tired and undercaffeinated, yes, maybe a little miffed in a "Seriously?" way, but not truly angry. I'm too old for that (stuff).