What look like Turner’s Pluses and Minuses.
In-game coaching experience: Turner’s greatest strength hits at the previous staff’s greatest weakness. He’s called plays and/or handled a sideline in the Super Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, Ohio Stadium, Michigan’s Big House, etc. There should be fewer wasted timeouts, bad challenges and general “doh!” moments, such as being flagged for having 12 men on the field the play after getting flagged for having 13 men on the field.
Also, conservatism could infect FIU offensively once the Panthers got up big in games. That’s fine when the defense played as well as it did in 2010 and 2011. This past year, getting the squeaky sphincter in such situations cost them. Again, Turner’s been there and done that.
Used to working with limited talent: This could come into play early next year with a young offensive line, an injury-prone Jake Medlock, injury-prone Kedrick Rhodes, not much beyond sophomore E.J. Hilliard in the way of a viable backup quarterback and limited recruiting time. It’s said often enough to be cliché, but Charlie Weis looked like a much smarter coach when he had a quarterbacking Brady, Tom or Quinn, in New England or at Notre Dame than when he didn’t. The best NFL quarterback Turner worked with was Jeff Garcia…at San Jose State.
Who were those quarterbacks directing powerhouse Illinois offenses in 2001 and 2002, Kurt Kittner and John Kitna? Kurt Russell and John Ritter? Who were the dominating defensive linemen, the omnipresent linebackers on his defense? The cupboard’s hardly bare at FIU, but if Turner falters in recruiting or injuries hit, he’ll need similar sorcery.
A questionable recruiter: Going by recruiting rankings – and you know how I feel about what those are worth, but we have to use some measure -- FIU’s recruiting steadily improved under Mario Cristobal. With a still-weak football name (FIU) behind him and unimpressive facilities, Cristobal mined Palm Beach County to Homestead about as well as you could hope and even established a small presence in hypercompetitive Louisiana.
Meanwhile, Champaign’s a fun college town with a gorgeous campus, and a large, active alumni base. While the best of the Illini’s football history dates to Prohibition (Red Grange) or might as well date back that far (Dick Butkus), it’s still in the Big Ten. When Turner and his staff went out to recruit, they could put something on the table. And you should be strong in Illinois and metropolitan Chicago, competitive in the St. Louis metro area.
With that, Turner came back with one recruiting class that enabled him to win in the Big Ten. Then, down the Matterhorn as far as raw talent. Turner’s eight Illinois’ teams dressed zero future NFL first round picks and just three future second round picks. Just to pick out another Big Ten team I ran across in researching that, Iowa had three future first rounders on the same team in 2002 and 2003: Pro Bowl tight end Dallas Clark, 2007 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders and Oakland offensive lineman Robert Gallery. From Illinois, defensive backs Eugene Wilson and Kelvin Hayden got drafted as second rounders. Defensive lineman Fred Evans, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd and offensive guard David Diehl all are still playing in the NFL from Illinois.
Now, he’ll be going into a recruit’s house with much less in a much more heavily swarmed recruiting area. Think it was tough pulling kids away from Michigan and Ohio State’s tradition and Wisconsin’s parties? Welcome to a battle royal for every three-star kid south of Atlanta with a test score or a summer school schedule.
Also, there’s a skill to closing the deal on South Florida kids. Turner doesn’t have it. Until he learns it, he’ll need assistants who do.
You’re not in Palo Alto or Champaign anymore: Since his mid-30s, Turner’s been a college coach at affluent Stanford, rivaled by few when combining academics and football; Big Ten Illinois; and with money-printing NFL teams.
FIU ain’t them. Those places sneeze away FIU’s resources. More money, more support staff, fewer headaches for head football coaches.
Every coach goes through a Ramen-noodles-no-sleep-utility guy era as a young assistant. The FIU head coaching job isn’t as far removed from that as you might think. Turner’s 59. There’s only so much night patrol cop or fireman you feel like playing at that age, unless it’s with your wife.
FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said the money for assistant coaches remains the same as last year and will rise in succeeding years.
Pete Garcia said his sights got set on Turner with two weeks left in the NFL season. That puts it just over two weeks after Garcia fired Mario Cristobal. So, either Garcia sacked Cristobal without a clear plan in mind or he ran through his list like a pound of chitlins through my Uncle Dickie, then found Turner.
Turner’s respected enough to remain continuously employed, but has bounced among three NFL jobs in the last three seasons (and it’s not beyond belief that Garcia advisers Greg Schiano and Butch Davis, if Schiano had decided not to bring Turner back, helped lateral Turner south to FIU). The last three years of college head coaching on an overall erratic resume were nine years removed from the start of the 2013 season and show a 9-26 record.
And so does FIU go forward...
Left tackle Caylin Hauptmann will be playing in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, an all-star game for draft eligible seniors, on Jan. 19.