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44 posts from January 2013

January 20, 2013

RB Alfonso Randolph commits says fellow FIU commit

Ocala West Port tight end Jonnu Smith, long an FIU commit, announced via Twitter on the way from his official visit that teammate Alfonso Randolph, also has committed to FIU. Randolph, who also made his visit this weekend, confirmed Smith's claim via reTweet.

Smith, 6-3, 196, was the Ocala Star-Banner's First Team All-County tight end after catching 34 passes for 517 yards and two touchdowns. Randolph, 5-11, 185,was a second team All-County running back with 671 rushing yards and averaging 7.8 per carry. Neither is rated by ESPN or Scout.com.

January 19, 2013

Player thought & thoughts on athletes

I haven't spoken to a single football player on the record about the firing aside from safety Jonathan Cyprien on the day he was invited to the Senior Bowl and went through graduation. As far as the players still in school, it's against FIU's policy to conduct on the record interviews outside the oversight of the media relations department or a coach.

To me, this policy treats these athletes, some of whom are grown men and women, some of whom have and support children, like second-graders needing to be coached through a Christmas assembly. I do, however, respect said policy because I don't want to get any athlete or media relations person in the doghouse or the unemployment line. Some coaches can be a little control freaky.

Now that doesn't mean some football players haven't stopped by wherever I happen to be working and informally chatted, asking what I think and letting me know what they think. Because I don't want athletes to feel that whatever they say to me when we're just yakking without notebooks and recorders out is going to wind up here, I'll just say the consensus is about what you'd expect: they liked Mario Cristobal and his staff, not thrilled about the firing, but are open-minded about the new coaching staff.

It's not as if these young men just found out about Santa Claus, The Great Pumpkin and Te'o's girlfriend. They've been at high schools during coaching changes and they know FIU can be Wackyland. I don't sense an exodus certainly not on a percentage level with what Richard Pitino had to overcome after taking over the men's basketball program after the Isiah Thomas firing.

A bigger concern than transfers might be academic eligibility. That's where the "stop work" orders of December for the assistant coaches and support staff could boomerang right onto FIU's butt. Those folks, more so than at schools with bigger budgets and better organizational infrastructure, needed to ride some kids to academic eligibility the way Eddie Arcaro rode horses to the wire. Without that jockeying, don't be suprised if some kids don't make it.

As some coaches note, being a student-athlete isn't a skate these days, especially at a school without an army of, ahem, "tutors." While talking to women's basketball coach Cindy Russo for Saturday's article on Jerica Coley (read it at your own risk), she said she thought her team with four Dean's List students was "stressed out." They'd missed the first week of classes on the road, were back home for the second week, then will be on the road next week for games at Louisiana-Lafayette Tuesday and at South Alabama on Saturday.

"Their tanks are empty and minds are full," Russo said.


I just spent my Friday night going through the last six days of blog posts and logging IP numbers (yeah, I live on South Beach, but I'm also in my 40s avec kid, who I'm up and getting ready for school daily).Those of you with multiple names to one IP number, all comments by all names in the last six days will be deleted. You can repost them again under one name. That's fine. This isn't about the content of your post. Clearly, my standards for "offensive" are pretty idiosyncratic.

I just want the electronic Fletch act out of this Comments section.

January 18, 2013

Cleaning up from Thursday at The Branch

An actual crowd filled the lower bowl of U.S. Century Bank Arena for Thursday's men's basketball game against North Texas. The official attendance was 1,109. I guess free pizza made free admission look extra attractive. If that wouldn't have worked, the next stop is free beer and singing frogs.


A mere sprinkling of fans for this game would've turned somebody's Friday into a Monday. President Mark Rosenberg and his wife were among those in the seats, and I've heard the weak basketball attendance this season had been a concern to the Prez. To an alumni group earlier this week, I heard he presented poor football attendance as a reason for booting former head coach Mario Cristobal.

As I've stated before on this blog, even unto a year ago, attendance falls under the responsibility of the athletic director. Or, in this case, the executive director of sports and entertainment. Anyway, it was the first home crowd of the season officially over 1,000. I think free pizza also could be offered for Saturday's doubleheader against Louisiana-Lafayette.

By the way, if you were in the stands, you had just as many points as North Texas' sophomore forward Tony MItchell, one of the nation's most talented players. Mitchell's previous scoring low was three points. FIU did a good defensive job on Mitchell, playing a 2-3 zone and double-teaming him while playing a zone with the other three players. Mitchell also seemed frustrated and, eventually, simply not a part of the North Texas offense.

FIU senior guard Cameron Bell got his first start of the season Thursday in his fifth game of the season. Bell, who started at point instead of Deric Hill or Gaby Belardo, spent the first month and a half of the season coming back from a shoulder injury.

Bell played 27 minutes, went four of 14 from the field and grabbed six rebounds and a game-high four steals. He sank a couple of key free throws down the stretch as FIU nursed what a lead that once stood at 18 points to the final horn. Those free throws helped provide the buffer for his fouling North Texas' Niko Stojilijkovic on a three-pointer with 29 seconds left and FIU up 67-59. Stojilijkovic sank all three free throws. That was a play high in FIU coach Richard Pitino's mind when he said the Panthers needed to be "smarter" in closing out games.

"I don't think we have a pure point guard," Pitino said in explaining starting Bell at the point. "Teams are pressuring our point guard. And we've had what I call a lot of "live ball" turnovers. It's not so much anything Deric or Gaby did. We're just trying to figure it out. None of these guys have played together. Cam Bell just gets back. I wanted to give it a different look and see how it looked."

As for how Bell played, "I think he was good. I expect a lot more from him. Mentally, not as good as I hoped it would've been. But he gave us a good effort. Only turned the ball over one time in 27 minutes, so that was good."

North Texas coach Tony Benford said he wouldn't mind having some of FIU's guards -- and he wasn't kidding. Not only did Benford say the Mean Green were down to two true guards, but he got a call from FIU guard Malik Smith's junior college coach last year. Benford said he liked Smith, but couldn't find a scholarship for him.


Folks, pick a name and stick with it. I've started checking IP addresses on posts. I'll do so every couple of days. Double posts under various names means all posts under all names get deleted. For the last several days, I've only eliminated the postings under the second name.


January 17, 2013

Baby Blue Ribbons and patches

Assistant men's basketball coach Mark Lieberman wasn't with the team Thursday night. Sunday, Lieberman suffered the worst loss -- his infant son, Max, died. Lieberman found out as the team was coming back from Arkansas-Little Rock Sunday.

The baby blue ribbons being worn by FIU athletic department staffers are in memoriam as are the patches FIU will wear for tonight's game against North Texas.

Kamika Idom out indefinitely; I wasn't escorted anywhere

Sophomore guard Kamika Idom, FIU's first off the bench, is out indefinitely with a knee injury. FIU could've used her in Thursday's 70-68 loss to North Texas. The Panthers looked ponderous against backcourt pressure applied by a small and not very quick lineup.


Nobody escorted me off campus. Nobody asked that I leave campus. Nothing of the sort happened at all.

The table and chair in The Fieldhouse lobby at which I had been quietly sitting and working several days, engaging in conversation with those who wished to do so, mysteriously disappeared the other day. And a couple of other strange things happened. And I do think some questions I'm asking and people I'm talking to have given folks flippy-flip stomachs.

But I have not been harrassed on campus in anything close to the dramatic fashion described in a few of your posts. Thanks for the concern, though.

January 16, 2013

The holdup on the 2013 football schedule; free stuff at basketball games; Beaupre wins Sun Belt Diver of the Week (again)

FIU's non-conference schedule for 2013 long has been set -- open at Maryland Aug. 31; host UCF Sept. 7; host Bethune-Cookman Sept. 14; go to Louisville, Sept. 21.

But the Conference USA portion of the schedule couldn't be set until everybody knows who'll be in C-USA next year. And with it now looking as if FAU and Middle Tennessee State will join the league in 2013 instead of 2014, there's still not certainty of the JLA, er, C-USA Roll Call for next season.

The FAU-Middle situation should be settled at the next Conference USA meetings, which will be down here next week.

By the way, Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel gave FIU the what for in his Tuesday analysis of coaching changes...



The first 75 fans to the women's game and the men's game Thursday night against North Texas will receive a free t-shirt and free pizza and beverage on the plaza.

Wonder if that'll include the 10 NBA scouts in the house to watch North Texas' Tony Mitchell.


Junior diver Sabrina Beaupre swept both the 1-meter and 3-meter events at FIU Winter Invite and in the dual meet against Central Connecticut State. So, the Sun Belt awarded Beaupre her third Diver of the Week award this season and 13th of her career.

January 15, 2013

Baseball schedule released; FIU fishing

At least FIU will start the baseball season playing against a College World Series team.

Stony Brook, which made last years CWS despite a name that looks lifted from The Flintstones, comes to town for a season-opening three-game series, Feb. 15-17. That starts a run of 16 of the first 17 at home, including three games Mar. 8-10 against perennial power and future intraconference foe Rice.

After those 17 come three road games Mar. 15-17 all the way up at FAU, then back home for three series, ending with a pair of games against Florida A&M April 2-3. The return series with FAU, May 16-18, closes the regular season before the Sun Belt tournament May 21-26 at Louisiana-Lafayette.  


FIU made an offer to Virginia Beach (Va.) Cape Hendry Collegiate shooting guard Ayron Hutton, a class of 2014 player.

Chandler Burkett swings from FIU to Maryland

Panama City Bozeman Defensive end Chandler Burkett has swung his commitment from FIU to Maryland, according to David Jenkins, president of Bozeman Football Booster Club and a coach at Bozeman.

The rangy 6-4 Burkett, a July commit to FIU, is rated at two stars by Rivals and three stars by Scout, which had him as the No. 78 defensive end in the nation.

January 14, 2013

Fallen Idom?

Guard Kamika Idom got her fifth start of the season and played 31 minutes in Saturday's 55-53 win at Arkansas-Little Rock. But, Monday, Idom, sixth on the Panthers in playing time (18:42 per game) and second to Jerica Coley in steals (20), was walking around with a leg brace consuming her entire left leg. I'm trying to find out how long she'll be out.

The women's team is 10-6, 4-3 in the Sun Belt, with 13 regular season games left. Coley's third in the nation in scoring at 23.8 points per game.

Soccer signings; football staff turnover

FIU men's soccer officially signed Boca Raton High midfielder Nico Midttun, who played club soccer with Weston FC, and German backliner Marvin Hezel this weekend.

Midttun committed to FIU last summer. A four-time All-State selection at Boca, he also played in his native Ecuador during summers and spent last summer there playing for a professional club team on a tryout basis.

Hezel comes out of the SC Frieburg academy and might be a replacement for graduating stellar defender Anthony Hobbs.


FIU hosted several official visits this weekend, including Belen defensive back Xavier Hines. New head coach Ron Turner's reached out to tight end commits Jonathan Pavlov from North Palm Beach Benjamin and Ocala West Port's Jonnu Smith.

Meanwhile,  only special teams coordinator/secondary coach Jeff Popovich and running backs coach Apollo Wright remain from Mario Cristobal's staff. Outside linebackers coach Juan Navarro, defensive line coach Cedric Calhoun and tight ends coach/recruiting coordinator Dennis Smith have been jettisoned.

January 12, 2013

Back in the game (sort of); Patterson as asst. head coach, Conlkin as DC

Felt like kitty barf most of Friday, which is why there was no blog post. Now feeling like cleaned up kitty barf...

Ron Turner went for Josh Conklin, Tennessee safeties coach, as defensive coordinator over former Texas-El Paso defensive coordinator Andre Patterson, who'll be assistant head coach and defensive line coach. Patterson coached NFL defensive lines with New England, Minnesota, Dallas, Cleveland and Denver. He's bounced around, doing two years at UNLV in the same job he'll have at FIU and three years as UTEP's defensive coordinator.

Under Patterson, UTEP's defense ranked 91st, 104th, 92nd, respectively, in the nation. Conklin's defenses at The Citadel -- yes, FCS, 1-AA, but they're also playing against and ranked against 1-AA teams -- ranked 41st in 2010 and 36th in 2011.


Been meaning to do a story on junior diver Sabrina Beaupre for a year and had set up a time to talk for Friday evening, after she finished at FIU's dual meet with Central Connecticut State. So, trying not to breathe on anybody and fist-bumping instead of shaking hands, I got to the meet just in time for the penultimate event, the 200 IM, won by Sonia Perez in 2:06.55.


FIU also won the 200 freestyle (Johanna Gustafsdottir, 1:53.36); the 100 backstroke (Perez 59.06); 100 breaststroke (Jessica Chadwick, 1:06.17); 200 butterfly (Marina Ribi, 2:06.19); 50 free (Courtney VanderSchaaf, 25.12); 200 back (Perez, 2:06.20); 200 breast (Gustafsdottir, 2:21.55); 100 fly (Ribi, 57.52); and the 200 medley relay (Perez, Klara Andersson, Ribi, Valeriia Popova, 1:48.88). Beaupre won the 1-meter and 3-meter diving. FIU won the meet, 198-100.

The story on her will run in the next couple of weeks. Two things of interest, perhaps only to me: she's happy about the move to Conference USA because she'll be able to go back to platform diving, which she prefers to springboard. And, she's a Montreal Canadiens fan.


January 10, 2013

Back to UM for Cristobal

Sources close to former FIU coach Mario Cristobal, a former University of Miami player, graduate assistant and assistant coach, say he's not officially a University of Miami assistantagain yet, but will be soon, probably by the end of the day.

Now, the question becomes: what sanctions will the NCAA come down with and what reaction will it bring from head coach Al Golden? Because if Golden goes, don't rule out Cristobal being lifted into that position.

On FIU's end, size matters -- of Cristobal's paycheck. Whatever he'll make at UM this year cuts into the $906,386 FIU owes him just out of base salary (one year automatically plus a second year with that amount reduced by whatever he makes in another coaching job).

FIU owed former basketball coach Isiah Thomas $660,000 upon his firing last April. In 2012, the school with the second largest athletic budget in the Sun Belt Conference (around $23 million), the budget with the largest percentage in the nation coming from public money or student fees, managed to do at least $1.1 million worth of head coach firing.

That speaks for 40 to 50 percent of next year's Conference USA football TV money.

January 09, 2013

Goings and Comings

As the FIU football staff turns...

Sacked (so far): Tim Cramsey, offensive coordinator; Todd Orlando, defensive coordinator; Alex Mirabal, assistant head coach, offensive line; Frank Ponce, wide receivers; and Dan Hernandez, graduate assistant, offense. Edwin Pierre-Pata, graduate assistant, defense, had used up his graduate assistant eligibility.

And most of the support staff: Juan Lozano, director of football operations; Phil Ockinga, director of player personnel; Shawn Burns, director of football relations.

Still on staff (as of right now): Recruiting coordinator Dennis Smith; Jeff Popovich, special teams and secondary; Apollo Wright, running backs; Cedric Calhoun, defensive line; Juan Navarro, linebackers, defensive line; Chris Harzinski, graduate assistant, offense; Matt Garris, graduate assistant, defense.

Mike Salemi, equipment manager and facilities coordinator, is still on the job.

New guys: Illinois offensive line coach Luke Butkus (former Illini player during Ron Turner's time there as head coach and, yes, nephew of Dick) will be offensive line coach and run game coordinator. Turner's son, former Minnesota Vikings assistant Cameron, has been in the building. Coming down to be a graduate assistant is former Miami University graduate assistant Mike Hiestand, son of Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, Turner's offensive line coach at Illinois and on Lovie Smith's Bears staff with Turner.

Now, this isn't to say further changes in staff aren't coming or that those remaining from the past staff are safe. Mirabal was told he was terminated, officially, the same day Butkus was hired. So, of the past staff that remains, some might be just be keeping the office warm.

Butkus said he hasn't seen much of FIU on film, but has talked to Turner and said, "I see we've lost a few guys. But that's college football. You can sit there and pout about it. Or, you can roll up your sleeves and go to work. You asked if there's a certain height or weight I like linemen to be. No. If they come to work, roll up their sleeves, it's still a blue collar game."

Butkus actually knows South Florida a bit. He spent a lot of time here during his youth visiting relatives in North Miami who operate Miami Divers, a boat cleaning business. He's been an offensive line coach with Chicago and Seattle in the NFL before doing that job last season for Illinois.


January 08, 2013

Tuesday Afternoon...

Tomorrow's story on the basketball team, in case you don't feel like taking the paper out of the plastic...


Meanwhile, the head football coach's office at The Fieldhouse got Ron Turner and a new coat of paint over the last few days. Also, some offices got emptied as assistants, graduate assistants and support staff were being sent on their way during a rainy afternoon (which always reminds me of the song in the headline. 

Todd Orlando's allegedly up for the defensive coordinator job at Pitt. Let that irony sink in for a bit...

Vero Beach offensive lineman Chris Flaig, a former FIU commit, Tweeted last night that he's reopening the recruiting process and is taking an official visit to FAU. Flaig's rated at three stars by ESPN, two stars by Scout.com. Other reports have Jacksonville Sandalwood offensive lineman Donald Rocker doing the same.

Now, let's see if FIU can hold on to Boyd Anderson offensive lineman Sandley Jean-Felix, rated at three stars by ESPN and Scout.com, or Belen defensive back Xavier Hines, rated at two stars by Scout.com.


January 07, 2013

More Turner stuff; Hauptmann invited to all-star game

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.


Stuff on Turner

What follows could glaze your eyes thicker than Dunkin does a donut. Get your colada. Pack some healthy snacks (baby carrots, not baby Oreos), some pastrami turkey sandwiches, fill one water bottle with water and another with something from a bottle and let’s go down the long and winding, long-winded analysis road.

This breaks down is what new FIU coach Ron Turner has shown us over the last 23 years. I chose that because I referenced Rich Walker in my last post and it made me nostalgic for 1989-90.

Naw, actually I chose it because it gives us a good sample size on Turner as an offensive coordinator and Turner as quarterbacks coach. Those are the assets on which he’s being sold as the person to move FIU’s program forward.

At Stanford, once a Quarterback U right along with Purdue, BYU and Notre Dame, Turner didn’t have the Luck to work with a passer to rank with Plunkett, Elway or even Guy Benjamin or Turk Schoenert. But in Turner’s three years there on head coach Dennis Green’s staff as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, the offensive numbers improved each year.

1989: Stanford went 3-8, scored 17.0 points per game, beating 30 points only once, in a 40-33 loss to San Jose State. The quarterbacks were Steve Smith (150 of 270, 55.56 completion pct., 1,502 yards, seven touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 102.69 efficiency rating) and Brian Johnson (95 of 153, 62.09, 1,057 yards, four touchdowns, six interceptions, 120.91 efficiency rating).

1990: Stanford went 5-6, scored 23.9 points per game and scored over 30 points four times. The starting quarterback was Jason Palumbis (234 of 341, 68.62 pct., 2,579 yards, 11 touchdowns, nine interceptions, 137.52 efficiency rating).

1991: Stanford went 8-4 and lost the Aloha Bowl, scoring 30.7 points per game and beating 30 in five games. The quarterbacks were Steve Stenstrom (119 of 197, 60.41 pct., 1,683 yards, 15 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 150.19 efficiency ratings) and Jason Palumbis (80 of 139, 57.55, 806 yards, 0-4, 100.51).

Turner then moved jobs without having to move, about 20 minutes away to the head coaching job at San Jose State.

1992: San Jose State went 7-4, averaging 30.0 points per game, scoring above their average in five games. Turner had sophomore Jeff Garcia at quarterback (209 for 371, 56.33 percent, 2,418 yards, 15 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 118.49 efficiency rating) and running back Nathan DuPree (1,239 yards, 5.25 per carry). DuPree’s numbers dropped off the next year as Turner went to the NFL.

Turner two turns as Chicago offensive coordinator came under two former defensive coordinators-turned-head coaches, Dave “It’s no sin to punt” Wannstedt and Lovie Smith. Working as the Bears offensive coordinator resembles being a compliance director of a school in the old Southwest Conference: the people you’re working with really don’t understand the concept you’re discussing. Smith’s not as bad as Wannstedt in that way, but both fit with the franchise’s historic offensive philosophy: don’t screw it up.

Of Turner’s second turn with the Bears, I saw a fair amount of the 2006 NFC Champions’ games wire-to-wire. Not only did they play the Dolphins that season, I saw a couple of other regular season games and covered all three of their playoff games. They got to the Super Bowl on defense, the occasional offensive big play and more than occasional big kick and punt returns by Devin Hester. Also, nobody seemed to believe their run defense possessed the give that it did.

1993: 28th-ranked offense out of 28 teams with Jim Harbaugh starting 15 games at quarterback, backed up by Peter Tom Willis, a third-round pick in his last of four NFL seasons. The running backs were Neal Anderson (646 yards, 3.2 per carry) and Tim Worley (437 yards, 4.0 per carry) and already shopworn Craig Heyward.

1994: 23rd-ranked offense out of 28 teams with spaghetti-armed UM quarterback Steve Walsh starting 11 games and former Detroit backup Erik Kramer starting five. The running backs were Lewis Tillman (899 yards, 3.3) and Raymont Harris (464 yards, 3.8).

1995: Ninth-ranked offense out of 30 with Kramer starting all 16 games. The running backs were first round pick Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam (1,074 yards, 3.6) and Robert Green (570, 5.3). Wide receiver Curtis Conway, drafted seventh overall in 1993, caught 62 passes for 1,037 yards and 12 touchdowns. The touchdowns and his 16.7 yards per catch were the best of Conway’s 12-season career.

1996: 21st-ranked offense of 30 with Dave Krieg starting 12 games near the end of his career. Conway reached career highs of 81 catches and 1,049 yards. The running backs were Harris (748 yards, 3.9) and, on his way to Bustville, Salaam (496 yards, 3.5).

2005: 29th-ranked offense of 32 teams with Kyle Orton starting 15 games and having an astronomically abysmal 59.7 passer rating. The running got handled by Thomas Jones (1,335 yards, 4.3).

2006: 15th-ranked offense of 32 with Rex Grossman starting every game. Bernard Berrian assumed the deep threat role (15.2 yards per catch, six touchdowns) with Mushin Muhammad as the possession guy (60 catches, 863 yards). The running backs were Jones (1210 yards, 4.1) and Cedric Benson (647 yards, 4.1).

2007: 27th-ranked offense of 32 with Grossman, Orton and Brian Griese starting games because of injuries. Quarterbacks rotated like McCloud, Columbo and McMillan and Wife and the running game went nowhere with Benson (674 yards, 3.4) and (Not That) Adrian Peterson (510 yards, 3.4).

2008:  26th-ranked offense of 32 with Orton and his 79.4 passer rating starting 15 games. Running back Matt Forte led the Bears in rushing (1238 yards, 3.9) and receiving (63 catches).

2009: 23rd-ranked offense of 32 with Jay Cutler starting all 16 games and having a career low 76.8 passer rating. Forte ran for 929 yards, 3.6 per carry. Forte, tight end Greg Olsen, Devin Hester and wide receiver Earl Bennett all caught more than 50 passes.

At Illinois, Turner's prececessor, Lou Tepper, went 25-30-2 in five seasons. Turner went 35-57. His successor, Ron Zook, went 34-51. 

1997: The Illini went 0-11, scoring a national-worst 10.8 points per game with a high of 22. The quarterback was Mark Hoestra (115 of 219, 52.5 percent, 1,029 yards, five touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 90.38 efficiency rating).

1998: The Illini went 3-8, scoring 13.5 points per game and beat 30 twice. The quarterbacks were Hoekstra (38 of 104, 36.6 percent, 398 yards, 0 touchdowns, four interceptions, 60.99 efficiency rating) and Kittner (72 of 162, 44.4 percent, 782 yards, one touchdown, seven interceptions, 78.39 efficiency rating).

1999: The Illini went 8-4, scoring 32.3 per game, and beat 30 seven times, including a 63-21 win over Virginia in the Micron PC Bowl. The quarterback was Kittner (216 of 396, 54.55 percent, 2,702 yards, 24 touchdowns, five interceptions, 129.34 efficiency rating).

2000: The Illini went 5-6, scoring 26.7 points per game, scoring over 30 five times, ranking 51st nationally in offense, sixth in the Big Ten. The quarterback was Kittner (173 of 297,  58.2 percent, 1,982 yards, 18 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 128.92 efficiency rating).

 2001: The Illini went 10-2, scoring 32.5 points per game, scoring over 30 eight times, ranking 27th nationally in regular season offense, fourth in the Big Ten. The quarterback was Kittner (221 of 409,  54.0 percent, 3,256 yards, 27 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 135.8 efficiency rating).

 2002: The Illini went 5-7, scoring 28.8 points per game, scoring over 30 six times, ranking 10th nationally in offense, second in the Big Ten. The quarterback was John Beutjer (193 of 327, 59.0 percent, 2,511 yards, 21 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 137.99 efficiency rating). 

2003: The Illini go 1-11, scoring 16.92 points per game and breaking 30 once. The quarterbacks were Beutjer (162 of 257, 63.0 percent, 1,597 yards, 10 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 121.1 efficiency rating), Dustin Ward (63 of 108, 58.3 percent, 648 yards, three touchdowns, five interceptions, 108.6 efficiency rating) and Chris Pazan (49 of 82, 59.8 pct., 511 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, 115.3 efficiency rating).

2004: The Illini go 3-8, scoring 21.82 points per game and breaking 30 three times. The quarterbacks were Beutjer (107 of 188,  56.9 percent, 1,082 yards, eight touchdowns, four interceptions, 115.0 efficiency rating), Brad Power (57 of 100, 57.0 percent, 658 yards, four touchdowns, three interceptions, 119.4 efficiency rating) and Pazan (37 of 63, 58.7 pct., 292 yards, one touchdown, one interception, 99.7 efficiency rating).

Here are the NFL quarterbacks under Turner as quarterbacks coach:

2012: Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Josh Freeman. Career high in yards, 4,065; tied for career high yards per attempt, 7.285; career low in completion percentage for starting 10 games or more; his 27/17, touchdown/interception ratio was second best of career. Freeman’s 81.6 passer rating was the second best of his career.

2011: Indianapolis’ Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky. Played well enough for the Colts to be in position to draft Andrew Luck No. 1 overall. About all you can say is Orlovsky didn’t run out of the back of the end zone.

1996:  Dave Krieg, Shane Matthews, Steve Stenstrom as quarterbacks. Krieg started 12 games, had a 14/12 touchdown/interception ratio, 59.9 completion pct., 76.3 passer rating near the end of his career.

1995: Erik Kramer, Steve Walsh. Kramer started all 16 games and had a career-year: 93.5 passer rating, seventh best in the NFL, with 29 touchdowns, 10 interceptions. He was sacked 14 times.

1994: Erik Kramer, Steve Walsh. Kramer started five games, through eight touchdowns and eight interceptions, had a 79.9 passer rating and a 62.7 completion percentage, second highest of career. Walsh started 11 games, threw 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions, took 11 sacks, had a 77.9 passer rating, second best of his career, and a career-best 60.6 completion percentage.

1993: Jim Harbaugh, Peter Tom Willis. Harbaugh started 15 games in his last season with Chicago, which drafted him in 1986. His 72.1 passer rating was the second lowest of his career as a starter, but his 61.5 completion percentage was his third best as a starter. Seven touchdowns, 11 interceptions and got sacked 43 times.

Overall, as an offensive coordinator, it’s not as if he’s on the level of Don Coryell, Sid Gillman or any other offensive mind who once head coached the San Diego Chargers, including brother Norv. Ron Turner’s done decent work with middling talent. The NFL skill position players he’s worked with have football cards that fill the bins tagged “commons” and most of the college ones likely work in cubicles. He managed the No. 10 offense in the nation with inexperienced John Beutjer at quarterback. 

As a quarterbacks coach, Turner’s got a mixed record. Again, though, look at the names he’s been asked to coach. Erik Kramer going from Detroit backup to Chicago starter for two seasons speaks to the Bears ineptitude at player personnel judgment. Then again, somebody probably consulted the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach before making that acquisition, so some of that's on him. And Kramer did have a career year under Turner. Sometimes, though Turner probably felt like a chef on Chopped making an edible entrée with black licorice, peas and chicken in a can.

But at Illinois, that’s somewhat his fault. As a recruiter, those rosters say, “ehhh.”

More to come…


January 06, 2013

Swimmers & Balls

Before taking their regular spot in the stands at the day's highlight FIU athletic event -- who else can claim to have been there for the rainy kickoffs of not only football vs. Louisville, but the women's soccer season opener? -- the swimming & diving team won the FIU Winter Invitational over TCU and Eastern Michigan.

Junior Sonia Perez jacked up her wins total to 15 this season by taking the 500 freestyle (4:59.32) and the 100 Individual Medley (59.52). Junior diver Sabrina Beaupre won the 1-meter and 3-meter competitions with totals of 307.35 and 314.77, respectively.


The women's game went about as expected, a 63-47 win for FIU. Louisiana-Lafayette came in 1-4 in the Sun Belt, the closest of the four losses by 12 points. As Lou-La threw a Polly Pocket-sized lineup on the floor, FIU wound up using only six players -- starters Jerica Coley, Finda Mansare, Marita Davydova, Kamika Idom, Carmen Miloglav and sixth woman Arielle Durant.

"It was a small group, so we couldn't get all those bigs in," FIU coach Cindy Russo said. "(Lou-La is) all guards except for one. Finda can keep up with them and the rest of our bigs couldn't. Zsofia Labady sprained her ankle. She'd usually be playing. I knew I'd have to play Kamika Idom as a four tonight."

Entertaining, thrilling, painful to watch in some spots...all describe the men's 75-70 win, especially in the second half. Some great defense, a lot of bad offense and even more poor shooting. I got one crack on Twitter about FIU coach Richard Pitino's comment that he worries about defense and rebounding, not "the ball going in," but that's pretty much in line with what I've heard said by many basketball coaches. Even a team of skilled gunners goes frigid sometimes. The best most hope for from offense is getting open shots for the right players in the right spots.

Malik Smith was one for 10 from three-point range before hitting the game's biggest shot with 1:30 left to give FIU a 67-64 lead. But, he was open, that's his shot and he's a shooter. On the other hand, any three-point tried by Jerome Frink or Tola Akomalafe qualifies as a lousy shot even if it goes in and should be grounds for two minutes on the bench. Hopefully, they will feel shame.


 "Really, really happy with the effort," Pitino said. "This is the second game in a row where we got 50 plus deflections. Our goal is 35. so to be able to go twice in a row with 50 plus deflections is really good. Tymell (Murphy), 28 points, 15 rebounds, five blocks and 10 deflections. So he's disrupting the game, changing the game with his effort. Deflections, all that is is a barometer of effort. They gave good effort against a very well-coached team, so we're really pround of the victory. They're only going to get better because they're really young and he's a great coach."

And there was actually something more resembling a crowd there to watch (official attendance: 855, actual attendance more like 500) than Wednesday. 

By the way, for those upset at the video from Wednesday: go to a game! Don’t be angry with me or anybody else for showing that a program in its 26th season of Division I basketball, in a major city, started a home night game with a crowd smaller than my wedding (not an exaggeration). No weather issues, no quarantine. Yes, it's holiday break, but most of the eighth largest enrollment in the nation lives within this metropolitan area. This isn’t some remote college town. Blame Florida A&M's local alums and fans, too. No few of them locally, but fewer than 100 FAMU fans were in the house at peak. I'm not sure I've covered an FIU game with fewer fans at tipoff and I covered the last season of the Rich Walker era, when they played Yale the day after Christmas.

I shoot video when I see something worth trying to shoot and remember that I can do it ("I wonder if Daffy will remember that he can fly...(sound of splash)...I guess not."). 


Nobody complained when I shot video of South Alabama's flouncing women's basketball coach or the controversial final seconds of the FAU-FIU men's game at The Branch last year or the women’s soccer team’s pre-practice Halloween costume party as they prepped for the Sun Belt tournament.

I don't know what the University of Miami drew for its most recent home game. And, I really don't care. I don't cover that school and wasn't covering that game. I'm equal opportunity. I've ripped UM for its crowds, too.

Monday's men's home game against Bethune-Cookman starts at 1 p.m., so as not to clash with the BCS Championship Game. OK, so FIU plays a weekday game at midday to avoid going head-to-head with a football game involving two schools most of their locally-based student body grew up despising if they cared about them at all...but won't move Saturday games to the afternoon, just to try it. Granted, winter Saturday afternoons in Miami aren't the gray, cold, pass-the-Grand Marnier-and-hot-chocolate blocs of time that they are in Kentucky, Indiana, North Carolina, Kansas, etc.

But it's worth a shot.



Chandler Williams, dead at 27

I didn't know Chandler Williams, FIU wide receiver from 2004-2007, the school's all-time leading receiver before T.Y. Hilton and still No. 2 in receptions. I didn't know him as a person, that is. I know him only as a name in a record book, one that I probably typed at some point when he was signed by the Dolphins and released by the Dolphins.

But after Williams died Saturday reportedly of a heart attack at a flag football game here in town, I've found myself fighting tears all night thinking about the daughter, Tori Summer-Rose Williams, for whom the wonderful bond between a father and a daughter never gets to fully form. And I know in whatever time he had between the time he realized he was passing on and when he passed on, whether it was seconds or milliseconds, he thought of his daughter.

Damn shame.

January 05, 2013

Turner's introduction

My news story posted at http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/01/04/3168173/ron-turner-joins-fiu-panthers.html a few hours ago.

Now, for other stuff that didn't make the story for lack of space...

Most of FIU's football staff attended to smile, shake hands with the new boss and wait for him to declare himself their old boss. If any are headed to the American Football Coaches Association to do any job hunting, they're doing so on their own dime. Turner said he'd prefer to bring potential assistants to him rather than play in the coaches mixer that is the convention.

"I've gone to the coaches convention as a head coach when you have jobs. It's not a lot of fun," Turner said. "I'd rather be here having a chance to get to know some of our players. I've got some names of some guys. I want to talk to the current staff and get a feel for them. Then, talk to some names that I have. I'd rather bring them here and get them to see this. They come in and see what's going on here and get caught up in the passion, it's like recruits -- you have a better chance to get them. Calling them and talking on the phone...some of them have never been here. They don't know much about the campus or the university or the football program. I want a chance to get them here to see and feel what's going on."

Garcia said, “We are going to emphasize special teams. We’re going to have a special teams coordinator who is devoted solely to special teams. I think only nine other teams in the country have that. There’s no reason why, in South Florida, with the athletes we have here, you shouldn’t win special teams on a weekly basis.”

Garcia also figures Turner probably will call the plays and work with the quarterbacks.

Some current FIU players attended the introductory press conference. Turner plans to have a team meeting early next week, probably Tuesday, and said he wants to schedule a time to meet with players' families.

“For me to truly know what these guys are about and get to know them as well as I want to where I can help them to achieve their goals, it’s important to know their families," he said. "To know where they’re from, what kind of upbringing they’ve had.

"I made that mistake when I went to Illinois. I got to know the families of the kids we recruited and I got to know the families of the kids on the team. I didn’t reach out to get to know the families of the kids who were already there.”

Not spotted there Friday (at least by me), though mentioned often by Turner, was FIU President Mark Rosenberg. Rosenberg did attend the announcement in the same room months ago of the move to Conference USA. I can't recall if he was at the Richard Pitino introduction last spring. Then again, that's basketball and this is a metropolitan area of college basketball philistines. Head football coach isn't the most important position at FIU. It is, however, the most visible. Applications increased dramtically after the Little Ceasar's Pizza Bowl win. The president was involved in keeping Mario Cristobal at each pivotal point in 2011 and 2012. To not be there for the public introduction of Turner doesn't seem right.

Turner was speaking of Garcia and Rosenberg when he said, “I could see the passion. That they’ve got a committment that they want to be the best, that losing is not an option. That this program is going to be successful, and they’re going to give me as the head coach, the director of this program, all the resources necessary to run a very good, clean program that’s going to continue to climb.”

That last part struck me as interesting. One of the consistent carps of the previous staff -- and, really, more than a few FIU coaches over the years across sports -- was the lack of resources compared to those whom the school would like to consider its peers. "Resources" include everything from money for assistant coaches, office goods and program infrastructure to a practice field and a larger academic support system for athletes (Garcia said that doesn't fall under athletics, however). Illinois' athletic department budget at the end of Turner's time there was about twice what FIU's is now without adjusting for inflation.

Illinois came up and Turner described his nine-season stay in Champaign, which began with an 0-11 team, included two bowl teams, then did the Coyote (Eatibus Anythingus) over the cliff the last three seasons:

"The way we got it going there was we recruited some guys who love football. That have a passion for the game, a toughness, who are committed to being successful. I look back on those guys, those are the guys who were texting me today or calling me and wishing me good luck. It was all based on a committment to football. A passion for the game of football, a toughness. A lot of them had that and then we had to teach them, 'Now, you've got to have that passion for the classroom and everytyhing else' beacuse their focus was football, football, football. And 90 percent of the guys who come out, that's what it is.  But you help direct their energy to help them understand that the academic side is just as important. And we had a pretty good quarterback (Kurt Kittner).

"After that class left, we dropped down a little bit but we also had a very young class that was heading in the right direction and was going to get back on track because they had the same qualities. That's what we're going to try to recruit here."

The Zooker might disagree. Ron Zook took over from Turner and went 2-9, then 2-10 before his own recruiting classes began to take over the program. Just for comparison's sake, at the same school, Zook went 34-51 at Illinois with three bowl appearances in seven seasons. Turner went 35-57 with two bowl appearances in eight seasons. So, not much difference between the Rons in the same job over almost the same amount of time.

Turner admitted while he's an offensive guy, defense wins titles. When FIU led the Sun Belt in defense, scoring defense and turnover margin in 2010: co-conference title and bowl game. When FIU led the Sun Belt in sacks, pass efficiency defense and was 15th nationally in scoring defense: bowl game. When FIU was last in The Belt in scoring defense and 65th nationally in total defense: 3-9.

January 04, 2013

Turn on the Telly? Ring Bell?

New FIU football coach Ron Turner's not stupid. He knows current recruits were still in their action figure stage the last time he sat in a recruit's home to close the deal. He knows he doesn't have much of a reputation in South Florida among high school coaches.

That's why Turner said to me Thursday night he knows his staff has to include some "guys with Florida connections, guys high school coaches can trust." He also said he wants a diverse staff in every way.

Among the calls from Dade and Broward Turner's probably getting as I'm writing this, he should probably check for a couple of numbers. One belongs to Central High coach and Northwestern High graudate Telly Lockette. Lockette's Rockets just won their second state title in three years, have three consecutive state title game appearances and would've had four but for a semifinal loss to eventual state champion Miramar in 2009.

Granted, Lockette's working with an overabundance of talent at Central and he wouldn't have the same talent advantage at FIU. But he'll be able to help recruit that talent as well as anyone.

The same could be said for Corey Bell, an Edison High and South Carolina defensive back who coached at his high school alma mater for 10 years before going to the University of Miami as part of Randy Shannon's staff. Bell's at American High now.

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