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What Did The Turner Say?

Ron Turner didn’t know what he got himself into when he came to FIU. Now that he’s into it, however, he’s not planning on marching out any time soon. And Turner seems to think he accomplished the first step in a turnaround during this 1-11 2013 season.

That won’t please some of the parents who posted on this blog, e-mailed me or took to Twitter to rip Turner as stodgy. It won’t please the parents and fans who see Turner as yet another near senior citizen coming down to South Florida on a semi-retirement plan (see “Ted Aceto,” “too many Florida Panthers and Dolphins free agents”).

My doubts about Turner; suspicions about his hiring and criticisms of his strategy/personnel deployment have been well-documented on this blog. That said, I do wonder how much FIU fan/parent criticism of him comes from South Florida parochialism.

Don Strock connected Dolphins eras like the Venetian Causeway connects islands. He backed up each of the three Super Bowl starters in Dolphins history (Bob Griese, David Woodley, Dan Marino) over his 15-season Dolphins career. A well-tanned lover of football and golf, the Pennsylvania native out of Virginia Tech might as well have been 100 percent South Floridian when hired as FIU’s first coach.

Mario Cristobal? A 305 guy to the bone. You know the personal history.

Turner? From California and uses a more run-heavy version of the West Coast offense, but seems purely Midwestern. He’s known for being Illinois’ head coach and the Chicago Bears offensive coordinator. Besides, even that so-called West Coast Offense is Midwestern, developed in Cincinnati.

(Digression: Bill Walsh created it while with a Bengals assistant after a shoulder injury to big-armed Greg Cook, whom Walsh called in the late 1990s “perhaps the best quarterback talent we’ve seen,” left the Bengals with noodle-armed Virgil Carter. The Bengals ran the offense through the 1970s and into the early 1980s. Ken Anderson won a few passing titles. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, they shared a division with the 1970s Steelers. So, it wasn’t until the Walsh-coached 49ers started winning Super Bowls in the 1980s with a refined version of the offense that it got nicknamed “The West Coast Offense.” Coincidentally, San Francisco beat Cincinnati for its first Super Bowl win. Digression over…)

Turner’s got his way of doing things. His way could be rocketing toward a head-on with the FIU way of doing things and the South Florida way of doing things.

He clearly had some things to get off his chest about his first 11 months on the job. He went into a 24-minute soliloquy that bounced around quite a bit. Even at that, there were a couple of things I think he wanted to touch on but didn’t.

Turner started with, “I believe and I think everyone in this program believes our program is ascending and we are heading in the right direction. Now, people on the outside can look at the record and look at the scores and say, ‘That’s ridiculous.’”

The reason Turner says that from his chair is what he saw upon arrival. And that's a more detailed version of what you’ve read some of here since last January.

“When I first got here, I was in shock,” he said. “I was, like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ We didn’t have a day go by, not one day went by, when somebody didn’t do something wrong. Somebody didn’t get into trouble. Sometimes, more than one. It could be from getting arrested, to the off the field problems…I got calls constantly. “So-and-so’s not going to class” “So-and-so didn’t get his study hours.” “He missed a workout.” I’m like, ‘This is like dealing with second graders.’

“I was shocked. I’ve never been in a program where it was like that. I was at Illinois and we were 0-11 my first year. We had a lot of problems. And we had some of that. I never had it to the degree it was here, where guys just blatantly were not doing what they were supposed to do. Coaches would call guys, “Can you come in and meet me at 2 o’clock?” “Yeah, Coach, I’ll be there at 2 o’clock” and not show up. I’ve never seen that in my life.”

“We had 12 players ineligible, which is unbelievable. I’ve never been around that many in my life who were ineligible when I got here or right on the border and didn’t get it done.”

Of course, that group included, “Our top five or six receivers. I don’t know anybody in the country who can lose their top five or six receivers and go out to play. And, arguably, top two running backs, for sure our top running back. That’s not to mention defensive linemen – one transferred (Fadol Brown) and three were ineligible.”

And, Turner said the player attitude was that “It’s OK, I’ll just redshirt.” Turner paused. “It’s not OK to be ineligible.”

(One of the inelgible players, redshirt freshman wide receiver-turned-safety Adrian Jenkins got jettisoned from the program during the season. At this moment, Jenkins sits in the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center after being arrested and booked in the wee hours on a charge of burglary of an occupied dwelling. His bond is $12,500.) 

Some believe last year’s Cristobal firing and the remaining staff being put on paid leave until they were fired led to players academically crashing the last week of the fall semester and finals week. That, in turn, resulted in the academic ineligibility of several players. Others believe players requiring that level of extremities-holding shouldn’t be in college.

“I don’t want to babysit them,” Turner said. “I’m not going to babysit them. I’m not going to hand walk them to class. They’ know what they’ve got to do.”

(To be clear on where I tend to land on this: My 8-year-old daughter already has seen me hold up a piece of her homework with “I’m not telling you the answer or whether you’re right or wrong. I’ll help you learn how to figure it out. But there’s one name at the top of this sheet. That’s the person who’s responsible for this work.” You might think I’m a curmudgeonly salt-and-pepper no-hair who doesn’t remember what it’s like to be a kid. Ask my mother, who often heard me say during my middle school, high school and college years, “There’s one name on that report card and it isn’t yours.”)

The Cristobal staff knew these young men, especially the South Floridians. They knew the baggage some athletes brought from their neighborhoods. They knew about the rivalries that sometimes seeped onto campus. They worked overtime to keep their players out of trouble. They went for fast, quiet resolution when their players got into trouble.

The Turner staff knew not the lay of this new land.

“And (players) weren’t doing the right things in any areas,” Turner said. “I was getting calls from the dorms once a week, twice a week. Guys being disruptive in the dorm playing their music too loud, too late.”

(Why did I just think of the November 2012 tweet from FIU butterfly queen Marina Ribi slamming the football team for disruptive nightly partying after the season was over?)

“And all these calls were consistent in every area – dorms, class, guys being disruptive in class, if they showed up to class. If they did show up, they were late. And being disruptive in class. I’m not talking about the entire team. I’m talking about a group. But that group was too many.”

Turner said he told the team they would be winners, but they wouldn’t win on the field until they were accountable to one another on and off the field. Also, lateness and no-shows get you fired or buried on the bottom in the real world, which is where the vast majority will earn the rent in a few years.

Finally, he said he told the 70 to 80 percent of the players who acted like they had some sense and were “taking care of their business” as the popular euphemism goes, “either you’re going to bring the other guys up or they’re going to bring you down.

“Obviously, this year, especially early, they brought the other guys down.”

And it didn’t surprise him.

“This may not come out really well,” he said. “Obviously we were all disappointed, but I wasn’t totally surprised. In January and February when we were going through all these problems that we had and they continued, they got better a little bit, but they continued…it was not unexpected what happened on the field this year, in my mind. Part of it is talent. In some areas, we’ve got to get better players. Some areas, we had good enough players. As a football team, we have to get more talent, better players as a group. But it’s not surprising because of the off the field issues.”

I’d say you could throw a few more things into the mix – new systems, young team, tough early schedule including three bowl teams, two of which went 11-1. Anyway…

Turner said a sense of possible doom crashed home in the summer, when he punished some players by taking their football privileges away.

“I can’t tell you the number of guys I had tell me, ‘Coach, we felt we’d always be able to play on Saturday no matter what we did. We might get punished. We might get disciplined, things might happen. When the season came, we’d play on Saturdays,’” Turner said. “That’s kind of a product of them growing up in football. A guy’s a young player, Pop Warner, he’s a great player, the coach looks the other way when he doesn’t show up for practice or does something wrong. High school, the same thing happens. A guy’s not going to class, not taking care of grades, they maybe help him out -- talk to the teachers ‘hey give him a break, he’s my best player…” this and that. And it continues on to college. And those guys expect that to happen. ‘Hey, they’ve always taken care of me.’

 “Once some of these guys were ineligible that they all thought would be eligible – something would happen and they’d be eligible – I think it was starting to sink in.”

It should be said here that the ineligibles included a couple of academic phoenixes. They’d flamed out at FIU before and mysteriously risen from the ashes -- twice.

More than one player has claimed to his parents or confidants that Turner doesn’t care about winning. I’m not sure about that. Maybe Turner felt this year needed to be about a culture change before FIU really could move forward. Any reasonable person saw a roster that would need voodoo just for an outside shot at five wins. Better to sacrifice a win or two to get things in order for a smoother future.

Cristobal took a similar line of thinking in 2012 with a freshman he thought could’ve been better than any of the upperclassmen starters at his position. But, Cristobal reasoned, if he played the freshman after some of the young man’s serious transgressions off the field, the guy was so good that he’d be on his way to being a nightmare: fantastic player, zero character plus a sense of entitlement. Nope, Cristobal thought, better for the young man and the program to let him suffer the consequences of sitting out.

Turner repeated that he felt the team got better on the field as the year wore on but they got worn down, especially defensively. In his office on this day, however, he spoke more of the off-the-field improvements.

“We do (random) class checks. Early, we’d go check a class, we’ve got eight guys in a class, five would be missing,” he said. “In the last month, when I get the reports back, I don’t think we’ve had one guy miss. Does that mean, we have 100 percent attendance? I’m not naïve enough to think that was the case. They’re college kids.”

He says he hasn’t heard from the dorms for a while. After seeing one group of players wallowing in an FIU pig sty, Turner instituted pop-in room checks.

“It’s not military school. But we’re looking for it to not be disgusting.”

As is the custom in the NFL with Tuesdays, Turner started sending players to speak at elementary schools, hospitals, volunteer at nursing home and retirement communities on Mondays. He claimed a doubling of the community service time done previously. All FIU student-athletes are required to do community service.

“Our guys are doing a tremendous job in the community.”

This week, as the semester closes, players file in and out for something of exit meetings on the season. Turner said he didn’t expect large turnover, although I keep hearing there could be a bloc of transfers.

“I’m not going to sit there and guarantee a number of wins (for 2014). If they continue to do what they’re supposed to do and develop, there will be…” Turner hesitated. Then finished, “It’ll start to show up on the field. I believe that strongly.”

Again last week, I heard about FIU’s lack of attendance at some of the major South Florida high school clashes, where the stands teem with coaches from other colleges. I asked Turner about that and about trying to develop relationships with the stronger programs in town.

He said they were. In fact, two coaches were at Northwestern High that day.

“Are we at games on Friday night during the season, this year? No, we are not.”

His reasoning: “Our team was so young, we did not feel comfortable going to the hotel and having our night meetings and not having coaches there. It sends the wrong message, No. 1, about the importance of the game. And, No. 2, our guys weren’t mature enough to handle it and do what they’re supposed to do and get us focused as we needed to be.”

“That doesn’t mean we’re not getting out into the field, we’re not talking to coaches, we’re not going to schools. When we had our byes, we went to schools. We have four coaches that only recruit South Florida, and they are establishing good relationships with those coaches. We’ve had (those coaches) on our campus. I’ve talked to a bunch of them. We are establishing those relationships.”

“What we’ve to be careful of is when you’re 1-11, coaches coming in and saying ‘Take this guy, he’ll help you.’ We’ve got to make sure we’re doing our evaluations to make sure that they’re guys that we can win with at this level. They’ve got guys Miami, Florida, Florida State are recruiting. Our chances of getting those guys is very slim. But there are other guys that for whatever reason they aren’t recruiting that we can find and get. But we’re not going to take guys just to take them.”

Another player waited to enter for his postseason talk. I’m not sure he’ll be here next year. Turner will be. He’s not going anywhere. We’ll see if FIU is.

Comments

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For all those guys who think that Turner doesn't know what he's doing, I think this was a refreshing article. The country club entitlement is over. The fact that players knew they'd still be playing on Saturday (even though they screwed up big time) goes to show that Mario valued winning over doing things the right way. It was a simple "Win at all costs" attitude because Mario wanted to leverage a great season and then take a better job than what was being offered (Pitt & Rutgers). He would have leverage FIU for more money and a better gig, and left FIU holding the bag of crap.

Don't believe me? All the players discussed above (academically ineligible, discipline issues, etc) were all Mario's recruits. Every single one of them. Al Golden has proved it at Miami. He improved the quality of recruit (both talent & character) and Miami has made a huge turnaround. Those things go hand in hand. If you can't be responsible off the field, how can you be expected to be responsible on the field?

Am I the only one who feels encouraged by this? I thought many of Turner’s comments were spot on. I do not think it was a secret that Cristobal ran his program a bit too lose and there were many behavioral issues. Although I was not pleased with an 1-11 season, I was then and still am ok with the change that was made.

My most significant concern about Mr. Turner’s ability is on whether he can recruit quality players or not. Time will tell. Wish him all the best.

Good stuff, DJN. Thank you for sharing this piece with us, as it gives us a little bit better insight into what Turner is all about, and his vision for FIU Football. Of course, I'm not sure he will be able to do it, but reading your story, I like his determination and approach. Hope he turns this around, whether some folks like it or not.

Go Panthers! Good luck, Coach Turner!

By the way, Nick Walsh, looks like your Turner To NFL "inside source info" is, as always, incorrect.

You're now like 0 for 30.

Keep guessing, guy.

The biggest disaster with FIU Football these past couple of years has not been their record...it's having to clean up the mess left by Mario Cristobal. The guy only focused on two things: winning and himself. Unfortunately at this level you have to build character for the players, morale with the organization, etc. He recruited some very questionable players who are more often in jail than in the winner's locker room. At least Coach Turner seems to be righting the ship.

Definitely like what I am hearing from Turner. Generally, when players are disciplined off the field they perform better on the field. Hopefully Turner and Co. can really bring it all together over the next couple of years.

Hope this is a sign of turning things around. Everybody should take a second to give this guy a chance and hit the reset button.

Turner has bought himself a couple of more years in my book.

If anyone of us took a job and inherited a staff of incompetent workers (but had to keep them around) would it be fair to evaluate your lackluster efforts after a year without your ability to hire workers more in tune with your style of work ethic and skill set?

It's no different for Turner. You come in and don't have enough time to fully recruit a class of the kind of players you want for your system. You inherit an underachieving team, filled with academic casualties, headcases & criminals. You respond by eliminating as many of the cancers from the team as possible. Your roster is depleted. Your players were recruited to run a different style of offense. You don't have any quality linemen to protect your revolving door at quarterback. You can't give your defensive linemen a breather because you have no one else to rotate into their spot. You have to go for it on 4th downs, cause you have a punter who can't punt and a kicker who can't kick. You have no reliable return man, so the best you can hope for is that they don't fumble the ball.

THEN, the giant kick in the nuts, a fan base that somehow expects you to take all of the above and turn it into a winning season.

The fact that a head coach is even willing to stay here and fix things deserves our respect and support. Honestly, would you stay or would you run away and find an easier fixer upper?

Excellent. You have my support for next year Coach Turner. This may turn out to be the hardest job you've ever had. Great insight DJN - as usual I might add. Surprised the BGH and the other negative trolls haven't chimed in yet.

I don't think Mario Cristobal or his staff should be trashed. They worked themselves into the ground for those players and FIU. They did make the program relevant. They improved the academics over the end of the Strock era (OK, low bar there to hurdle, but you get my point). They felt their approach was best for everybody concerned. I didn't agree with them on everything and I don't agree with Turner on everything. I find myself thinking it's like parenting -- very little is black and white. That freshman from 2012 I mentioned probably would've been chopped from the program if Turner were in charge. Better for FIU and the program. Certainly, easier. Better for the kid, whose life back home was something none of us would want? Questionable. Maybe the situation Turner walked into wouldn't have been so bad if the firing hadn't happened and staff stalled.

And, thanks for the compliments, folks.

DJN mentions that it's not black or white, which I completely agree with. There is nuance and complexity to any story...but, respectfully, too often his articles focus exclusively on the bad when it comes to FIU. We should at least try to root for these coaches, teams and players and focus on what IS working or at least headed in the right direction. Today's blog on Turner was a balanced approach, and good start.

David, that's a fair point. And I agree with many on this blog that the article was a very solid one, that gave us a bit more insight where there'd only been speculation.

Turner knew exactly what he was getting: a job at the college level with a school that fired the coach that turned around the program solely because an arrogant, greedy AD wanted to get rid of someone who didn't like him. Turner had no other options. Go to any major college football program that wins and you will find what Turner saw. The difference is that the schools have staff in place to help these kids acclimate to a much different world than they know. When I played for Coach Spurrier at Florida, we were surrounded by staff members to help all of us. Some of the kids who needed more help were given that. Teams that win bring fans and money. This aint the Ivy League. We need wins, fans, sponsors and TV dollars to make the program relevant again. If Turner doesn't build a winner quickly, he will be gone. And if he doesn't recruit better, he won't win. My dad had Spurrier look him in the eye and tell him he would take care of me an my brother if her went up to Gainesville. So get off your high horses and realize that no matter what Turner says, his ass is on the line to produce a winning team. Period.

Oh wow, now RJ is spinning some real BS. The most successful programs aren't full of a bunch of delinquents, it doesn't work because those types crack under pressure.

I agree with DJN...Cristobal and his staff were not perfect, but they did a lot of great things for FIU. Good luck to Turner and his staff. Garcia - that's another issue.

I think our first TRUE test of what we have to look forward to is how this recruiting class shapes up. Their are a ton of wholes to fill. If we finish with the #1 or #2 class in Conference USA, it's a good start. Anything above that is a huge bonus. I'm looking for some size on both lines, a QB that can make a difference, and ONE playmaker. I don't care if it's WR, RB, DB, S, etc. Just ONE playmaker who can be a game changer.

DJN, Excellent work. Much enjoyed as always.

The biggest delinquent is Pete Garcia.

Another great post DJN. Even keel and unbiased. Thanks.

I actually think Pete Garcia is unfairly attacked. Just based on what I read in this very column it seems the guy's faced with a series of tough decisions with no good answers. Firing Cristobal seemed like a controversial thing at the time...but in retrospect the truth comes out. If it was a team filled with under achieving punks with no discipline and no end in sight, perhaps a change was merited.

D. Neal EXCEPTIONAL story on Coach Turner! Very enjoyable. I've had very few issues with Coach Turner. This is the honeymoon period. Mr. Garcia hired him in a nearly impossible scenario for success this season. Outside of the running clock vs Louisville, I can accept the rest ... for now but expect improvement in '14.

JulesFIU07,"succesfull programs aren't full of delinquents"? I'll name three that were full in their heyday, 80's U. of Miami & 90's Nebraska & Ohio State. Check out those three program arrest records.

DP, Early on in MC's tenure, I worked in the student division of FIU, I knew the RA's at the dorms. MC & staff were ALL-OVER those athletes in their dorms, classes, curfews, etc. EVEN in the off-season. Remember folks the "balanced" stud athlete will usually go the UF, FSU, route. FIU is a mid-major (for now!), mid-majors have to take a bigger gamble on some of these athletes. So for you DP to spout off this non-sense that MC ONLY cared about winning shows that you DON'T know. Did MC care about winning? He better! So should every Div I-A coach., however he also was concerned with making a difference in these athletes lives like I'm sure Coach Turner does. But make no mistake, ALL these coaches stay employed by WINNING. So DP, want to see infrastructure break down? Fire the coach that was in these borderline student's grill & then tell his assistants to take a hike. All class follow-up, bed checks, study hall attendance check, etc was abandon ONE WEEK before finals and what happens? Boom! Many starters-studs that were AT BEST marginal students FLUNK! Who made that disruptive decision with the assistants after MC's ouster? This pathetic AD. Who suffers this loss beside these questionable students? Our coach NOW, Coach Turner. He gets saddled with this disastrous situation because the AD didn't stop to think what the consequence of demanding ALL assistants to exit the premises after the head coach firing. So, much of the blame for this fiasco of a season isn't on Coach Turner AT ALL! The core of this stench that occurred to our beloved football program can ONLY be blamed on Mr. Garcia.

FanZone, you must be new to this blog if you think Mr. Garcia is "unfairly attacked". Did you just move to the 305? Do you know the history of this tyrant? Ask D. Neal to take a survey of folks approval ratings of the job Mr. Garcia has done. I can't imagine an AD having a more negative imagine than Mr. Garcia in the NCAA.

Once again, GREAT job D. Neal!

Wow, great work DJN! I like that he doesn't believe in babysitting. These are Young adults that need to be accountable for their actions.

Go FIU!!!

Great read, DJN. Thank you!

Nice fluff piece!
I guess everyone deserves a Christmas gift

This is great, but can he coach?

Hey DJN,

Tell Herald IT to stop blocking me. Since I am in the Bahamas, ya'll have no record of my identity. Once I'm back in Miami, Herald blocks me. Can you please fix that?

David Neal: How mucb will Garcia earn in 2014 for miasing all of his performance objectives? What bonus is he slated to earn if any? How is it justified? How does his compensation compare to others in AD roles in the same conference? Florida? Lastly, what justifies this compensation for such a poorly organized, dysfunctional department?

Blame the old coach and blame the players for the problems you guys had this season.......way to be a leader, be lucky to have another 1-11 season. Jesus is this program ever going to get going.

BTW if you want great talent you have to "baby sit' to a certain degree. Get talent seldom comes without baggage, and talent need to be taken by the hand and shown the ropes and how to be a man. But instead of doing that you brush KIDS off and toss them away instead of helping them grow and helping the program and the product you put on the field. Its like a man getting married to a woman who has kids, if he is a man at all hes going to take thoes kids under his wing and treat him as his own, not as someone elses.....and Turner did the exact opposite, he took Cristobals kids and brushed them off to the side. The'll have losing seasons for the next three years because of it. Cristobal did the same thing and we had three bad seasons because of it as well. CAN WE PLEASE BRING IN A GUY WHO CAN DROP THE EGO AND BRING THE PREVIOUS COACHES KIDS ALONG. Btw I played there during the Cristobal era so I feel I have a good idea of whats going on.

Hey Nick. Great to see you back and posting on the blog. How are your prognostications coming along? How's turner to the NFL coming along?

Coach Turner may not be hired by the NFL, however if Coach Saban leaves to Texas, my $$$ is on Cristobal to follow him to Austin.

He needs to see Saban's 60-minutes interview and take notes of what a real coach does. Saban has a coach at the entrance of each classroom noting who is there and who is missing. Saban has curfew checks EVERY NIGHT. Saban understands that these are still kids and they not only need constant supervision but complete guidance. Most importantly, Saban knows these are the kids which will help the SCHOOL and himself win! Like in life, if someone is good, you pay them to perform. In this case, if they are playing for your team, it is your responsibility that they maintain focus and stay out of trouble; that is a GREAT head coach. Because of the existing culture surrounding football (team bonds, build, girls, parties, travel, etc.) they are exposed to a greater amount of potential issues than the regular student/person; hence they require greater supervision, like it or not. Turner's philosophy is going to have great kids, in football and life, fail. I would not allow my kid to play for a coach that is expecting him to be responsible and act like an adult, when in fact the culture of that type of team is non-existent. The odds are stacked against them from the offset based on the football environment, now you have a head coach that slaps them on the ass and say's good luck! Yup, the poor kids are going to fail, needless to say, the football team will be made up more ineligible players than eligible players. Poor kids; parents RUN!

John Doe, I am 100% in agreement with your post and considering you played for the football team, you have my respect. Head Coaches from what I can see (I have never played) should primarily babysit. Make sure the payers on YOUR team are always out of trouble and guiding them to understand what the right path is and why. That is a GREAT head coach.

http://www.amazon.com/HAPPENED-Story-Panthers-Preseason-Champions-ebook/dp/B00DTGMIB6/ref=sr_1_24?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1386971674&sr=1-24&keywords=WTF

Back on the shelves at AMAZON is the story of the 2012 FIU football team written by a member of MC's Staff.

It was time for MC to go. Whether Coach Turner is the right guy will be determined in time. But make not mistake, 90% written on this book came to fruition.

The book is $1.99

GOPanthers!!

About as substantive a piece as has ever been written on FIU athletics, DJN. Clearly, nothing more remains to be said on the matter of Cristobal , and of Turner to date. Let the new record begin here. Except for the lunatic/s, of course. Come on boys, all one of you, don't disappoint us.

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