Why this week's FAU recruiting bonanza, which included several players from Dade and Broward Counties including a couple of former FIU commits, could hurt FIU beyond 2014:
Before John Madden became a broadcaster, a video game and a cartoon, he was the youngest coach to win 100 NFL games and did so in 10 seasons of coaching Oakland. Whenever he was asked the key to being a great coach, Madden would usually start his response with, "First, have great players."
Former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson had a merchandising company that wanted to do work with the pro sports leagues. That's a tough market to crack, double tough for minority-owned businesses in the 1980s. Through some opportunism, the company eventually got a deal with the NFL -- the low-end hat market. Pearson's company developed that perceived small market, developed that as the ground they owned and became members of an exclusive club of rightsholders that made $1 milllion in royalties for NFL Properties three consecutive years.
Being good starts with your players, even more so in college than the NFL. And when you're trying to build your company amidst larger, more established competitors, you have to grab some patch of space and declare it as yours on which you'll contruct your foundation of success.
Howard Schnellenberger's "State of Miami" philosophy that stocked those legendary University of Miami teams of the 1980s is well-stated. When SMU rose from ashes in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Ron Meyer decided they would own Dallas, Houston, the rest of East Texas and Western Louisiana. They were the smaller brands trying to break into a tight club, like Drew Pearson Enterprises.
If FIU's ever going to be more than what it is now in football, if it's ever going to be, say, where Central Florida is now (three 10-win seasons in the last four), the ground needs to be grabbed and held. It doesn't need to be Dade or Broward County's upper crust recruits nor is it realistic think it would be in the next few years. But, they need to establish themselves as a first line possibility for the next rung down and the rung after that.
Last fall, I talked to UCF's George O'Leary about the turnaround there.
“When I first got here, we needed players,” O’Leary said. “Our goal was to get hold of kids who were thinking of leaving the state. Once we accomplished that, we’re able to go after the same kids as (the Big Three). More so than not, we don’t get them. But we get some.”
That's what stalled some at FIU with the last coaching change. Some ground had been claimed in South Florida --T.Y. Hilton, Wesley Carroll, Johnathan Cyprien, Winston Fraser, etc. -- and in Louisiana, where Mario Cristobal developed a thin pipeline of defensive linemen. Just using that as an example, not wanting to rehash the firing or anything. It's done. Moving on, time for FIU to reestablish its ground under the current staff.
Except it's FAU doing the establishing in Dade and Broward while going after the same echelon of players as FIU. The Owls are doing it with a campus just far enough away to be not home yet close enough for quick visits, emergencies, family to make games; a debt-ridden but beautiful stadium; a campus that's nice and ever-growing, just like FIU's. They've got relationships locally. FIU's got some relationships and several acquaintances.
Meanwhile, what's FIU's ground? California quarterbacks?
Watching this recruiting week play out, somebody said to me it reminded him of Fillmore Slim's story in the documentary American Pimp. Other pimps took Fillmore's women from him hours after he set up in Los Angeles the first time. Fillmore went to the phone and called out seven more women, his first string. The LA pimps realized when they only got from Fillmore what he let them have. They gave him his respect and his space. The difference, the guy said to me, is that FIU's getting its first string taken.
I'm not saying FIU won't get any good players out of Dade or Broward in years to come if they don't get their act together now. Just out of talent overload, they'll get some. By the way, their top recruit this year, Orlando Timber Creek wide receiver Javonte Seabury, isn't going anywhere. I'm convinced the issue with his visit being cancelled this weekend was grades, not getting poached.
What I am saying is big changes often start with small, decisive moves. FAU is making them. FIU needs to make some that lets folks know that, on some small level, this is FIU's area.