San Francisco, Green Bay, Dallas, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Washington, over to 27th Avenue and turn north to the Dolphins...all have been mentioned as possible landing spots for safety Johnathan Cyprien either Thursday or Friday in the NFL Draft.
I like that Cyprien's holding his draft watch party Friday, the night of Rounds 2 and 3. That way, the party's either going on when he gets picked in the second round or a celebration of being taken in the first round Thursday night.
What's interesting to me is instead of climbing draft charts based on being a workout warrior -- he did only the vertical jump among the decathlon-type measurements at the combine -- Cyp impressed draftniks enough at Senior Bowl practices to send draftniks back to the game tape on him. Seeing Cyprien as first two rounds material comes from football analysis, not athleticism-birthed hope.
All the buzz could be wrong. But you'd rather bet on analysis than hope.
Sun Belt champion FIU predictably dominated the Sun Belt conference's awards, which were announced Thursday.
Freshman Meghan MacLaren, medalist at the conference championship tournament, was named Freshman of the Year, and Joe Vogel received Coach of the Year honors. MacLaren, Shelby Cole and Sophie Godley comprised half the All-Sun Belt First Team. Yolecci Jimeez and Tania Tare were voted to the Second Team by the league's head coaches.
New FIU men's hoop coach Anthony Evans wasted no time trying to get more size onto the roster, signing 6-10 Daniel Robinson to a letter of intent.
Robinson spent the 2012-13 season across the state at the IMG Academy after going to high school at Chesapeake (Va.) Atlantic Shores Christian. As a senior, he averaged only 9.3 points per game, but 8.4 rebounds and 3.3 blocks.
FIU lacked size and a fearsome defensive presence inside last season. If teams could avoid FIU's thievery in the backcourt and on the perimeter, open or easy shots often resulted. The Panthers ranked 253rd in blocked shots per game and 279th in field goal percentage defense. Clearly, Robinson's meant to address some of that.
Early in the season, sand volleyball coach Rita Buck-Crockett said FIU's top two pairs could stand up against any in the country. FIU just needed to get some depth behind them for team success.
While FIU got enough depth to get to No. 8 in the nation, that still left them outside the velvet rope when it came to this year's American Volleyball Coaches Association Sand Volleyball Championship in the team category. Pepperdine, Long Beach State, USC, North Florida, Florida State and Louisiana-Monroe comprise that field.
But FIU's top two pairs, Kate Stepanova/Ksenia Sukhareva and Jessica Mendoza/Maryna Samoday got picked for the 16-team pairs competition -- the No. 1 pairs from the six schools in the team championship and 10 other pairs adjudged by the nation's coaches as the nation's best. Among those 10 pairs, only FIU and UCLA have two pairs in the group.
All of this will take place May 3-5 at Gulf Shores, Alabama. The final of the team championship Saturday as well as the semifinal and final of Sunday's pairs championship will be on CBS Sports Network.
About an hour into Saturday's scrimmage, public address announcer Jay Rokeach announced a first down for the offense. It jarring me into a realizing how rare I'd heard JayRo make that announcement today.
Even the one touchdown shouldn't have been. A cheap pass interference penalty when Jake Medlock overthrew a covered T.J. Lowder extended the drive before Medlock zipped the 29-yarder to Willis Wright.
That and an earlier 18-yard completion to a sliding Wright amidst three defenders were Medlock's two best passes of the day. You could almost see he and second string E.J. Hilliard thinking the progressions. Certainly defenders could -- they were hijacking routes like Jimmy "The Gent" Conway all day. Jugglers and butterfingers on the defensive side let the offense get away with only one interception, Sam Gervais' clutching of a tipped pass.
The offensive line got stampeded, making the defensive line look like the 1975 Pittsburgh Steelers and putting the running backs in the role of victims. Jakhari Gore, Shane Coleman and Lemarq Caldwell sometimes did well to get back to the line of scrimmage.
Though certain units were rotated with others (say, second team defensive backs with first team everything else), here's the two-deep as best as I could determine from Saturday as FIU leaves spring (none of this says who'll be academically eligible come August):
First team offense: QB Medlock; RB Kedrick Rhodes; FB (when FIU uses one) Lemarq Caldwell; WRs Willis Wright, Glenn Coleman, Dominique Rhymes; TE Ya'keem Griner; LT Aaron Nielsen; LG Delmar Taylor; C Donald Senat; RG Trenton Saunders; RT David Delsoin.
Second team offense: QB Hilliard; RB Jakhari Gore; RB Shane Coleman; WRs T.J. Lowder, Jairus Williams; TE Zach Schaubhut; LT Dieugot Joseph; LG Edens Sineace; C Michael Montero; RG Ian Koch; RT Aaron Nielsen.
First team defense: DEs Paul Crawford, Giovanni Francois; DTs Fadol Brown, Greg Hickman; LBs Davison Colimon, Patrick Jean, Luis Rosado; CBs Richard Leonard, Sam Miller; S Demarkus Perkins, Antwoine Bell.
Second team defense: DEs Lars Koht, Denzell Perrine; DTs Leonard Washington, Darrian Dyson; LBs Derrick Jones, Jr, Markeith Russell, Michael Wakefield; CBs Sam Gervais, Jeremiah McKinnon; S Justin Halley, Mitch Wozniak.
(Saturday, the second team linebackers played with the first team most of the day, but Turner's comments and the previous practices indicate the above is accurate.)
Special teams: K Sergio Sroka; P Jake Medlock, Chris Ayers; PR Richard Leonard, Jakhari Gore.
Medlock said of punting, "I've got to get back into it. I've got to take lessons from my little brother. He's been kicking the crap out of it so I've got to go back home and learn from him."
Medlock's two punts were just as good as Ayers three Saturday. At the practices I've attended, that's the way it's been all spring. Saturday, both Leonard and Gore muffed a punt, running counter to how well they've been fielding punts this spring.
When I asked Hickman to conpare the present coaching staff with the previous staff, he said, "It's similar. All the coaches are tough on you and want you to be the best you can be. Then again, Coach Turner brings an NFL mentality to it, which Coach Cristobal didn't have as a coach."
Turner often references the NFL when talking to the team. As Dire Straits said, them guys ain't dumb. Coaches know nothing gets a college player's attention like bringing up the names of the players and teams they grew up following or still follow. Sometimes, coaching's not so much about conceptual innovation as getting the player to listen, understand and put to use what you're saying. Often, that first hurdle, listening, is the high hurdle.
Turner was talking about the quarterbacks and the new offensive system when he said, "They'll have a summer to digest it, a summer to work on it on their own, to study it. We'll put all the cutups on film and make it available to them. They can come in and watch that. Watch themselves instead of watching Peyton Manning do it or Jay Cutler or Kyle Orton. We've been showing them those kind of films to watch those guys do it. Now, they'll watch themselves. That's the best way you can learn."
A few things from Saturday afternoon's scrimmage. I'll expand on this post or have an entirely new in-depth post later after writing my news story on the scrimmage.
There was one touchdown, Jake Medlock zipping a line drive to Willis Wright on a post for 29 yards; one interception, redshirt junior Sam Gervais picking off a Medlock pass that sophomore linebacker Michael Wakefield tipped; and one fumble, running back Lemarq Caldwell on the second play.
That fumble was recovered by the star of the scrimmage, sophomore defensive tackle Fadol Brown. Brown also had four sacks, innumerable tackles and just took advantage of FIU's immature offensive line.
FIU coach Ron Turner said running back Kedrick Rhodes has had one of the best springs of any individual player, but didn't play Saturday because he was "banged up." He said had Saturday been a real game, Rhodes could've played. (Heck, anybody who follows FIU knows that. Whenever Rhodes played last year after the third game, he did so on two imperfect ankles).
Kicker Serge Sroka made five of six field goals with a long of 47 yards. Medlock punted almost as well as Chris Ayers.
FIU's only conference titleists over the last two academic years: women's soccer in 2011 -- they lost 1-0 in the Sun Belt final in 2012 and with almost everybody back should contend in Conference USA next year -- and 2013 women's golf.
So you can understand why the latter got a nice welcome from athletic department folks upon being dropped off by Super Shuttle at The Branch after winning this week's Sun Belt tournament.
"We really had the best team oging in and I was hoping we'd be able to play to what our capabilities were," FIU coach Joe Vogel said. "They were really able to do that. We've got a balanced team. My No. 5 player (Sophie Godley) finished in the top five in the tournament. When that happens, you're in pretty good shape. Meghan (MacLaren) won and Tania Tare finished right up there at the top as well."
Vogel pointed to Tare's Wednesday 69 as a key to FIU bringing home the title.
"We were not up by that much going into the backside. Then Tania whipped off three birdies in a row, actually birdied four of the last five. Three girls birdied No. 17. That pretty much sealed it right there."
MacLaren, who finished with medalist honors by two shots with a 4-under 212, said, "I thought the course was pretty tough because we played the practice round in hot conditions. The first round, I played solid and I started to think there were a few birdies out there. And I hit it well all week."
This team is truly Florida (freshman Jasmine Wade, junior Shelby Coyle) and International (the other five players on the roster).
"I always wanted to come to America and I spoke to a few different people and they got me in touch with Coach," said MacLaren, from Cambridge in the UK. "Right from when I started speaking to him, I knew this was a serious possibility. He made me feel really welcome."
FIU athletic director Pete Garcia named golf as a sport he felt FIU should be good in out of location, location, location. True, two-fifths of the PGA Tour lives in Palm Beach County and another two-fifths seemingly live between Orlando and the Florida-Georgia line, but golf's got the same problem as tennis, swimming and other sports where the best young talent flows past the collegiate level. The best young studs and studettes have the choice of playing for a paid education or playing to get paid. That cuts down the talent pool.
"It's hard to recruit. Any time you go after good palyers, there will be several other schools after them as well," Vogel said. "I like to have the advantage of being in South Florida with the weather, especially when I reach out to the girls in Europe or even South America. It's such a good fit for them. They can come over here and practice all the months we're here versus up north where they don't have the weather we do."
A 3-16 season ended Thursday with FIU getting booted from the Sun Belt tennis tournament by Arkansas-Little Rock. But freshman Carlotta Orlando was named to the All-Sun Belt team.
FIU's ranked No. 8 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association national poll that came out Thursday. The 6-5 Panthers have two losses to No. 1 and undefeated Pepperdine and one to No. 2 Long Beach State University. Six teams get invited to the national championships May 3-5 in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Three FIU players finished in the top five as FIU ran away with the Sun Belt Conference women's golf title after three days on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail's Fighting Joe Course at The Shoals (phew) in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. FIU gets an automatic berth to the NCAAs East Regional, to be hosted by Auburn, May 9-11.
Freshman Meghan MacLaren did an Ayrton Senna in a McLaren-Honda or Bruce McLaren in his Can-Am McLaren on the field, leading wire-to-wire in winning medalist honors with a 4-under 212. Freshman Sophie Godley's 2-over 218 got her a tie for fourth and senior Tania Tare finished in fifth, 3-0ver 219.
Amidst the fumes from The Beach at The Branch, FIU introduced Anthony Evans as its new men's basketball coach. Packing the suite were coaches (including Ron Turner, Rita Buck-Crockett and Cindy Russo), some of last season's FIU team and a plethora of folks connected with the athletic department, past and present. More people there than at the start of the FIU-FAMU game.
"For the recruits in the South Florida area, we're going to recruit you extremely hard," Evans said. "We want to build this program on local talent, so we can get this community energized and behind this basketball program."
Evans said he thought he was close last year to getting the FIU job that went to Richard Pitino. "Obviously, Richard has a great reputation as a recruiter. I know that's something (FIU athletic director) Pete (Garcia) was huge on." Garcia said Evans lost to Pitino "by a nose."
Evans thanked Pitino "for saying great things about me. For being an advocate for me getting this position and for building a solid foundation moving forward for years to come." He also thanked South Carolina (and former Miami High) coach Frank Martin and Marquette coach Buzz Williams, whom he called "great friends," for recommending him to Garcia.
Evans said he liked The Beach at The Branch: "I love it. Naw, it's unique. if Pete had anything to do with it, I knew it would be unique...I think it sets us apart from other schools and I think that's what you want."
Garcia said FIU would tour Spain for two weeks in August.
Evans explained afterwards that the APR bouncing during his time as Norfolk's head coach was the result of players not adhering to the structures and rules in place and not being made to do so by the coaching staff. And by "coaching staff" he made clear he meant himself, not any assistant.
The team's leading three-point shooter, guard Malik Smith, might not be transferring as he indicated on Twitter and via Instagram the night Minnesota announced Pitino's hiring.
Evans hadn't made any decisions yet on how many of his Norfolk assistants he's bringing with him.
About eight seconds after I started my Monday with a car crash, I thought, this FIU men's basketball coach thing will break today.
Now that I've returned from the emergency room (my daughter, an earring, an embedded second back...sigh. I really need a drink), let's take a quick look at Anthony Evans. And if you're going to read a Herald story on Evans, read the one online now. I didn't get much of a chance to update the quickie early online version before we had to go to print.
Norfolk State went Division I in basketball in 1997. An annual 20-win team at the Division II level, Norfolk put up a winning season in its second D-I season, the only season Mel Coleman coached. After that, the program lived at the same just-under-mediocrity neighborhood that FIU's lived in most of its time in Division I. They didn't have another winning season until Evans' first year, 16-15 in 2007-08.
Though Norfolk put up losing records each of the next three seasons, the conference record never got worse than 8-8. That says Evans never let his program fall into being the least among its peers. He was considered one of the great bargains in coaching. He made only $125,000 per season before last year's contract extension.
In basketball, so much more than football, sometimes, all it takes is one player to turn a program in the right direction for a little while. Kyle O'Quinn, a 6-10 forward who slipped through the cracks and down to Norfolk, and 6-6 guard Pendarvis Williams were those guys for Norfolk in 2011-12 and 2012-13. O'Quinn became the first player to be named Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the seame season.
Norfolk did have more than those two players. In fact, O'Quinn was gone last year and Norfolk still put up impressive defensive numbers and slipped only a little (40th to 49th) in the national blocked shot rankings.
The Academic Progress Rate situation at Norfolk over the years might give a little pause. Progress has looked more like the charting of a Wall Street rumble between bulls and bears.
Norfolk's 888 multi-year APR in 2006-07 was enough to draw a public notice finger wag from the NCAA. It slipped to 885 next year, but the Four-Letter Organization noted that the basketball team still was outperforming Norfolk State's regular students in this regard.
A 2008-09 APR of 962 bumped the multiyear to 904. But an 840 the following year dragged the multiyear APR down to 894. Scholardhips were reduced to 11 and basketball time was cut to only five days a week and 16 hours total. Another year of 962 in 2010-11 brought the multi-year back up to an acceptable 926.
Unless I'm missing my count, that means Evans coached a 26-win team while under some pretty serious NCAA restrictions. That's an attractive accomplishment to a program that's looking at some NCAA sanctions.
At least FIU got this done before the signing period starts for men's basketball. Between seniors, a couple of transfers and probably a signee getting out of his letter of intent, the Panthers should be back on the player hunt.
FIU leads the pack after the first round of the Sun Belt Women's Golf Championships. The Panthers leads Middle Tennessee by two and Troy by 3. Freshman Meghan MacLaren is on her way to a possbile medalist award, tied atop the leaderboard with Arkansas-Little Rock sophomore Sofia Berglund.
Norfolk State's Anthony Evans will be thenew FIU men's basketball coach, a source close to FIU confirmed.
Evans was Norfolk's head coach for six seasons, the last two ending with postseason bids. Norfolk upset Missouri in the 2012 NCAA tournament and lost to Virginia in this year's NIT tourament after a 21-win season. He had three winning seasons at Norfolk and five seasons over .500 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. This season, Norfolk went 16-0 in conference play.
Norfolk also plays the type of up-tempo, pressure defense game FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said he wanted to see the Panthers continue to play.
A few things from Friday morning's football practice, occasionally in cooling rain:
Wide receiver-turned-strong-safety Adrian Jenkins picked off E.J. Hilliard in team drills. But when working in the red zone, Hilliard looked like he had a better day than Jake Medlock.
"I think both of them right now are just focusing on learning the offense, knowing exactly what we're doing so they can react," head coach Ron Turner said. "Neither are to the point where they can react yet. Every play they're thinking. That's going to happen for a while."
Turner said he doesn't know whether his offense exceeds FIU's previous offense in complexity or diversity, but knows "it is as opposite as it can be. So, it's completely different. Terminology, schemes, techniques, fundamentals, there's not one thing that's similar."
Freshman linebacker Patrick Jean and redshirt freshman wide receiver Dominique Rhymes, at separate times over the last few days, complimented the coaching staff on its teaching ability and attention to instructional detail.
Jean said linebackers coach Tom Williams, "explains football to us in a way we understand, so that we actually know the game.”
When I asked for an example, Jean said, “In meetings, he showed us the mannerisms of the back. That’s something I never knew before. I never looked at the footwork of the back, I never saw his shoulders. I always watched the o-lineman in front of me. He’s training my eyes instead of my feet. The physicality, that’s going to come. The technique, that’s going to come. I can work on that. But if I get it right with my eyes, I can play faster now.”
Wide receiver Raymond Jackson hasn't been at the last few practices. Turner gave the almost euphemistic explanation that Jackson is "taking care of some personal stuff, focusing on academics" but also said, "We'll get together at the end of spring and see where we go." I suspect offensive lineman Prince Matt's in the same boat.
I'm hearing that Tymell Murphy, last year's leading scorer, will wait to see who the new coach is before deciding whether or not to transfer.
Local native Tony Pujol, now an assistant at Alabama, has been in the mix the last couple of times this job came open. Pujol worked at Virginia Commonwealth and Alabama under Anthony Grant, another Miami native. Also, at Appalachian State, Pujol helped with a multi-year team APR that was consistently above 970.
The Pitino-Donovan connection: Grant coached under Billy Donovan during Donovan's first 10 seasons at Florida before heading for VCU and Bama, five of those seasons as associate head coach. Donovan thinks highly of Grant who thinks highly of Pujol.
FIU enters next week's Sun Belt Conference tournament with the best team stroke average and the individual with the best stroke average, freshman Meghan MacLaren.
Jonathan Winters, an artist as a comedian and a comedian who was a funny artist -- some of his paintings possessed smarter wit than a season of average sitcoms. Winters might've been the most complete comedian we've seen. He could bring down the house and leave other comedians in awe doing stand up, prop, improvisation as well as comic acting, a comic cycle few attempt.
Winters reminds me of Dave Letterman in that some people just didn't get him, but those that did laughed very hard. For a very long time. He died Thursday.
Coming up on the seven to 10-day period FIU executive director of sports and entertainment Pete Garcia set last week for hiring a new basketball coach, there's no smoke coming out of the athletic offices wing of The Branch. The court's almost finished, though. You can go to my Twitter feed, http://www.twitter.com/DavidJNeal for that photo as I'm still having trouble uploading photos. Video still works, so perhaps I'll do a little Oscar Micheaux tomorrow when I'm out at Camp Mitch for football practice.
Florida assistant coach John Pelphrey didn't want to comment on any interest in the open head coaching position 5 hours to the south. Pelphrey played under Rick Pitino at Kentucky and has been an assistant under Billy Donovan at Florida twice. Between those assistant periods, Pelphrey was head coach at South Alabama (80-67, one NCAA, one NIT bid in five years) and Arkansas (69-59, one NCAA bid in four years).
If he's going to get another shot at a head coaching job, it'll be at an FIU or another Conference USA-level school. He's making $180,000 at Florida, so this job would be a bump in salary if not program profile.
Rivals.com reports that Maryland assistant Scott Spinelli interviewed for the job. Spinelli's been an assistant under Mark Turgeon at Maryland, Texas A&M and Wichita State. Pitino/Donovan connection? Spinelli played at Boston University while Pitino, who had just left BU, was coaching at nearby Providence and became an important prep school coach in a Boston basketball world Pitino knows well.
Spinelli earned just over $207,000 for the 2011-12 season, according to the Washington Times.
A few things from Wednesday morning's football practice:
Quarterback Jake Medlock has done the quick kick out of the shotgun formation in games. Wednesday, he punted out of a normal punt formation. FIU head coach Ron Turner said Medlock is definitely in competition for that job and might very well be the punter come fall, although redshirt freshman Chris Ayers has improved lately.
Medlock got picked off by junior cornerback Richard Leonard during one-on-one drills. But the star fo the day was redshirt sophomore wide receiver Dominique Rhymes, who beat Leonard on one bomb and caught another 30-yarder as well as made some nice mid-range catches.
DeAndre Jasper Tweeted last week the coaches had talked to him about playing cornerback and he wasn't into it. I'm hearing he might be transferring to Appalacian State, where former wide receivers coach Frank Ponce landed.
Another sophomore, Adrian Jenkins, made the switch from wide receiver to defensive back. Turner said Jenkins, who is now at strong safety, suggested the change himself.
Turner said the on-field activity at next Saturday's PantherFest, which will include a select-a-seat and meet-and-greet with some players, will be a scrimmage more than an spring game. With only 15 practices and coming in brand new, they need to use every session they can for practice.
Freshman swimmer Dani Albright made First Team All-Sun Belt after a conference meet in which she was part of the conference-record setting 800 freestyle relay team and conference-record tying 400 free relay team. Through the season, she produced strong times in the 100 free, 200 free and 500 free.
"She said at midseason, she decided she didn't want to swim anymore," Horner said. "It's not what she wanted to do with herself all through college. She wanted to live more of a normal life."
Horner admitted it's a hard loss for the program. Albright, he felt, could've qualified for the NCAAs by her junior year. But, he said, once you lose the passion for swimming...
Horner said sophomore Hannah Mitchell also would be transferring and leaving competitive swimming.
Perhaps more than any sport, being even a mediocre collegiate swimmer requires a delicate balance. Not a balanced life -- that's not happening. But a balance between being almost disciple devoted to the sport and getting the most out of what little remains of that irreplaceable commodity, time.
That balanced imbalance must be maintained from youth. Nobody's a latecomer to swimming at this level. There's no "I didn't start swimming until my junior year of high school" among swimmers, the way you hear in football, basketball, baseball, even track.
Albright's 18, the same age FIU sophomore Johanna Gustafsdottir was when she decided she'd had enough of competitive swimming. There's something to wanting to spend more afternoons being a normal college student, even if that involves not doing jack except arguing whether Phineas or Ferb is the true genius. Gustafsdottir got the urge back after two years. Many don't.
Maybe Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin knew what she was doing when she stayed with her longtime coach and remained a Colorado high school student as she prepped for the 2012 Olympic Games.
Franklin went back to Aurora Regis Jesuit High School after the Olympics. She swam for the school team and led them to the state title in February. The affable, giddy Franklin said she'd do the same thing 100 times over.
"She's 17 and she wanted to stay 17," her father told the Denver Post.
FIU athletic director Pete Garcia fairly gushed over departing coach Richard Pitino Thursday.
“What he did with this basketball team and these players, I’ve never seen a job like that in my 25 years,” Garcia said. “I rank him right up there as far as talented coaches, and I’ve been fortunate to be around some very good ones, with (formerUniversity of Miami football) Coach (Butch) Davis, Greg Schiano, Rod Chudzinski, Leonard Hamilton, Chuck Pagano. He’s got it all.”
Names float around when it comes to this job. Every college assistant tired of being Spock or McCoy and want a shot at being Kirk (or, for those of you younger readers, tire of being told "Make it so" and want a chance to be Picard.) will send an application. Some veteran college coaches need to cleanse their name with a few years of peaceful penance in steerage class of D-1 hoops. And some who've been to the truly big time don't mind some lower rung time. It makes them feel like they're back to their roots. More coaching and bonding with kids who share the desperate love of a game and less handshake-and-grin with adults with whom they have only vitamins and Viagra in common.
FIU's pay, $250,000 per year for each of the last two coaches, isn't high end for the job, but allows a single coach to live comfortably in South Florida. And there's all the other issues that come with being a hoops coach at FIU. Potential coaches know at least the broad strokes of all that. Nobody confuses Camp Mitch with Kentucky or Stanford, although Stanford assistant and former FIU assistant and player Charles Payne might be interested.
The Academic Progress Rate issue could be a one-year problem or, depending on how many players transfer after this coaching change, get extended by a year or two. If FIU gets another semi-miraculous season and looks like it could qualify for postseason play, the school could petition the NCAA for relief as a program showing APR improvement in 2012-13.
A member of the Isiah Thomas administration gave me a call Thursday afternoon to say that while the APR numbers for 2010-11 being reported were accurate, the why isn't as simple as kids not going to class under Thomas, but rather two kids not going to class under Thomas.
(The low APR under Thomas surprised me. Though Thomas left Indiana University for the NBA after his sophomore season, he came back each summer until he finished his bachelor's degree in 1987. I spent that summer in Bloomington and saw him passionately speak to incoming minority freshmen on not blowing this great chance they had. He was taking University of California graduate classes while coaching at FIU. So why would a Hall of Fame player who values his own education and played his college ball under a coach who benched or booted key players just for missing a few classes be lax about his own players going to class? That made about as much sense as the Chewbacca Defense.)
Anyway, this former staffer said Eric Frederick, FIU's second leading scorer at the time and a junior college transfer, got jettisoned by Thomas for refusing to be a student in 2010-11. Frederick transferred to Texas Wesleyan. Antoine Watson crashed academically in 2009-10, but had remained in school. Thomas gave him a year to get his grades together. When Watson failed to do so and was gone by the holidays, the staffer said, that and Frederick kneecapped the APR for 2010-11.
FIU knew that would happen, he claimed, just as they've known the 2011-12 APR would stink after a number of players transferred following the Thomas firing. Nobody at FIU can dispute that Pitino knew the likelihood of a 2014 postseason ban when he got hired. As the new triage officer of the program, however, that got low worry priority behind just finding players to put on the floor for 2012-13. (Then, the obvious question: how much did Pitino tell the players he was bringing in who would have only one or two years at FIU?)
Word around FIU doesn't argue the 2011-12 APR, once official, will be low less because of absenteeism because of players transferring after one or two years. But the talk in certain halls is Thomas encouraged players to transfer after his firing, so it's still his doing. A couple of players definitely kamikaze'd themselves academically over the last month last spring, but not at Thomas' urging.
Scholarship athletes transferring or getting booted after one or two years slashes at your APR. It's part of Ron Turner's dilemna over at football. Turner's too old for headaches, but can't just wish the leftover headache players into the cornfield without crippling the APR. Football doesn't have much wiggle room with its APR this year after an 897 2010-11 and one of the worst fall semesters in years in 2012.
Unlike Marcellus, we can't exactly tell you what now.
Raymond Taylor, the guard sitting out this season after transferring from FAU, summed FIU's dilemna up when he Tweeted Wednesday afternoon, "Wow!!!! What's my next move!??"
Nobody saw Richard Pitino staying at FIU until his face possesed the topography of age etched into his father's. He'd learn the head coaching craft here in the minor leagues of major college basketball, learn how to get players to come to college basketball's Congo and keep them eligible, how to compete with very limited resources and the nuances of being a program's face.
Then, either Billy Donovan would leave Florida or Rick Pitino would retire from Louisville and Richard the Second would get called up.
Nobody anticipated an 18-14 season. Nobody thought a major conference would even look at a first-year FIU coach, even if his last name has been attacted to national championships. Now, though, FIU's almost back to where it was a year ago, if more talented and athletic on the court. They might be in an even worse situation -- if the 2011-12 APR is as bad as I've heard it is, FIU could be banned from postseason play. No conference tournament, no shot at the NCAA Tournament.
Junior guard Malik Smith, a junior college transfer and team leader who ranked 16th in the nation with 3.0 three-pointers per game, posted on Instagram Wednesday night, "Thanks to FIU for the opportunity to do something special and help turn a program around. With that being said, I'll be asking for my release some time next week and taking my talents to a different university. Coach Pitino helped show me what hard work was and I'll forever appreciate it. With him and the rest of my teammates the best in the future. Everything happens for a reason."
So here's what Pete Garcia gets for making a hire that worked better than anybody had a right to expect: the chance to do it again. And he might need to in the worst way.
Or, with the football program rebuilding also, he might lose his Camp Mitch privileges.
Another major conference men's basketball program has reached to a surprising Florida mid-major to get its next coach. Word out of Minnesota and the FIU athlete community is the Gophers have snagged FIU's Richard Pitino.
Word out of FIU is, officially, silence. Pitino hasn't answered calls, texts or messages and, in fact, his voice mail box is full. FIU athletic director Pete Garcia has gone underground similarly the last few days, but will address the media Thursday morning. President Mark Rosenberg's voice mailbox is full.
Pitino coached FIU to its first winning record in 13 years and the final of the Sun Belt Conference tournament. He accomplished this despite only six players left over from the previous season. Of those, only forward Tola Akamolafe could be called a major contributor and then for only part of the 2011-12 season before he became academically ineligible.
Following this remarkable coaching job would've been tough, both because FIU will be moving to Conference USA next season and there might be some punishment coming from the NCAA once the 2011-12 APR comes out. Now, it'll be interesting to see which players, if any, go with Pitino to Minnesota.
The FIU game at FAU has been moved to Nov. 29, a Friday night. Blame TV.