Westminster Christian wide receiver Elbre "Tony" Gaiter IV, son of former Killian All-Dade player and Hurricanes player Tony Gaiter, has committed to FIU, according to 247sports.com and Scout.com. The former didn't have him rated. The latter had him rated at three stars. Gaiter caught 28 passes for 479 yards (17.1 per catch) and nine touchdowns this season. He ran seven times for 78 yards and three touchdowns.
Let's take care of two things that aren't happening...
1. FIU dropping football or dropping to FCS. Anybody suggesting this should happen based on the results of the last few seasons or attendance reveals himself or herself to be a whiny baby who needs the Entitlement Pacifier taken away. FIU's had some truly awful years, a couple of good years and a bunch of losing seasons that run together. Your actual in-house attendance fluctuates congruently before applying other factors (noon start, lousy weather, etc.). Welcome to life as an FBS college football program that's not a traditional power.
In case you haven't noticed, schools don't tend to move from FB0 to FCS. You went 5-7 by beating some weak sisters. Again, welcome to life as an FBS college football program that's not a traditional power.
2. FIU coach Ron Turner's not going anywhere. Look at athletic director Pete Garcia's situation. He doesn't have a new contract yet (but does have an attendance bonus of $8,393 coming from FIU's 15,381 average, 117th in the nation). Firing Turner after three seasons says "That guy I fired in December 2012? Big mistake." And that might as well be asking FIU to move on to a new athletic director.
Has a 5-7 season ever had a more depressing end than Saturday without involving an ambulance? Lightning delays alternating with rain. Barely enough people to fill the Graham Center food court, much less La Cage. Western Kentucky scored on the second play from scrimmage and what turned out to be the last play from scrimmage (and a whole lot of plays in between).
There really isn't much to say when a team ends its season getting outscored 115-7 over its last two games. I'm not going to say the team quit. That's too harsh an insult. I will say they seemed to become disheartened and locked into bad patterns (and I'm not even talking about the 4-yard bubble screens).
Injuries hurt the defense, especially the safety positions. The loss of middle linebacker Treyvon Williams, one of the defense's two batteries along with outside linebacker Anthony Wint, unplugged the defense. But so did flat play by some from whom more was expected and a soft concept.
When you like to run a lot of double tight end sets and two of the most productive tight ends in the country go down for the last four games, it hurts. Period. That's not a position of depth at many Power 5 conference teams, much less G5 teams. The inexperienced, banged up offensive line never got together. Also damaging was cautious play calling and inscrutable personnel deployment.
I'll have more later and expect to talk to Turner this week at length about the season.
If you find the Board of Trustees Athletics Committee meetings as exciting as an Medieval Lit class taught by PriceWaterhouseCoopers middle managers with chest high pants, skip this blog post. I'll have my usual pregame blog post up late Friday night (or Saturday morning depending on how many $5-$6 Central Indiana Long Islands I gulp).
I happen to find these meetings interesting, if for nothing else than they act as truth serums on the department suits and coaches. It's as honest as they'll be in a public forum.
I arrived about 20 minutes late Wednesday -- school dropoff duties and I'm not making my kid cut sleep short for this. Now, if I thought someone might spike the coffee and a toga party broke out with, say, Senior VP for External Relations Sandra Gonzalez-Levy and Committee Chairman Jorge Arrizurieta leading everybody in The Wobble, different story.
I knew that wouldn't happen this morning when I saw the chairman parking seconds after I did. Each of us hustled into the Graham Center Ballroom in time to hear the end of the department report from Athletic Director Pete Garcia.
Then, it was time for the Compliance Update. This used to bring about much shame from Athletics and Compliance and uncomprehending indignation from various board members at the variety of goofups costing FIU money, athletic talent and esteem (people in the business notice).
Hank Harrawood took over in February 2014 and turned Compliance around before leaving this summer. Arrizurieta said Harrawood, now UNC-Charlotte's Director of Compliance, left FIU when his spouse got a job back in his native Carolinas. His replacement, Jessica Reo, said she's two people short in the department, but "all kids are eligible right now" after this round of certification. She also noted she's got blood tethers to the region -- her parents live in Jupiter.
After some yada, yada, yada concerning post graduate placement for student athletes and some billing issues with Baptist Hospital over athlete rehabilitation, we got the closing act: Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment's Senior VP for Collegiate Serivces Mark Donley and Executive VP for Collegiate Services Michael Palisi answering questions from the committee members. The tone of the questions could be summarized as "What are you doing with us, how are you helping us make money and how much control do we have over what you do?"
FIU's outsourced its suite, signage, naming rights, etc, and media rights sales to Van Wagner. Palisi stated that 90 percent of the FBS schools outsource this work. The company pays FIU $550,000 per year plus a percentage of what it sells. Athletics estimates it was making only $400,000 from those streams, so the guarantee alone puts more money in the department's pockets.
The figure FIU and Van Wagner throw out for the deal's worth is $9 million in revenue and savings to FIU over seven years. Palisi called the figure conservative. Under questioning from Kathleen Wilson, Donley estimated 30 percent of the $9 million is savings to FIU in staff costs and 70 percent is actual incoming revenue.
Pete Garcia said the money would go toward satisfying the yearly $900,000 to $1 million cost of attendance nut when FIU starts doing that en masse.
Donley also promised that the school will be kept fully and continuously apprised of the Van Wager folks' activities on FIU's behalf. "There will be nothing we will do, no sponsorship we will sign that the University does not have complete knowledge of."
The Committee wanted quarterly reports on Van Wagner's doings.
The Cost of Attendance stipend topped the lengthy list of things I wanted to ask FIU athletic director Pete Garcia about when I saw him in the expensive halls of the Boca Resort, where Conference USA Media Day really kicks in Wednesday. Coincidentally, COA ranked No. 1 on the list of things Garcia wanted to discuss.
According to Garcia:
*FIU's maximum stipend per athlete, which is worked out via some formula in the financial aid office, worked out to around $6,000. Garcia believes that's one of the highest in the nation. That means FIU can offer an athlete that much cash above and beyond any scholarship for use on other expenses having to do with being a college student. Garcia believes that's one of the highest in the nation and could be a serious boon in recruiting.
*COA stipends might go to a few FIU athletes this year. Most schools aren't starting this year. But it's in 2016-17 that FIU goes Oprah: "YOU get $6,000 and YOU get $6,000 and YOU get $6,000..." Garcia claims FIU will give stipends for most sports and there will be gender equity.
*How will FIU come up with all extra cash? Several places, Garcia says. He said he's been building a cash stash by saving money over the past several years. Garcia said his relationship-building visits to Brazil -- OK, one visit counted as vacation -- were followed last week by a contingent from Brazilian soccer club Flamengo visited FIU last week. A couple of Flamengo games in January or February can pull in $300,000. The Van Wagner deal is supposed to bring in an extra $900,000 or so per year.
Be back tomorrow morning from Conference USA Media Day.
Desiring a location at least some fans can reach on foot or via Miami's adequate-for-1962 mass transit system and with minimal nose-picking along State Road 836 during rush hours, the David Beckham Group has now stated they prefer to build a stadium alongside Marlins Park. Many local politicos can now smile that they've bent the soccer bringers to their will somewhat and can now discuss the fringe benefits for the local powers-that-be.
Not that FIU athletics acted as if the MLS fantasy still had even a Law & Order episode's basis in reality. FIU athletic director Pete Garcia's been in Brazil a few times to get popular soccer club Flamengo for an exhibition game at FIU Stadium and keep the lines of communication open with the top muckety-mucks of Brazilian soccer. The national team's trained at FIU twice before friendlies at Sun Life Stadium.
Speaking of soccer, I'm still unclear on what the school plans to do about the embarrassment of FIU Soccer Stadium before the school hosts women's soccer's Conference USA tournament. According to some folks I spoke with this week, the grounds crew does a good job with the pitch. But nothing says "first class institution" to people from other schools like picking 35-year-old splinters out of their butts from stands that look bought second hand from an early 1900s minor league baseball park. And the banners ringing the field look better than bare fences yet don't fool anyone that they're above being lipstick on a pig (and I'm not saying which end of the pig).
The place is beneath the soccer programs and beneath FIU as a school.
But soccer games, indeed all games, on PantherVision should look better this year. FIU's hired Brian Duval as a dedicated video coordinator.
Credit to FIU Student Media for getting a sit down with FIU President Mark Rosenberg and to the president for being responsive to student media for the chat that resulted in this video. Rosenberg answers questions about athletic director Pete Garcia and the football program going back to Division II.
While Rosenberg could've given a Dikembe Mutumbo finger wag after swatting the second question into the metaphorical 10th row, he did a little dancing when asked about a Garcia contract extension (Garcia's up in 2016). Rosenberg called that question "premature," which it most certainly would be if this were a completely different athletic department and athletic director. As it is...look, if you're reading this, you probably know all about it and if you don't, click on "Pete Garcia" on the list of categories and read away. I have neither the time nor the inclination to rehash it all here.
Anyway, after Muhammad Ali Rosenberg floated like a butterfly from that question, he straight out said he wants to keep productive people around and Garcia, in his opinion, has been productive "with the resources he has had, with the capabilities that have evolved."
"Resources" is the less crass way of saying "money and people." According to USA Today's annual college sports economics survey, FIU received only 3 percent of its 2013-14 income from ticket sales, last in Conference USA. Meanwhile, its portion of the athletic's budget coming from subsidy was a Conference USA high 80.2 percent of which the overwhelming majority comes out of student fees.
Funny what you can learn sitting around the arena on a Friday afternoon.
Executive director for sports and entertainment Pete Garcia passed with Senior Associate ADs Julie Berg and Heath Glick and invited me along to look at the choice of new chairs for FIU Arena.
At least all the lower bowl chairs in the arena will be replaced. That's the "Bleacher Project" referred to in the pre-Miss Universe e-mail to Glick as "likely scrapped."
The other project mentioned as "likely scrapped" in that e-mail, the softball/golf locker room, should be started after FIU hosts Conference USA softball championships, according to Garcia and Berg. The new practice area for the track and field throwers, also part of the Women's Sports Initiative, should be done before the year's out. Garcia said a major upgrading of the baseball stadium will be coming in the next year or two.
A major donation should be announced soon that'll pay for the baseball stadium and arena seat replacement. The other projects should be covered under what's been collected for the Women's Sports Initiative.
Recently, I heard again from someone close to the situation, as I did last fall, that the long-awaited soccer/track stadium will become a reality once FIU takes over the Youth Fair land. Don't confuse this with any drive to get Major League Soccer as a temporary FIU tenant. This pitch would be for FIU and youth teams.
Considering the amount of time we've been waiting on this project, all skepticism until dirt gets disturbed is warranted.
The FIU Alumni Association put a message on its Facebook page today in semi-reaction to the statement from Alumni Association President Frank Pena calling for a change in FIU Athletic Department leadership:
"The FIU Alumni Association would like to clarify that recent statements made by Alumni Association President Frank Peña do not necessarily represent the views of the Alumni Association's Board of Directors or its members. Peña himself has said that he was expressing personal views regarding the Athletics Department leadership.
The FIU Alumni Association unequivocally support our student athletes, our coaches and President Mark B. Rosenberg, and strive to continue our mission of serving and supporting FIU's alumni by providing lifelong connections to the University. The Alumni Association is focused on furthering key University priorities such as the expansion project and FIU's Next Horizon Capital Campaign."
Conspicuous by its absence on the Alumni Association support list: Athletic Department leadership.
You can skip this unless you're an athletics business wonk. Or just curious.
A few things about the deal with adidas, announced by FIU in January as a five-year deal worth around $2.6 million:
*FIU gets adidas footwear, clothes, equipment and accessories, but not for free. They get sort of a Costco deal on stuff -- shoes at 45 percent off retail price; clothes, equipment and accessories 50 percent off retail for everyone but baseball/softball, which gets only 37.5 percent off The Price is Right price. But baseball/softball gets theirs elsewhere, as you’ll soon see. FIU must spend at least $300,000 each year, which is air hockey money for a properly-funded Division I athletic program.
*If FIU does spend $300,000 each year, it gets an additional $260,000 retail value of adidas product (stuff) in 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, $285,000 in 2018-19 and $310,000 in 2019-2020.
*For the football team using adidas footballs in practices and games, FIU gets $10,000 retail value of product each year.
*Under “Athletic Department Fund Raising”, adidas gives FIU $15,000 of retail product value each year.
*There’s various bonuses for team achievement and Coach of the Year. The largest realistically attainable one is $20,000 retail value product for a football team bowl appearance.
*Baseball gets the most extra stuff. Softball will get the same stuff in “an amount to be agreed upon when Adidas introduced these hardgoods” according to the contract. (Yes, I think it should be “introduces” but I’m quoting directly from the contract, so…)
Each year, FIU Baseball gets:
Up to 48 wood bats, up to 42 non-wood bats, 6 aluminum fungo bats, up to 36 fielder’s gloves, up to 40 wheeled locker equipment bags, up to 40 individual duffel bags, 6 coach’s briefcases, 5 wheeled catcher bags (two to be used for equipment), up to 96 pairs of batting gloves (replaced by wear and tear), up to 96 pairs of wristbands, up to 25 batting helmets, up to 6 sets of catching gear.
432 fitted baseball hats
$34,000 retail value of free product.
$4,000 retail value of free product for the head coach
The only other individual in the athletic department who gets free product is the athletic director, who gets $10,000 retail value of free product each year.
The weekend and the FIU Invitational starts here at 4:30 Friday...
Then continues there at 7 p.m. for those wishing to see a proper thrashing of Purdue. While that would be Friday night pizza to my personal soul, my professional body will be a few hundred yards south of there...
It's possible FIU's baseball bunch could be a better team than last year's, yet come out of the first two weeks with a losing record -- three games against Tennessee, one against Georgia Tech and Coastal Carolina each. All ranked or getting votes for being ranked. North Carolina State left 2014 with a winning overall record, 32-23, if only 13-17 in the ACC.
The Panthers believe they've got talent. But they don't know really what they've got.
"It's going to tell us a lot," senior third baseman Josh Anderson said of the first few weeks. "We're not sure what our starting lineup is going to be in the outfield because there's injuries. But we're going to see how we play together as a team because we lost a lot of key parts. We've put together a good pitching staff. We have some freshmen in the lineup, too, that haven't really seen D-1 baseball yet. But, it's usually good because it sharpens their awareness."
What would count as a successful season?
"Last year, we finished 36-20, which would be a respectable season in some people's eyes," Anderson replied. "But for me and for our coaching staff and for other seniors on the team like Julius (Gaines), we underachieved as a team. This year, a successful season would be winning the Conference tournament, making a regional and going to the College World Series. We have the team to do it. If we can stick together as a team and finish this year -- last year, we kind of crumbled in the last 10 games -- if we can finish without injury, we have the squad to do it."
A message board poster, in arguing that FIU Alumni Association President Frank Pena harbors a personal grudge with athletic director Pete Garcia, used a screen grab of a Facebook post picturing Pena, former Executive Director of Alumni Affairs/current Alumni Association Vice President Eddie Hondal and Pena's baby daughter. The message board poster redacted the kid's face, but still....
Seems like a line was crossed. Nobody should want discourse about a business or extracurricular activity to descend into posting photos of or taking shots at children, spouses, ex-spouses, that night's date, relatives or others unrelated to the point being discussed.
As I Tweeted about an hour ago while sitting in Boat Show drawbridge traffic, FIU running backs coach Kerry Dixon II is moving on up to Gainesville as the University of Florida's new wide receivers coach.
Dixon was FIU's best recruiter in the 305, which he also worked while on FAU's staff. I don't think Dixon's solely responsible for the vastly improved relationships with Dade's inner city schools, but he definitely played a significant role.
Defensive line coach Randy Melvin is reported to be the favorite for the open defensive line coach job over in Coral Gables. The connection: Melvin was on Hurricanes coach Al Golden's 2009 staff at Temple.
The 2012 Tampa Bay staff included Melvin and FIU head coach Ron Turner. That's the connection Turner tapped when the NFL door reopened with the Vikings for 2013 defensive line coach Andrae Patterson. The front seven, particularly the defensive line, topped the worry list going into 2014. Aside from power backs such as Pitt's James Conner and Marshall's Devon Johnson, the defensive line held up far better than expected against the run and got after quarterbacks.
So, Turner could be looking at replacing a defensive line coach as well as a running backs coach, a quarterbacks and wide receivers coach (Cam Turner's going to Carolina as assistant wide receivers coach). Turner himself could take over the quarterbacks, although that might put a lot on his plate in addition to being offensive coordinator and head coach.
President Mark Rosenberg cancelled a Monday meeting with a group that included Alumni Association president Frank Pena. I'm not sure if the meeting concerned Athletics or the many other things about which the Alumni Association heads and President Rosenberg speak.
Either way, Pena's open request for change at the top of Athletics surely would've been on the conversational playlist.
FIU Alumni Association President Frank Pena read into the minutes of the Jan. 26 Alumni Association Board meeting a statement that recommends "a major change happens in the leadership of the Department of Athletics. The sooner these changes would happen, the better."
http://www.CollegeAD.com published the statement first this morning.
When I reached Pena Monday morning, I asked him if he wrote the statement as Frank Pena, FIU graduate, or Frank Pena, head of a 20,000 member alumni association.
"As both," he replied. "I did it as an alumnus, but I also did it to represent views of countless alumni. Whether it's at church, at the dentist's office, you run into FIU alums wherever you go. One of the first things they bring up should not be the poor state of Athletics. They should bring up some of the victories we have in Athletics or they should bring up some of the great things we're doing.
"That's why I'm saying what's been happening with Athletics over the last several years has been a distraction. It shouldn't be the conversation we have. People know I bleed the Blue and the Gold and they always want to have an FIU conversation. I'm finding more times, the conversation is 'What is going on in Athletics?'"
Pena emphasized the statistics-filled statement wasn't inspired by personal issues with FIU executive director of sports and entertainment Pete Garcia but was about Athletics' "leadership and the results."
"I've been involved with FIU as a student since 1994. I've stayed involved as an alumnus. The love I have toe the institution is immense," Pena said. "I think FIU is the engine of the South Florida community and Dade County. We're doing so many good things. I feel Athletics, instead of being a partner in the University, has become a distraction. And something needs to be done.
"As alumni, it's our responsibility to support our university. Sometimes, by bringing up something that might be construed as a negative, it is supporting the university. And it is taking a stand. I felt that, as alumni, we need to take a stand when something's not working right. By the metrics we laid out -- academics, fundraising, wins & losses and fan support -- we're not doing our job."
I asked the Office of External Relations Monday if President Rosenberg had any response to the Alumni Association president's recommendation.
FIU External Relations Director Maydel Santana-Bravo sent an e-mail Monday afternoon that read, "President Rosenberg has spoken with Frank Pena multiple times. The feelings and concerns of all of our alumni are very important to us. We want to thank them for their support.
"Building an athletics program takes years and we are moving in a positive direction."
There was no comment from Garcia through FIU Athletics.
FIU's softball team enters this season as the Conference USA co-favorite with Alabama-Birmingham. Why that's to be expected is detailed in an earlier post. But that got me thinking...
When Jake Schumann left the softball coach last summer with an obvious potential conference champion and NCAA tournament team coming back, he insisted it was because of salary. Living the coaching life with wife and kids in the Broward suburbs, Schumann insisted he needed more than the just-under $60,000 per year FIU paid. He took an associate coach job at Ole Miss for more money in a cheaper area.
So, FIU's last team to be a preseason conference favorite: softball, 2015. Head coach Gator Rebhan's salary: $59,700.
FIU's last team conference title: women's golf, 2013 Sun Belt tournament. Head coach Joe Vogel's current salary: $58,590.
FIU's last team conference title in a completely team sport: women's soccer, 2011 Sun Belt tournament or 2012 Sun Belt regular season, if you count that. Head coach Thomas Chestnutt's current salary: $63,024.
FIU's highest ranked team nationally: sand volleyball, 2014. Head coach Rita Buck-Crockett's current salary: $60,000 (for being in charge of sand and indoor volleyball).
FIU's best team over the last four years when combining athletics and academics: swimming & diving. Head coach Randy Horner's current salary: $57,590.
FIU athletic director Pete Garcia's bonuses during the 2013-14 academic year: approximately $99,550.
Numbers according to either contracts in possession of The Herald or Florida Has a Right to Know website.
These things happen sometimes. Somebody takes Job A, leaving Job B open. The person who most recently had Job A needs work and sees an opening at Job B. When it's all done, it looks like a good old fashioned Ken Stabler-for-Dan Pastorini trade.
Paul Chryst left the head coaching job at Pitt to go back to Wisconsin. First reports put Matt House, Pitt's defensive coordinator the last three years, in the U-Haul as Chryst moved back to Madison. But then Chryst decided to keep Badger incumbent Dave Aranda as defensive coordinator. Meanwhile, new Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi hired FIU's defensive coordinator Josh Conklin and linebackers coach Rob Haley.
So, now, House has no home and FIU doesn't have a defensive coordinator. Wonder if that match is being made.
House's defenses ranked 34th and 33rd nationally in 2013 and 2014, although it helped greatly in 2014 that Pitt's pounding carnivore style of offense ranked fifth in time of possession, shrinking possessions per game and holding down total defense numbers.
Just a thought...
Reigning Miss Universe Gabriela Isler visited the FIU volleyball team Tuesday. Though she clearly fit in by height if not athleticism, does anybody see the irony in the symbol of the event costing FIU Athletics around $540,000 visiting one of the athletic department's most underfunded teams?
Michael Vasquez's Sunday Herald article quotes FIU AD Pete Garcia, in an interview at least a week past, as estimating the pageant will bring "close to $400,000" to FIU. A Friday release by FIU Athletics estimated $330,000.
SWIMMING & DIVING
Perusing e-mails from a records request, I saw that FIU Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Jessell contributed $4,000 in November to FIU's water women for "the acquisition of training equipment," according to Jessell's e-mail to several athletic department folks. That'll be matched by Athletics to give $8,000 to the swimmers for new training equipment.
If you were wondering -- I was, I figured you might be too -- Jessell's salary is $329,250, according to Florida Has a Right to Know. Still, that's not that's not chump change he's throwing in the pool.
I ran into Executive Director for Sports and Entertainment Pete Garcia at The Miami Beach Bowl Welcome Event Thursday afternoon.
No surprise as Garcia and FIU President Mark Rosenberg were at the announcement of the creation of the Miami Beach Bowl (to be played in Miami). The bowl's Executive Director Carlos Padilla said he's been in constant contact with Garcia the last few months. I wonder after a couple of years, if the visiting teams don't travel well, the bowl says "to heck with it" and FIU winds up there the way Louisiana-Lafayette winds up in The New Orleans Bowl. The Miami Beach Bowl has BYU this year, a school with a huge worldwide following. Memphis? Well...
Anyway, about FIU...
*Garcia said he didn't know exactly how much the current FIU Arena roof repairs/upgrade were costing the athletic department (the money is coming out of several different FIU pockets), but said Athletics was taking the brunt of it because the school belief is Athletics will benefit most from it. Because of the Miss Universe pageant, the work got put rushed to be finished in time for the pageant to hang all its lighting.
Garcia said this will allow FIU to be a contender for concerts, which I'm guessing like similar heavy lights and stuff for its stage show.
I heard from an FIU source across campus from Athletics that the department ponied up around $400,000 for those repairs/upgrades.
*I've heard talk that Garcia's contract, which is up in 2016, will receive a three-year extension in 2015. He said nope, there have been no extension talks yet.
Maybe a little bit. You hate to say that because it sounds like you didn’t expect much. But you never know how a young guy’s going to respond. Once I saw them in training camp, I wasn’t surprised by what they did in games. Guys like Anthony Wint and Fred Russ and Treyvon Williams and Jordan Guest, those linebackers from day one were overly aggressive – “Guys we don’t need that late hit, this isn’t full contact.” That’s a problem you want to have. You can’t teach someone to be aggressive, but you can teach them to be smart about. (Safety Demarkus) Perkins was playing with that attitude in camp.
(Defensive end Michael) Wakefield, unbelievable motor. Goes full speed all the time. (Defensive end) Denzell Perine, another of those guys with a great, great motor. They got a little bit bigger, stronger in the offseason. They stepped up. I think that affected all the other guys on the defensive line. Giovanni (Francois) stepped up and started to show the same kind of motor that Wakefield and Perine showed. It was contagious. The norm was for them to play hard with a great motor. It was great to see.
(Linebacker) Davison Colimon, he’s a guy with great motor. He was a totally different guy this year. Colimon played great football for us. He played with great intensity both on defense and special teams.
What do you plan to do about your punting situation?
Find somebody, hopefully. Terrible. Jose (Laphitzondo) stepped in, the first time he’d ever played and did the best he could do. Chris (Ayers) has a good leg. He just hasn’t been able to put together, stay healthy, punt with confidence. But we’re looking. We’re looking for guys out there as well. I don’t’ know if it’ll come from within, but we’re looking at guys on the outside as well.
The problem is you don’t have a lot of scholarship spots. It’s hard to give one to a punter you don’t have here or one to a kicker because they’re so hard to evaluate. But we’ve definitely got to get better. The field position that cost us...we’re going to go back and chart, but it’s just…we’ve got to get better.
What about Luke Medlock? (an All-State punter in high school)
He’s got a chance. We worked him at a lot, early, especially. But he was just too inconsistent. But he’s got a chance. He’s got a strong leg, so he’s in the mix. He’ll be there along with Chris, Jose and (kicker) Sergio (Sroka) wants to try punting as well. We’ll give anybody (a chance).”
What players who have eligibility remaining do you not anticipate coming back?
(Quarterback) EJ (Hilliard) is not coming back. I don’t anticipate (wide receiver) Dominique (Rhymes) returning. (Wide receiver) Richard Burrows, he’d be a fifth-year guy and you’re not going to bring him back for a fifth year. Other than that, I don’t know. There’s a couple of guys I’ve talked to…we’ll see. People think that because the guy’s a fifth-year of eligibility, he automatically comes back. No. They’ve got to want to come back and we’ve got to want them to come back. That’s not just here, that’s everywhere.
What do you see you need to beef up in recruiting?
Overall depth. Every position we need to bring guys in. Playmakers, speed is one thing we’ve got to get. And playmakers aren’t always speed guys (DJN digression: the Hall of Fame wide receiver nicknamed “The Playmaker,” Michael Irvin, wasn’t a speed guy). Speed guys and or playmakers. We’ve got to continue to get them, whether it’s offense, defense, whatever.
We lost six senior offensive lineman. We brought in a really good freshman offensive lineman class last year. So we’ve got to continue to keep those numbers up where they are. That part is going well at that position. Offensive line and defensive line, you’ve always got to recruit numbers and get depth. To me, we’ve got numbers and good players, guys that we really like who are committed. We’ve just got to hold onto them.”
How has recruiting changed this year as opposed to last year, especially locally?
Last year, I thought our guys did a really good job of recruiting. The reception we got out there was good. I think it’s even better this year. I think people are seeing what we’re doing. Every high school coach I’ve talked to are seeing what we’re doing and seeing the strides we’re making, seeing what our guys are doing off the field as well as on the field and in the communi9ty and how they’re playing. I’ve had several coaches say “It’s night and day difference when we watch on the field this year than last year.” We’re basically full on our commitments. We’re actually getting guys calling us who were committed elsewhere who are asking “Do you still have scholarships available?” That’s a positive.
Do you plan to reach out to any of the Alabama-Birmingham kids, who are now free to go anywhere?
We possibly could. We’ve talked about it as a staff. There might be a couple of positions, offensive line, defensive line, if they’ve got some guys who have eligibility remaining, I don’t care if it’s one year, three years, whatever. Yeah, it’s something we’d look at. First of all, I think it’s a sad, disappointing thing. I feel so bad for those players. Watch that video of the team meeting. It’s a bad, bad deal. Those kids go there and – I look at our team room and I see how hard our guys work and everything they’re doing. The trust they put in us. And to see it pulled out from them like that without any warning. I look at the coaches, they went there a year ago, Bill Clark and his staff. I don’t know Bill really well, just from meetings and playing them. He seems like a really class, good human being. To see him go there a year ago – everybody talks about the head coach, but you’ve got a staff, nine full time assistants – and to have it all pulled away, it’s a sad deal.
On one hand, you almost feel like a vulture if you go in and take those guys. On the other hand, those kids want people to come in and recruit them because they want to play Division I football. We are going to take a look at it and see if there are guys we have spots for. We don’t have a lot of spots unfortunately – and if it’s a good fit. I spoke with Bill Clark this morning. It’s just a tough, tough deal. Those kids are going to go somewhere. So, we’ll get in the mix, try to help them. And, help us.
Any staff changes?
I hope not. I love our staff. I think we’ve got everything exactly where I want it right now. I couldn’t be happier with them. There will be no changes on my part. You never know what’s going to happen. Jobs open up, guys come calling from bigger conferences or the NFL. I told the guys, “You have something you’re interested in, someone contacts you and it’s better for you and your family, I’m 100 percent supportive and I’ll do what I can do to help you get it. But I really want everyone to stay. And I’ll do what I can do to try to get you to stay.”
(DJN: According to USA Today’s assistant salary table, FIU spent $1,065,400 on assistants last year, fourth in Conference USA behind UTEP, North Texas and Middle Tennessee State)
It’s hard to get a staff together, nine full time coaches and four graduate assistants that everybody gets along. Egos usually get in the way and you have some issues there. We have zero. We have a group of guys who are not afraid to express their opinion, talking about what they want to do. At the end of the day, if we decide “this is what we’re going to do” whether it’s a defensive scheme or offensive scheme or how we’re practicing, they’re 100 percent behind it. The personalities on the staff and how they get along could not be better, as good as I’ve been around. I think our players have a lot of confidence in our coaches and know our coaches care about them as individuals, not just winning games. And they’re all doing a really good job of recruiting.
Facilities-wise, what’s the next thing you’d like to see?
Grass practice field. That’s something I’ve been talking to the AD (Pete Garcia) and to the President (Mark Rosenberg) about. It’s going to happen at some point, I’m not sure when. Just the wear and tear of that (points out the office window to Ocean Bank Field) takes its toll a little bit. It’s not mandatory that we get it, but it would be nice if we get that.
Other than that, they’re doing a good job, they’re committed to a lot of stuff. Other than that, there’s not a whole lot. All the players I’ve gotten in here, I ask every one of them, I ask one-on-one, “Do you have any issues? Any concerns? Do you have anything you’d like to see done better?” Every once in a while, somebody will say, “Well, the food…” But they say that in NFL camps when they’ve got gourmet food coming in. Other than that, they’re happy with the support staff, happy with the academic staff, happy with our medical staff.
We’re putting in a little player lounge for them which I think they will enjoy. Somewhere they can do to relax a bit. We’ll try to get some things like that done. We’re not at a competitive disadvantage within our conference in any area, so…
What did you think when you saw the massive donation at FAU and what FAU’s planning?
What’s FAU planning?
They just got a $16 million gift from the Schmidt Family Foundation toward a $45 $50 million facility that’s supposed to have an indoor practice facility, academic center, weight room, etc.
I didn’t know anything about that. Good for them. The thing we have to do is make sure we’re not at a competitive disadvantage in our conference and teams we’re playing. Hopefully, we’ll continue to upgrade our facilities. I don’t think we need to do a whole lot. We’ve got pretty good facilities here. Obviously, there are some things you can do every year.
I think all that stuff is good, but what sells recruits more than coming in and seeing a nice locker room and this and that – I think our facilities don’t take a back seat to a lot of people, but the thing that kids and their parents are most impressed with is the people. Obviously, it’s nice to have great locker room, great everything for them to come to, but the bottom line is the people. If we get them on our campus and they get around our coaches and they see what kidn of people we are, they get around our players. We have a very good chance of getting htem. Last year, on our visits, we had one weekend where we had 20 kids visit. And we had 19 commit to us when they were here.
Turner said the season captains were voted as Michael Wakefield, Richard Leonard and center Donald Senat. The game captains changed weekly, save Wakefield.
“As coaches, we talked about it every Monday. I’d say, ‘OK, game captains this week” and they would nominate some guys. Every time, somebody said, ‘Wakefield” it would be ‘OK, it’s going to be Wakefield and Richard’ or ‘Wakefield and Perk’ or ‘Wakefield and somebody.’ By the second half of the season, we didn’t even say his name, we’d just say ‘Wakefield and who else?’ Based on work ethic, performance the week before, doing the right things. We tried to get at least one offense, defense, special teams.”
The national media push to shed light on the sad situation at Alabama-Birmingham, where UAB football supporters maneuver to keep the University of Alabama Board of Trustees from killing off the UAB football program it's abusively starved, led to this story by CBSSports.com's Jon Solomon.
Readers fall victim to a bad headline -- "UAB football isn't alone in losing money for athletic departments" -- and quick judgement. Because of the headline and the accompanying chart, some interpret the story as saying FIU football is losing the athletic department $19.9 million per year.
If that were happening, everybody from athletic director Pete Garcia to the equipment managers wouldn't be looking for a new job. They'd be looking for a lawyer, a plea bargain and the prison with the guys who con you out of $100,000 instead of the hard ankle guys knock you in the head for $10.
FIU football doesn't spend $19.9 million per year. It spends around a third of that. It's operating budget going into 2013-14 was $6,604,000. Now, I'm not saying the football team doesn't lose money. Most do. Many more used to before television came along to play sugar daddy to the less powerful in the Power Five and the entire Group of Five.
What Solomon's story points out is how many athletic departments lose money before student fee income and state subsidies get added. FIU's still getting 77.4 percent of its athletic budget from student fees. That's under 80 percent. It's still far too high. For a school with so much enrollment and local alumni, it speaks of a disconnect with giving time or money to the athletic department.
It would've been nice if some of the coaches or higher up suits in the FIU football contingent had gone over to Old Dominion's soccer field or taken some of the players to show support for FIU's men's soccer team in its season finale Friday night. The football charter arrived soon enough. FIU's athletes often show solidarity with one another. It would be cool if the post-college adults would show a little love, too, even off a disappointing season.
If that sounds wacky, consider that two years ago, Mario Cristobal planned for the football team to go en masse to the FIU-Middle Tennessee State women's soccer Sun Belt tournament game at South Alabama. The Panthers' charter plane managed to get to Mobile late enough to make that impossible.
Because it's that time of the week. We're talking football here.
1. Marshall (6-0, 2-0 in Conference USA) -- Like Thriller on the 1983 album charts. Though quarterback Rakeem Cato draws the attention, running back Devon Johnson's run for 814 yards and averaging 7.8 per carry. The defense overwhelms in the first half while the offense builds a big lead. They stomped Middle Tennessee State 49-24. That Alabama-Birmingham game will be interesting.
2. Middle Tennessee State (4-3, 3-1) -- By putting them here, I'm saying Marshall's three touchdowns up on the rest of C-USA.
3. Louisiana Tech (3-3, 2-0) -- Moving up by standing still. Tech took last weekend off before facing Texas-San Antonio this week. Speaking of UTSA...
4. FIU (3-4, 2-1) -- All that bumbling about and still losing by only three on the road via last-minute field goal. I'll drop the Panthers only one spot for that 60-minute fart in the Alamodome last Saturday.
5. UAB (4-2, 2-1) -- Serving up a 56-point Mean Green Flambee last week points up the Blazers combustibility. Saturday's shootout with Middle could dictate the direction of the remainder of the season for both teams.
6. Western Kentucky (2-3, 0-2) -- Didn't play. Didn't lose. Didn't give up 40. Hey, not everybody on this list can say that.
7. UTSA (2-3, 1-1) -- If they keep redshirt freshman Austin Robinson in at quarterback, get the Roadrunners now. In a few games, when Robinson really gets himself together at the college level, there's going to be a lot of "Beep, beep" and zipping along to the end zone.
8. FAU (2-4, 1-1) -- The Woodsy Boys come back from a weekend off to host Western Kentucky.
9. UTEP (3-3, 1-1) -- New Mexico, New Mexico State, Old Dominion...say one thing for the Miners. They know who they have to beat to eat.
10. Old Dominion (3-4, 1-3) -- Having the ball against this defense is like getting to play with Canadian football rules -- a 12th man, forward motion in the backfield at the snap -- except with four downs against a defense playing by American rules. Giving up 46.5 per game to FBS schools.
11. Rice (3-3, 1-1) -- Sitting out this week after beating Hawaii and Army, before getting North Texas. Yeah, I'm not impressed, either. Check back with me after they come to FIU on Nov. 1.
12. North Texas (2-4, 0-2) -- Thought they had a defense they loved. Gave up 56 to UAB. So now they're down here looking for the love they lost.
13. Southern Miss (2-4, 0-2) -- Guess Ole Miss and Mississippi State sucked up all the good players in the state.
THE LONG GREEN
In honor of Oct. 15, the day FIU pays its athletic director a retention bonus (this year, about $76,130), here's this year's list of Conference USA football coach and athletic director base salaries. Put together from public records and published reports from public records.
Todd Monken, Southern Miss, $700,000
Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee State $721,704
David Bailiff, Rice $646,386
Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky $600,000
Doc Holliday, Marshall $600,000
Dan McCarney, North Texas, $600,000
Ron Turner, FIU $501,000
Charlie Partridge, FAU $500,000
Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech $500,000
Bobby Wilder, Old Dominion $425,000
Larry Coker, UTSA, $400,000
Sean Kugler, UTEP $280,000
Bill Clark, UAB Undetermined, though some sources put it at $600,000
Pete Garcia, FIU $380,654
Brian Mackin, UAB $300,000
Rick Villarreal, North Texas $275,000
Mike Hamrick, Marshall $255,000
Chris Massaro, Middle Tennessee State, $250,000
Patrick Chun, FAU, $250,000
Robert Stull, UTEP $233,000
Lynn Hickey, UTSA $147,540
Tommy McClelland II, Louisiana Tech $140,000
Camden Wood Selig, Old Dominion Not Available (He’s not eating bologna -- ODU’s $37 million is the largest department budget in the conference).
The football team's no longer tempting claustrophobia on a one-engine plane designed to fly with more motors than that.
They got put on the bus, Gus, sent to a mall to eat dinner while a new plane was flown in from a few hours away, according to FIU sources. The team might not get into its hotel until 10:30. Luckily, this isn't an early afternoon kick, but rather 3:30 p.m.
FIU's been using Allegiant Air, to other airlines as a food truck parked on Meridian is to Lincoln Road, for years. This isn't the first issue that's delayed travel the night before a football game. But, they're cheap.