Long jumper Phillicia Fluellen officially finished FIU's 2014-15 athletic year when she sailed to 14th in this week's NCAA Championships.
Fluellen's leap of 20 feet, 4 1/2 inches was her third best this season and second best among the mid-majors at the meet behind 10th place Texas State's Allie Saunders (I'm not counting 11th place Tennessee State's Clairwin Dameus as being from a mid-major -- that track program's been good longer than half the coaches at that meet have been alive.)
The premier college football preview publication, by information tonnage and accuracy, Phil Steele's College Football 2015, is now online if not newsstands.
Steele ranks FIU 103rd overall and fourth in Conference USA East. One of the common problems when turnovers become the manna you turn into victory, as in FIU's five wins over the last two seasons, is that's not consistent sustenance. Steele lists the Panthers as one of the teams with a positive double-digit turnover margin, a statistic that precedes a dropoff in wins the following year for 65 percent of such cases since 1991.
But, Steele points out FIU was four plays from being 8-4 last year instead of 4-8 and expects this year's model to be the best of the three Ron Turner FIU teams.
Edwin Rios' ground out that ended the baseball season began the scollege-affiliated football preseason. The preseason magazines drew us to the Coral Gables Barnes & Noble on the way to Saturday's baseball action.
Athlon's, Lindy's and The Sporting News sit on the stands. Phil Steele, producer of the most accurate and (not coincidentally) exhaustively researched preseason guide, just shipped his guide off to the printer for July 1 store release.
Steele released his four-deep preseason All-Conference USA teams Monday and it reflects the general perception of FIU going into the season.
On offense, he cites only junior tight end Jonnu Smith on the First Team (duh) and junior guard Jordan Budwig on the Fourth Team. The other side, however, includes senior defensive ends Michael Wakefield and Denzell Perine on the First Team, sophomore linebacker Anthony Wint and senior cornerback Richard Leonard on the Second Team (Second Team for Leonard?) and senior linebacker Davison Colimon on the Fourth Team. He puts Leonard as his First Team punt returner and senior Clinton Taylor as the Fourth Team punt returner.
Athlon Sports ranks FIU 112th nationally out of 128, fifth in the C-USA East and projects the Panthers to run in place -- second consecutive 4-8 overall and 3-5 conference records. I think they went with chalk in figuring FIU to beat FCS team North Carolina Central, Old Dominion and No. 128 Charlotte at La Cage and a conference upsets somewhere in there.
Their all-conference Panthers were Smith, Wakefield and Leonard on the first First Team, with Leonard at punt returner and cornerback and Colimon on the Second Team.
This year's quote from a conference opponent's assistant coach -- "They were much better last year than two years ago, but their passing game was almost nonexistent" -- might not come off well, but it's an encouraging butt-slap compared to last year's slap-in-the-face quote.
Lindy's likes FIU at No. 98 nationally and fourth in the East. While not throwing out a record, the magazine states becoming bowl eligible (six wins) would be a stretch for FIU. Lindy's two-deep preseason all-conference teams look similar to Phil Steele's, but put Colimon and Budwig on the Second Team and Leonard on the First Team. Lindy's ranked Smith as the nation's No. 1 tight end for college fantasy football.
The Sporting News says fifth in the East with Smith, Leonard and Wakefield as their preseason all-conference players (TSN made only one team).
This blog's coming at you much later than anticipated. Sorry about that. Exhaustion, birthday parties and a Venetian Causeway bridge refusing to go down pushed back production here at the home office in South Beach.
Then, I did a "DOH!" by hitting Save Saturday night instead of Publish.
So, there wasn't a "Yay!" blog post for the tennis team's dramatic 4-3 win Friday against Middle Tennessee State at the Conference USA tournament before this "Yep, yep, yep...sigh" post for the 4-1 loss to No. 1 seed Rice, the host and two-time defending conference champion.
Baseball heads into Sunday with a chance for a big series win against Western Kentucky. Middle's done FIU a Sun Belt Mafia favor by breaking Charlotte's heart twice by one run. Meanwhile, Marshall's won two from Old Dominion and move past Charlotte in pursuit of FIU.
As baseball continued backstroking in place Friday, football's Spring Game got going in front of a crowd that wasn't too far off FIU's regular season games that didn't include Bethune-Cookman. Grading on the Sofia Vergara curve, pretty good for a spring game, especially a Friday night, lightning-delayed spring game.
Raise your hand if you figured walk-on wide receiver Shawn Abrams would leave the night with seven catches and tight end Jonnu Smith would have zero. Hands? Hands? Now, everybody with hands up...
...you a lie. Put your hand down and go into local politics, where somebody will buy your weak stuff.
FIU head coach Ron Turner showed tremendous trust in Smith, quarterback Alex McGough, cornerback Richard Leonard, linebacker Treyvon Williams, linebacker Anthony Wint, running back Anthon Samuel and (to a lesser extent) running backs Alex Gardner and Napoleon Maxwell. None played much.They're not penciled into the lineup, they're engraved. Turner's comfortable that he knows what he can get from them and that they'll deliver. He's trusting they won't get complacent.
I know he's hoping Abrams won't. Two years ago, quarterback Jake Medlock casually talked about a wide receiver out of his high school, Neptune Beach Fletcher, who would really help FIU. That was on the verge of the 2013 offensive disaster with Willis Wright and Glenn Coleman's ineligibility putting the Panthers deep ball game into deep doo-doo.
Then, we heard wisps of information -- the young man got in trouble, was at FIU, but not playing -- and Abrams became another maybe that seemed destined to be a not.
(Quick aside: Medlock, a Division II All-America punter, apparently has drawn interest from some NFL teams and should be in a training camp this summer.)
Turner made it sound as if Abrams pestered his way into a tryout this spring. Abrams clearly possesses height, body control and speed, although he was a middle distance guy, not a sprinter, on Fletcher's track team. I still wouldn't expect much from him early in the season. By the time the opener at Central Florida rolls around, it'll have been almost three years since the last time Abrams ran through an angry secondary. That's a long time in a young man's life, especially making the high school to college jump in speed and physicality.
Friday was the first long look we've had at Class of 2013 running backs Alfonso Randolph and Silas Spearman in almost two years. Injuries set both back after their freshman year. Then Samuel, Gardner and Maxwell came in with more health and polish, pushing Randolph and Spearman down the depth chart. Both brought some boost to the party Friday.
Turner said, "I think Alfonso (Randolph) and Silas (Spearman) made the running back position very competitive."
Putting on my Turner Translation headphones, I hear: I want at least two good healthy running backs and, in my top three, I've got one guy coming off a season-ending shoulder injury and another guy with a concussion history.
The third guy is Maxwell. On the funniest play of the night, a pack of defenders stopped Maxwell on a right side run. The pack pushed him back, then linebacker Treyvon Williams finished the job by treating Maxwell like a cross between a shot put and a hammer you throw. Maxwell went sailing backwards and took out offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler. Williams got flagged, Shankweiler got up, Maxwell briefly got to fly.
The offensive line surprised me. There didn't give up a recylables pile of sacks as you'd expect with a new guys facing a good defense used to playing in concert.
"It's still a work in progress," Turner said. "Obviously, the left side we feel good about with our veterans, (junior guard Jordan) Budwig and (junior tackle) Dieugot (Joseph). We have two guys there who have played a lot of football for us. Aaron (Nielsen) hopefully he can keep progressing at center. He was solid, did a nice job. We've just got to get the right side solidified. Edens Sineace is starting (at tackle) now and really made good progress. (Guard) Trenton Saunders got more consistent this spring."
Of the three early enrollees, quarterback Christian Alexander completed 11 of 18 for 45 yards with an interception. He made a couple of WHOA throws, particularly one on a short out to fellow early enrollee Anthony Jones. That throw fit the "threaded needle" description. With some encouragement from the defender, Jones lost the ball into an imcompletion, however.
Jones caught four passes for 12 yards, most of the quick bubble screen variety. The end around they ran him on early got strung out. He showed a lottery ball's evasiveness on one bubble that wound up being a thrilling minimal gain. In other words, he looked like a talented freshman in his first spring game in a new offense.
Jones' Central High classmate Fermin Silva lined up at defensive end and had a nondescript night. His play didn't command I look up his number -- he's wearing No. 90 worn last year by Imarjaye Albury, who is now wearing No. 93 -- one way or the other.
Among Team Home Depot, the injured guys in the orange jerseys, all spring was wide receiver Juwan Caesar. The Coral Park graduate-Michigan State transfer looks like a prototypical big, physical possession receiver at 6-4, 219. Certainly he'd be useful on a receiving corps that, as of now, starts smallish Clinton Taylor and Dennis Turner and has 6-1 sophomore Thomas Owens as the chain mover in a three-wide lineup. By the way, Owens made a nice fade pattern touchdown catch over listed 5-11 Xavier Hines.
There was a nice coffin corner punt by Honors College member Jose Laphitzondo. Redshirt junior Chris Ayers led off the night punting with Luke Medlock getting a turn also. Turner said Sergio Sroka has looked improved this spring as he challenges Austin Taylor for the kicking job.
My own view on the spring is what it is with almost all spring football: check back in the fall.
FIU Arena's being prepared for its new seats and beach floor.
The athletic department caught a big break when that CrossFit-like (but not CrossFit, CrossFit wants to make sure you know) competition broke the beach floor. Players and past coaches complained about how unforgiving the old floor could be on knees and ankles. Now, FIU gets a new floor and somebody else pays for it.
Looking at head coach Marlin Chinn's contract, the first thing that struck me was the five-year deal gets extended a year each time FIU wins 20 games and makes the NCAA tournament. His base pay is $161,000. He gets a $10,000 bonus for a single season team Academic Progress Rate of at least 970 (the team's been a perfect 1000 each of the last three reported years) and another $10,000 for team GPA over 3.1. He gets an extra $7,500 for each of these achievements: getting into the NCAA tournament, Conference USA Coach of the Year, sole possession of a regular season C-USA title.
I heard the whole women's basketball coaching staff got sacked Monday by new coach Marlin Chinn. That's high on the expectation list when a new coach comes in after the disaster of 3-26, 0-18. I'd be willing to bet longtime assistant coach Inge Nissen winds up somewhere else in the department or university.
I wasn't at Sunday's Athletic Academic Awards Banquet (also known as "Dress Up for Food & Instagram Shots"), which would've been a great time for a sayonara ceremony to Nissen and former head coach Cindy Russo. Considering how long and well they coached at FIU, that would've been nice. I'm not sure Russo was even invited. In her last three full seasons, FIU went to two Women's NITs and got farther than Jerica Coley's superpowers should have taken the Panthers in last year's Conference USA tournament (the program was rewarded with being told the run took the team over its travel budget for the season).
Men's basketball guard Dennis Mavin and multi-titled swimmer Johanna Gustafsdottir won the Athlete of the Year awards of the appropriate genders. The entire golf team made the conference's academic honor roll, so no surprise it won the addidas Athletic Director's Award for best GPA of the year, 3.67. Women's soccer took the Paul Gallagher Community Service Award. The Michael Felsberg Spirit Award went to swimming & diving, which shared the Champs/Life Skills Challenge Cup Award with baseball.
Speaking of baseball, senior shortstop Julius Gaines gave the invocation for the entire event and received the team's Leadership Award. That capped a good Sunday individually for Gaines. Earlier in FIU's 5-4 11-inning loss to FAU, he cracked three singles to break out of an 0-for-18 plunge that also prompted a plunge down the batting order Sunday. Coach Turtle Thomas moved Gaines from leadoff to eighth.
"I definitely don't need to send a message to Julius Gaines. He's been with us for four years. He's a good baseball player," Thomas said. "He made some really good defensive plays today. (Moving down to eighth) gets you down there where you maybe see a few more fastballs, they're not killing you working you over in the top five of the batting order. It's just to give him a different look."
Gaines said at the plate, "I got out of my head. I just went up there and said I was going to put a swing on it and whatever happened, happened." As far as hitting eighth, he admitted, "There's not as much pressure. You worry about your at-bat at that time and whatever situation comes. Leading off, it's your job to get on base. It can weigh on you a little bit."
While Gaines shrugged off his defensive day as, "I did my job. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary," FAU coach John McCormack said, "Some plays that the shortstop made in this game? Wow. Julius played really well. Thank God he's leaving this year."
Gaines made a game-saving (for the moment) play in the eighth on pinch hitter Danny Murray's tough grounder with the bases loaded. McCormack marveled that Gaines operated efficiently enough to get control of the ball, see he'd be too late for the force out at second and still fired a Murray-beating throw to first.
McCormack said two other things I found interesting. He blamed himself for FIU's 6-5 win Friday. He said he should've gone to Seth McGarry immediately in the eighth with a 5-2 lead. Instead, he used lefty Devon Carr, who gave up two hits and a walk in four batters, sparking FIU's four-run eighth inning.
He also said he didn't believe in any FIU-FAU rivalry.
"I don't believe in rivalries because the players continually change," McCormack said. "I'm not big on, 'Win this one for The Gipper, they're our biggest rivals.'"
Out on the football field, Ron Turner said FIU's lack of experience at wide receiver and abundance of tight ends and running backs wouldn't mean FIU would use double tight end sets more in 2015 because "we did a lot of it last year." But, Turner said, they'll use more sets with varying position numbers and groupings now that FIU's in the third year of running his offense.
"I've told these guys from Day 1 I really believe in utilizing our personnel and moving them around. If you've got a guy and he's always in the same spot, they can take him away very easily. That's one of the biggest things I learned in the NFL -- get your playmakers involved, put in position to make plays. We've done a little bit of that the first couple of years, but not as much as we'll do this year. In that league, they pay those guys a lot of money. The owners say, 'I'm paying him a lot of money, why isn't he getting the ball? Why isn't he involved?'
"And we have some guys with versatility. Look at our tight ends. We've got three guys (Jonnu Smith, Ya'keem Griner, Akil Dan-Fodio) who can line up at tight end, line up in the slot, line up as a No. 1 receiver outside and, in some cases, line up in the backfield. Look at our running backs, same thing. We've got some guys who are strictly backfield guys or you've got some who can line up in the slot or outside. We've got a couple of wide receivers who can line up in the backfield and play some running back, quarterback or whatever."
After saying he was excited about all the different options for FIU, Turner joked once spring football ends, the coaches will have too much time to come up with too much other offensive stuff to teach. Or, maybe he was only halfway joking as staffs do make that mistake more often than is noticed.
Last week, Pitt backup quarterback Trey Anderson announced via social media that he's headed for FIU for his final year of eligibility. Apparently, Anderson defined "premature" in his announcement.
FIU coach Ron Turner said Monday he couldn't comment on Anderson with the kind of look Dad gets when he finds out you told Mom he spent the afternoon before her birthday in Neiman-Marcus' dress section. I guess Anderson's not fully cleared.
"I know one thing, we're very pleased with Alex McGough," Turner said. "And IF we add at that position from the outside, it's really not going to be to challenge him. We feel really, really good. He's had a tremendous spring. Totally different from where he was mentally. He's so much more relaxed. A much better understanding of what we're trying to do and why we're trying to do it."
Speaking of people from Pitt, Turner said new defensive coordinator Matt House not only employs a similar system to Josh Conklin's, but House did the unusual coaching step of changing the terminology to what Conklin used so his new FIU charges had one less adjustment to make. Most coaches insist on using their chosen appellations even if it makes players essentially learn a second language.
Sophmore Linebacker Anthony Wint said he feels almost as good as he did before the knee injury that interrupted his stellar freshman year, but much better than he felt when he came back for the season's final games.
As far as the alleged sexual assault on campus involving a football player, as WSVN Channel 7 reported Saturday night...I've heard a name, but it would be irresponsible to throw it out there now without more confirmation. So, nothing new.
Pepperdine won the American Volleyball Coaches Association sand volleyball national championship in 2012 and 2014, was the runner-up in 2013 and came into Saturday's match with FIU ranked three spots above the No. 6 Panthers in the AVCA Sand Volleyball poll. Pepperdine skunked the Panthers twice, 5-0, during FIU's inaugural sand season two years ago.
So, Saturday morning's 3-2 win against Pepperdine at the Palmetto Invitational sits as a landmark for the direction of FIU's 12-1 sand volleyballers, who have won all their three matches against other top 10 teams.
There's 50 Division I sand volleyball teams in the nation now. The NCAA will take over running the championship next spring.
There's a bit of confusion over whether spring football practices were open or closed to fans. Here's the 411:
Practices are officially closed to fans and media. That was in a release to the media that was mass e-mailed to the media as usual by FIU Athletics media relations, but wasn't also put on the FIU Sports website as such things usually are (such as the previous two spring practice releases saying practice would be open).
BUT if you've been invited into the seats of La Cage, you can check it out. This seems cut and dried.
In practice, however, it's a bit of a clusterkibibble.
For one thing, invitations aren't exactly Willy Wonka gold tickets shining with a blinding glare the moment you pull them from your pocket. Sometimes, it's a Tweet from a coach to select fans or a group of potential fans. It can be a phone call or a verbal "Come on, down!" Also, gates are open for several practices either out of convenience for folks working around the stadium or allowing access to students attending a class in one of the suites.
So, if you happen to walk in one of the open gates, take a seat in the stands and aren't disruptive to anybody, everybody might assume somebody else invited you to be there and you'll get to watch practice. Not that I'm recommending you do this.
I hope this clears everything up on this topic. Back to vacation and my bed or balconies.
After going almost two years between conference team titles in all sports, FIU could get two in three months.
The golf team, which brought home the 2013 Sun Belt Conference title, finished second in the Mountain View Collegiate with junior Meghan MacLaren (7-under 209) getting medalist by three shots. Freshman Katerina Krasnova (2-under 214) tied for 10th.
Finishing ahead of FIU: Ohio State. Among the 18 teams finishing behind FIU: Purdue, Kansas State, Iowa State, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and BYU.
Junior Edwin Rios went into Saturday's game against Charlotte barely hitting his weight. He came out a chunk closer to C.C. Sabathia's weight, up to .256, after going four for four with three home runs in a 23-1 Saturday mercy rule rout of Charlotte. It was the first homer hat trick in Conference USA since June 5, 2010.
Senior Brian Portelli went four for five with four RBI and a homer as FIU finally stopped making every lefthanded opposing pitcher look like Warren Spahn. The Panthers need to use this weekend against Charlotte and next weekend against Marshall to turn around this 10-13 season that's been the epitome of underachievement.
(I'm sure all the FIU players and coaches had the same thought you just did -- boy, wish they could store some of those runs...)
FIU football held its second spring practice Saturday morning. Ron Turner would address the outside media for the first time this spring. Practice was closed.
Not enough of a draw for me to wrestle South Florida/South Beach traffic on a scheduled day off with the NCAA tournament, naps and vacation staring me in the face. If something serious happens while I'm on vaca (i.e., coach firing, notable player transferring in or out, players showing full or just too much monty at the beach), I'll suit up and get back in the game. Otherwise...
FIU announced today that spring football practices will be closed. Below is the schedule for the practices you won't be able to attend and the spring game for which you'll be invited to come in and sit a spell.
Mar. 19, 21, 24, 28, 31, Apr. 2, 6, 7, 9, 13, 14, 16: 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Mar. 26: 10 a.m.
Apr. 3: 7 p.m.
Apr. 17: Spring Game, 7 p.m.
For what it's worth, if this scuttles your football practice viewing plans, the sand volleyball team practices around the same time and they're 7-1 with a No. 7 ranking in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association poll.
When Chitlin Circuit and comedy record legend Redd Foxx got the starring role in his own TV series, Sanford & Son, he took care of his friends. Lawanda Page, who played Aunt Esther, was his oldest friend and introduced Foxx to his first wife. Don Bexley and Pat Morita also benefited from their friend in the way of recurring supporting roles, valuable work to actors and comedians. Other Chitlin Circuit stars such as Slappy White did guest star one shot appearances.
The coaching business is packed with Redd Foxxes.
FIU announced the hiring of Ron Cooper as assistant head coach-defensive backs assistant. This completes the football coaching staff, although even an auto racing history geek like myself wouldn't call it a Cooper Climax.
Cooper's connection to FIU head coach Ron Turner: they were both on the Tampa Bay staff in 2012. Cooper's been a head coach at Alabama A&M, Eastern Michigan and Louisville and an assistant on enough staffs to fill a walk-in closet with coaching polo shirts.
There's some shuffling of responsibilities. Tem Lubaku, hired as linebackers' coach last month, now will handle the defensive line. Defensive coordinator Matt House takes over the linebackers.
Not a great Sanford & Son clip, but it's got Aunt Esther, The Big One and nothing that'll offend or cause too many folks discomfort in our sensitive age.
FIU's Conference USA championship win last week prompted a shuffling of the CollegeSwimming.com national mid-major rankings. FIU's now No. 4 among mid-majors.
Behind them in the rankings as they were in the pool are Florida Gulf Coast at No. 5; Conference USA's second place team, Rice, dropped from No. 5 to No. 8, incongruously one spot behind the conference's third place team, Western Kentucky.
FIU's team grade point average of 3.17 put it on the College Swimming Coaches Association of America's list of Scholar All-America teams, comprised of teams with a 3.0 GPA. Earlier this week, butterflier Valerie Inghels made the C-USA All-Academic team.
FIU life didn't go well for Jakhari Gore. While sitting out the 2012 season as a transfer from LSU, the former Columbus High running back star crashed academically in 2012-13. He got arrested on a charges of robbery and false imprisonment in late August 2013. FIU coach Ron Turner jettisoned Gore, who entered a not guilty plea before the charges were dropped.
But Gore's apparently gotten things together. He Tweeted at me today that "God is Good and blessed me with another chance Marian University!"
The school on what's called "the near northwest side" of Indianapolis started football in 2007 and plays at the NAIA level. Good for him.
FIU's found more than a suitable replacement for Kerry Dixon II, running backs coach and main recruiter in Miami-Dade's inner city.
As first learned by Manny Navarro, who wrote this story) and confirmed separately by me, FIU's new running backs coach will be Tim Harris, Jr., head coach of Booker T. Washington High's powerhouse last season.
Harris succeeded his father, Tim "Ice" Harris, as Booker T.'s head coach when the father took the running backs coach job with the Hurricanes. Dixon greatly helped improve FIU's recruiting in Miami-Dade. Harris comes with deeper roots, even more respect from parents and fellow coaches; and a strong reputation among Miami-Dade's players from working with them over the years.
However long Harris is at FIU, he'll be a huge boon to the Panthers stature, locally and nationally. All due respect to the staff of FIU's two bowl teams, this could turn out to be the most important assistant coach hire in the program's history.
Before we get to this morning's prelims from the heated cement pond in Knoxville, let's get to Ron Turner moving chips around on the football coaching staff as announced earlier today.
(See the later blog post for the day's major football coaching staff hire.)
Former FIU player Greg Moss moves from defensive quality control to coaching the cornerbacks. Kort Shankweiler, who handled the tight ends, moves to quarterbacks and wide receivers, continuing the second generation tradition at the job held by Cam Turner. Jason Brooks moves from defensive backs coach to tight ends.
All this leaves two assistant jobs open. For now.
SWIMMING & DIVING
This morning in Knoxville, thermometers stopped at 1 degree. Fahrenheit, not Celsius. As local ponds froze for the first time since maybe glacier days, things got hot at the Conference USA Swimming & Diving Championships Thursday morning prelims, where FIU let Western Kentucky and Rice know things just got real.
Freshman Letizia Bertelli broke Klara Andersson's school record in the 50 freestyle with a 22.90 that led a 1-2-5 Panther romp into tonight's final. The sophomore Jennys, Alfani and Deist, also got under Andersson's 23.24 mark by swimming 23.00 and 23.14 respectively.
FIU also put three in the final for the 200 IM. Senior Johanna Gustafsdottir won this event as a freshman in the Sun Belt and a junior in Conference USA. No Scooby Snacks for guessing who had the best prelim time, 1:58.49, by almost two seconds. Freshman Silvia Scalia's 2:00.38, third fastest, beat her previous best by almost two seconds and junior Karin Tomeckova's 2:02.11 was seventh.
Western will dominate tonight's first final, the 500 free, with four of the eight finalists. FIU's lone finalist will be freshman Kyna Pereira, who swam 4:49.84.
The 3-meter diving prelims finished with FIU sophomore Lily Kaufmann in second, Abbey Spaulding in 10th and Natalia and Laura Coronado in 13th and 14th. The diving events should be a pile of good Community Chest cards for FIU as the Panthers have a clearly superior group to Western and Rice dives like NFL television revenues (they don't).
Tonight closes with the 200 free relay. FIU's seeded third. Don't be surprised if they end the night better than that -- in the relay and the team points.
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.
Miami-Dade County approved the measure telling Mayor Carlos Gimenez or associates of Carlos Gimenez to go talk to FIU about using FIU Stadium as a temporary home for International Soccer Sex Symbol FC or whatever the David Beckham group's Major League Soccer franchise will be named. Beckham's been having problems finding a spot on which to build a privately-funded soccer joint for Miami's second swing at an MLS franchise.
This could be a most convenient and profitable occurrence for FIU Athletics. The official Twitter feed for Miami Beckham United (proves he's a neophyte to Miami, where NOTHING is united) says over four Tweets, posted this morning:
"Things are progressing in Miami & we are very much on track in our plans. Beckham is very positive about the future of the club & he continues to enjoy incredible support from the people in Miami. Right now, our focus is on identifying the location for a purpose built stadium that will be the team's permanent home. Careful consideration will be given to FIU when we address the opportunities for a temporary facility."
When Beckham toured FIU back in 2013, he smiled, said nice, non-committal things then didn't mention FIU again while pursuing sites in or around downtown. Aside from size, FIU Stadium's almost everything MLS says it doesn't want. But FIU athletic director Pete Garcia possesses a Squidward's worth of tentacles in local government. Don't be surprised if the county tries to horse Beckham's group into a deal with FIU with some light political blackmail around the building of a permanent site.
That would be government teamwork worthy of the name "Miami Beckham United."
Tem Lukabu is the new linebackers coach. Lukabu coached Colgate's outside linebackers last season. The two seasons before that, he was an defensive assistant with Tampa Bay's linebackers in 2013 and defensive line in 2012. That's when Lukabu shared a staff with FIU head coach Ron Turner.
Friday, I asked Ron Turner what he wanted most in recruiting this season.
"Always offensive and defensive line, that's first and foremost," Turner replied. "That's what you want to do. Either in numbers to get your depth or to get better players."
Of this week's two flips of FIU linemen commits, offensive linemen Richerd Desir-Jones (Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas) to Florida and Richard Williams (Miramar Everglades) to FAU, only the Williams one surprised me. Jones' visit to Florida this weekend was common knowledge when Turner said this Friday while answering a question:
"We had some guys who were committed and 'I think I need to look at this school' and I said, 'Well, I'm looking elsewhere, too.' Because I want guys who want to be here and believe in what we're doing. The guys we've got do. A lot of guys in this class have a lot of other options or potential options. Not all were offered by other schools, but they've had interest and taken visits, a good chance they would've been offered. Some were offered by some pretty impressive schools. They stuck to what they wanted to do. That's a sign of character."
I thought of Desir-Jones. I also thought of Deion Eakins, a long-committed offensive guard out of Jacksonville Trinity Christian who's getting preferred walk-on whispers in his ear from Oregon. But I really thought of Desir-Jones. Did Turner expect to lose Desir-Jones so made George Constanza preemptive breakup noises?
The upshot is I'm looking at four offensive linemen so far in this class and two defensive linemen, both of whom might wind up on offensive line. (Fermin Silva will be an outside linebacker). Interesting how schools such as Florida and the Hurricanes have poached FIU commits in the last few weeks.
One more thing -- Turner won't spend a scholarship on a punter or kicker coming in, but he said any new masters of the foot will have the chance to kick or punt their way onto scholarship.
Also, The Herald learned Saturday that wide receiver Fred Porter got the remainder of his scholarship for this year reinstated. So, he'll have the first semester of his graduate school paid without loans. Porter graduated in December, but was told he would no longer be on scholarship and wouldn't be back next season as a fifth-year senior.
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.
Swimming & Diving, vs. Florida Gulf Coast, Saturday, 11 a.m.
Tennis, vs. Liberty, Sunday, noon
It's 36 degrees this morning in Albany, New York, the state capital where the University of Albany football team went 7-5 this season playing at the FCS level.
In his first year on staff as assistant head coach/linebackers coach was Bernard Clark, well known in these warmer parts as a former golden era (not Golden Era) Hurricanes linebacker and twice an FIU assistant. Clark applied to be a part of Ron Turner's first staff two years ago. FIU's got a linebackers assistant coach spot available, one that paid Rob Harley $102,000 last year with no state income tax. Clark's done that job several places, with varying levels of success.
Might be worth the kind of getting-to-know-you phone call FIU never made to then-Central coach Telly Lockette, now coaching running backs at Oregon State...
Didn't get to talk to early enrollees quarterback Christian Alexander, defensive end-linebacker-to-be Fermin Silva or all-purpose explosive Anthony Jones today after I ran into them on campus as they went through early enrollment and orientation. So, the story I had planned got scrapped.
Still, they're in the Cat House already along with Carol City defensive back Tyree Johnson, a 2014 recruit. Some brief physical impressions:
Alex McGough looked the quarterback part the moment he dropped back last spring. Alexander, also considered a "pro-style" quarterback, really looks the part just walking across the room -- looks bigger and thicker than his official 6-3, 205, but not ponderous. Just as FIU coach Ron Turner described him, "a smart kid, good athlete, more a thrower than a runner." Turner also pointed out he was a five-year starter at Lakeland Christian, starting as a eighth grader.
Silva's got the wingspan of an outside linebacker, although his defensive line experience might help in the middle. Plenty of good middle linebackers had great length.
Jones lists at 6-0. That's a lie. I'd be surprised if he's 5-10. But another 10 to 15 pounds without losing speed gives you about what T.Y. Hilton gave you -- a speedster with moves and vision (remember, he was a running back this year) who'll make opposing coaches reach for the Pepto with every punt or potential reverse. He's not a guy you give the ball to every play, but his big play potential can affect each play.
"You want to get guys that win," Turner said. "We've got a lot of guys who have won numerous state championships."
And FIU's got one Central, two Booker T. Washington and one St. Thomas Aquinas commit still on board.
I was critical here of last year's Dade recruiting under Turner. Obviously, it's improved greatly this year. The big change this year is A) FIU coaches are more visible and establishing deeper relationships and B) FIU brought in assistant coach Kerry Dixon from FAU, where he recruited Dade County for the Owls.
How important have they been? Check out this blog by Manny Navarro, who covers both high schools and the University of Miami for The Herald (when he's not covering the Marlins, too).
Swimming & Diving, vs. Central Connecticut, TCU and FAU, Thursday, noon
Women's Basketball, vs. Middle Tennessee State, Thursday, 6 p.m.
Swimming & Diving, FIU Relays, Saturday, 1 p.m.
CollegeSwimming.com's mid-major rankings for the entire fall semester puts FIU at No. 10 among the nation's mid-major schools and No. 3 in Conference USA.
FIU finished second in last year's conference meet to Rice, currently at No. 9. Western Kentucky is the top-ranked C-USA school at No. 4.
Whether you want to characterize it as a Martha Stewart housecleaning, a Jimmy Johnson roster turnover or a Soviet-style purge, the football program's shedding players from the previous regime.
Wide receiver Fred Porter and linebacker Luis Rosado have joined the list of the leaving, although Rosado's departure has to do with time.
Porter walked on for two seasons before being put on scholarship during his redshirt sophomore season of 2013 as he caught eight passes for 92 yards in FIU's pop gun offense. Porter caught nine for 91 last year among a wide receiving corps that left head coach Ron Turner dissatisfied. Off the field, Porter achieved academically. The reaction I heard to his going on scholarship last year could be summed up as: oh, good, he's a really good kid.
According to Fred Porter, Sr., his son had been accepted into FIU graduate school, but got a phone call just before receiving his undergraduate degree in December that his scholarship wouldn't be renewed for a fifth year. He's also been informed this year's scholarship doesn't continue for the rest of this academic year, thus putting off the start of graduate school
Rosado's FIU official bio says he redshirted in 2012, thus making 2014 his redshirt junior year. I heard that's what he expected also. But he actually played as a reserve in the 2012 season opener against Duke, thus eliminating the redshirt and making 2014 his senior season. He had knee issues in 2012, although that's not the reason he didn't play more.
It's remarkable there weren't more eligibility misunderstandings from that year. After the Mario Cristobal firing, the stop work order given to the coaching staff and operations and the stream of football operations directors the first few Ron Turner months, there were necessary clerical things that didn't get handled for a while. In a strictly football sense, I can't see FIU jumping through many NCAA hoops to attempt to get Rosado another year with their current linebacking corps and who they've got coming in this recruiting class.
So as of right now, those who won't be back as seniors or fifth-year seniors are: Porter, quarterback EJ Hilliard, wide receiver Dominique Rhymes, wide receiver De'Andre Jasper, wide receiver Richard Burrows and running back Lamarq Caldwell.
You could take a cynical view and note that each of those players disappointed the coaching staff on the field. Off the field, none were knuckleheads or program problems. Quite the opposite in a few cases.
Then again, as head coach Ron Turner said in the season wrapup Q&A posted here last month, there's no assurances fifth-year seniors return to the program -- they have to want to return and the program has to want them to return.
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.”