April 10, 2014

154 FIU athletes make C-USA Commissioner's Honor Roll; Sand up to 6th

These athletes maintained at least a 3.0 grade point average. Those with a 3.75 GPA will be announced Friday as recipients of the Commissioner's Academic Medal.

FIU's 154 tied them with North Texas for 12th most in Conference USA. The team with the most on the list for FIU? Swimming & Diving, which starts their days earlier than any other team and remain the athletic department's staunchest supporters as far as attendance at FIU sporting events.

For those on whom subtlety is lost, that's a nice way of saying, "Spare me the excuses by those athletes and teams that come up short academically."

Baseball (13): Alex Beyersdorf, Nathan Burns, Zachary Carter, Charles Cormier, Kolby Follis, Julius Gaines, Aramis Garcia, Mike Gomez, Carlos Lopez, Louis Silverio, Tyler Sullivan, Zach Sweety, Roche Woodard.

Men's Basketball (3): Adrian Diaz, Marco Porcher Jimenez, Dominique Williams

Women's Basketball (12): Aleksandra Bodlovic, Jerica Coley, Marita Davydova, Katrina Epnere, Karrah Johnson, Zsofia Labady, Tynia McKinzie, Timeyin Oritsesan, Kiandre'a Pound, Taylor Shade, Nikolina Todorovic, Brianna Wright

Men's Cross Country (7): Brandon Ballard, Dylan Cook, Daniel Fernandez, Brandon Jones, Eli Monzon, Daniel Puentes, Orlando Rodriguez.

Football (10): Richard Burrows, Ricky Fernandez, Cody Hodgens, Yousif Khoury, Fred Porter, Donald Senat, Austin Taylor, Delmar Taylor, Cory White, Mitch Wozniak.

Golf (6): Coralia Arias, Shelby Coyle, Sophie Godley, Carla Jane, Meghan Maclaren, Jasmine Wade.

Sand volleyball (6): Marina Boulanger, Ellyssa Citron, Maria Coukoulis, Alexa Diaz, Tina Toghiyani, Airam Trillo.

Men's Soccer (9): Roberto Alterio, Luke Bray, Gonzalo Frechilla, Sebastian Frings, Marvin Hezel, Nicholas Midttun, Daniel Mion, David Mitchell, Robin Spiegel.

Women's Soccer (16): Shelby Bowden, Ellen Crist, Marie Egan, Talia McMurtrie, Crystal McNamara, Morgan Morris, Jessica Palacio, Nicole Rios, Alyssa Robinson, Ashleigh Shim, Marlena Stablein, Sara Stewart, Patrica Tomanon, Johanna Volz, Madlen Weinhardt, Paula Zuluaga.

Softball (11): Samantha Green, Corinne Jenkins, Breanna Kaye, Brianne Kimura, Christine Marte, Marisa GcGregor, Kennah Orr, Rebekah Sanchez, Rachel Slowik, Gabriella Spallone, Stephanie Texeira.

Swimming & Diving (20): Jennifer Alfani, Klara Andersson, Sabrina Beaupre, Mary Boucher, Jessica Chadwick, Sarah D'Antoni, Katelyn Duranso, Nadia Farrugia, Anna Jonsson, Lily Kaufmann, Jean Madison, Danielle Meara, Melissa Moreno, Maria Therese Nord, Sonia Perez Arau, Valeriia Popova, Marina Ribi, Alaina Smith, Courtney Vander Schaaf, Rebecca Wilde.

Tennis (6): Giuletta Boha, Valentina Briceno, Tina Mohorcic, Nina Nagode, Carlotta Orlando, Aleksandra Trifunovic.

Men's Track & Field (7): Jamal Dorviller, Pablo Espitia, Christopher Lickfield, Garry Louima, Christopher Prophete, Roberto Salvador, Aubrey Smith.

Women's Track & Field (14): Maria Alea, Chantae Barnett, Destiney Burt, Cierra Campbell, Chandra Fulwood, Jessica Gehrke, Adrienne Gerzeny, Anna Heinzman, Tiffani Hernandez, Michelle Howell, Tetisheri Menna, Isolda Montiel, Bianca Morrison, Caroline Reiser.


Wednesday's American Volleyball Coaches Association Sand Volleyball poll saw 13-2 FIU tied for sixth with UCLA. FIU began the season ranked No. 9 and moved up to No. 7 the last two weeks. Southern Cal ranks No. 1 with preseason No. 1 Pepperdine at No. 2. Hawaii is third and Florida State, which handed FIU one of its losses, 4-1, is No. 4. 

This weekend, they'll be at the Fiesta on Siesta Tournament in Siesta Key.



March 04, 2014

SAAC up & get some Compliance

Friday's Board of Trustees Athletics Committee meeting featured so much conversation on Compliance and the Student Athlete Academic Center, places that define "turnover" and "fumbling" better than a bad wishbone offense could, that Senior Associate AD Bobby Staub didn't get to make his presentation on the $2 million initiative to build up facilities for women's sports -- finishing the softball stadium, locker rooms for softball and golf and the like. Allegedly, the department already has $1 million of the $2 million.

Let's be blunt about Compliance and the SAAC. Nobody notices when Compliance slips up on a shot putter. A softball starter lost to academics? The interest barely makes it out of the locker room. Not that shot putters and softball outfielders don't work just as hard in class or at their craft. I'm talking just interest here.

But when ineligible basketball players take the court (Ray Taylor), key players can't take the court (Marita Davydova, whose loss FIU coach Cindy Russo again Saturday called "catastrophic"), the basketball team can't go play after school with the other boys and the football team loses three of its most talented players to GPAs that look like breathalyzer tests, many notice.

So, Compliance is considered a problem. The SAAC is considered a problem, though men's basketball and football are the only teams with more GPAs under 3.0 than above and three sports (women's basketball, women's tennis and men's cross country) have none under 3.0.

Committee chairman Jorge L. Arrizurieta opened the meat of the meeting by asking about Compliance and the SAAC, "What’s the game plan to fix the issues that have taken place in the past? We’ve come too long a way in athletics at this great institution to risk falling behind in some of these issues. It’s not an option. My concern from a mangement standpoint is from Compliance, we’ve had three program directors and two interims in the last six years. In the case of the SAAC, as I understand it, three program directors, three interim in the same time period. That’s got to stop. Something has to change.”

While Arrizurieta said he wanted to look forward and not belabor FIU's failures in those departments, that's hard to avoid. So Christopher Schoemann, a long-used compliance consultant in the Collegiate Sports Practice Group of the Kansas law firm Bond, Shoeneck & King, was called up to explain Davydova and Taylor's ineligibility.

Taylor's problem, as reported often, was that he didn't withdraw his declaration for the 2012 NBA Draft soon enough (Digression: shouldn't somebody have told him, "Ray, you're a nice mid-major player. But you're a 5-6 point guard who isn't exactly dominating the Sun Belt. What business do you have declaring for the NBA Draft?).

Davydova's problem is that she, apparently, played some games for Russian State Agrarian University and should've had to sat out a season upon transferring to FIU. Some members of the committee seemed surprised Compliance whiffed on situations that turned on basic, factual information that Compliance had. It is sort of like watching someone strike out in batting practice.

New Compliance head Hank Harrawood introduced himself to the committee, which discussed Compliance being moved under the Athletic Department's roof.

"I believe the Compliance officer should report to the General Counsel," opined Trustee C. Delano Gray, whose bio speaks of his great experience with internal auditing (speaking of internal auditing, that audited 2013 football attendance report should've been ready in late January...). "I prefer that the head coaches or the folks in athletics doesn't have the influence that is likely to happen. I used to be an internal auditor. I have experienced that every now and then, the people you are working with have some kind of influence in what you do."

Schoemann, a former Compliance director himself, said, "Nationally, it is a mixed bag. Has the trend been to have these offices report outside of athletics? The trend has been. I've seen these programs work well solely from an athletics perspective where there is no outside tether to the office of the general counsel, president or provost; and I've seen them work poorly when they're placed entirely of the athletics purview. Hank Harrawood becomes a de facto assistant athletic diretor because of the nature of his job. He becomes a member of Pete's staff. That's true whether or he would report to the general counsel or the office of the president or directly to Pete.

"What's imperative, is that in any type of analysis that the NCAA does with respect to institutional control -- despite the fact they operate with the old Supreme Court adage with respect to pornography that they "know it when they see it" but have never defined it -- that's the litmus test that gets applied to you once that bell gets rung and the NCAA shows up on your doorstep. When we're doing our analysis of institutions, we want to make sure those outside tethers are engaged. That (new Compliance director) Hank (Harrawood) and his counterparts have the necessary access to those offices (of general counsel and president)."

Arrizurieta, referring back to the instability at the top of the department, said part of the reason he supported the move was "Whatever we've done hasn't worked."

General counsel Kristina Raattama said in dealing with Compliance outside Athletics, “Pete feels like he has accountability and no control and I feel like I have responsibllity and no control. When you combine that function into the athletic department, you have a situation where everybody knows what they're responsible for.”

Pete Garcia said, "Hank has been given a directive by all of us that if there's a major issue...his first phone call is to the president’s office, his second phone call is to the legal department." 

The SAAC remains outside athletics. It also remains without a director. Dr. Stephen Fain, the most recent past faculty athletic representative, has been serving as the interim director. Dean of Undergraduate Education Douglas L. Robertson presented the State of the SAAC Report. A committee with the task of finding a new director has a start date of July 1.

"We anticipate filling the director's position with a director who will die in the position," Robertson said. After that brought unintended laughter from the room, "I meant of old age. I meant retire in the position. I anticipate his start date will be July 1, but hope it will be sooner."

(How is it FIU can replace a head basketball coach in a week but takes 10 months to start to find a new SAAC Director?)

The next director comes into a SAAC that gets a budget bump of around $80,000 next year to just over $840,000. Here's how some of that money will be spent:

$60,000 for a business analyst working out of the SAAC who's involved in the building and care of an automated NCAA player certification system and provides tech support.

$26,000 for a bump in the SAAC Director's salary. Dr. Phil Moses salary was $105,000 when he was hired in 2011.

$5,000 as an "equity salary adjustment" for the SAAC Tutor Coordinator, who now makes $35,000.

$16,000 for an "equity adjustment" for the SAAC tutors.

$84,000 for a "significant increase in tutoring hours and staffing."

$10,000 for "additional staffing for book distribution."

$9,000 for "productivity tools for SAAC staff (cell phones and service...)"

$7,000 for GradesFirst, an academic tracker designed for student-athletes.

Those are yearly recurring costs. Under one-shot costs, ther are...

$252,000 for "automation of the NCAA player certification process."

$21,000 for replacing all 35 desktop computers in the SAAC Computer Lab ($600 per computer)

$6,000 for replacing all eight SAAC staff desktop computers.

$176,000 to "improve the SAAC environment" and add five offices. 

Dean Robertson seemed quite excited about bringing Graduation Success Initiative-like metrics, which helped boost on-time grauation rates from 41 percent to 50 percent at FIU in two years, to the SAAC.

"We have invested significantly in predictive analytics to target students who are at-risk or who are on track to graduate, but may not know it an need some additional support," Robertson said.

All this means not much if you don't have athletes who give a good darn enough to crack a book. After all, you can lead a horse's butt to water, but you can't make him think.

Arrizurieta asked why some of these GSI-like ideas and technologies, including real-time updating, "weren't initiated before? Or, was it and it wasn't executed?"

Robertson answered with something that I think of almost as the FIU mantra: the school grew faster than the infrastructure.

"The institution has invested heavily in creating the infrastructure for the GSI that involves a big investment in predictive analytics and various kinds of academic tracking tools that are expensive to build have now been built," he said. "Those tools and expertises -- for example, we now have an office with five behavioral scientists doing these kinds of analytics -- is now in place. That allows the proper support of a SAAC diredctor in providing these kinds of analytics that was not there before."

As for information reporting, Garcia said when Robertson spoke to the faculty senate some time back, Robertson asked for progress reports on the student-athletes.

"There has been a very small percentage return on progress reports (13 percent)," Garcia said. "The reason I’m saying this is they need to know what kids need what tutoring now. They don’t need it at the end of the semester when they’ve failed. As good as I think our SAAC people right now, they can’t help these kids if they don’t know what classes they need help with." 


February 24, 2014

Ramble On

While the stick and ball teams take a break from using their bats on visiting teams like they owe FIU money, swimming and diving prepares to leave for Atlanta and the Conference USA meet.

(They won't need to do any Internet panhandling, but the volleyball team is still at http://www.gofundme.com/FIUVolleyball, $195 toward their goal of $6,000. While you're on the site, you can contribute to the Oswego State Synchronized Skating Team's trip travel to nationals. Or the Coppin Academy Girls Basketball team trying to raise $6,000 to attend a summer camp.)

Lack of diver depth hurt FIU in the Sun Belt meet and could do the same here after senior Sabrina Beaupre takes the 10-meter platform and at least one of the two springboards. She's favored in all three.

In the pool, C-USA's tougher than The Belt and FIU no longer has Madame Butterfly, Marina Ribi, to pick up points in that dastardly stroke. Still, junior Johanna Gustafsdottir ranks first in the 200 backstroke and second in the 100 back. Senior Sonia Perez Arau comes in with the best 400 IM time in the conference. Klara Andersson is a close third in the 50 freestyle, which she won at last year's Sun Belt meet.

And FIU will bring home a relay win or two. I'm thinking 400 medley and 800 free. Just noticed -- the common thread in every school record relay is Gustafsdottir swimming the first leg. That makes sense. She's strongest in back, the first stroke of a medley relay. Her next strongest stroke is free. Classic relay set up uses the second fastest to lead off with the fastest anchoring.

I'd be shocked if the water women can give the athletic department its first Conference USA title. Defending champion Rice is still strong and East Carolina looks like a possible problem. That leaves baseball and softball -- track? Name the last conference champion without a coach -- and both of them get blocked. Rice owns baseball while UAB and Tulsa tussle over softball.

No, the baseball team isn't outscoring the football team after eight games. They were after three games (25-23) and four games (30-23). But if you just count scoring against Division I/FBS opponents, it's closer than you think after eight games: 78-63 for football.

When I saw FIU football coach Ron Turner at FIU Baseball Stadium with his family Saturday on the concourse on the first base line. I thought, "Boy, he'll go anywhere to see some offense." The Sunday juxtaposition couldn't have been more ripe -- FIU sports and centertainment head Pete Garcia attending hte baseball game with Butch Davis, the currently unemployed former coach at the Universty of Miami.

Now, if Davis wants back in coaching, he's got to cleanse himself by working somewhere else for a year or two. Obviously, FIU would be a fine place for that. Maybe Davis has changed his mind about FIU. He certainly could've joined his buddy Garcia a year ago and a few candidates (or their representatives) said they were told, "don't bother, this is Butch's job." Garcia's fits of temper and rash decisions would do Lewis Carroll's Queen of Hearts proud -- thus why some in the department call the second floor area housing Garcia's office "The Tower of Terror" -- but firing Mario Cristobal without a card like Davis to play exceeds Garcia's Yosemite Sam quotient.


North Carolina was on the hook for Davis' money, so nothing about that green affected Davis taking FIU's green. A theory I formed while writing about Saturday's 10-0 baseball thumping of Stony Brook: Davis learned the horrible academic situation facing FIU football in 2013 and decided to let someone else deal with that academic barf. If I knew about it in December, 2012, why wouldn't Davis?

This weekend's baseball stories were easy to write. FIU won three blowouts, scored early in each one and I didn't have to spend any time waiting to talk to coaches or players or transcribing their quotes. I did talk to Stony Brook Friday night starter Frankie Vanderka, one of the better pitchers FIU will see in non-conference play, about what pitch Julius Gaines drove for a home run and what he thought of FIU's lineup. On Saturday and Sunday, I wasn't going to waste the Stony Brook coach's time asking him his opinion of a team that just waxed him by 10 runs.

I'd have liked to talk to Aramis Garcia, hitting .500 over the first eight games; or freshman JC Escarra, with a team-leading .577 on-base percentage; or Josh Anderson, last year's team leader in doubles with 22, already with five this year and 14 RBI.

Alas, FIU coaches and players were unavailable for comment to the media. I'd been told before Friday's game that would be the case. Officially, it was Turtle Thomas' decision so everyone could remain focused on baseball without any distractions. Logically, that dog didn't hunt. Postgame interviews are, you know, postgame and about 18 hours before the next game. They take less than 10 minutes total time, two or three players and Thomas combined, once they start. There wasn't media, only a medium -- me -- for three of the first five games (as well as Friday and Saturday). And the Panthers looked none too distracted in winning their first five games. Also, Thomas does answer questions from FIU media relations after the game.

Of course, this came from above Thomas. Thomas' bosses are Garcia and Senior Associate AD Bobby Staub. This was a predictable reaction to the Dennis Wiseman story, but mostly because I'd long ago heard that neither was too pleased about a series of public records requests I've been making since December on a broad range of things. Sometimes, I just feel there's information I should have. Sometimes, I'm curious. Sometimes, I smell something.

Marketing's now Staub's thing, by the way. He's now the most motivated salesman in FIU athletics. In addition to his $110,000 salary, Staub gets $1,000 bonuses for football season student attendance being above $20,000, then another grand if over $30,000; basketball season student attendance over 5,000, then 10,000; basketball season tickets over 500 and over 750; baseball ticket revenue over $15,000 and $20,000; football ticket and sponsorship revenue (excluding Pepsi) over $1 million and over $1.5 million; sells the naming rights to FIU Baseball Stadium or five other new athletics assets; and sells all the suites for one season for football and basketball.

By the way, the victory song for FIU during the Turtle Thomas era used to be "New York, New York." Not sure why, but it's become custom since 2008. Now, under directions from marketing, it's Kool and the Gang's "Celebration," both the highest charting and worst Kool and the Gang single ever. Feel the cliche.

Oh, I forgot, The Master Plan Development for Camp Mitch from Feb. 14 still shows a soccer field surrounded by a track as a Future Development. Not even Funded or Likely Funded. Future Development.

To let you know how far into the future that might be, also in that category is Stadium Upper Bowl Expansion. That'll be about as useful as a weave store for skinheads until Ron Turner turns into Dr. Alchemy followed by Staub turning into P.T. Barnum.

That would be something completely different.




January 28, 2014

Academic "attaboys" for 4 athletes

The National Consortium of Academics and Sports put four FIU athletes among the 40 nationwide that received 2013 Academic Momentum Awards.

Defensive end Denzell Perine, a criminal justice major; pitcher Mike Franco, also a criminal justice major; golfer Sophie Godley, a recreation and sports management major; and track thrower Alysha Lewis were each honored for academic improvement and having an impact through academics on classmates, teammates, advisors and professors.

December 19, 2013

Grades & eligibility; Stewart honored

Wednesday was a furlough day for me. No pay, no play. Grades posted at FIU. For student-athletes and athlete-students, that meant "play or no play."

OK, let's be real. Nobody's worrying about the volleyball team, the track team, the swim team, etc. because nobody needs to worry about those teams when it comes to grades. The football team, on the other hand, looked at those grades like it was National Re-Signing Day.

"Grades was better than I thought" tweeted wide receiver Glenn Coleman, ineligible last season. This morning, he tweeted, "It feel good looking at them grades."

From 2013 ineligible wide receiver Willis Wright: "Got My Grades Back, All I Want To Say Is, DEAR GOD--THANK YOU!!!"

I'll bet Ron Turner's saying the same thing. That's two playmakers back for FIU next season if they can keep it up. Not saying either is out of the academic woods yet.


As I Tweeted yesterday (I can't blog, but my Twitter is mine), redshirt sophomore midfielder Sara Stewart got honored as one of the  Conference USA Fall Spirit of Service Honorees. The award gives notice to those who combine exemplary community service wtih academic achievement and on-the-field performance. 



December 12, 2013

What Did The Turner Say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it didn’t surprise him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 19, 2013

(Not Facebook) Status updates

I forgot to add these to Wednesday's post-football practice blog post.

Safety Demarkus Perkins and defensive tackle Greg Hickman both wore the Home Depot jerseys. Hickman was being held out as a precaution with an ankle. As for Perkins, FIU coach Ron Turner said he'll play when he tells Turner he can go.

"When he comes back, we'll see who's playing better," Turner said. "Eighteen (Jordan Davis) played really well (against UAB). Eighteen had a very good game."

Turner also said as for freshman quarterback Travis Wright, sophomore cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon and junior cornerback Richard Leonard, there was no change in where they were as far as being outside the team. With Wright, there was a question about the validity of his qualifying test. McKinnon and Leonard are serving suspensions for an unstated violation.  

I asked Turner if he anticipated a change in any of the three: "In some cases, we're waiting. In other cases, possibly."

Translation: they're waiting to hear from the NCAA about Wright and he really isn't sure about letting Leonard and McKinnon back into the fold.

October 14, 2013

Moses parting?

There wasn't a postgame blog off Saturday's loss to UAB because I've been at a headstone unveiling out of town. But before I left, FIU posted on the NCAA Job Market site an opening for Director of the Student Athlete Academic Center (SAAC), though Dr. Phil Moses is still listed by the school as the occupant of that job.

The academic production of FIU's athletes outstrips their athletic production except for football and men's basketball.




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