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Post What’s happened at FSU?

Friday February 3, 2006

HeismanPundit has noted (and didn’t pull many punches) that FSU isn’t doing what it used to do with quality recruiting classes. Specifically, the ‘Noles haven’t produced a single consensus All-American since 2000 after producing 18 during its incredible run in the 1990s. As HP shows, that’s one hell of a clean break, and it’s not because the talent pipeline coming into Tallahassee has dried up.

When you get into the whys, there are several things you can point to. The ACC has become more competitive, and the addition of three good programs has made it difficult for FSU to even land someone on the all-ACC first team, let alone the All-American team.

But the year 2000 as a delineating point is just too specific to be a coincidence after that kind of run. Let’s look at two key events:

  • Post-1999 season: LB coach Chuck Amato leaves to become the head coach of his alma mater NC State
  • Post-2000 season: OC Mark Richt leaves to become the head coach at Georgia. Richt brings FSU strength coach Dave Van Halanger to Athens as well as Barry Every who plays a very important administrative role in evaluating talent and coordinating recruiting efforts.

So while defensive mastermind Mickey Andrews remains, FSU lost in the span of two years both the source of its nasty disposition on defense and the offensive mastermind who trained two Heisman-winning quarterbacks in under ten years. They also lose Van Halanger who is as much spiritual guru and mentor as he is master of the weight room. How many strength coaches are among those leading his team onto the field?

Does it begin to make sense? Under Andrews, FSU maintains a defensive edge against most teams but loses much of the intimidation factor (now in the form of countless unnecessary personal foul penalties in Raleigh). The toll on offense has been far greater as the ‘Noles are still able to out-athlete many teams but have struggled in the post-Richt era to find a capable quarterback who is at once stable physically, mentally, and I suppose in some cases even spiritually.

This isn’t to gloat over the relative “misfortunes” of FSU, but it’s common sense that recruiting and reloading on the coaching staff is as important as – if not more important than – the quality of the kids on the field. Jeff Bowden could coach for many schools, but he’s the three-star redshirting project following the All-American offensive coordinator. Georgia fans are still undecided about the impact of losing DC Brian VanGorder. The ability for Bowden to keep Andrews (not to mention recruiting coordinator John Lilly) on staff has been a big reason for their long-term success.

Programs lose coaches all the time, and there’s usually an impact. Of course the impact should be expected to be much greater if several coaches are lost in a short time. Southern Cal will be an interesting experiment to watch. We’ll see if the departures of Chow and Orgeron have long-term effects as they continue to rope in top talent. Will they fade? Will the abundance of talent overshadow any drop off in coaching? Or will the replacements prove to be personnel decisions every bit as impressive as their ability to reload at key positions on the field?

PS…it says something about where FSU has been and the level of success to which they were accustomed that we are talking this way about a program which has played in three BCS bowls since the 2001 season. All but about five programs would give anything to “fade” that badly!

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