Florida State Seminoles: James Coley

Virginia Tech quarterback Mark Leal looked around his position meeting room this winter and realized just how empty it was. True freshman Andrew Ford, who enrolled early, and redshirt freshman Brenden Motley were his only company.

None of them has ever started a game.

“This is probably the most slim it’s been since I’ve been here,” said Leal, a fifth-year senior. “We’ve always had at least five or six guys, but right now it’s only three.”

[+] EnlargeJacoby Brissett, Garrett Leatham
Lance King/Getty ImagesJacoby Brissett (12) is one of several transfers who could move into starting roles in the ACC in 2014.
Sounds like the entire ACC, where six schools have absolutely zero quarterbacks returning with any starting experience, and four schools brought in transfers to help.

As spring practices begin throughout the conference, the ACC kicks off its 2014 season with a complete overhaul at the quarterback position. It was only a year ago that Florida State’s Jameis Winston was an unproven rookie who had yet to start a game. Now, the 20-year-old reigning Heisman Trophy winner is the veteran of the league, as nine of the 14 schools will have a first-year starting quarterback, and the competition is open at 11 programs. Florida State, Duke and NC State are the only programs that have definitively named starters, and even NC State doesn’t know what to expect out of first-year starter and Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett.

Brissett, though, knows what’s expected.

“Go make sure it was earned,” he said, “not given.”

Count on that to be a trend in the conference this spring.

Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest are all starting from scratch, without any starting experience at the quarterback position. Some of the league’s most recognizable names have to be replaced, including Tajh Boyd, Logan Thomas and Teddy Bridgewater. Coaches at North Carolina, Syracuse and Virginia have deemed their competitions open, in spite of experienced starters returning.

“I looked at that and was kind of surprised,” said Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas, the frontrunner to take over the job after Vad Lee’s decision to transfer. “It should even the playing field out a little bit, but at the same time, we all have to go through our parts.”

Not to mention spring and summer auditions.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said it’s likely the competition between Chad Kelly, Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson will extend beyond this spring -- and possibly into the season.

“Going in, Cole starts out as No. 1 simply because of where we finished the season -- basically by default, if you will,” Swinney said. “He’s the senior. It’s basically his to lose going in, but it’s incredibly close. You’re talking about -- in my opinion -- three guys who are going to play in the NFL. I believe with all my heart that Cole Stoudt is going to play in the NFL. And the same thing with Chad Kelly, and the same thing with Deshaun Watson, if they stay healthy. So you’ve got three NFL players competing to be the guy, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some people say, well, if you don’t have one quarterback then you have none. But that’s not the case here.”

It could be the case elsewhere, though.

Virginia Tech (Michael Brewer), Boston College (Tyler Murphy), Miami (Ryan Williams) and NC State (Brissett) are all hoping that transfers can give the position an immediate boost, but former Texas Tech quarterback Brewer won’t join the Hokies until this summer. While none of them has started a game at their current schools, all but Brewer have started at least three games at their previous programs.

Williams started 10 games while he was at Memphis, and he’s the leading candidate to replace Stephen Morris, but “it is wide open,” according to offensive coordinator James Coley. And Williams knows it.

"You have to earn it, you have to earn everything,” Williams told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “I don't want anything given to me. If it's given to me, I didn't work hard enough.”

Brissett started three games at Florida, and Murphy started six games for the Gators after starter Jeff Driskel was lost for the season. Murphy went 2-4 with 1,216 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions before missing the final three games of the season with a shoulder injury.

Nothing is guaranteed in Chestnut Hill this spring, either, as the Eagles also have Darius Wade, a true freshman who enrolled early, and James Walsh, who will be a redshirt freshman.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
David Manning/USA TODAY SportsThe Cardinals are about to embark on life without Teddy Bridgewater.
“They’re all real green,” offensive coordinator Ryan Day said of the Eagles’ quarterbacks. “It’s obviously an open competition. I’m looking forward to getting out there and seeing them throw and run the offense. We’ll see. All three of these guys are mobile, they can run. They’re dual threats. We’re going to use that as a weapon for us. We’re not going to totally change what we do, but we’ll add that component to it.”

All eyes will be on Louisville’s quarterback competition, as the Cardinals enter their first season in the ACC without Bridgewater, who left early to enter the NFL draft. Will Gardner and Kyle Bolin will be the top two candidates this spring, and they’ll be joined by incoming freshman Reggie Bonnafon this summer.

“It’s wide open,” first-year coach Bobby Petrino said. “We’ll go through spring and see who comes out 1-2-3 and then obviously we’ll give Reggie an opportunity in the fall to compete with those guys.”

With the addition of Louisville, the ACC enters this season perceived by many to be the strongest it has ever been.

Now it just needs to find a few quarterbacks to help prove it.

The routine task of breaking down game film of an opponent was “different” this week for Miami offensive coordinator James Coley.

As Coley studied No. 3-ranked Florida State’s defense in preparation for what is arguably the biggest game on the Hurricanes’ schedule, Coley caught himself thinking about the days he recruited so many of those players as an assistant on the Seminoles’ staff.

“It’s different from when you watch other teams,” said Coley, a 1997 graduate of Florida State. “You know the history behind every player. Some of the guys as seniors, you remember them as freshmen, or guys that I recruited, like Lamarcus Joyner, you watch him and at the same time there’s a thought process of, ‘OK, what does he do well?’ and then in the back of my mind it goes back to, ‘Oh, man, I remember recruiting this kid.’ There’s a pride factor. I’m happy for them.”

(He’d also like to win on Saturday -- nothing personal.)

With the exception of the relationships he built with his former players, Coley said there hasn’t been any time this week to get emotional about returning to his alma mater, where he coached for five years before being hired by Al Golden as the rival Canes’ offensive coordinator. Two of the biggest selling points in leaving Florida State were the opportunity to call plays, which he didn’t do for the Noles in three seasons as the offensive coordinator, and returning to his hometown of Miami, where he grew up near the Orange Bowl cheering for the Canes.

“I think it’s all business,” Miami quarterback Stephen Morris said. “When you get to this point, you understand coaching at this level is business. Coach Coley saw a great opportunity to come down here, call his plays and do everything he wanted to do as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and he took it. Coach Golden did a great job of finding him.”

James Coley
Getty ImagesJames Coley knows all about the Miami-FSU rivalry, but will be seeing it for the first time from the Hurricanes' vantage point Saturday.
Given Coley’s ties to both Florida State and Miami, he has a unique perspective of the storied rivalry. Just a year ago, he was sitting in staff meetings with FSU coach Jimbo Fisher. He spent two years on Bobby Bowden’s staff. Yet Coley said there’s never been a moment this week where he’s shared any insider trading secrets with other assistants -- because he doesn’t have any. Florida State has since replaced six assistants on staff, including Coley.

“Everybody thinks Coley is giving out the goods,” he said with a laugh. “You know the players, but they’re not running the same stuff, so it’s not the same deal.

“If they still had Mark Stoops, and Eddie Gran was on special teams, and stuff like that, I would’ve had a lot of input,” Coley said. “But they have a brand-new defensive staff. I’m sitting there and I’m watching the defense, and I’m trying to figure out, ‘OK, what are they trying to do with this?’ It’s different from what I saw last year being in the program. And the offense, they’re not running the same stuff they ran last year. They’ve got a different quarterback. With a different quarterback there’s always a different dynamic.”

This will be Coley's first trip to Tallahassee since he moved his family to his hometown in March. He and Fisher have only exchanged a text message since Coley left, but the two of them remain friends.

“Coley's done a great job,” Fisher said. “I've always said Coley's a great offensive mind. He's a very good coach, a great recruiter, and he's got a great future in this business."

So far, Miami’s offensive numbers have only improved under Coley’s watch. The Canes have increased their averages in scoring offense, rushing offense, passing offense and total offense from a year ago. The most dramatic increase was in rushing offense, where Miami improved from 144.75 yards per game to 214.7 this year. The Canes have rushed for over 200 yards in all but two games this year -- Florida and South Florida. Miami has also boosted its scoring average from 31.42 points to 39.6.

Miami coach Al Golden said both of his coordinators have full autonomy of the play-calling.

“I always want my coordinators to feel the game, and James does a great job of really preparing, especially in the final 48 [hours] of just seeing the game, being able to conduct the game, being able to set up what he wants to set up -- run to pass or pass to run,” Golden said. “I don’t like to disrupt that. What I like to do is have a lot of input early in the week, especially from a defensive standpoint, trying to share with the offensive staff what the team’s philosophy is and what they’re trying to do to us.”

Golden can relate to Coley’s situation this week. He left a job as linebackers coach at his alma mater, Penn State, to become defensive coordinator at Virginia, and had to coach against the Nittany Lions.

“I did the same thing,” Golden said. “James is operating with class. He’s just worried about coaching the quarterbacks and orchestrating the offense. He’s not talking about anything else, not worried about anything else. I’m sure there’s a lot of young people up there he made a difference in their lives, he gave them their all. I’m sure they were disappointed when he left, but that’s the sign of a good coach.”

Coley has already left Tallahassee once. This time, when Coley heads back south, he’s hoping to leave with a win.

ACC's lunchtime links

October, 29, 2013
No. 3 FSU and No. 7 Miami aren't the only teams playing this weekend ya know ...

ACC's lunchtime links

August, 5, 2013
Hey there, gang.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- It certainly could've been awkward, but Miami quarterback Stephen Morris said there haven't been any moments of bitterness with his new offensive coordinator, James Coley, who held the same position with rival Florida State for the past three years before joining the Hurricanes in January.

Sure, it's a bit strange to be working with a one-time rival, but Morris has been around long enough that he's not rattled by much.

[+] EnlargeStephen Morris
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireQuarterback Stephen Morris is looking forward to running the offense James Coley brought to Miami.
"At this point, I don't find anything odd," Morris said. "I know everything's a business, and you might be with a coach for one year, and that guy's gone."

Coley is likely to stick around a while.

Before he arrived at FSU, it was the Miami area that was home for Coley, and he's renowned as one of the most accomplished recruiters in South Florida. More importantly, after three years of implementing Jimbo Fisher's offense with the Seminoles, Coley finally is getting a chance to call his own plays, and Morris said the playbook already is earning raves.

"[The offense] is fun to play in," said Morris, who finished fourth in the ACC last season, averaging 279 passing yards per game. "The opportunity guys have to catch the ball and run with it, spread it out, go in the pro-set and run the ball -- it pleases the offensive line, the running backs, the receivers. We'll be in Wing one set, completely spread out the next. I'm excited for it. He's implemented his own stuff that he had before, and I think it's a great fit for us."

Fisher was notoriously reluctant to hand over play-calling duties, and that led Coley to depart when Miami made an offer this offseason. Randy Sanders replaced Coley as FSU's quarterbacks coach, but Fisher has not named a new offensive coordinator.

Meanwhile, Morris said Coley is mixing and matching the best of what he ran at Florida State with the best of Miami's 2012 playbook to build a diverse attack that nevertheless remains unique to Coley's point of view.

"He has an idea of what he wants, and he runs it by us," Morris said. "We tell him what we did last year similar to it, but at the end of the day, he has his own stuff he wants to run."

(Read full post)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It's Rankings Week at Nole Nation, and each day we'll be counting down the top teams, players and matchups of the 2013 season. First up, a look at FSU's schedule.

1. Clemson Tigers (Oct. 19 in Clemson, S.C.): There are 11 other games on the schedule, and Florida State can't afford to overlook anyone. But for most fans and prognosticators, the 2013 season comes down to this one. FSU and Clemson figure to be playing for the division title, and Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and an improved Tigers defense will offer plenty of concerns for Jimbo Fisher's crew. The winner of this game has won the Atlantic Division in each of the last four seasons.

2. Florida Gators (Nov. 30 in Gainesville, Fla.): Last year's debacle in Tallahassee might have been FSU's ugliest game of the year, and the task won't get any easier this time around when the Seminoles close out the season on the road in Gainesville. If FSU can protect the football better than it did a year ago it has a chance, but that tough Gators defense might be the biggest test Jameis Winston will face all year.
A Lone Star State prospect who has seen his profile rise quickly this spring is 2015 tight end Jordan Davis. The Houston Clear Lake product committed to Florida State in March. At the time, the Seminoles were his only offer but the relationship existed for some time after Davis visited an FSU camp last summer. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound tight end acknowledged that even with the commitment, he would take visits and in the last month has gone to Texas for its sophomore day and most recently, to Texas A&M for the Maroon-and-White spring game. He has added offers from Texas and Oklahoma since his commitment.

Davis, who is being courted by Aggies special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Jeff Banks as well as offensive coordinator Clarence McKinney, recaps his visit to Aggieland with GigEmNation:

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This weekend gave Florida State a chance to improve its standing with commitment C.J. Worton (Homestead, Fla./South Dade) amid the speculation of Miami's increased influence.

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James Coley's departure to Miami has already made an impact. Joseph Yearby (Miami/Central), a former Florida State commitment, switched to the Hurricanes since the change was made.

And now Coley is hoping it can happen again with wide receiver C.J. Worton (Homestead, Fla./South Dade). Miami recently offered the Florida State commitment and gave him something new to think about.

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Spring questions: Coaching changes 

March, 20, 2013
Jimbo Fisher Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State coach Jimbo Fisher will be looking to six new assistant coaches for counsel this season.
Editor’s note: Each day until the start of spring practice, we’ll pose a question facing Florida State's football team as it moves toward the 2013 season. Today’s question: Will new coaches bring big changes for FSU?

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher said he's eager for spring practice to begin because it offers the first incites into the personality of this upcoming season's team. For the first time in four years, however, his players might be able to say the same about the coaching staff.

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State of the Noles: Cornerback 

February, 27, 2013
NoleNation writers David Hale and Corey Dowlar are going position by position, looking at what FSU has on its roster now, and who might provide reinforcements down the line, projecting starters and evaluating the depth through 2015.

Up next, one of the most promising positions on the FSU roster: Cornerback.

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Watch List RB flips to an in-state rival 

February, 26, 2013
Having been committed to the Seminoles for nearly a year, Joseph Yearby (Miami/Central) appeared set on his decision.

Well, not so fast.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The next two days are a chance for Jimbo Fisher to take a breath and collect his thoughts after a chaotic stretch in which six assistant coaches left and 22 new players joined the fold. On Monday, however, Fisher plans to be back at work, beginning interviews to fill the final vacancy on his staff.

Fisher said he'll begin interviewing candidates for the vacant quarterbacks coach position next week, but it still sounds unlikely he'll be looking for someone to take over calling plays.

"It depends on who we can hire, who we're able to get," Fisher said. "It possibly could [involve play-calling]. We'll wait and see the guys that come in and the interview process of how it goes and where we're at."

What was clear, however, was that Fisher wasn't ready to hand over play-calling duties to departed offensive coordinator James Coley, who left last month for Miami (Fla.). Coley had been FSU's tight ends coach and a top recruiter until December, when Fisher moved him to coach quarterbacks -- a move Fisher said was a precursor to a bigger role.

Fisher said during the season he had a longterm plan to gradually hand off play-calling responsibilities, but Coley's opportunity at Miami was immediate, and Fisher's plans were not.

"That was the plan of maybe possibly put him in that role and bring him along, and I think he could've done that," Fisher said of Coley. "It was one of the reasons I wanted to swing him into quarterbacks. When you call a game, it's very important to see the game through the quarterback's eyes. That's as important a thing in calling plays as anything there is. That's a key element we were going to develop."

Coley's replacement will likely get the same chance, with Fisher saying he's unlikely to shift a coach from his current position to handle quarterbacks.

"Most likely, yes, a quarterback guy," Fisher said. "I would say a very high percentage of that."

The bigger question, however, might be the percentage that coach will also be given a chance to truly have a hand in designing and calling the offense.

Wilson understanding of Coley's move 

January, 25, 2013
Four-star wide receiver Jesus Wilson (Miami/Columbus) was just one of the many Florida State commitments with a great relationship with former assistant James Coley.

Having camped at FSU over the summer and proven his ability to Coley and the staff, Wilson committed back in June. This coaching change, he said, doesn't affect that.

"I was really surprised he left," Wilson said. "We had a great relationship, but I'm not mad at him. He made a good decision for him and his family. He's a Miami guy and I know it feels good to be home."

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Coley departure doesn't affect Bower 

January, 24, 2013
Two weekends ago, Tashawn Bower (Somerville, N.J./Immaculata) was on campus visiting Florida State and assistant coach James Coley.

Fast forward to Thursday, and Coley is no longer a member of the Seminoles coaching staff. He's Miami's new offensive coordinator.

The ESPN 150 defensive end was clear and concise when asked whether the Seminoles would be eliminated from his list because of the coaching turnover.

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Goodell Has Sit-Down With Jameis Winston
ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates discusses Roger Goodell's meeting with presumptive No. 1 draft pick Jameis Winston.