FSU Seminoles: mark stoops
Sure, new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt would bring a few new wrinkles from his old stomping grounds at Alabama, but in the big picture, Fisher assured, Florida State's defense would still look much as it did for the past three seasons under Mark Stoops.
By the end of the spring, however, it was clear Fisher had downplayed the impact his new coaches would have. The Seminoles spent weeks watching tape of the Crimson Tide. Pruitt installed new verbiage, new calls, new schemes and a whole lot of new blitz packages. And when a rather vanilla spring game ended, even Fisher was ready to ratchet up the expectations.
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonKarlos Williams made several big plays in pass defense last season, but could be used in more blitzes in 2013.
If the quarterback battle was all the buzz among Florida State fans this spring, it's the defense that created the most excitement inside the locker room. Pruitt's approach completely restructured the simplified scheme Stoops had used with such success the past three seasons, and that meant new opportunities for the Seminoles' defenders and plenty of confusion for the offense.
The only problem was that FSU had just four weeks to master it before the long summer began.
"That's the hardest part, because at some point we were trying to relate last year's calls to this year's calls, and you really can't do that," safety Terrence Brooks said. "You've got to forget all that. It's learning a whole new defense."
The large-scale changes were bound to occur given the three new coaches on defense. But shaking things up also brings risk.
Stoops' unit was immensely successful, finishing second in total defense in 2012 and fourth in 2011. And the beauty of Stoops' approach was in its simplicity. He asked his defensive backs to cover, asked his linebackers to stop the run and asked his front four to generate pressure. Blitzes were the exception, not the rule.
"Stoops made it really, really simple," Brooks said. "I feel like he was a genius for that, getting the defense to be that good, but so simple."
Maintaining that simplicity might have been difficult regardless of the coaching changes, though. With the loss of five defensive linemen and one of the nation's top cornerbacks to the NFL, changes were inevitable. Ends Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine had been immensely successful in generating pressure without blitzing, but that's a luxury Pruitt won't get a chance to enjoy.
Instead, Pruitt's scheme takes some of the responsibility away from the defensive front and opens up the game plan for the athletes off the line of scrimmage -- and that's an exciting proposition for players such as new starting safety Karlos Williams.
"I feel like we will be way more aggressive than we have been because we're just doing a lot more -- we're a lot more active," Williams said. "But you all can watch it and see what happens."
Blitzes come from all over the field, and Pruitt has created dozens of new looks. Linebackers creep up to the line of scrimmage, ends drop into coverage, defensive backs are blitzing routinely. It's chaos for the offense -- but it's not entirely simple for the defense, either.
"We all felt overwhelmed at some point, but all those little things and calls, it really helps a lot because it gives us a chance to make so many more plays," Brooks said. "It's amazing to see on film how Alabama did it. They had guys dropping into coverage, all the different calls they had, but they all made a lot of plays off those little calls."
But picking up all those new calls was crucial. As a new crop of freshmen arrive this summer and a handful of veterans return from injuries, it will be the responsibility of FSU's veteran defenders to pass along what they learned from this spring's four-week crash course.
Truth be told, linebacker Christian Jones said, they could've used a few more weeks to prepare. But all things considered, Jones is confident the summer will prove to be a productive time even without Pruitt's immediate oversight.
"This spring, we pretty much put in the whole playbook," Jones said. "The guys have done a pretty good job of picking it all up, but it's a lot of stuff. It's a lot of checks, change the fronts a lot."
The new defense presents some pressure, but Jones isn't complaining. It might take a while longer to get everyone on the same page, but when it all comes together, this new defense could be awfully fun to watch.
"It's spring, so they've got to throw all that stuff in so we can know it in the fall," Jones said. "Once we get to the fall and can game plan, I think we'll have a real scary defense."
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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WHO TO WATCH: The quarterbacks. Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch leads the nation in total yards (4,733) and ranks third in total yards per game (364.08) behind Baylor’s Nick Florence and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. FSU quarterback EJ Manuel could become just the second quarterback to win four straight bowl games, joining former West Virginia quarterback Pat White. In just his second season as a full-time starter, Manuel is FSU’s career leader for completion percentage at 66.8 percent -- which is significantly ahead of No. 2 Charlie Ward (62.3).
WHAT TO WATCH: Florida State’s defensive line vs. NIU’s offensive line. Florida State defensive line coach D.J. Eliot was hired at Kentucky as Mark Stoops’ defensive coordinator, but Eliot stayed in Tallahassee to help the Noles prepare for Lynch. FSU’s defensive line has been one of the best in the country, despite season-ending injuries to star defensive ends Brandon Jenkins and Tank Carradine, who tore his ACL in the loss to Florida. FSU is No. 26 in the country with 2.54 sacks per game. NIU is tied for No. 16 in the country in sacks allowed with 1.08 per game, a total of 14 all season. FSU defensive end Bjoern Werner leads the ACC and ranks seventh nationally with 13 sacks this season.
WHY TO WATCH: Because No. 13 FSU might actually lose. The Noles are the more talented team, but the No. 15 Huskies will be playing to prove they belong in a BCS bowl. This will be the first BCS bowl game for a member of the Mid-American Conference. It is also the first bowl game between the ACC and MAC. NIU is the only program in the country to win 21 of its past 22 games, and joins Oregon as the only schools with three straight 11-win seasons. The Huskies' seniors are the winningest class in school history with 41 victories. FSU is 1-5 all-time in BCS bowls since playing in the first-ever BCS national championship game (1999 Fiesta Bowl).
PREDICTION: Florida State 31, Northern Illinois 17: The Huskies will come out fired up and ready to prove they deserved their title as BCS Busters, and they’ll keep it uncomfortably close in the first half. FSU fans will prematurely panic, an upset watch will look possible, but then reality will set in. Florida State has too much talent and speed, and the gap will continue to widen in the third quarter. The Noles will win the battle up front, and the defense will fare well in its first game without former coordinator Mark Stoops. The Noles will finish with 12 wins, including an ACC title and a BCS bowl win -- not a bad consolation prize for a team that had hoped to win a national title.
Florida State’s defense began life without former coordinator Mark Stoops one day early.
In preparation for the ACC championship game against Georgia Tech on Dec. 1, defensive ends coach D.J. Eliot was in charge of the game plan and called most of the plays because of his knowledge and familiarity with the Jackets’ spread option, according to FSU coach Jimbo Fisher.
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonKarlos Williams and FSU are ranked No. 2 nationally in total defense heading into the Orange Bowl.
“It’s been very easy,” Fisher said. “D.J. has been back running the defense and doing everything. … He’s been back here, the staffs are in place, they’ve been intact and we’ve announced Sal Sunseri was hired as defensive ends coach. He’s been out there with us, so we feel very comfortable with where we’re going.”
FSU safety Karlos Williams said Eliot was a tremendous help in the game plan for Northern Illinois, and that he and Stoops have traded text messages a few times. Williams said that instead of lamenting Stoops’ departure, the Seminoles have celebrated the hire with him.
“We were very proud of him,” Williams said, “very happy he’s moving on, getting that head coaching job he’s been working so hard to get. He’s still been talking to a couple of us, keeping in contact, making sure things are getting handled the way they’re supposed to be getting handled down here. Overall we’re just happy for him.”
Under Stoops, FSU’s defense was one of the best in the nation. This year, FSU was No. 5 in the country in rushing defense, No. 6 in scoring defense, No. 2 in total defense and No. 3 in pass defense. The Seminoles’ main priority will be containing Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, who leads the nation in total yards (4,733) and ranks third in yards per game (364.08).
Williams said the defense has already been prepared to handle a quarterback like Lynch.
“We’ve played quarterbacks like him already this season, the quarterback from Virginia Tech [Logan Thomas], Tajh Boyd, [Stephen] Morris from Miami,” Williams said. “A lot of quarterbacks we’ve played this year can run around, move, scramble in the pocket and throw the ball in the run. It’s just another one of those games. We’re going to have to lock in, be prepared to play the zone read, option read and the pass and the run. It’s going to be a challenge, of course. But like we always do, we lock in and play good football.”
They have to do it one more time, this time without Stoops.
Now Eliot is trying to pay Fisher back for that opportunity with a win against Northern Illinois in the Discover Orange Bowl, the last game Eliot will coach with the Seminoles before joining former FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops’ staff at Kentucky.
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonKarlos Williams and FSU are ranked No. 2 nationally in total defense heading into the Orange Bowl.
Eliot still has a job to do -- his biggest yet -- but he has already had some on-the-job training for it.
In preparation for the ACC title game against Georgia Tech on Dec. 1, Eliot was in charge of the game plan and called most of the plays because of his knowledge and familiarity with the Jackets’ spread option.
Florida State’s defense was once again the difference down the stretch, as the Noles held off Georgia Tech for a 21-15 win and the school’s first ACC title since 2005. One day later, Stoops left to become the head coach at Kentucky, and he hired Eliot as his defensive coordinator. The Seminoles were left to prepare for Northern Illinois without their top two defensive assistants, but those within the program say it has been a smooth transition during bowl practices. Eliot came back to campus to lead the defense, and Fisher hired two new assistants, defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri.
For Eliot, it was a no-brainer to stick with the Noles through the bowl game.
“My players mean a tremendous amount to me, so I want to make sure that I finish this thing off for them,” he said. “They bought in early to what we were doing, and they've been very successful, and they've always respected me and done exactly what I've told them to do. So I want them to know that I was going to be here until the end for them, as well.”
Under Stoops, FSU’s defense was one of the best in the nation. This season, FSU was No. 5 in the country in rushing defense, No. 6 in scoring defense, No. 2 in total defense, and No. 3 in pass defense. FSU defensive end Bjoern Werner said the Noles won’t miss a beat with Eliot leading the defense instead of Stoops.
“I always knew he wanted to be a defensive coordinator, and I’m so happy for him that it worked out,” Werner said. “I’m so happy he didn’t go with coach Stoops, because they were really close. I’m so happy for him and I’m happy that he’s staying. He coaches exactly the same way as coach Stoops, so it wasn’t a big change for us. They play the same technique and all the same stuff. I’m happy for him, and I can see that he’s happy for us that we’re doing so good. He’s going to leave on a good note.”
That’s Eliot’s game plan, anyway.
Officially announced as Mark Stoops' replacement on Dec. 20, Pruitt arrives in Tallahassee as one of the young stars in the college football world. Both on and off the field.
As a tireless recruiter, Pruitt has done nothing but help his own stock. At his previous stop with Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa, Ala., he dominated the I-10 corridor in Alabama all the way to Jacksonville, Fla.
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Baker, who is 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds and No. 198 in the ESPN 300, has taken official visits to Clemson and Oklahoma the last two weekends.
After being quiet following his OU trip Sunday, Baker broke his silence with the news of his decommitment. He said his decision is going to come on national signing day and Clemson is the early favorite at this point.
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Eliot coached defensive ends the past three seasons at Florida State. His work this year was simply phenomenal when you consider Bjoern Werner was selected ACC Defensive Player of the Year; and both Werner and Tank Carradine were first-team All-ACC selections. The way he was able to get Carradine to truly shine once Brandon Jenkins got hurt truly is a testament to the job he did this season.
Jenkins, by the way, won All-ACC honors in 2010 and 2011.
"D.J. is one of the brightest young minds in college football," Stoops said in a statement. "He has a relentless work ethic and is extremely detailed. I'm very pleased he has joined the Big Blue Nation."
On Saturday, the Seminoles lost a heartbreaker to rival Florida in the final game of the season on their home turf. On Sunday, they lost their leading tackler and star defensive end, Tank Carradine, to a torn anterior cruciate ligament. And on Tuesday, they lost their beloved defensive coordinator, Mark Stoops, to Kentucky. Never mind the constant swirl of rumors about head coach Jimbo Fisher following Stoops into the SEC for another head-coaching gig.
“There were a lot of distractions this week,” FSU athletic director Randy Spetman said.
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonFlorida State QB EJ Manuel (3) celebrates the team's first ACC title since 2005 with teammates.
With a 21-15 victory over Georgia Tech on Saturday in the Dr Pepper ACC championship game, the Seminoles knocked any perceived distractions over like bowling pins. There was no sign of a hangover from the Florida game as FSU jumped out to a convincing 21-6 lead at the half. The news about Carradine and Stoops inspired the defense to a game-changing finish in the fourth quarter, as an interception by Karlos Williams sealed the ACC title with about a minute remaining. For a fleeting moment late Saturday night, as confetti scattered in the air and the Seminoles celebrated their first ACC title since 2005, the rest of the college football world was forced to pause and finally let the Noles enjoy themselves.
They earned it.
“We are still ACC champions, and that is one goal,” FSU safety Lamarcus Joyner said. “We had a lot of goals and we met one of them. We have another one in front of us. That makes greatness, grasping opportunities in front of you.”
In order to do that, they had to forget the missed opportunities behind them -- the loss to NC State, the loss to Florida.
There’s no question there was a sense of relief from within the program Saturday night. This is a team that began the season ranked No. 3 in the country. The loss to NC State knocked the Noles out of the national title conversation and will continue to haunt them long after this season ends. Five turnovers in a loss to Florida was another statement opportunity squandered. And with Georgia Tech in position to put together a game-winning drive late in Saturday's game, NC State 2.0 looked like a very real possibility.
It was almost as if you could hear the entire city of Tallahassee exhale all the way in Charlotte when Williams snagged that pick.
“Oh man,” defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. “Oh, man. We’ve been trying to get here for a long time. That’s why I thank God for letting us win this game and I thank the seniors for helping this program get back to the top and get back into the national title conversations and winning these ACC championships and Orange Bowls and those types of games. We’re Florida State. That’s what’s supposed to happen. It wasn’t nothing miraculous. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”
It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t matter.
Give 'em a break. In the end, Florida State is right where almost everyone predicted this summer it would be: heading to the Discover Orange Bowl. While many will continue to lament what could have been, Florida State is staring down what is: the possibility at a 12-2 season with an ACC title and a BCS win.
Not exactly a five-loss Rose Bowl team, now is it?
“I’m extremely happy for our players because I know how hard it is and how much flak they’ve taken: ‘When are you going to be back, when are you going to win a championship, when are you going to do this,’” Fisher said. “... There’s a point in time you point back and you look at it and you say, ‘That was it.’ That’s the time that you got over the hump and you got there and you didn’t let the circumstances blur your vision, and they did that.”
It doesn’t always have to be about playing in the shadow of the SEC or comparing what’s happening in Charlotte to what’s happening in Atlanta. It wasn’t time to ask whether Fisher was the right man to replace Bobby Bowden. For once -- just once -- it can be simply about putting a trophy in the case and letting a group of players -- kids -- who have been through a lot enjoy it.
“I’ll be extremely proud of it 10, 15 years from now,” quarterback EJ Manuel said. “I’ll be able to say I helped our team get back to where we needed to be as far as the BCS conversation, the national championship conversation and things like that. I want to see greatness from here on out. We have a lot of great players, a lot of great young players, and guys understand what it takes to get to this point, so I don’t see us going back to where we used to be. I think Florida State is back in the conversation.”
Thanks in large part to the defense, which held Georgia Tech and the nation’s No. 3 rushing offense to just 183 rushing yards.
“You didn’t want to work this hard for three years and not be able to finish this,” Stoops said, “because our program, Coach Fisher and the players deserved this win.”
And they deserve to celebrate it -- without any distractions.
"Coach [Jimbo Fisher] and I really have not discussed it," Stoops said. "Coach and I need to sit down and have a discussion on that. It will be hard. It will be hard to do. I don't want to be a distraction. We'll see. I'm never going to turn my back on these kids. It will be a mutual decision we'll all sit down and figure out."
It's been a busy news week to say the least, and oddly enough, the ACC championship game has largely gotten lost in the shuffle.
So, with so many other distractions going on around them, are the Seminoles still prepped for Georgia Tech? Here are five key issues they'll be facing.
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"It was a great environment today in practice,” Joyner told NoleNation’s David Hale. “Guys like [Ronald] Darby, P.J. [Williams], young future stars just enjoying themselves. They know they can play ball. That's where we're at now as a program because we have a lot of great kids. Everybody was into it. No one's walking around with their heads down. We're just trying to win a championship that hasn't been done here in a long time."
Kim Klement/US PresswireFlorida State will have to move on after losing its leading tackler, Cornellius Carradine, for the rest of the season to a torn ACL.
The Gators ran for 244 yards on Saturday – easily the most FSU had allowed all season. By comparison, Florida State didn’t allow Atlantic Division opponents Maryland, Boston College, Wake Forest and NC State that many rushing yards combined (239). Clemson was the only team in the division to rush for more than 100 yards against the Noles, and three other teams -- FCS schools Savannah State and Murray State, and rival Miami, were each held under 40 rushing yards.
For the first time all year, the Seminoles’ defensive line was beaten up front for a majority of the game.
“Well, it wasn't a bad game,” said defensive end Bjoern Werner. “[We] didn't have a good rushing defense, but we're going to fix things up this week and prepare well against Georgia Tech and their triple option and hopefully have a good game.
“Everybody in the box has to play their assignment,” he said. “They can't get greedy and try to make a play. Everybody has to just play his assignment, what they're supposed to do, and then we'll be successful.”
Successful at slowing the Jackets down, maybe, but not stopping them entirely. Georgia Tech is averaging 323.33 rushing yards per game, trailing only Army and Air Force nationally. The Yellow Jackets have rushed for more yards than any FBS team since 2008, and the program is 115 yards shy of rushing for 20,000 total yards in the five seasons under head coach Paul Johnson.
“Oh, it's a huge challenge, and it's going to be a very -- we have to have a lot of discipline, we have to have a lot of confidence in what we're doing,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We've been developing a plan, and we're looking at it and we're going to have to be very disciplined how we go about it and deep great leverage on the ball, and it will be a huge challenge. That's one of the advantages that Georgia Tech does have is that when you don't play them off an off week or a long period of time, that one week turnaround is extremely tough.”
Having to do it without Carradine and knowing it will be the last game for Stoops could make for an emotional sideline. Those kinds of intangibles have also been known to be inspiring, too, and everyone within FSU’s program was thrilled for Stoops’ opportunity. It just so happens he still has one more game to coach with FSU, and it’s the most important one.
Fisher said the news about Stoops hasn’t been a distraction to the team’s preparation this week.
"We've got to get through this week,” Fisher said. “It's all about Georgia Tech right now and we're doing a great job of keeping focus on Georgia Tech."
"They know that's part of this business,” he said of his players. “Our kids are very good, and they came out and responded very well."
The question is how they’ll respond against the No. 3 rushing offense in the country.
In three years on the job, Stoops has taken a defense that was among the worst in the nation in 2009 and turned it into the No. 2 unit in the country in 2012. Add those credentials to a strong family legacy, and it's easy to see why Kentucky thinks it made an exceptional hire.
Q. How much longer will Stoops stay on staff at Florida State?
A. At least through the ACC championship game, and Jimbo Fisher said there was never any discussion of Stoops leaving immediately. But the job at Kentucky is a big one, and it would be a surprise if Stoops stuck around through the bowl game, which would mean an extra month in Tallahassee.
Q. So if Stoops leaves after this game, who coaches the defense in the bowl game?
A. Odds are, Fisher would take a slightly bigger role, and the rest of the defensive coaches and grad assistants would pick up the slack, as the Noles would simply have to do their best with what they have for now. It's hardly an unprecedented situation, and Lamarcus Joyner said it could actually be a nice challenge for the defense.
"All these years of putting in work with Coach Stoops and building me into a team leader, we'll get to see him not able to coach that bowl game but see how we're able to carry on without him, see if we can really put it to the test -- the knowledge and tools he's given us. It'll be a great challenge," Joyner said. "It would be fun."
Q. What kind of a distraction will Stoops' impending departure be for the ACC championship game?
A. Fisher was resolute that it wouldn't be any distraction, and players seemed to echo those comments on Tuesday, saying the energy in practice was high and they hoped to send Stoops out on a high note.
Of course, the defensive lapses against Florida have certainly opened the door to some criticism about the timing of all of this, and if there's one team that you don't want to have to prepare for on short notice with major off-field distractions on the defensive side, it's Georgia Tech.
Q. When can we expect Fisher to find Stoops' replacement?
A. For obvious reasons, Fisher did his best to downplay all of that Tuesday, saying he has his list but won't start sifting through candidates until after Saturday's game.
There's a good chance that's at least partially true, but Bjoern Werner certainly undermined some of that story later when he said Fisher assured him a plan was already in place.
"I came here when he came here, so I want to know who the next guy is," Werner said. "At Unity Council, I asked Coach Fisher, 'Can you give us a little hint?' He's like, 'Nope, but I have my plan and you guys are going to know soon.' "
Q. So who are the top candidates?
A. This is a tough one to say because when it comes to assistants, there are a lot of names out there, and FSU remains an elite job. Stoops' quick rise from being hired in late 2009 to taking a head coaching job in the SEC is exactly the type of career path any assistant would drool over. In other words, Fisher expects to have his pick of top candidates.
Fisher didn't open up much about who those candidates would be or what type of coach he's looking for -- young up-and-comer or veteran assistant, coach with a similar scheme or someone willing to try something new -- but Werner offered a hint on that, too.
"Everybody that's been in the system for a few years wants the same system because we were successful like that," Werner said. "I've talked to Coach Fisher already and he has his plan already written out. I'm sure he'll find the best fit."
It's far too early to say any one candidate is clearly at the top of Fisher's list, but a few names to watch: Manny Diaz at Texas, Brent Venables at Clemson, Ellis Johnson, who was recently fired as Southern Miss head coach and Travis Jones of the New Orleans Saints.
Q. Could Fisher find a replacement from his current staff of assistants?
A. That's certainly a possibility, with Greg Hudson probably the most obvious choice. It seems less likely than an outside hire though, and while Fisher gave lip service to the possibility on Tuesday, he didn't exactly sound enthusiastic about it.
"I think there could be," Fisher said when asked if any of his current assistants were on his short list for DC. "There's possibilities of that all the time. We've got some great coaches underneath that could possibly do those things."
Q. Speaking of assistant coaches, will Stoops be the only one to leave?
A. There are plenty of reports already that offensive coordinator James Coley has an offer to go with Stoops to Kentucky, and given Coley's current role as OC in name only with no play-calling duties, it might be a smart career move.
For what it's worth, Fisher didn't offer much on that topic.
"[Stoops] is the head coach and none of those things have been done and nothing is set," Fisher said. "We haven't even talked about those things. We're totally focused on Georgia Tech."
Certainly other coaches -- D.J. Elliott and Dameyune Craig chief among them -- could be hot commodities for other programs around the country looking to make changes or fill vacancies, too.
Q. What impact will Stoops' departure have on the decisions of FSU's juniors considering the NFL draft?
A. It will definitely have an effect on the guys who are on the fence, but it would also stand to reason they'll be keenly interested in who Stoops' replacement will be. If it's a guy with an NFL pedigree or someone who runs a similar style to what's already being run at FSU, there may be no extra push to head out the door. In fact, for a guy like Christian Jones, who might be a huge star in some other systems, it could actually help his career to see some minor changes to FSU's defensive style in 2013.
It would be surprising if guys like Werner and Xavier Rhodes didn't already have a pretty firm decision in mind, so really it's Jones and Joyner who are most affected.
"That will be something I'll have to pray about," Joyner said. "I'll have to talk to my family, Coach Fisher and Coach Stoops about it. We have two games to finish, so I just want to finish strong and let the cards deal what it may."
It's also worth noting, too, that a number of FSU's defensive players have a very close relationship with Stoops off the field, too. So more goes into evaluating this than simply Xs and Os.
Q. What impact could Stoops' departure have on recruiting?
A. The initial reaction was, not surprisingly, mixed at best from some of FSU's current commitments. It's a tenuous time on the recruiting circuit with signing day still two months off and coaches around the country starting to make some late pushes for wavering commits.
"It's hard when you're a younger guy," Joyner said. "You get caught up into all kinds of reasons for why you commit to a program."
Of course, depending on who replaces Stoops, the shakeup could be just as likely to spark some interest from recruits as it is to turn off some others.
The key for FSU will be to quell any immediate concern with the commitments they already have and then move as quickly as possible to bring in a replacement to start the sales pitch again.
Q. So, enough about Stoops. What about those Fisher rumors?
A. That, of course, is the 10,000-pound elephant in the room -- unless it's not, which is sort of hard to say at this point.
Fisher has offered as stringent a denial of interest in other jobs as he can without actually saying, "No, I'm not leaving FSU under any circumstances," so it's fair to assume he'll be back for 2013 and beyond.
Still, with three potentially lucrative SEC jobs open at Tennessee, Arkansas and Auburn and recent rumblings that there could be a shift at LSU, there's probably not going to be any end to the speculation until every job is filled.
When it comes to money and athletics budgets, there may be some perks to moving on, but Fisher's also got a pretty good situation here. He's had to work hard to push the limits of the budget and get new projects underway, but he's been successful in doing so. He's rebuilt the talent on the roster, even if a slew of seniors and talented juniors could depart at year's end, and starting that process over again elsewhere has its drawbacks. And as he said Monday, his family is here and settled in Tallahassee. For a coach with young kids, sometimes the biggest paycheck isn't the top priority.
Of course, this is college football, so you never know what might be around the corner.
AP Photo/Phil CoaleMark Stoops received a standing ovation at FSU's practice Tuesday after being announced as Kentucky's new head coach.
"Oh no," Werner said, "not that much."
Still, the sentiment was universal following Tuesday's practice, as Stoops' tenure winds to a close at Florida State.
Jimbo Fisher announced Stoops' impending departure in a team meeting before practice, and players offered a standing ovation. There was some instant buzz, particularly among the younger players, but that quickly died down as attention turned to the work on the field.
"It actually brought energy," safety Lamarcus Joyner said. "It's always best when someone is honest with you, and everybody wishes the best for Coach Stoops. We believe he deserves that, and we're going to play hard for him before he leaves out. We're going to end this on a good note for him."
Stoops accepted the Kentucky job Tuesday and he'll stay on staff at least through this week's ACC championship game. Beyond that, the future is a bit murky.
Fisher said his focus is entirely on Florida State's upcoming game against Georgia Tech, and he hasn't talked through anything beyond that with Stoops, who appears unlikely to stick around through FSU's bowl game.
Amid swirling rumors Monday, Fisher said he kept an up-to-date list of potential replacements for any assistant coaching vacancies, but he also denied he's given much thought to who might be at the top of his wish list to replace Stoops.
"We'll start that next week," Fisher said. "I'll look at my list and see what's available, what's out there and make a good decision. It happens so quick. I have those lists, and I know what my process is going to be, but I haven't had time to think about it because it's Georgia Tech."
Given the quick announcement by Kentucky that Stoops had been hired, it stands to reason that Fisher isn't ready to make a hire immediately, but Werner indicated a plan was already in place.
"At Unity Council, I asked Coach Fisher, 'Can you give us a little hint?' " Werner said. "He's like, 'Nope, but I have my plan and you guys are going to know soon.' "
Werner is among a handful of FSU underclassmen who will be keenly interested in who is hired to replace Stoops before making a final decision on whether or not to return for their senior seasons or enter the NFL draft.
"That will be something I'll have to pray about," Joyner said. "I'll have to talk to my family, Coach Fisher and Coach Stoops about. We have two games to finish, so I just want to finish strong and let the cards deal what it may."
The job of keeping Florida State's recruiting class together in the wake of Stoops' departure could also be a concern. Several FSU recruits expressed disappointment in Stoops' decision Tuesday, and Joyner said it's not uncommon for younger players to put a lot of stock in coaching changes as they attempt to formulate a final decision on their college choices.
It's also possible that Stoops may not be the only departure from Fisher's staff. Message boards floated numerous rumors following the announcement that Stoops may bring one or more of FSU's current coaches with him to Kentucky, but again, Fisher said those decisions have yet to be discussed.
"He's the head coach and none of those things have been done and nothing is set," Fisher said. "We haven't even talked about those things. We're totally focused on Georgia Tech."
When Fisher's attention does turn to hiring a replacement, he said he anticipates having his pick of top options for the job. Stoops' departure provides an obvious sales pitch to future candidates.
Florida State is a marquee job, Fisher said, and the fact that Stoops was able to parlay three years in Tallahassee into a head coaching job in the SEC speaks volumes.
"I want to be known as the guy that helps guys get jobs," Fisher said. "If they come to a good program and they do well, you get those opportunities."
Stoops arrived at FSU following the 2009 season in which the Seminoles were a dismal 108th nationally in total defense, but the rebuilding happened quickly. The Seminoles rank second in the nation in total defense and seventh in scoring defense this season, and for the second straight season has been one of the elite units in the country.
Add that to Stoops' impressive coaching pedigree -- his brother Bob is head coach at Oklahoma, and and another brother, Mike, coached Arizona -- and he was a hot commodity for vacancies that came about in recent weeks.
It also meant that Stoops' departure came as no surprise to the players he's coached for the past three years.
"I was more happy for Coach Stoops than anything," Joyner said. "He's a coach that's put in his work. He doesn't have to explain that it's best for him and his family and sets him up for what he needs. That's a blessing for him. He's a great man and he deserves it."
Watching from the stands, he saw the game change over and over again, but pointed to a specific sequence of events that determined the outcome.
"I think it was a good game up until around the fourth quarter," he said. "Florida State had a lot of turnovers, and I think when EJ Manuel got hurt, and when he fumbled, I think that is when it turned everything around. But I think it was a good game."
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