Talk about last Saturday's Florida-Miami game. Did that showdown impact recruiting in any way?
"I will say this. Steve Spurrier was a phenomenal coach and one of the greatest coach in SEC history, and what he did at Florida was amazing. He took a team that never won an SEC title. They won a bunch and a national championship on the way and made the program at Florida one of the elite programs in the country. I think there's only four or five schools that can stay - one being, of course, in Tallahassee. But one thing he didn't like to do was recruit. The last couple of years Florida hasn't exactly been up there with Florida State, with Miami, with Tennessee in keeping pace. You can't rest on your laurels with recruiting. Every year you have to hit the pavement, you have to hit the phones, you have to go out and go after and go get these kids. You can't have off years. What you saw was Florida had some good recruiting years mixed in with some great recruiting years mixed in with some not-so-good recruiting years. The last couple of years, they haven't recruited linemen. They haven't recruited some of the skills guys that are going to some other places.
"Coach Zook comes in after coach Spurrier resigns and jumps to the NFL. Here's a guy with all the energy in the world, all the passion in the world, that can sell a great program and put together a good staff but he only has 20-some odd days to do it. You are behind the eight ball. I don't care who you are. You are going to struggle. They scrambled, put together a group and, quite frankly, you look at the class and they didn't beat Florida State or Miami on one kid last year. Not one. That can't happen. Not in the state of Florida with all those great players and Florida wanting to maintain that elite status in the SEC. This is something they've got to improve on. I will say this. You watch that game Saturday and there was a clear-cut talent difference between the University of Miami and the University of Florida. Kids can say, 'Hey, you know what? Florida is a good program and I can go in and play right away.'
"But there is also, on the other side of it, Steve Spurrier left. If they can't win nine, maybe 10 games this season, they may run into a problem. These other schools are going to hammer them and say, 'Hey, if they can't win nine or 10 with Rex (Grossman) what are they doing to do when he jumps ship to the NFL?' I think it's critical Florida bounces back against Tennessee and get a run on the field that will certainly help them with what they are doing off the field."
Do you see any signs that FSU's coaching staff is backing off any on the recruiting trail?
"Florida State is Florida State. What a remarkable run they've had. I know last year was a speed bump. I think they are back, as long as Chris Rix plays well. They are going to be there in the end. I don't see any letup. There's still a lot of kids who want to go play football for Bobby Bowden. He's a living legend. They are on TV. They look flashy. They got a great offense. They play good defense. A lot of guys go to the NFL. All the things are still there that make kids want to go play in Tallahassee. Florida State, every year, some people may feel this is the year they are not going to do it in recruiting and maybe they start off a little lackluster. But when they crank up the heat and they start really getting on guys and getting after it harder in December and January, boy, do they close with a flurry. I have never seen anything like that. Last year was a typical year with them closing with a flurry on signing day. I don't expect a slowdown at all. If it does happen, I will be shocked."
Two of the better athletes in the country live right here in Tallahassee in Ernie Sims of North Florida Christian and Antonio Cromartie of Lincoln. Where do you feel FSU stands with this pair?
"I really believe - and I mean this sincerely - he (Ernie) is the best player I've seen this year. Quite frankly, I think he's one of the better players I've seen in a few seasons. I know there are some people who don't agree with me, but I personally feel he's the best linebacker and the best running back. Having said that, I think Antonio Cromartie is the best receiver. We may not have him rated No. 1 because we have a pool of experts and everyone has their opinion, but I really think those two guys are special. I always thought Antonio Cromartie would end up at Florida State. But for some reason, about three months ago, he really started liking the Gators. I really think it's going to be a battle between those two schools for his signature. Now there's some uncertainty if he's going to graduate early. It looks like now he will graduate with the rest of his class in May. But I fully anticipate it to be a FSU-Florida battle. Right now the Gators do lead for him.
"Ernie, I think this one is a little different. I don't think this is a slam-dunk for Florida State like all the fans seem to think it is despite his dad playing football here, and his brother and his mother running track. FSU is definitely in the mix. I really believe Auburn has a great shot to unseat them. Georgia is in the mix. Of course, Florida and Miami also are in there. The interesting thing with Ernie is he's so good that he can play running back or linebacker at the next level. Early in the process he was unsure of what position he wanted to play. The last few months he is kind of leaning towards playing running back. I think what's going to happen is he's going to do his research and take their visits and meet with the coaches and take his visits, the whole ball of wax, and he is going to figure out. ... I think it's going to come down where he can play the earliest, depending on what position he selects. That's going to be huge for him. Obviously, Florida State's got a great shot at getting both. But I just don't think it's a slam-dunk with Ernie like everyone thinks it is."
FSU has struggled with recruiting the past few years in South Florida. What's your take on that situation?
"Miami has such a big advantage over everyone else because the best football is played in Dade and Broward counties. That's where most of the elite athletes are. It's so deep and that's why you see schools from all over the country recruiting south Florida. Miami has a big advantage because they are going to hold the upper hand and they are going to get pretty much who they want. It's not always going to work that way. In regards to FSU, they have to work it hard. They've gotten great players from there in the past and there's no reason they can't go down there and stake their claim in the future. I expect them to do down there and battle for kids they want. It will be interesting. Now all of a sudden you are seeing Florida giving much more effort in south Florida, so Miami is going to have a little more difficult time than I think people suspect. And they all can't go to Miami. It will be interesting to see here in the next four or five months that transpires down there."
What recruiting improvements do you see in the ACC?
"Georgia Tech, I really thought they were going to take that next step. When coach O'Leary left and Chan Gailey comes in, and they really had a lackluster effort in recruiting this year. I will be eager to see what Tech does this coming year in recruiting. They've had a couple really good classes and I think Tech is going to be a good team this year. But I think the three clubs that have really taken advantage of the opportunity is N.C. State, Virginia and Maryland. Now, Maryland is living off that ACC championship and they used it to the maximum advantage last year in the recruiting wars. They did a sensational job. If you look at Virginia, they are playing 10, 11 true freshmen. And N.C. State, when they get all their skill pieces back, they are going to have some great skill guys. The problem is these schools are having a difficult time recruiting, I think, in the trenches. The offensive and defensive linemen. The big athletes who can move laterally, that have good speed. Everyone wants speed defensively. Well, you have to get offensive linemen who can move. That's the one area you have to look at N.C. State, look at Virginia, look at Maryland, that's the next step they have to make. I think they are making good steps recruiting the QBs, the receivers, the running backs, the linebackers, the corners. They have to now start getting these linemen that typically always go to a Florida State or to a Miami or to a Tennessee."
Are the problems in the SEC hurting that league in recruiting right now?
"I think it's going to have an affect. We will see how this pans out over the next few months. Alabama, from what they have committed so far, they've done an excellent job and I think they are going to close with four or five good more verbal commitments. To be surprised, I am a little surprised they are doing as well as they are doing in recruiting. Having said that, I don't know if I can say the same thing for Kentucky just yet. They are 2-0, they upset Louisville, they are actually playing defense in Lexington. I think they've opened a lot of kids' eyes. I will be curious to see how they progress on and off the field. There's some other places where investigations are going on and rumors are circulating, so we will have to wait and see."
Do you feel FSU is out of the race for California quarterback Tommy Grady, who has given a soft commitment to Oklahoma?
"I don't think so. I never can't FSU out for anybody. Period. I don't care who you are or where you are. You never count the 'Noles out, ever. Just look at Lorenzo Booker. He might be softly committed to the University of Oklahoma but if he does in fact takes more visits when it's official visit time, and visits FSU, I would never count the 'Noles out of that one. Big kid at 6-6. He has a great arm. Very accurate. A lot of upside to him. I know he enjoyed his time in Tallahassee and some other places. We will have to wait and see and ride this thing out. I definitely think FSU is still in the mix."
How important is it for FSU to sign a quarterback this year?
"I am a big believer in Chris Rix. I loved him out of high school. I still have confidence he's going to be one of the top two or three quarterbacks in America. Is it going to happen this year? Maybe not. But I think we are going to see strides in that direction. We did last season. He stumbled out a little slowly this year but the pieces are in place. Florida State has found a great running game with Greg (Jones) and Nick (Maddox) and the guys. They have the skill at the wide receiver position. I just think it's a matter of time before the switch turns on and we see a phenomenal quarterback in Tallahassee. Having said that, you have young backups, I don't think it's a necessity that FSU got to have a QB this year. If they don't, they better go out next year and get themselves a good one next year. There's a kid named John David Booty, another Booty out of Evangel Christian Academy (Louisiana). He's only a junior. He's the best quarterback in America right now, as a junior. I would think FSU would definitely have their target on John David if they don't sign a big-timer this year. But they may try to recruit him anyway. John David will be that highly sought-after and that good next season."