Toe-to-toe? It'd be like going toe-to-toe with Tyson, when he was champion. I don't know if toe-to-toe is the way to do it or not. They're a physical football team, you know.
Is it easier to prepare for an opponent of that caliber?
You're playing the best. You've got everybody's attention. Your coaches know that we've got to be very detailed, and things like that, for this game.
The last time you came down there (in 2000), you were the team with the aura about it, and there were questions if Butch Davis could win a big game. How much have things changed?
Number one, it shows you the great judgment that Butch Davis had, and his staff, in recruiting. Where did (Jeremy) Shockey come from? Where in the world did they get that quarterback? Where'd they get that running back? Where'd they get so-and-so? Somebody, whoever was in charge of their personnel – in the pros, you're talking about a personnel man. You've got Shockey, you've got Portis, and so-and-so, and so-and-so, and put all that together. That's what they're winning with. They're still doing a great job there. Now they've got (Kellen) Winslow. It goes back to real good recruiting and judgment by somebody. We hope that we can get back to that point.
Are you surprised that Miami has rebounded from their low point in the mid-1990's?
There are probably people who doubt Florida State will ever get back. I hear people saying ‘well, they're down, I don't know if they'll ever make it back. That's the end of this or that.' To me, nothing lasts forever, nothing. We went through that cycle where we were playing for the national championship every year. Well that ain't gonna last forever. I wish it would. Now, Miami is to that point. I think when Steve (Spurrier) – not just Steve, but right now – Florida's right there with it. Really, your three Florida schools have just seemed ahead of everybody.
Against Clemson, the TV crew covering the game (for ESPN) seemed to think that you were coaching timid on offense and lacked confidence in your passer. Can you talk about that? You had only 24 yards passing until the last play of the first half.
We had seen them play. Before the game, we felt like the best way to attack them was dead-ahead running, not throwing the football. Their coverages – they had a total package of coverages that can confuse you. And they have pretty good athletes running around back there. They were the type of team that were not going to give you anything long. They were not going to give you something deep, just like Virginia chose to play us. Our plan was we're going to run the ball. We started off doing that, and then stopped and got away from it. We started running the ball, and then stopped, and we weren't very successful. I don't know how long we had the ball the first half (11 minutes in the first half). We felt like the best way to beat them was running. Before the half, when (Greg Jones) broke that 65-yard run there, we decided that we'd better get back to running the football – doing what we do best. The yardage throwing – that doesn't bother me. To be honest with you, we out-statisticked Louisville, but we lost the game in the kicking game. Last night, they out-statisticked us, but we won the kicking game. That's all I know to say about that. There ain't but one statistic that counts.
How important is it for your offensive line to play well for you to win against Miami? They played a big part last night, because you hung onto the ball for 20 minutes in the second half against Clemson.
Well, that naturally could play a great role when you're playing somebody like Miami. It would help you keep their offense off the field and help you control the clock. It'd be vital. The only thing is, you're going into their strength. That is also their strength, the front seven, with depth, and size, and experience.
Wouldn't you prefer to match up strength-on-strength? Florida's offensive line really struggled, and contributed heavily to the loss.
So you're asking me if I'd rather have a good offensive line? No doubt about it. If there's a matchup that's equal, you'd hope it's up front. If it ain't, that's where you get destroyed. Domination, intimidation – it starts up front.
How encouraging was it that you were able to make big plays returning kicks? Leon Washington and Talman Gardner both contributed.
My feeling was, when it happened, that it was about time. Leon Washington brings a lot to us. There's no doubt about. He's a little freshman – don't even know he's a freshman. When he gets his grades, he'll know. Leon brings a lot to the program on returns. Of course, Talman's return was big, too. All that will be vital this week. You've got to play all three areas this week, offense, defense, and kicking.
Tommy ran several trick plays against you – does he remind you of you when you started out?
He's coaching very much like I did when I first came to Florida State. It's a nothing-to-lose type of thing. We've got onside kicks, too. We've got reverse passes, too. We've got ‘em, we just simply don't call ‘em. We're always looking for the right place to do it. Our reputation is so much that way that most people just expect it. When we line up to punt, people say ‘watch out for the rooskie.' People work on that, they see it, and they say, ‘we're playing Florida State, be ready for it,' even though it's 14 years old. Tommy is doing the things that I used to do a lot. I think when teams get better material they quit that. I hardly ever see Miami doing something like that. Florida will. We will occasionally. Mine look so bad, people hardly even recognize ‘em. I try my tricks, and people don't even recognize ‘em any more. The first play of the Louisville game, we threw a lateral pass, and nobody even called me up or congratulated me or nothing. I kept getting them letters about ‘why don't you do some tricks?' All I can say is ‘didn't you see the first play of the game? That was our trick!' Anyway, we have ‘em, but we don't call ‘em, and to me it's a good sign if you don't have to call ‘em. It means you're winning, you've got a superior team. Don't beat yourself.
Is it hard not being as much of a trickster?
Yeah. I wanted to trump every time he threw one. I was even thinking of it. We played Nebraska back in 1989 in the Fiesta Bowl, and we used a fake punt the first time they got the ball. It set up a touchdown. I said ‘all right, throw the reverse kickoff return, next play.' I started to trump Tommy last night, but I didn't.
Will Tommy say anything about outdoing you on special teams the next time you speak?
No, he won't say anything like that. If he'd have won the game, he might. But he lost the game.
Your fans booed your offense at times against Clemson. Do you think FSU supporters expect you not just to win, but to win with style points?
This is typical of a program that has come from nothing to success. That part of it is spoiled. It is no different from Ohio State. It's not different from the way they do in Michigan. It's no different that Southern Cal. We have finally reached maturity. We boo our quarterback, and we boo our team. That's what happens when you're successful. Again, that's the nature of the beast. I wish our people would not do it. I don't think it's wise. I'll tell you something I learned a long time ago. When I was at West Virginia, and we had a bad year, man, we were 4-7. They were booing us, and wanting to fire me. Man, I couldn't wait to get out of town. There ain't nobody booing you. Your fans, they don't go on the road. Really, that's what happens. You get where you hate to play at home. Not just a coach, but the poor quarterback is going to get booed at his home. Let's take him over to Michigan or somewhere to play, where they don't know how bad he is. That's exactly what happens. Somebody the other day had been getting beat, and they went somewhere and won, and they said, ‘we knew we weren't getting booed, so we came over here and played better.' It's just the nature of the beast. I haven't seen it around here in the 27 years I've been here.
Have you talked to your players about the booing?
No, because last night's the first time I remember booing like that. We had it last night, and I will mention it to our team. I will definitely mention it. I will congratulate them on us finally maturing.
The way Greg Jones ran from the end of the first half on last night, is that going to encourage you to stick with the run with more patience?
We've got to be. That's just not our nature. I think that's one thing that the fans are booing over. That's not what Florida State fans are about. Our fans are about throwing the ball. Our fans resent winning by the run. That's just not fair. Don't do that around here. If I had been a coach known for running, they would not have hired me at Florida State. That ain't what you hire at Florida State.
Can you take us through what happens while you're listening in on the offensive headset?
I don't listen in too much about what they're saying. I don't want to hear. When I have something I want to say, that's when I get the earphones on. Why aren't y'all doing this, or why are you doing this, why don't you do this, don't you think this is good. That's what I'm on. I don't listen to the conversation too much.
Who's the first to respond?
It's according to who I'm talking to. I might talk to Daryl (Dickey), or I might talk to Jeffrey.
How does the decision-making process on offense work?
Number one, most of our plays are planned before we hit the field. We've got a game plan there that says what we'll call in nearly every situation. We try to go over every situation that occurs in a game, and this is what we'd call. This is first down. This is second and long. This is second and short. This is second and medium. Okay, third down, third and long, third and short, third and medium. Third and one, this is what we'll call. Third and less than one, this is what we'll call. Third and five, this is what we'll call. I can just about tell what they're going to call. Then you're going to have to make adjustments. The guy upstairs gets the best view. Down on the field, I can't see nothing. So Daryl is calling the plays, from the gameplan, through Jeffrey. Jeffrey signals it in. But Jeffrey also has the prerogative of saying, ‘no, I don't want to do that, I want to do this,' because he's the coordinator. That's the way that works.
Is the criticism that Jeff gets as offensive coordinator more painful for you because he's your son?
No. That comes with the job. I told you, they tried to fire me in '74 (at West Virginia). I was calling plays. That's football. That's the name of the game.
How much, in terms of offense and defense, how much has changed with the addition of two SEC guys, Joe Kines and Daryl Dickey? You seem to have a very SEC style, with an I-formation offense and a stay-at-home type defense.
I'm sure it has. Everybody's different. Everybody brings in something a little different. But really, we're not doing much different than other people are doing, I don't think. We tried to spread it out the other night. Here's why people wonder why I don't call plays, like I used to. Number one, when I used to call plays, you'd line up in one formation and play the whole game in that formation. You'd line up in the I-formation and play. I'd look out there and see how you covered that, and I'd do this. I could do that on the ground. Football, now, is no longer a game of one formation. It's a game of formations. You see somebody come out with two tight, two wide. Next time, four wides. Next time, three wides. Next time, three tight ends. Formations change over and over. From the sideline, I can't see what they're doing, and I can't call ‘em down there. Most coaches in the country can't, and don't try. Steve Spurrier will do it. I don't know of many more that will. But not very many of them will do it. A guy up there's got to do that. And the guy above him does better than that. Football is a game of formations. Last night, we used the whole package. We went with four wides, we went with three wides, tried that and did this. But we were more successful just taking that ball and running it. We think we have what it takes to do the other thing, too. Some teams are vulnerable to the spread and not vulnerable to the I. Some teams are vulnerable to the spread and not to the I. We've got to have the whole package, and go out there and get going what's going?
Is Miami vulnerable to a specific formation?
I don't know that they're vulnerable to anything. I know that they lost that secondary that they had, which was a strength, but they have replaced it with outstanding athletes playing a very sound defense. The thing that has amazed me about them, and it was true when Jimmy Johnson was there and it was true with (Dennis) Erickson, they've always played sound defense. They give you nothing. If you let the ball stray, they're going to get it. That's what happened against Florida. The quarterback let the ball stray a little bit and they got it. For sure, they still do that. All the pressure was up front.
Larry Coker has said that his offensive line is a better run-blocking unit this year than it was last year. Do you believe that?
I haven't studied them yet, but just what I've seen on television, they look like they run it better than they did a year ago. That's surprising, because you lost a couple of draft choices off that offensive line, lost Portis, lost Davenport, and yet they look better, if you can believe such a thing.
Miami doesn't usually play their safeties near the line of scrimmage. Does that help you?
If that front doesn't get some pressure, you've got a chance.
Usually, when teams change head coaches, there's a drop-off in recruiting. Why has that not yet been true for Miami?
Their athletic director has done a great job. I've written their athletic director before and told him I was always amazed at how he was able to replace coaches. Way back when he lost Jimmy Johnson, he came in there with Erickson. Then he came in there with Butch. Then he replaced Butch with an assistant coach. You don't dare do that. You'd better go out and bring in a head football coach somewhere. And then Coker comes in there and don't miss a beat. That was really good foresight from them. I really think that their hiring has kept the rhythm of their program. Now it's a mixture of Larry and Butch. Recruiting against their program – we go up and have battles with them up in New York – if they're big-town kids, we don't get them. They're going to go to Miami. If they're raised in a big town, they'll go to a big town. They ain't coming to little ol' Tallahassee, Florida. If we get in a battle in some little ol' country town, we might get that kid. They're recruiting beautifully.
You have had some success recruiting in Miami, though. What does that come down to?
A lot of it is big town, little town. In the case of the Miami boys, it's do they want to leave town. Just like we lose kids in Tallahassee sometimes that definitely want to leave town. Then there are kids that want to stay in town, and we're going to get ‘em. Same in Miami. There are kids that don't want to leave there. They go to Miami. Then there are some that are going to leave no matter what. We've got a shot at them. If it's a battle between us and them, we're about 50-50 with them. We've had success, and we'll still continue to work that area.
Lately, though, it seems like Butch Davis and Larry Coker were able to revive the Howard Schnellenberger "State of Miami"philosophy, right?
They're doing their work. I'm impressed with their coaching staff.
Are you relieved to put "Bowden Bowl IV" behind you?
I'm glad to get that over with. Like I say, this is the first year it kind of bothered me having to beat him – or having to lose to him. In the past, it hasn't bothered me. I'm glad that game's over. I guess the big thing is we lost to Louisville, and we had to win (against Clemson). We simply had to win that game, or it's over, as far as any kind of hopes for the year. It knocks out your possibility of an ACC championship – which, if you don't win, you don't go to the BCS. It knocks you out of the national championship – you can forget that. Of course, I just about forgot it already anyway. Anyway, we had to win it. Of course, Tommy needs to win it too, you know.
Are you surprised that Mickey Andrews is still on your staff, and isn't a head coach somewhere?
I'm surprised – Mickey's had opportunities to leave Florida State. Mickey could make double the money in pro football that he's making right now. He's had opportunities. The pros pay so much more money than colleges. They can double anything you want to do. If they want one of your assistants, they can double your salary – triple it if they want to. He's had opportunities to go into pro football as a coordinator. He's chosen to stay in college. He's had some jobs where he pulled out. He's had some jobs that I think he could have got if he'd have stayed in there. And I've halfway talked him out of some of them. Then he's had other jobs – I thought for sure he'd be a perfect fit for Alabama, but they had something else in mind. Mickey reminds me of Larry Coker a lot, in that regard.
If you retire and Mickey is still on the staff, would you push for him to succeed you?
I would. Out of my loyalty, I would push for him. Let me say I would recommend him.
How important is it for Mickey to turn your defense around?
To have a great team, it always comes back to defense. Whether your defense likes it or not, you simply are not going to win a national championship with great offense alone. You're not gonna outscore everybody every week. You might outscore ‘em this week, but you didn't outscore Louisville. Your defense has got to play outstanding for you to win a national championship. Right now, we're not doing that.
Is Miami's defensive front one of the best you've seen?
They are - -I would think, if you took some of the great defensive fronts that Florida has had, some of the great defensive fronts Florida State has had, and you'd compare this one with any of them. And maybe more depth.
Are they as dominant as they were back in the Sapp days?
Oh yeah, definitely. I really do. They might not have a Sapp, but as a total front four and seven.
Are you relieved to get back to something close to a regular schedule?
You played Duke, and we practiced a day and a half for Louisville. We went out three days, but one day it rained and we got a little bit done. The next day we got a decent day, but you couldn't work much because you can't burn ‘em out and make ‘em tired for the game. That rushed you. As soon as that's over, you've got a game the next Thursday, and you had to practice nearly every day. There was no Sunday. The seventh day, thou shalt have rest. We didn't get any.
Getting back to Mickey, do you think he is still looking for an opportunity to be a head coach?
I think he would love to have that opportunity, but I think he likes what he's doing. I think he likes Tallahassee. I think, right now, his goal is one thing: to be successful defensively at Florida State. Knowing Mickey, he's a pretty focused guy. I'm sure he's pretty concerned about what's happening. He is one of the most intense coaches I've ever been around. He takes it personally when you complete a pass.
Are you impressed with what Miami's been able to do at the tight end position?
That's a big part of that offense. Their tight end is a big part of their offense. I tell you, if we had a Shockey, you'd feature the tight end a lot more. When we had (Melvin) Pearsall, we'd work him in a lot. I say a lot – thirty and forty passes. Right now, our tight ends are more blockers. Theirs is a receiver and a blocker. They're hard to find, to be honest with you. There are some positions that are hard to fill. A quickside tackle – he has no help, has to protect the back side of the quarterback. A tight end that can block, and catch the football, and run with it. That's a hard guy to find. Miami recruits ‘em, and Miami plays ‘em. Miami works them in the system. They use their tight end as effectively as anyone in the country.
Who's the best tight end you've ever seen?
The best tight end I've seen, ever? Shockey would fit in there pretty dang good. He's one of the best. He beat us when we had that great game down there (in 2000). He beat us, him and that quarterback. That guy they've got now is going to be a good one too – Kellen Winslow's son.
The Clemson game was an elimination game for you, in terms of the national championship picture. This week against Miami, do you go into this saying, ‘if we can win this, we're right back in it?'
Well, that would put you in the thick of things. You're only playing the king. If you whup the king, you're packing something.
Do you think that last night helped clarify your quarterback situation?
I think it clarified some things. I think now, we see that we're doing the right thing. I think Chris is the number one quarterback. A. D. is too. Fabian might even be close. Right now, Chris Rix is the quarterback. That might have cleared that up a little bit.
Is that as important for the players as it is for the coaches, to clear up any controversy?
Will the players be more united behind Chris now?
I think they see that. I was amused at one of them's comments last week, to one of y'all. I thought ‘I wonder where he learned that. I wonder where an offensive lineman learned that he pulls the ball down too quick and runs with it?' Because he heard the coaches getting on him about it.
Do you think that criticism has been bothering Chris?
I tell you what, thank goodness, he's got very good control of himself. If a guy was scatterbrained – Chris is still a pretty confident individual. He's got peace within himself. He ain't a worldly guy. He's got a lot of faith. It takes that, this kind of situation.
What separates Chris and Adrian?
About a year. If A. D. had got here a year before Chris, he might be in the driver's seat. Chris got here a year before him. He got a year's work, and a spring training under his belt, and he was probably that far along.
After last year's Miami game, is this where you wanted Chris to be? At the time, we knew what had hurt us was our turnovers. Chris was very effective as a runner. He made some beautiful runs against Miami – and fumbled. We can punt it 35 yards. You don't have to go 15 and give it to them. Let's punt the ball on second down. Don't you run anymore. We learned that we've got to protect the ball. I think he learned a little bit more about protecting the ball. Losses make you a better team. There's no doubt about that. It usually gets their attention. That game might have looked interesting without all of them turnovers. I think we out-statisticked them, just like we did Louisville. We had more first downs, more yardage, more rushing, more this. And then they beat the heck out of us.
Are there enough matchups against Miami to make you feel comfortable about your chances? Are people being premature in predicting that you're finished?
You can't ever say that. They're clearly the favorites.
Is this the first time you can remember in ten years that you've been a real underdog heading into Miami?.
That's probably the last time. We beat ‘em after that, didn't we. We got beat last year, but we were ahead with a minute and a half to go. This reminds you some of those old times. The only thing is, we always went in there undefeated. Now, we've already lost a ballgame.
You joked about Miami fans booing Dorsey, but they have criticized him for his lack of improvement since last year. Does that surprise you?
I did not know that. The only time I saw him play was on TV against Florida. I could not believe it. I picked Florida. They walked in there and dominated at Florida – I couldn't believe it. But the quarterback didn't have to make throws. Since then, I haven't seen them play. Their quarterback killed us. Just killed us.
Do you relish the chance to be an underdog against Miami? I've always liked it. I've always been an underdog. I was always the runt of the litter when I was a kid – a little guy trying to play with big guys. That's where all the tricks came from – I've got to trick them. I prefer that climate, as the underdog. On the other hand, I wish my material was so good that they'd say ‘you're favored.' That would suit me. We've been underdogs so little the last ten or twelve years. We used to always be the underdogs. Always. That's what's so darned different now. It's changed. This game we'll be the favorites.
Are you more excited when you're an underdog like this?
It's hard to keep excited when you're favored by 15, 20 points. I try to keep up with what's going on. This game I'll definitely keep up with what's going on. Not that it'll do any good, because I don't play. Thank goodness.
There have been a lot of memorable plays on special teams in your series against Miami, haven't there?
The tone of last year's game was set with special teams when they blocked our punt for a touchdown. One year, we returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown with a pass – we threw a pass on a kickoff. (Keith) Ross threw it over to Dexter (Carter). (Tamarick) Vanover took the opening kickoff back (in 1992).
When does experience top age? Chris is in his second year as a starter, despite his youth.
I think he's getting better. To me, he hasn't digressed at all. We might not be throwing as much, but our personnel dictates that you need to be running the ball. He's making progress. He handles the ball good. The thing where a quarterback can lose a game for you, is like at Louisville. He did not turn the ball over once in sixty minutes, in a driving rainstorm. That's an accomplishment. Their guy did turn it over – not often. In overtime – it got us. You'd think it'd happen all during the game, throwing a wet ball around. He is making gains, gains, gains. To me, he has not taken a step backwards. His statistics may have taken a step backwards, but there's a reason for that. I just think, again, he'll keep getting better and better and better. I think A D. will too. And Fabian, if we can get him some work.