"It was a day of highs and a day of lows. That's exactly the way it was. This guy commits, and it's just a high. And then another guy you thought you had – he went somewhere else. It's a day of highs and lows. I'd rather not have it that way. I'd rather have it all highs."
Is there any one thing that you think caused it?
"No, because it happened everywhere. We lost kids to Florida that had committed to me, and two kids that committed to them, we got. Same thing with Miami: we got a kid that committed to Miami, they got a kid that committed to Florida State. I don't remember this much of that – it's strange. It's different. But what's fair for one is fair for all."
Ernie Sims is likely your biggest recruit. How excited are you to have him.
"There's no doubt about that. He did the best job of not letting anybody know – never, never did he hint or leave a tip that would make you think he's coming to Florida State. He played his hand beautifully. He'd be a great poker player."
Did he call you Tuesday night?
"No, he didn't call me."
Did he call one of the coaches?
"He might have called Coach Lilly. I didn't know – I didn't know until today at 10:30."
Did you think you had him?
"Oh, no. I didn't think I didn't have him, but I didn't think I had him. That's why I say he's the best poker player I've ever tried to recruit. I had no idea what he was thinking."
How important was it to lock up the Tallahassee kids, Sims and Cromartie?
"I think it made a statement. It made several. Number one, you're still recruiting the greatest players in the country. Number two, I don't know of anybody that can make a stronger statement that all's well on the home front. If all those kids had run off and left town, you'd say, ‘Uh-oh.' You'd have problems. This makes a statement that we don't."
Did you speak to Whitney Lewis' mother today?
"I did not talk to his mother. Had a great visit with them last week, but the climate changed somewhere along the line."
You guys invested a lot of time going to California to recruit, but you weren't able to sign any of the prospects out there. Does that make you rethink your West Coast recruiting strategy? Does it make you less likely to recruit in California? Was the distance between California and Florida the deciding factor in the mothers' concerns?
"That's usually always the case. Travis Johnson – when Travis signed with Florida State – he was planning on leaving the state anyway, but it was tough on his parents. It was tough on (Lorenzo) Booker's parents when he came to Florida State. Chris Rix – it was a little bit more acceptable. Every year, I would talk with John about recruiting, "John, we should not be out here spending this much time.' Yet he would always deliver, he would always get a key player. You know, sometimes it doesn't take but one player to make the program. We kept being successful. So this year, we went out there for at least three kids, and every one of them loved us to death, and yet we got none of them. You've got to look at it, but again, if one of them can come in here and give you a great season – like I think Booker will be able to have this year. The toughest thing, I guess is the parents – I think Whitney's mother just refused to sign the scholarship."
You never got any indication from her or him that this was going to be this much of a problem?
"Not that much. But that's typical. We have kids out here that go way out yonder. You used to see more of it than you do now. Used to be, the Eastern kids would go somewhere on the West Coast. They'd go to Southern Cal – those were such interesting schools. Now it's been kind of this way. Maybe that will get sort of sane again – people will start staying close to their own areas."
Can you talk about your conversation with Ron Sellers? What was Ron's reaction to the thought that his jersey number might be unretired?
"I knew that he wanted to wear No. 34, but I would think that was probably the last thing that would affect his decision, wearing No. 34. But still, it meant something. I called Ron, asked him how he felt about it, and he was just excited as heck about it. He wanted to do it, and couldn't do enough."
Did you have to battle more negative recruiting than ever before?
"You know, if I hadn't have brought it up – I didn't have a single parent or athlete walk into my home, or have me visit their home, and even bring up anything negative about our program. I usually brought it up, because I knew that our opponents were throwing it out. Not all of them, but a lot of them. But anyway, it's amazing – I don't think it had any affect on our recruiting this year."
Today, when we spoke to Ernie Sims, he said that your new linebackers coach, Kevin Steele, was really the man behind his decision to come to FSU.
"That's great. I have not had a chance to speak with Ernie since he signed – I did talk to his dad. I sure am glad he feels that way. Kevin Steele had those kind of qualities in him – that's one reason we hired him."
When you look at your class, you got two guys from Pensacola, three from Tallahassee, and three from Jacksonville. Is that where your recruiting strength is? Is your success there linked to the fact that you aren't going up against some of the same things that you are in other areas?
"That's true. It's the amazing thing about recruiting. Some of you have mentioned negative elements – the further you get away from home, the less you hear that. We catch more heck in our own state, because so many more of our enemies live here. We go out to California, we don't have any enemies. That is a factor, and it's true all across the state."
You seem to have more support in North Florida and the Panhandle than you do perhaps in other areas.
"Florida State is a panhandle school. I like that. Myself, when I travel in-state, my first priority is I like to head west. I like to have players from there. So anyway, I do feel good about that."
This is your first year going head-to-head against Ron Zook for an entire recruiting season. They've brought in a pretty impressive class. What can you say about Zook as a recruiter?
"It looks like they did have a good recruiting year. He got a lot of kids we wanted, we got a lot of kids he wanted. Recruiting in this state – between Miami, Florida State, and Florida – is a matter of getting your share. The question is, did you get your share? You ain't going to get them all – you can forget that. So, did you get your share? I think Zook did a great job at the University of Florida. I just think he did a great job. Also, don't forget, it's Florida's university, too. You nearly have to mess that job up."
You didn't sign a quarterback. How big a priority was that? Is it more of a priority next year?
"It's just according to whether Chris stays two years or one year. Plus, Fabian's back. Number one, we not only went after one quarterback – we went after two. We went after one that went to Florida, and then the kid at Mobile. The kid at Mobile, when he was here, said he was coming to Florida State. Then he visited LSU and we lost him. That's what happens a lot of times when a school gets you on the last visit. We had it happen here too. But, the quarterback is not critical for us next year. There are times where it is, there are times when it isn't. We'll go through spring training with five quarterbacks: Chris, Fabian, Wyatt Sexton, and then Lorne Sam wants to play. We recruited him, we told him we'd give him a shot at quarterback in the spring, and we're going to do that. Then we have the junior college player (David Koral) that came in. So you've got five. You've got plenty to work with now. Next year, it'll be a little vital, but if they all come back, you've still got another year before you've got to get one."
Could you talk about the offensive and defensive lines? They were your points of emphasis, and you got a pretty strong haul.
"That's why we don't rank high. If all those guys were skill guys, your ranking jumps way up. I haven't seen a great-rated recruiting class unless you had a lot of skill, and running backs, and gamebreakers. That's the way these guys grade that haven't got any idea what an offensive lineman looks like. We've got four offensive linemen, and we're trying to get five. We lost one (Kevin Brown) tonight. But we got six defensive linemen, and we were only looking for four. Somebody (Chris Bradwell) sent their scholarship in, forgot to sign certain parts of it. It'll come back in, which will give us six defensive linemen. When you recruit, your first priority's got to be needs. If you've got to have a running back, and you get 15 great guys, but ain't none of them running backs, and you go into the season without a running back, then you're hurting. We've got to take care of priorities first."
How do you feel now about the receiver position? You only signed one player there.
"We wanted to sign three. We were trying to get three. We had two redshirted last year. This time a year ago, Chris Davis was considered one of the best in the nation. He'll be a freshman next year, because we redshirted him. Then we also redshirted (juco transfer Chauncey) Stovall. And we redshirted Lorne Sam, although we're going to work him at quarterback. We wanted to get three more, and we had ‘em, but we lost one of them tonight. You know why. We'll be all right."
There are some kids that you signed today with the ability to play multiple positions. At what point do you sit down and figure out exactly who plays where?
"The first thing we do, when we go through spring training, we want to be sure we have evaluated everybody and gotten them lined up at the right position. When you do that, you've got to see, ‘Well, where do we need somebody?' ‘We need somebody over here – you don't have but one guy. You need somebody over here – you don't have but two guys.' Your freshmen, you like to fit them in those slots. And that's what we'll do, unless we've promised them they can play another position. If we have promised that, we will allow them to play another position, until they're satisfied that that's where they should be, or that's where they shouldn't be."
The class was relatively small – is it due to your large number of returning starters?
"We didn't lose as badly (as other programs). We've got ten guys (returning) who started the Sugar Bowl on defense. We've probably got about seven on offense back —maybe not that many, but if you count Chris Rix as the quarterback or something like that, you might have that many. And you've got your kicker back. Really, what freshman can come in and play for us anyway? What you want is backups. Give them a chance to win a position."
Coach, it had been some time since you had signed a player from the Pensacola area. How important is it to be able to get some talented guys from out there?
"It is very important. It's been amazing that kids in that area have bypassed Florida State and gone to Florida. Danny Wuerffel, and others. I'm glad to see ‘em realize that Tallahassee's the halfway mark, and there ain't no sense going all the way down yonder to go to school. So I'm glad we got ‘em."
Recruiting in Tallahassee hasn't been too easy, either.
"No. There's been years we couldn't get a great kid out of Tallahassee. They'd go to Florida, or they'd go somewhere else. We've been very fortunate on that. The last few years, we've been very fortunate."
You mentioned some guys who committed to FSU and went elsewhere, and vice versa. Is the commitment less binding today than they have been?
"It's all according to if you're a man of your word. Are you a man of your word? I had one that gave me his word. I said, ‘Don't give me your word unless you're positive.' His mother's sitting there. I say, ‘I don't want him to commit to me unless he's going to stick with it.' She says, ‘If he says it, he's going to stick with it.' We're seeing more of that nowadays. But it's happening to us, too. I can't blame other people – you can't blame coaches for continuing to try to recruit kids."
Are you more worn from the process than you have been by previous years? The highs and lows of today had to be pretty draining?
"Definitely. No doubt about it. It's the most grueling finish I think I can remember ever. The reason is, we had so many kids – this time last year there were five kids, or maybe four, where it was between us and somebody else, and we'd know that afternoon. Today, there must have been 10 or 12. If all of them fall your way, you've got so many you can't sign them all. If all of them fall your way, it's perfect. If a couple of them fall your way, that's pretty darned good too. You live and die with each signee. Every time you get a call to say ‘you lost so-and-so,' it's like a defeat in football. It hurts. Every time you hear one's signing, it's like a victory in football. It gets you high. I don't like that. I wish on national letter day, I could get up, not even come in the office, come in tonight around eight, and somebody tell me who we got. Just who we got. I don't want to know when they signed, or who didn't sign, or anything else. You can only be concerned about the guys you got. But then, dadgum, one calls in, he's coming, another calls in, he ain't coming – I don't like all that stuff. I think it drains on you. I did have a good time recruiting this year, though. I met a lot of nice people, I had a lot of great visits. People were real nice to me when I was in their homes. I'm disappointed we didn't get more of them, but we got enough. Next year, we're going to have a very small recruiting class, so what we didn't get this year will allow us to recruit more next year."