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Hamilton Teaching Through Tough Time

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

January 27, 2003 TALLAHASSEE — Futility in ACC play, particularly on the road, eventually led to the departures of Florida State basketball coaches Pat Kennedy and Steve Robinson. Now it's first-year coach Leonard Hamilton's turn to try to right the ship.

League road losses to Maryland and Georgia Tech in early January extended FSU's streak of consecutive ACC road defeats to 10 games. Not only was that the Seminoles' longest road losing streak in conference play, the average margin of defeat in that stretch was 19.9 points per game. For the record, FSU's last ACC road win came in the 2001 regular-season finale at Clemson. The Tigers also provided the Seminoles with their first league win of this season — 60-59, on Anthony Richardson's two free throws with 0.4 seconds to play — after an 0-4 start.

Winning — period — is the biggest hurdle Hamilton is attempting to clear this season, regardless of the location.

“I've said many times, there's a lot more to learning than just teaching a guy to play in the low post, or teaching a guy to set a screen,” Hamilton said. “There is more learning to be done in the mental-emotional area than the physical area. ... If you're not mentally and emotionally improving, then that won't even allow your physical attributes to become an issue.”

In short, Hamilton is struggling to get his team to understand that they must play with maximum effort — particularly at the defensive end — on every possession, every night. Not that's he's surprised.

“It's not something I just became aware of,” he said after the Seminoles absorbed a 27-point loss at Maryland. “This has been a pattern that I have been very uncomfortable with the entire year. That comes with learning.”

Hamilton has some deep roots to dislodge before FSU can get there. In 11-plus ACC seasons, the Seminoles have had a winning road mark just twice. They went 6-2 in their inaugural season in the league, then followed that up with a 5-3 mark in 1992-93. Since then, they have won more than two games just once (3-5 in 1997-98) and totaled just 15 ACC road wins. In Robinson's five seasons, the Seminoles were 6-26 on the road, and 14 of those losses were by 20 or more points.

Hamilton may have to play the hand he's been dealt, but he's not going to sit by idly and watch his team fall to pieces. He made that clear following the 89-62 loss at Maryland.

“This won't be the norm,” he said. “We will get this straightened out.”

It may take some time — and an improved cast of players — to get there. Hamilton tried to bring his most seasoned ACC player, junior forward Michael Joiner, off the bench early in the season, but Joiner returned to the starting lineup in the Clemson win. When Joiner starts, FSU's bench scoring suffers severely. Freshman point guard Todd Galloway is the only backup capable of providing an offensive spark, unless junior Mike Mathews can figure out where he needs to go at both ends of the floor and avoid the quick fouls that have further reduced his minutes.

With sophomore Andrew Wilson (broken wrist) considering a second straight medical hardship, the depth is not going to improve. The only other option is for Hamilton to continue to play freshman Benson Callier, who shined down the stretch in a road loss at Georgia Tech, and hope his starters can come to grips with his expectations.

School Confronted Bowden Rumors

Since the Seminoles closed out their first five-loss football season since 1981, rumors ran rampant that Bobby Bowden was about to step down. Some attributed the whispers to negative recruiting, particularly from FSU's rivals to the south (Florida and Miami), and pointed out the Seminoles' slow start. In late January, the Seminoles had just 10 commitments on board.

With that in mind, Florida State athletic director Dave Hart, fully supported by new school president T.K. Wetherell (a former FSU football player), begun negotiations on a new five-year contract for Bowden. The deal was announced in late January, although it probably won't be signed for a few months.

“(Bowden) has articulated to me his intentions of not retiring,” Hart said. “With that in mind ... we have begun discussions to put another five-year term in place, to end speculation about his retirement being imminent.”

Bowden's current contract, worth about $2.1 million annually, runs through next season's national championship game. Still, the contract language, which was re-written in October 2001, allows Bowden the opportunity to renew every year. The new deal will not include any significant financial gains, but it will take him through the 2007 or 2008 season, depending on the effective date. That would assure the incoming freshman class that, as long as the 73-year-old coach's health holds out, he likely will be around for their entire careers.

Given FSU's history of closing fast, the slow start in commitments wasn't terribly alarming. Yet Bowden had been more concerned than usual with speculation about his future. He asked his attorney, Russ Campbell, to initiate contract talks so he could focus on getting the Seminoles back on track.

Entering February, FSU remained in the running for a number of the nation's top-rated recruits, including Californians Whitney Lewis (wide receiver) and Kevin White (offensive lineman), as well as top-rated Tallahassee prep prospects Ernie Sims III and Antonio Cromartie and many others.

Don't be surprised if FSU closes with an impressive flurry again, now that Bowden has something extra to offer the youngsters considering the Seminoles.

Steele: Impressive “Outside” Help

The sudden mid-January departure of linebackers coach Joe Kines to Alabama, where he will become the defensive coordinator, couldn't have come at a worse time for the Seminoles. While Kines' coaching has come into question since he replaced Chuck Amato, he had become a formidable recruiter.

Assigned to the talent-rich Jacksonville area, Kines was responsible for reeling in future stars such as Leon Washington, and he had seven players from that area near the top of the board for this year's class. Fortunately for the Seminoles, they already were far enough along in the recruiting process that position coaches and Bowden had taken more active roles with those prospects.

FSU soon announced that it had hired former Baylor head coach Kevin Steele, 44, to fill the void created by Kines' departure. It marked the first time in a couple of decades that Bowden had gone outside the FSU family — or at least away from his Southern roots — to bring in new blood.

Steele previously spent four years as the linebackers coach for the NFL's Carolina Panthers, after a six-year run at Nebraska. While with the Cornhuskers, he was responsible for helping bring speed to the defense — especially linebacker — that led to a major breakthrough, culminating with the 1994 national title. He also earned high marks for his recruiting in Florida, where he helped Nebraska land quarterback Tommie Frazier, among others.

Philosophically, Steele should provide a nice complement to Mickey Andrews' defensive staff. Unlike Kines, he likes to blitz, and his NFL background should bring instant credibility within a corps that features veterans Kendyll Pope and Michael Boulware, along with a strong cast of rising redshirt freshmen and sophomores.

Steele arrived in Tallahassee with high marks from former coaches Tom Osborne and Grant Teaff, two men Bowden holds in the highest regard. Despite Steele's extensive time in the Midwest, FSU's coaches — particularly Andrews — knew him from several spring trips to Nebraska.