September 25, 2007
TALLAHASSEE - Football programs and administrators throughout the ACC will be keeping a close eye on how Florida State handles the recent arrests of junior starting linebacker Geno Hayes and veteran fullback Joe Surratt.
Hayes and Surratt were arrested following a fracas outside a Tallahassee bar in the early morning hours of Sept. 21, during the Seminoles' open week on the schedule. Tallahassee police were forced to use a Taser to subdue Hayes, who had been involved in an altercation inside the establishment and refused to heed warnings from the police. Surratt, who was among a number of Seminoles reportedly on hand when the fracas broke out, was arrested after coming to the aid of Hayes despite police commands to back off.
Though neither Hayes nor Surratt was charged with a felony, FSU athletic director Dave Hart said both had been suspended from the team indefinitely. Hayes likely will miss the Seminoles' highly anticipated Sept. 29 game with Alabama at Jacksonville.
The team's second-leading tackler and most experienced linebacker, Hayes could be headed for a lengthy exodus from the squad, in part because he was charged earlier in the summer for driving with a suspended license. Surratt, a senior who was hoping to petition for a medical hardship after suffering a broken fibula in the preseason, also has been in the coaching staff's doghouse before.
How the Seminoles choose to handle the discipline of the two takes on a larger significance because they are the first players to run afoul of the law in a serious way since the arrival of five new assistant coaches, all of whom have placed greater demands on team discipline.
FSU coach Bobby Bowden has an opportunity to send a strong message regarding acceptable behavior within the program in what is shaping up to be something of a rebuilding season. Though Bowden has a long-standing reputation for offering second chances, by coming down hard on Hayes and Surratt he could establish a new standard in the autumn of his career, one that potentially could pay dividends just a year or two down the road.
NCAA ASKING BIG QUESTIONS
The forced resignation of a long-standing member of FSU's athletic academic support staff, for alleged improprieties involving athletes from multiple sports, may have landed the Seminoles in hot water with the NCAA.
According to a source familiar with the athletic academic support program, the NCAA spent time on the FSU campus interviewing student-athletes and employees in August and September during an investigation into an alleged academic scandal. The NCAA is expected to deliver its findings within the next few weeks.
"They are trying so hard to keep it quiet," said the source, who added that the deposed employee and those under her direction were responsible for taking at least one on-line exam for a student-athlete.
That athlete, who has not been identified, allegedly turned the school in to the NCAA in a moment of guilt. Rumors of further indiscretions, including providing answers to tests and writing papers for student-athletes, abound.
Florida State athletic department officials have refused to discuss the matter, with many hinting that they have been instructed by university president T.K. Wetherell to remain silent.
"The president has his own agenda in this and intends to get (FSU athletic director) Dave Hart," the source told ACCSports.com. "There are going to be some other heads that are going to roll."
Wetherell notified Hart earlier this summer that his contract, which is scheduled to expire in January 2009, will not be renewed. Wetherell already has ousted two of Hart's long-time assistant athletic directors and privately has told others that he intends to supplant Hart before his contract expires. Hart's contract includes a balloon payment at the end.
Removing Hart prior to the NCAA's release of any findings from the investigation appears to be Wetherell's goal.
Meanwhile, there has been an unpublicized internal shake-up of the academic support staff under the direction of Mark Meleney, a long-time employee whose reputation is above reproach.
At least two current football players - senior wide receiver Joslin Shaw and sophomore defensive end Kevin McNeil - appear to have been caught up in the investigation. They have been suspended from participating in games - though they still are practicing with the team - since the week before FSU's season opener. Bowden characterizes the reason for the suspensions only as a "violation of team rules," without further explanation.
LOTS OF BUZZ ABOUT 'BAMA
There is no shortage of subplots when it comes to Florida State's Sept. 29 football showdown with Alabama at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.
Chief among them is Bowden's first head coaching encounter in his 42-year career with the school he not only attended as a freshman quarterback, but followed closely throughout his youth.
Bowden's admiration for the Crimson Tide predates the Paul "Bear" Bryant days in Tuscaloosa, though he long has held the late coach up as one of his idols. Bowden came precariously close to leaving FSU for Alabama in 1986, and he was contacted again in 2000 by the school when the job came open again.
Bowden isn't the only member of FSU's staff with links to 'Bama. Veteran defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, an Alabama native, was an All-American defensive back for Bryant as well as a catcher with the Tide baseball team.
First-year offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher was not only Bowden's number one target to fill that offseason vacancy, but he was pursued by his former boss at LSU, Nick Saban, for a spot on the Alabama staff. Fisher has links to the state as a player and assistant coach at Samford, and later on Terry Bowden's Auburn staff, where he was joined by current FSU offensive line coach Rick Trickett.
Tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator John Lilly interviewed for a spot on Saban's staff back in January before opting to stay in Tallahassee. FSU defensive ends coach Jody Allen also coached in the state of Alabama early in his career.
Adding another twist to the game is the move of Kevin Steele from Florida State linebackers/executive head coach to Alabama in the offseason. Steele, who was replaced by Chuck Amato in Tallahassee, was hired by Saban as his defensive coordinator.
All of those factors will come to the fore when the Seminoles and Crimson Tide square off in Jacksonville before a record crowd approaching 86,000, which will exceed the stadium mark set two years ago at the Super Bowl.