Emerging from the figurative rubble, Jimbo Fisher peeked out to find a nearly empty coaching office.
When the dust had settled from this season’s coaching carousel, Florida State managed to hold on to its head coach, but his staff was down five assistants. It was a major loss when defensive coordinator Mark Stoops left to fill the head coaching vacany at Kentucky. The remaining fallout was even worse.
D.J. Eliot followed Stoops, vacating his duties coaching the defensive ends to become Kentucky’s defensive coordinator. Running backs and special teams coordinator Eddie Gran followed his friend Tommy Tuberville to Cincinnati, while linebackers coach Greg Hudson took the defensive coordinator position at Purdue. Perhaps most noteworthy from a recruiting standpoint, quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator Dameyune Craig accepted the co-offensive coordinator position at Auburn.
Florida State underwent a major staff overhaul. But in the long run, the program might benefit: The changes could allow Fisher to expand the ‘Noles’ boundaries.
“There is more positive about all of this than negative,” said Michael Langston, a recruiting analyst for Warchant.com. “I think that there are a few kids who are looking around because of the bonds they had with some of the assistants but only one that I think Florida State is totally out on.
“What I think has helped is the new coaches who were brought in are all strong in areas that FSU has struggled in, so being able to maintain some strong points but get into some other areas will only help in the long term.”
The Rivals100: Class of 2013 recruiting rankings
Former Alabama defensive backs coach Jeremy Pruitt took over as defensive coordinator. Ex-Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri will coach the defensive ends. Interim Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Charles Kelly will coach linebackers and special teams, and Billy Napier will assume the role of recruiting coordinator and offensive assistant. Randy Sanders joined the staff as the running back coach after electing to leave Kentucky.
“Pruitt is a known commodity in Alabama and the South,” Langston said. “Sunseri is more in the Virginia area and the Northeast, Kelly is really great in Atlanta, Sanders did some of his best work in Georgia and Napier was fantastic in the Carolinas, and that is a place where Florida State really has had a tough time getting a strong foothold.
“I think pairing Sunseri and [defensive tackles coach Odell] Hagans in the Baltimore-D.C.-Virginia area will pick up a spot that Florida State is already strong in, and then with Kelly and Sanders covering Georgia, that beefs up a backyard area that the program has not been faring well in recently.”
Napier may be the most important hire — and he has big shoes to fill following Craig’s departure.
“Craig was a home run hire for Auburn and a major loss for Florida State, with Gran being a close second because he had been doing a great job in recruiting,” said Rivals’ national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell. “Napier will have to fill that role, and I think he can.”
Napier was named to the Rivals.com Top 25 recruiters list in 2007 as a 28-year-old assistant at Clemson. Three retained Florida State assistants have also previously earned that distinction: Hagans in 2011 and 2012, Lawrence Dawsey in 2010 and 2011 and James Conley in 2010.
With Signing Day approaching on Feb. 6, the staff must work to maintain FSU’s touted recruiting class, which currently checks in at 13th in Rivals’ rankings. Four targets, in particular, may have been rattled by the turnover.
National Signing Day 2013: Team-by-team commitments
“I think Austin Golson and Davin Bellamy are taking visits and looking around because they were really close with Dameyune, and Marquez White could be wavering but I think Pruitt will close on him,” Langston said. “Alex Collins is lost right now. He felt really good about Coach Gran, and I think Florida State will have to look in a different direction altogether now.”
Golson is an offensive tackle from Prattville (Ala.) High, White is a cornerback from Dothan (Ala.) Northview, and Collins is a running back from Plantation (Fla.) South Plantation. Each is a four-star prospect inside the Rivals250. Bellamy is a three-star defensive end from Chamblee (Ga.) High.
All but Collins are still listed as commits for Florida State.
Prospects considering the Seminoles have noticed the changes as well, and the new hires have been met mostly with approval. For example, Matthew Thomas — a five-star linebacker from Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington — has an official visit scheduled to Florida State this weekend. Thomas said he’s enjoyed getting to know Pruitt.
“He was a really cool guy, and we had a very good conversation. He told me some really good things, and I’m looking forward to meeting him,” Thomas said. “We talked about me as a player and the fact that I can play all three linebacker positions and specifically how I could help the defense.
“We talked about how he helped win championships at Alabama and how now he’s changing his surroundings and he wants to have that same mindset and production at Florida State and that he wants me to help lead them there.”