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Seminoles ax Robinson as coach

After four straight losing seasons, Florida State makes a change.

By BRIAN LANDMAN and STEPHANIE SCRUGGS
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 12, 2002


TALLAHASSEE -- Five years ago, Steve Robinson turned down the Florida State men's basketball job.

Not once, but twice.

Athletic director Dave Hart, however, was so sure that Robinson was the guy to rebuild the Seminoles' program on and off the court, he wouldn't accept the polite, "Thanks, but no thanks." A third overture finally netted him his impeccably-credentialed coach.

On Monday afternoon, Hart had to fire him for succeeding off the court but not on it.

"It's not an easy thing because of who he is and the type of individual he is," Hart said. "Steve has done some really positive things in his five-year tenure, most of which were really out of the public eye."

What couldn't be missed was the won-loss record.

Robinson was 64-86 overall (a .426 percentage) and 25-55 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Seminoles reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament in his first season, but just completed their fourth straight losing season. And Hart expected this season, thanks in part to a softer non-conference schedule, would be a breakout.

"But we never could turn that corner competitively," he said "and that's really what this is about today."

Robinson, 44, will receive his base salary of about $125,000 for the remaining two years of his contract. He said he's not done coaching and will be better for his experience at FSU.

"I didn't hit a home run here, but that doesn't mean I can't hit a home run somewhere else," he said.

But FSU folks expected at least a ground-rule double.

Robinson was an assistant under Roy Williams at Kansas for seven years and, in his only other head coaching job, led Tulsa to finishes of 22-8 and 22-10 and two NCAA Tournament appearances.

"African-Americans (here) really hoped he would be successful," said state Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, a former Florida A&M basketball player who earned his master's degree from FSU and was FSU's first minority assistant coach in 1971.

"It appears he was just not the right fit for FSU."

As Hart asked, Robinson, a likable, respected disciplinarian, stressed good citizenship and academics. The cumulative grade-point averages of his players rose from a 2.10 at the end of his first semester to a 2.75 at the end of last fall semester.

"But unfortunately, coaches are paid to win," said George Donovan, a member of the Pinellas Seminole Boosters.

Robinson's tenure has been marked by midseason highs, like this season's win against then-No. 1 and unbeaten Duke on Jan. 6, and late-season swoons. This season, the Seminoles had a chance to improve to 4-4 in the ACC with five of their last eight at home when they traveled to Georgia Tech, which was 0-7 in the league.

Tech won by 31. Hart called it the "most damaging" loss of the season and all but sealed Robinson's fate.

"I always held out hope that we could turn this around," Robinson said.

But the Seminoles won just one more regular-season game, then beat No. 9 seed Clemson in the ACC tournament play-in game. Maryland ended the Seminoles' season Friday. Robinson and Hart met after the loss, then met with the players Saturday.

"It's a disappointing time, but at the same time we have to try to look for a positive," sophomore forward Michael Joiner said from his home in North Carolina.

"I'm just putting my trust in the hands of the AD to find a coach to come in and lead this team to victory."

Joiner, who had been unhappy about playing power forward instead of on the perimeter, thought about transferring but said such plans are on hold until he meets the new coach.

Hart said that search is under way and will include coaches and one or two assistants. Salary, he said, will not be an issue.

He wouldn't discuss possible candidates but observers suggest the list could include Leonard Hamilton, the former Miami coach, Tim Welsh (Providence), John Beilein (Richmond), Oliver Purnell (Dayton), Jeff Lebo (Tennessee Tech), Bob McKillop (Davidson), Dennis Felton (Western Kentucky) and Florida's top assistant, John Pelphrey. The latter three are involved in the NCAA Tournament and that will slow the process.

"We want someone who understands there is more work to be done," Hart said, adding that an emphasis on academic achievement and good citizenship will remain a mandate.

In other words, he'll look for someone a lot like Robinson, which other coaches insist is a good idea.

"He's one of the great human beings in the world, much less a guy who can coach the game of basketball and knows what it takes to run a program," Kansas' Williams said. "He got to Florida State at a very difficult time. I think the program has a much stronger, more solid base than it was when he got there. He has done a heck of a job, yet it is a very, very difficult job."

Improving the talent level will be job No. 1 for Robinson's successor. Though Robinson's recent classes have been better, his recruits have typically been ranked near the bottom of the league. Robinson signed one player early, point guard Todd Galloway. FSU has three scholarships remaining. The late signing period begins April10.

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