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Andrews runs own game; how about his own team?

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By GARY SHELTON, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 15, 2002


COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The light does not shine as brightly on his end of the field. Across the way, Bobby Bowden was talking and grinning and aw-shucks-ing, and the cameras could not turn away.

On his end of the field, in the middle of the shadows, defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews stood with his arms folded, the way he usually does, all grim and gruff and grumpy. At Mickey's end of the field, they do not tell jokes. At Mickey's end of the field, they do slap shoulders.

This is his place. Where else does he need to go? For 19 seasons, Andrews has been the straight man in an act in which Bowden gets the top, and sometimes the only, billing. He is the yin to Bowden's yang, the darkness to his light, the gol-darnit to Bowden's dadgummit.

Such is the life of a trusted companion. For almost two decades, Andrews has been Bowden's right hand, running his own plays, playing his own games within the game. Bowden once referred to it this way: If Bowden is Robert E. Lee, then Andrews is Stonewall Jackson. A general of one fewer stars, if you will.

Yet, after all this time and all these victories, no one has ever seen fit to give Andrews a team of his own.

On a night such as this one, when it was up to Andrews' defense to blunt the offense of Maryland's Ralph Friedgen, it's easy to notice Andrews. Like Andrews, Friedgen spent an eternity as assistant coach, doing the thankless tasks while the program bore someone else's name. Everyone knew Friedgen was pretty good, but like Andrews, he lacked the corporate image and the polish that has taken over the sideline.

And so Friedgen waited until the Terps called. If they had not called, his window might well have shut. Since he arrived here, there has been a reason to pay attention to Maryland football.

Around the country, longtime assistant coaches have taken over college football. Larry Coker at Miami. Bob Stoops at Oklahoma. Frank Solich at Nebraska. Ron Zook at Florida.

Mickey?

He's still waiting.

"I really think people have missed the boat on Mickey," Bowden said. "I don't know why it hasn't happened for him. He's got all the tools to be a head coach. I know if I were to leave here, he'd be the guy I'd recommend."

Isn't that the implied contract to sports? That if you're good enough, if you work hard enough, then you move up the depth chart. Yet, at 60, Andrews is still in the profession of second-in-command. A quarter century ago, Andrews had a couple of head jobs at small colleges in Alabama, but that was as close as he ever came.

Over the years, the phone has rung from time to time. It's either been some place where Mickey could get the job, but he couldn't win, or a place where he could win, but he couldn't get the job.

Colleges wanted an offensive guy. A smoother, younger guy. A better speechmaker, a firmer back slapper. An alum. Someone who had been a head coach before. An easier sell to the boosters.

You know. Someone else.

For years, college programs have come to FSU to pluck assistants. But FSU's reputation always has been an offensive one, and so schools have come in to hire Brad Scott or Mark Richt or Tommy Bowden.

If you're Mickey Andrews, maybe you pick up the phone from time to time, just to see if there is a dial tone. It is as if programs believed if Andrews were the answer, someone else would have asked him the question long ago.

"I always thought he'd be perfect for Alabama," Bowden said. "He's one of Bear's boys, and with his success, that just made sense to me. But they've chosen to go other directions, I reckon."

For some assistants, for some great assistants, it works that way. Jerry Sandusky with Penn State. Erk Russell (until late in his career) with Georgia. Gary Stephens with Miami. For some reason or other, the tumblers never fell in place.

Don't get Bowden wrong. He isn't complaining. In fact, he gets a little nervous whenever he thinks about Andrews coaching somewhere else.

Case in point. When the Washington Redskins began to light it up this preseason, Bowden started to sweat.

"The first thing I thought was "Once Spurrier started to light it up, someone's going to come after Mickey with a bushel-load of money.' Because if Spurrier is moving the ball, teams are going to want someone who has stopped him. Those guys (the NFL) come after Mickey every year anyway."

In other words, all those great Spurrier-Bowden matchups? Forget it, Bowden said. First of all, those were Spurrier-Andrews matches. Spurrier's offensive, Andrews' defense.

Yeah, in a perfect world, maybe Andrews is on a different sideline. Maybe the cameras are following him wherever he wanders.

For now, however, this is a good place for him. Hey, wouldn't you rather be lieutenant governor of Florida than, say, king of lower Latvia?

Besides, there is much for Andrews to do at FSU. Last year was not a good year, and the early part of this season has had a few speed bumps too. In both games, the Seminoles had large leads. In both games, the defense turned vulnerable in the fourth quarter.

"We haven't slammed the door," Bowden said. "That's not like us."

Look at this FSU team. Chris Rix still has some untamed colt in him. Anquan Boldin missed all of last season. If the Seminoles are to reconquer the ACC, the defense needs to be relentless.

On Mickey's end of the field, he tends to mention such things a time or a hundred. At Mickey's end of the field, there is some snarl and some snap.

After all, there are assistants who turn into head coaches.

And there are assistants who turn head coaches back into assistants.

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