By HUBERT MIZELL
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 1, 2000
Listening, as Florida college coaches Bowden (FSU), Gilbert (JU), Joe (FAMU), Kruczek (UCF), Leavitt (USF), Massie (EWC), Schnellenberger (FAU), Spurrier (UF) and Wyatt (B-CC) came strolling through Cypress Gardens with preseason observations ...
EWC is Edward Waters College, FAU means Florida Atlantic, where football is in the birth process, JU is Jacksonville and FSU national champion Florida State. I'm doing the initials thing because that's what Central Florida coach Mike Kruczek asked.
"We're trying to get away from the University of Central Florida name," he said. "Hoping that UCF will become a great identity, like USC."
Oh, yeah, Coach K.
You're talking Southern California, right, not the University of South Carolina? In the initials league, UCLA is the identity champ. FSU is nicely entrenched due to unsubsiding football success.
SMU and TCU are well-known. So too BYU. UNC doesn't mind being called North Carolina. UCF's push will be a challenge. It needs help from David Letterman. It's good that USF hasn't cooled on being called South Florida.
Speaking of FSU, we'll be hearing more about the 'Noles from their pal in Gainesville. In 10 seasons as Florida coach, Steve Spurrier has worked at semi-ignoring FSU until the two salty rivals meet in November. This year, S.O.S. says he'll be more fully tuned to Tallahassee.
"We need to think about them a little more," he said. "Have a stronger attitude. They're ahead of us, no question. Beat us two straight. We had a terribly frustrating game against them last season."
Sounds like respect.
I felt lousy for Alvin Wyatt when it became Bethune-Cookman's time to lobby media. UCF's guy had just finished. Wyatt had a half-hour to talk Wildcats before FSU icon Bobby Bowden appeared.
As he entered the room, Wyatt met a departing flow. Passing 80 percent of the reporters, leaving to take a break. Skipping the B-CC fellow, awaiting Bobby. "It's kind of embarrassing, coming in to speak on your program," Wyatt said, "while everybody seems to be running out on you."
Differences are powerfully apparent among my state's 10 football colleges. Salaries ranging from $50,000 to $2-million. Bowden and Spurrier work home games before 80,000-plus crowds while some schools don't draw 10,000. Interest levels vary like the Florida weather.
Still, each coach is a professional, equally passionate to achieve, a guest speaker at this session, meriting ample attention. Newspapers, radio and TV deliver greatly varying coverage, based on perceived public followings, but on this day everything should've been pretty equal.
Butch Davis (UM) wasn't there.
Jim Leavitt of South Florida did effective politicking, giving statewide exposure to imposing Bulls attendance numbers, having not drawn fewer than 21,000 in the school's first three football years and nearing 20,000 season tickets for 2000.
UCF is a 20-year program, but USF has some edges on Daunte Culpepper's alma mater. In a word, league. Leavitt's gang is engaged to Conference USA, due to a 2003 marriage. Orlando's university is groping. Desperate to join C-USA, the ACC or Big East. Not sure of anything. Being in a conference, if you're not Notre Dame, is now mandatory for high-level bowl and TV fortunes.
A rivalry between USF and UCF seems a natural. Both are blessed with enormous stadiums. Campuses 80 miles apart. Knights have interest, but Bulls show none. Kruczek said Central Florida (oops!) athletic director Steve Sloan had contacted Paul Griffin, his opposite number in Tampa. My guess is, USF is singing "Na-na-na-na" over being locked into a conference. Figuring the Bulls don't need the Knights. That the pairing would do little for South Florida's extended football image. I hope that changes.
Howard Schnellenberger, the old Louisville-Oklahoma-UM-Baltimore Colts coach, has long been prone to statements beyond bold. As big daddy of football beginnings at Florida Atlantic, he's already talked of going into the ACC, SEC or Big East.
Why not the NFL?
Howard's school in Boca Raton has a three-year agreement to play in major digs, sharing with the Dolphins/Marlins. A year in advance, the Owls are recruiting players. In typical style, Schnellenberger claimed to have "three quarterbacks on campus who could be the equal of (Jim) Kelly, (Bernie) Kosar and (Vinny) Testaverde," arms from UM's past.
Bowden is just back from visiting Normandy battlefields. A student of history, Bobby recalled being an Alabama kid of 14 and painting "June 6, 1944" on his Birmingham basement wall. "It was stirring to finally see where D-Day took place," he said.
FSU's remarkable fellow told reporters that, even including Peter Warrick, his biggest loss from last season's national champs was troubled-but-gifted placekicker Sebastian Janikowski.
Jokingly asked who he was recruiting in France, the 70-year-old coach said, "Looking for a kicker who doesn't speak Polish."