There’s over 200 years of coaching experience on the FIU football coaching staff. And zero games of coaching experience as a staff together before Saturday’s season opener against Maryland.
Oh, FIU coach Ron Turner worked alongside running backs coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker with the NFL’s Chicago Bears. The 2010 staff at The Citadel included FIU defensive coordinator Josh Conklin and quarterbacks and wide receivers coach Cameron Turner.
Some can call another “family” without it being metaphor — offensive line coach/run game coordinator Steve Shankweiler’s son, Kort Shankweiler, handles the tight ends and offensive tackles. Ron and Cameron Turner are also father and son.
“I think we’ve melded together very well, practice-wise,” Steve Shankweiler said. “But just like players, we haven’t been in a game together yet. Game days are different than practices.”
While spending the past eight months putting together the sometimes puzzling pieces of the team on the field, the coaching staff has been doing the same with itself as a unit. Ron Turner said every day something comes up that gives him a chance to learn more about how to use his staff.
Team drills for the players include coaches practicing communication and handling personnel. Still, nobody expects Saturday at Maryland to be a cruise on the Pacific Princess in this regard. Mistakes will happen, just like with the players.
“We’ve gelled,” linebackers coach Tom Williams said. “Defensively, we’ve spent a lot of days in that room by ourselves talking about what we want to do and how we want to accomplish it. So I feel very good about us being on the same page in terms of our game-day management. We all think on one accord, but we have enough experience that we can offer new ideas.”
Especially in college, where you have full-grown adults in charge of young adults/wannabe adults/still children, what emanates from the staff can manifest itself in the team. Such seemed the case last season with FIU. A staff that lacked cohesion coached a team often without it: two factors in the 3-9 underachievement product.
The nadir was a physical locker room fight between strength and conditioning coach Chad Smith and receivers coach Frank Ponce after last season’s loss to Louisville. The disagreement stemmed from Smith, in his role of FIU’s “Get Back Coach,” charged with keeping the sideline border clear of players and coaches, trying to get Ponce back onto the bench.
“Most people are pretty smart, pretty professional,” said Steve Shankweiler, a central casting football coach with 30 seasons of college experience. “We’ve got such a blend of experience and youth both. We’ve got young guys who can communicate with kids in a different way than some of us older guys can. Us older guys have more experiences that we can draw from than younger guys. It’s a good blend. I’m excited to see how we ‘play,’ too.”
Williams said: “But one thing I know is none of us are going to be rattled on game day. This is not our first barbecue. Our No. 1 goal is to keep our players calm, cool and collected. From a staff standpoint, I think we’re absolutely ready to go.”