Going into his fifth game as FIU’s football coach, Saturday’s Conference USA opener against Southern Mississippi, Ron Turner finds himself in the neighborhood of college football’s nadir.
He’s an offensive coach with the worst offense in the country, an offense without a first-quarter first down against other Football Bowl Subdivision teams (and a 34-13 home loss to Bethune-Cookman, an Football Championship Subdivision team). In its past two games against FBS teams, 0-4 FIU has been outscored 110-0. His team is a 17-point underdog to a Southern Miss team coming off a 60-7 loss, the Golden Eagles 16 defeat in a row.
Yet Turner expresses no doubt about the rightness of FIU’s offensive concepts, his coaching staff and approach, and that despite this painful part of the path forward, he believes that it will get better.
Q: Where do you see this program in a year? Two years?
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A: “I see it improved in all areas…The first year is always tough even if you have a veteran team. If you have a very young team, it’s even more difficult to put stuff in. Especially this offense. You don’t come in, put it in and in a year, everybody grasps it. So many intricate things are involved, so it takes time. We didn’t go for a quick fix, saying ‘We can do this stuff, let’s do this stuff.’ We’re trying to install something, building for the future. As I said when we played Central Florida, I put their film in and I watch and said, ‘That’s where we want to get to’ They’re big, they’re physical up front. They understand their schemes. They’re very sound. And their guys play their schemes very well. A very disciplined football team. And that’s where we will get to when our guys get a full grasp of what we’re doing as we get them in our system and bring them along physically and mentally.
“I’ve been through this before. It’s a process. We’ll get there. We’re not going to waver, we’re not going to change. What we believe in, what we’re doing works. It’s a matter of getting the right people in place, getting them all to understand it and execute it. That’ll come. All of a sudden the light will go on, it’ll click — ‘Aw, now I get it. It’s so easy.’ Until that light goes on, it’s not easy. It’s far from easy.
Q: When you looked at the roster in the spring and summer did you foresee the first four games going the way they have?
A: “No. I knew we were going to be very young. I knew we were going to be very raw. I knew it was going to take a while to get everything to jell. But I didn’t foresee that some of the guys who aren’t with us wouldn’t be with us. (FIU’s best running back, senior Kedrick Rhodes; cornerback, junior Richard Leonard; wide receivers, seniors Willis Wright and Glenn Coleman were academically ineligible or dismissed after arrests.) How much of a difference that would make, I don’t know. If they’re not going to win off the field and do what they’re supposed to do, you can’t count on them on the field. If guys aren’t going to class, not doing what they’re supposed to do, get suspended for disciplinary reasons, they’re not going to help us win on the field because come the fourth quarter, end of the game, they’re going to let you down. I’m a very firm believer in that. We’re probably better off they’re not out there with us, to be honest with you, because all they would do is let us down, even though they’re talented. But it takes more than talent to be a great player and to be a winner. Everyone has some of that on the team. We had way too much. And that’s what we’re getting corrected.”
Q: You knew this was somewhat of a turnaround situation…
A: “Somewhat? Didn’t know everything!”
Q: How does this compare to the others you’ve been through?
A: “Similar, to when I went to Northwestern with Denny Green when they had a 20-something-game losing streak (1981-82). The roster wasn’t where it needed to be. There were a lot of issues going on there. Went to Illinois (in 1997), similar situation: wasn’t a very good year the year before, huge roster turnover (FIU lost 30 seniors from 2012’s 3-9 team). Talent-wise, we weren’t where we needed to be. I’ve been through it. I’m very happy I came here. There are a lot of things I didn’t know that I learned when I got here, but I’m still very happy I came here because I believe in the kids that we have. We’ve got a few — some not with us anymore, some still with us — who test me every day because they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do. I’m trying to get them turned [around] or get them out of here. In this business, like a lot of businesses, you spend 90 percent of your time on 10 percent of the guys that aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do. We’ve got some tremendous kids on this team who are playing their hearts out with limited depth. They’re playing more plays than they should, and they do it every day in practice. We’ve got a lot of great kids here. I’m excited about that; I’m excited about the future.
“Everyone wants to write about the negatives — 72-0 [the Sept. 21 Louisville loss] and all that. I guess I can’t blame them. I get calls on it, too. But I know what we’re building, and I know where we’re going. I know we’ve got a lot of kids on here that can get us there, and a lot of kids coming in who can get us there. Is it frustrating at times? Absolutely. Nobody likes to get their heads bashed in 72-0.”
Perhaps here it should be noted: in both the Illinois and Northwestern cases, the team lost every game the first season under the new staff.