Mike Merrell’s Three-and-Out
The 101st Rose Bowl was in the books. Most of the press had not yet made it to the room for the post-game conferences, so I greedily claimed a front-row seat, wanting to be as close as possible to those whom I viewed as the biggest villains in college football: Jimbo Fisher and Jameis Winston. I couldn’t wait to hear what they would have to say about their fall from the cliffs of glory.
But there’s a big difference between reading about a person or seeing him on television and being close up in the same room. In the media you see the image. In the same room, you see the person — part of the time on camera, part of the time off. Some of my perceptions stayed the same, but one perception changed drastically. Jimbo Fisher, Jameis Winston and BIG lies are the subjects of this week’s Three-and-Out.
1. Jimbo Fisher praised Oregon, both before the game and after, but it’s going to take some time for him to grasp the underlying reasons why his team’s 29-game winning streak got totally nuked. Unlike Oregon Coach Mark Helfrich after the Ducks’ only loss of the season, Fisher failed to claim any responsibility for the devastation he had just put his team through.
And what happened to Florida State was as much Fisher’s fault as anything. He grossly underestimated his opponent, and his team was ill-prepared for what hit it.
In last week’s Three-and-Out I made the point that throughout history people have been misled by charismatic leaders lacking scruples. Perhaps it was a mistake to point out that it happened in World War II Germany and that it was happening in Florida State football, because quite a number of FSU fans took it to mean that I was calling them Nazis – which I was not. The point was, and remains, that Fisher and his team have nowhere near the discipline of Helfrich & Co., and Fisher has sold to too many of the Seminoles’ fans that it is all right. It isn’t. Fisher seems to look the other way when it comes to bad behavior off the field, and has no problem with being less than honest whenever it is convenient. For example…
When questioned about a bit of an atmosphere on the sidelines between himself and Winston, Fisher didn’t flinch or blush as he quickly told the story that Winston was just getting animated in explaining how a receiver had fallen down. Nothing more to it. The truth that Fisher – somewhat out of control himself — was threatening to bench Winston if he didn’t get control of himself, just wasn’t convenient.
Competition in college sports is at an all-time high. It is a BIG lie to say, explicitly or implicitly, that discipline off the field has nothing to do with discipline on the field — or to write it off as acceptable. Those who practice discipline for two or three hours a day simply can’t compete with those who live discipline 24-7/365. And THAT – along with Jesus, hot Oregon cheerleaders and Marcus Mariota — was the difference in the game. ESPN.com got the straight answer from Oregon’s Troy Hill:
“We had seen it on film,” said Oregon corner Troy Hill, who played the main role in limiting Florida State wide receiver Rashad Greene to 59 yards on six catches. “We just saw the ball a little loose, a little undisciplined with the ball, so we tried to take advantage of it, and it showed.”
What came crashing down on Fisher New Year’s Day was a warning shot. No doubt he will live to coach and win another day, but if he fails to establish discipline within his program — on and off the field — there are rougher days ahead. And at some point the FSU fans will realize that all is not well.
2. Jameis Winston. I expected to loathe the guy. Yet even though he’s shown bad behavior (to put it nicely) and even though I was sitting not fifteen feet from him when he uttered the ridiculous, “This game (a 39-point defeat) could have went either way,” I came away feeling sympathetic. He said that everything he’s been through has made him a better person, and I believe it.
When I first read and heard about his charm, I thought “sociopath.” Seeing it in person, I think that “Puppy has a lot to learn,” says it better. Of course high-energy, BIG puppies can cause serious damage before they do learn. Right or wrong, my impression is that Winston truly does have a good heart and wants to do the right thing, though staying the course is a challenge. Winston — unlike many of his teammates — stayed around to congratulate Oregon players after the game. He answered questions with sincerity, even if some of his answers sounded like he’d taken one or two too many hits to the head. There’s just a huge gap between his physical development and some of his other developments.
3. BIG LIES — those that are told often enough and with enough authority that many people accept them as fact — that came out this past week are probably too many to mention, but here’s a start, moving from the classroom to the gridiron.
(1) Jameis Winston is getting a college education at Florida State. No. By the third year in college, nobody should be saying, “could have went,” or “We beat ourself,” or “It hurts badder.” Not to be a grammar Nazi, but… come on, Florida State, this guy is a visible representative of what your educational system represents.
(2) If you’re going to play Oregon within the next couple weeks, it’s time to ramp up practicing for the pace – just as the Seminoles and many before them did. Right. And May is a good time to start losing those sixty pounds so you’ll look good in a swimsuit come June. Marathon coming up in two weeks? Time to start training.
(3) We beat ourself / It was the turnovers that gave Oregon the win. There’s a little truth to this, but it hardly tells the entire story. If Florida State beat itself, it did so in practice (and in off-field antics) the entire season. Even in the game, turnovers — which were more takeaways than giveaways — were only part of the story. The statistic of the game that everybody seems to overlook is that Oregon went 0 for 0 in third down conversions in the third quarter. Zero for zero. That’s one defensive touchdown and three offensive touchdowns in 12 plays without seeing third down once. The Ducks’ fifth touchdown of the half, which straddled into the fourth quarter, was six plays, with Mariota running it in from 21 yards out on fourth down. It wasn’t just turnovers. Oregon turned up the heat and FSU got fried.
(4) Oregon is gimmicky, light-weight, not physical, etc. ad nauseum. Check the Ohio State blogs and you will see that comments to this effect are waning — yet a few persist. The Rose Bowl win went a long way to dispelling this fallacy, but it is not totally dead.
(5) The SEC West rules. With the SEC West’s 2-5 record in bowl games, nobody’s buying it.
(6) Which brings us to what we can only hope is the death of the myth that the lower right hand corner of the country has the greatest college football on the planet. That myth, under the old BCS system, would have placed Alabama and Florida State in the championship game. That myth led the selection committee to name Alabama, Florida State, Ole Miss and Mississippi State as the initial candidates for the final four. How many of those four won bowl games? Zero. You have to wonder how many times the best team got excluded from the BCS Championship.
Top photo by John Sperry