Turner takes over at rebuilding FIU

If Ron Turner had taken the stairs, who knows who would be

coaching at FIU this season.

The story goes like this: Turner just happened to be in an

elevator late last year with Butch Davis, who is close with FIU

executive director of sports and entertainment Pete Garcia, who

just happened to be looking for a football coach. Davis asked

Turner if he could envision a return to coaching in college. Turner

said he would if the right opportunity came along.

A few days later, he was the coach at FIU.

Turner is taking over for Mario Cristobal, who was fired after

the Panthers went 3-9 last season and is now on Nick Saban’s staff

at Alabama. The team has left the Sun Belt and is moving to

Conference USA. There’s new schemes all over the place, and

external expectations couldn’t be lower.

”We’re not where we want to be. We’re not where we need to

be,” said Turner, whose last experience as a collegiate head coach

was at Illinois, getting fired there in 2004. ”But we don’t have

to be today. We’re getting better. We’re better now than we were at

any point in the spring.”

Turner is thought of as an offensive guru, particularly with

quarterbacks.

Jake Medlock is fairly convinced that such a description of

Turner would be correct.

Medlock is expected to be the Panthers’ quarterback this season,

and when he heard that Turner was FIU’s choice, he p got online and

looked up to see what his new coach’s story was.

”The first thing I saw was he coached Peyton Manning,” Medlock

said. ”When I read that, I was ecstatic. Coach Turner has been

everywhere in the NFL, college, he’s done it all. He’s coached a

lot of great players. To learn from him, I’m very lucky. It’s a

blessing to have him as my head coach and I’m very excited.”

Turner’s spread offense came with a steep learning curve for

Medlock, who had to re-learn the basics of his position, such as

handing the ball off and how to throw the ball with touch.

”We’re starting at ground zero,” Turner said. ”And I believe

we’re the youngest team in the country, as far as experience goes.

Everything’s new. We’re starting anew.”

Five things to watch during the Panthers’ season:

1. WHO RUNS IT?: Kedrick Rhodes probably would have had a chance

to be a 1,000-yard back for the Panthers this season, but got

kicked off the team this summer after an arrest for firing a gun on

campus. And with that, the Panthers lost what likely would have

been their most dependable option this season. Look for the

Panthers to establish at least a couple options in the backfield

over the first couple games in 2013.

2. DEFENSIVE HOPE: FIU gave up at least 28 points in each of its

first eight games last season. (For comparison’s sake, Boise State,

even with its reputation as an offensive juggernaut, gave up 28

points one time in 2012.) The Panthers found a way to tighten

things up considerably down the stretch, giving up 14, 20, 24 and

then 23 points in the final four games and going 2-2 over that

span. The returning players on that side of the ball might have at

least some confidence.

3. EARLY TESTS: If the Panthers are any better than 1-3 after

September, then that would have to be considered a big bonus. FIU

opens at Maryland, then opens the home schedule against Central

Florida and – after playing host to lower-level Bethune-Cookman –

heads to Louisville to wrap up the season’s first month. The good

news for FIU: The Panthers probably should have beaten Louisville

last season. The bad news for FIU: There is absolutely no chance

that the Cardinals have forgotten that scare.

4. TURNER’S STAMP: New FIU coach Ron Turner sounds like he’ll be

patient – to a point, anyway – with the Panthers this season. He

doesn’t talk to the team about what happened last season, when the

Panthers were widely thought of as a Sun Belt favorite and a lock

for a bowl bid. A 3-9 record ultimately cost Mario Cristobal his

job as coach, a decision that some at FIU thought was hasty.

Turner’s biggest task in 2013 will be turning the page and

transforming the Panthers into his program.

5. MEDLOCK’S TIME: Quarterback Jake Medlock was up-and-down in

his first two seasons, but here’s one stat that jumps out: He’s

thrown 319 passes in college, and only three have been intercepted.

He’ll have to continue keeping those giveaways to a minimum this

year.

Predicted finish in Conference USA’s East Division: Seventh.

Online:

AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org/