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March 3, 2013
Turner believes he can turn it around
MORE: Caragher ready at SJSU
Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
Ron Turner believes he still knows what it takes to get the job done.
Turner returns to college football as the head coach of Florida International, taking over the program on Jan. 3 after Mario Cristobal was fired following six seasons. Turner has been with three NFL teams since he was fired at Illinois, most recently as the quarterbacks coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It has been eight seasons since he patrolled the sidelines as a leader of a college football program. Eight years since he had to recruit a player -- and more than a decade since his last winning record.
His approach to the game hasn't changed, even if the recruiting landscape has.
"I have been away and things have changed but everything still starts with relationships," Turner said. "With social media -- Twitter and Facebook and things like that -- you have to be a little more engaged and relatable but you still need people skills.
"Recruiting will always begin with being able to identify players. It will always involve making connections and building relationships. I believe I can do that, and I believe our staff can do that."
The early returns suggest that Turner didn't miss a beat.
Florida International went from Oct. 4 through the New Year without gaining a new commitment.
Once Turner took over, the class filled out with 14 commitments, resulting in a signing class of 19 players. The class was ranked No. 8 in the Sun Belt, but it would have been next-to-last in Conference USA, where the program is scheduled to move.
One way to improve the overall recruiting product is for Turner to lean on his past relationships.
It was a longstanding professional friendship from Illinois that helped him land Travis Wright -- a high school national championship-winning quarterback from Louisville (Ky.) Trinity.
"Coach (Bob) Beatty called me and told me to take a look at this quarterback he had," Turner said. "I was stunned that Travis was still available, so we offered him.
"But really it came back to having that relationship. I had known Coach Beatty from when he was in Missouri and bringing kids up to our 7-on-7 at Illinois. Developing trusting, meaningful relationships is the key to it all. That cannot be undervalued."
Wright said he was impressed by how everything went with Turner.
"Coach Turner contacted me the same week that he got hired," Wright told Rivals.com. "The coaches liked my film and they asked me to take my official visit over there, so I did. The next week I ended up getting a scholarship offer, which was great.
"He went to the Sugar Bowl at Illinois and coached many years in the NFL. When a guy of that caliber wants you to be his quarterback, it is pretty exciting and it is pretty hard to turn down."
Turner is hoping his time in South Florida will bring more consistent success than his time in Champaign. His Illinois teams were twice ranked in the Top 25 and he was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year. The downside was that he had two winless years within the conference that resulted in 11-loss seasons.
The talent in South Florida is encouraging to the 59-year-old.
Of his 19 signees, 16 were from the state of Florida.
"We have a much more consistent supply of quality players right here, locally," Turner said. "In the immediate future, we need to be establishing relationships with players and the coaches in this area and making our way into the hallways of the schools.
"For sustained, long-term plans, that means we are consistently battling and competing for Conference USA titles. To do that -- I think we have the talent here that we can prosper and I think that should be the bedrock (on) which we build -- we will need to start getting in with the sophomores and having the young kids see what we are doing here."
Wright said he believes that can be accomplished.
"FIU is on the rise, and I wanted to be a part of that," he said. "To me, I know FIU plays good football, whether they are in the Sun Belt or Conference USA. I witnessed that firsthand when FIU came to my hometown and beat Louisville."
While Wright may be the exception to Turner's recruiting philosophy by coming from out of state, he is part of the rule by not being the stereotypical size.
Listed at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, Wright is not the ideal size for FBS-level football.
His accomplishments on the field tip the scales in his favor.
Wright led his team to three consecutive state titles as well as a RivalsHigh 100 national title, losing just one game as a starting quarterback in high school. He completed more than 65 percent of his passes, and his name is prominent throughout the prestigious program's record book.
The contradiction of measurables versus results makes him just the type of player for whom Turner is looking.
"The height, weight and speed stuff that people get so wrapped up in now is overrated," he said. "When you look at the NFL combine, you see guys who are all flash but the film tells a different story. We need guys who make the plays and maybe don't measure up much more than we need the kids that look great in shorts but can't make plays.
"I think that is one of the things that has changed in football; people aren't trusting their eyes as much as they are making kids out to be things they are not because they look the part," Turner said.
Trusting his eyes, Turner spies a landscape that he likes.
"Right now, I see a lot of opportunity and I see very good things on the horizon for FIU."