The Maryland football team opens its 2013 season on Saturday afternoon against Florida International, a young bunch led by first-year coach Ron Turner. Turner comes to the Panthers after eight NFL seasons with three franchises, including spending the past eight years as the quarterbacks coach in Tampa Bay. Turner inherited a brutally inexperienced team at FIU, one with zero returning starters in the backfield or along the offensive line, and troubled by several off-the-field issues among the running backs this offseason.
I talked to Turner via telephone on Wednesday afternoon to break down the matchup, his adjustment back into college and keeping the Panthers focused. Here’s Five Questions with Ron Turner:
As a first-year coach, how has the adjustment been for you?
There’s always some surprises. There have been some that we’re trying to work through, just establish the way we want the program to be done. In doing that, when you do change sometimes, everyone doesn’t accept the change. Most guys have. Most guys have bought in and feel good about what we’re doing. There were a few guys who didn’t buy in and weren’t doing it the way we want done, and what the expectations were on and off the field. Some of those guys aren’t with us, some of them are — I don’t know how long, until they get it going. When you try to establish something, change can be tough on people. We were just trying to establish our identity.
Do you feel like the majority of players have bought into the new regime?
I think most have. The ones who haven’t, the other guys are trying to get them to come on board and are frustrated with the ones that aren’t. But a high, high percentage have. I think the guys who love what we’re doing offensively and defensively and the way we’re running the program and everything else. It’s just a matter of changing expectations, what we expect on a daily basis, and being demanding until we get it done.
With such a young team, Maryland has almost no film of your current players to study. Can that be an advantage for you?
I don’t know about that. They’re going to go out and do what they do. They’re going to run their offense, run their defense, and I’m sure there’s nothing we can throw at them that they haven’t seen in the past and can adjust to. At times that can be overrated. The way you win games is by executing better than the other team. If you do that, it’s the same thing with us. We have film on them, but every time you go into a new season, they had a whole offseason to adjust and add in wrinkles. We just have to go in and adjust, and I’m sure it’s the same for them.
What do you see when you look at Maryland?
I see a good team, with good speed and good athletes. I know they had injuries at quarterback last year that really made it tough, but I see a good football team. Good skill, good athletes, three guys who have started on the offensive line, which is always a good starting point. They’ve got a big-time receiver in Diggs, who we have to pay attention to every time he lines up. I see a team that’s very talented, and a well-coached team. Their schemes are all very sound. They’re going to go out and execute well.
Maryland last year, in its opener, had 12 true freshmen play. How are those kids handling this? They’re on campus, wide-eyed, head spinning like most freshmen, and then suddenly they’re expected to start the season-opener on the road.
That can be tough. They’re handling it about as well as they can. You see some good days, some bad days, some guys going out and making plays, then days they look like inexperienced freshmen. When you walk out on the field, you’re no longer a freshman. If you’re on the field, you’re expected by the other 10 guys in that huddle to make plays and do you r job. You’re not focusing on doing anything else but each and every play doing your job. At times they do that, but at other times you see they get a little overwhelmed, get the big eyes and all that. I’m anxious to get all these guys on the field. My experience has shown, sometimes somebody gets on the field, it’s not too big for them and they actually play better than they do in practice. Then for other guys, their eyes get big, and maybe it is too big for them. I’m anxious to see where we are.
(Bonus!) What’s been the biggest surprise for you at FIU?
Probably just some of the off-the-field issues we’ve had this offseason, with some of the guys that were here and some of the things that went on when I first got here. That’s probably been the biggest thing. Other than that, there haven’t been any huge adjustments. I coached at college for a long time, so I was in the NFL for a while then back in college before that, so I knew what to expect as far as the rigors of being a student-athlete and all that goes on with that.
I think having four kids of my own, and they’re in that age area, probably has helped. I’ve got one daughter who just graduated college, another who’s a junior in college, a couple sons that just graduated a couple years ago. That probably helps keep me in touch with what’s going on.
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