PINEHURST, N.C. — Jimbo Fisher met with a media horde Tuesday at the ACC Football Kickoff, meaning he took a few questions about things like quarterbacks and rivalry games and dozens about players smacking women, allegedly or on video.
“We are a very talented football team,” Fisher said, “and I think we have better kids than we have players. But we’ve had a few guys make a mistake.”
A few too many.
This is a rough stretch for Florida State, the 2013 national champion. It’s still the ACC’s marquee program, despite Clemson getting more than twice as many votes in the ACC Kickoff conference champion projection. But Florida State’s reputation must make young women (and their parents) think twice about enrolling.
The Seminoles in particularly, and college football in general, need an extended football winning streak, off the field.
Hope is grounded in the school finally grasping a reality that goes beyond perception, though only after players De’Andre Johnson and Dalvin Cook were recently charged with hitting women. Florida State President John Thrasher met with the team earlier this month and Fisher issued a ban on player outings to bars and nightclubs.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney took an extra perception step Tuesday, revealing almost an hour into a Q and A session with reporters that kicker Ammon Lakip, charged in June by university police with a DUI and cocaine possession, would “definitely miss some games.”
That’s a change from Swinney’s previous “We’ll handle this internally” tune.
While the Lakip case doesn’t compare to Florida State issues — the cocaine in question was valued at less than $50 and Lakip hasn’t been convicted — Clemson’s reputation might suffer with a series of game-winning kicks by an unpunished kicker.
But Florida State should be a cautionary tale for Clemson, and every other college football program.
So far, six players have been kicked off the Florida State team during Fisher’s tenure, and that doesn’t include quarterback Jameis Winston. The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner had well-documented involvement in a sexual encounter in which he was not charged with a crime.
Wide receiver Greg Dent was found guilty of misdemeanor battery in 2014.
Fisher said the Florida State football program has over 40 scheduled presentations a year dedicated to good conduct with an emphasis on domestic violence.
“We’ve been doing things,” he said. “When you see that’s not enough, you continue to improve and expand what you have for your kids.”
Thus, the bar ban.
“We ban them from trying to put themselves in bad situations,” Fisher said. “It’s like on the football field: If you don’t put yourself in third-and-20, you move the ball. It’s a constant education battle to try to eliminate mistakes by not putting yourself in tough situations.”
But some kids aren’t worth the risk. Fisher said Florida State checks carefully on all recruits but, when pressed, said his program rarely conducts criminal background checks.
De’Andre Johnson, seen on video slapping a young woman in a Tallahassee bar, had a 3.5 grade-point average, Fisher said.
“He had never been in trouble in his life,” Fisher said. “You saw him on ‘Good Morning America’ with his mother. He was not raised that way. He was a good guy who made a bad choice. … I’d recruit De’Andre Johnson over and over again.”
Asked if using the words “bad choice” kind of minimized the offense, Fisher bristled. He restated a “no tolerance policy” for hitting women. He said Johnson got the “maximum” penalty, kicked off the team.
“You have to consistently do things right if you want to change perception,” Fisher said. “If you have continual performance in the right way for a long time, perception changes. And I don’t think what’s happened at Florida State is (only) relative to Florida State; it’s happening all over this country. But we get more attention because of the success of our program. I understand that, that’s part of winning.”
Fisher is right about the wider problem of abusing women at a time when too many kids grow up without adequate supervision and with easy access to online violence and pornography.
The SEC plans to assemble a “working group” to study player conduct issues. ACC Commissioner John Swofford said at Pinehurst he has confidence in the ability of member schools to handle their own cases. He said the ACC won’t play “big brother.”
Hopefully, Swofford doesn’t have to change his mind.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff