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January 22, 2008

Lilly will leave many friends behind

This column appeared in the most recent edition of the Osceola

Like a blustery cold front moving in from the west, the winds of change continued to sweep through Florida State's Moore Athletics Center this past week.

As you undoubtedly have heard, longtime tight ends coach/recruiting coordinator John Lilly is expected to leave Tallahassee for Athens, Ga., where he will handle the same position as an assistant to Mark Richt.

Lilly and Richt are old friends from their time together on Bobby Bowden's staff at FSU. Richt, of course, was the Seminoles' offensive coordinator when Lilly joined the crew as a videographer and graduate assistant before landing a full-time gig. And the two have remained close over the years.

Though many around Florida State's athletics department will be saddened, both professionally and personally, by Lilly's departure, it is a move that makes sense on many levels.

For Lilly, it will give him job security that he, quite frankly, couldn't possibly enjoy anymore at Florida State. There is no doubt that Lilly would have a place at FSU as long as Bobby Bowden remains head coach - Bowden holds Lilly in very high regard - but no one knows exactly how many years that will entail.

We can only assume that Jimbo Fisher would want to keep Lilly around, but there really are no guarantees about that, just like there are no real guarantees - only some expensive buyout clauses - that Fisher will end up claiming the top job.

At Georgia, there are none of those questions. After another super season, Richt is firmly entrenched. Barring something unforeseen, he will be there as long as he desires. And if he leaves, Lilly likely would have the opportunity to move along to the next destination.

There's something to be said for that, especially as the recently engaged Lilly prepares to settle into married life.

Lilly also will be able to drop the title of recruiting coordinator, which he has worn dutifully for the past decade. Though it sounds like a glamorous position when you're landing top-five recruiting classes, as Lilly did frequently, it's safe to say that he would have gladly bestowed that honor upon someone else ... if anyone had been willing to accept it.

To put it bluntly, recruiting coordinators have no life. They are attached to their cell phones every minute of the day, juggling phone calls from prospects, parents and high school coaches. Though every full-time assistant coach has recruiting responsibilities, the recruiting coordinator often has to fill in all the gaps.

That has been John Lilly's life. And I'm fairly certain he won't miss that part of his time in Tallahassee.

But after getting to know him fairly well during the past five or six years, I can assure you that Lilly isn't leaving without reservations. Though he grew up in West Virginia and attended college in North Carolina, Lilly was a Seminole through and through.

In his spare time, which wasn't much, he attended every FSU sporting event he could, whether it was men's or women's basketball, baseball, softball or soccer. That's not something he had to do; it was something he wanted to do.

He was well-liked and respected by others in the athletics department and around the university, and you can rest assured that his departure will be difficult for many to accept. Professionally, John Lilly proved himself to be a tireless worker and a man of the highest ethical standards. Personally, he had a knack for putting people at ease with his quick wit and self-deprecating humor.

And you couldn't ask for someone who was more in line with Coach Bowden's beliefs regarding morality and faith. Though we all know that the recruiting world can be a murky place, you always got the feeling that John Lilly remained smudge free.

So, it will be difficult for many of us to say good-bye.

But the reality is this is what happens during a time of transition like the one Florida State is experiencing. Familiar faces leave; new ones arrive. Good people depart, and you can only hope that they will be replaced by equal or better.

There's no doubt in my mind that FSU and Bowden achieved that goal with last winter's coaching overhaul. Though the overall statistics didn't improve much, I feel confident that Jimbo Fisher, Rick Trickett and company have the Seminoles' offense headed in the right direction.

And as good as Lilly was for the program, his departure gives Fisher an opportunity to bring in an assistant coach that he might feel more comfortable with - perhaps someone with whom he has worked in the past. That might be a positive development after all.

And we're being patient with Florida State's search for a new athletics director. The names released so far - most notably Wayne Hogan and Martin Mayhew - have been the topic of water cooler discussion for months now, so there were no surprises there. We're eager to hear the candidates headhunter Chuck Neinas brings to the table.

Hopefully, this search will be as thorough as university President T.K. Wetherell has promised. There are challenging times ahead, and the new athletics director is not only going to have to hit the ground running on many important issues, but also piece together a new staff at the same time.

Two of Hart's top administrators were forced out in the fall, and another, Kim Record, abruptly resigned last month. Mark Meleney, the longtime director of FSU's athletics academic support program, was also told recently that his contract would not be extended past this year.

Given that backdrop, it's plain to see that John Lilly's departure won't be the biggest transition for Florida State's athletics department. But it's never easy to lose quality people.

And the way the winds have been blowing around these parts, there's no reason to believe that he will be the last to leave.

Ira Schoffel is the Osceola's general manager.


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