football

Lilly will leave many friends behind

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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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