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Late push by new FSU staff key to maintaining a Top-10 class

By Chip Patterson | College Football/Basketball Writer
Five-star outside linebacker Matthew Thomas threw up the 'Tomahawk Chop' after committing to Florida State. (US Presswire)

If you looked exclusively at the ranking number, you might not know the work that went into assembling Florida State's 2013 recruiting class.

According to 247Sports.com's team rankings, Florida State's 22-prospect class finished No. 1 in the ACC and No. 8 nationally. But without a lot of last-minute work to lock up the stars in the final weeks, the Seminoles could have been set back by the departure of six assistant coaches in a five-week span -- all since the conclusion of the 2012 regular season.

Five of those assistants left Tallahassee for a promotion -- including former defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, now head coach at Kentucky -- while former offensive coordinator and touted recruiter James Coley left to take the offensive coordinator job at Miami.

Yet Jimbo Fisher and his newly assembled staff were able to hit the road and lock up yet another recruiting class to lead the ACC. When it came time for the Seminoles' head coach to address the media about the recruiting process, Fisher wasted no time pointing to the new hires as a key reason Wednesday was successful.

"I think our new staff did a tremendous job of going out very quickly and building relationships among the new recruits and establishing who they are as coaches and what they are as men," Fisher said in his opening statement. "I think it's due to the experience we were able to hire, the kind of coaches we were able to hire, and I'm very proud of their effort and once again think we had a great day."

He described the new hires -- defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, Charles Kelly, Billy Napier, Randy Sanders, and Sal Sunseri -- as "a lot of the guys off the same tree" and explained that the transition was made easy because he hired coaches with the same views and beliefs.

Addressing Needs

Two of the most important areas of concern that were addressed in Florida State's 2013 class were along the defensive line and the linebacker position. The Seminoles said goodbye to all four starters along the defensive line as well as Vince Williams and Nick Moody. As soon as Jeremy Pruitt was hired to replace Stoops, he began working on Jacksonville, Fla., defensive end DeMarcus Walker. Walker was previously an Alabama commit before Pruitt -- previously Alabama's defensive backs coach -- made the move to Tallahassee. Fisher and Pruitt were able to flip Walker's commitment, then get him on campus in time to enroll on Jan. 8.

Pruitt was also instrumental in getting four-star outside linebacker Freddie Stevenson (Bartow, Fla.) on campus early, and with both players on board the efforts to restock the dominant FSU defense began.

Star Power Needed

Next was the task of bringing the game changing stars that seem to find their way to Tallahassee every February. Another case where Pruitt's addition paid off was with the flip of cornerback Jalen Ramsey -- the top-rated player in the state of Tennessee. Ramsey, a three-sport star who will participate in track at Florida State, was committed to USC until he decided he wanted to join Pruitt's unit at Tallahassee in the last week.

Fisher told reporters on Wednesday that the coaching transition forced him to play the role of recruiting coordinator. He laughed as he explained that "it actually felt good" to get his hands dirty like he did as an assistant years ago. One of the areas where Fisher used to be responsible for was South Florida. It was also the area that James Coley, now at Miami, was responsible for when he was with the Seminoles. Suddenly, five-star outside linebacker Matthew Thomas (Miami, Fla.) is trying to make up his mind between staying home and joining the Hurricanes or signing with Florida State. You think this battle was heated? Check out the reactions from Florida State's war room when Thomas committed.

While the late push from the new staff helped secure yet another Top-10 class for Florida State, there were still areas where the Seminoles fell short. Depth was needed on the offensive line, and either tackle Austin Golson (a flip to Mississippi) or Denver Kirkland (a National Signing Day announcement to Arkansas) would have been nice for this new class. The coaches also were hoping to get wide receiver Stacy Coley (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), who decided to stay in the area and play for Miami.

In the end it was an impressive showing for a newly assembled staff that had less than six weeks to reorganize and attack the recruiting trail before National Signing Day. Florida State started the week with an uncharacteristically light class. Thanks to the hard work of Fisher and his assistants, they are right back in their comfortable position: at the top of the ACC.

For more college football news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnCFB on Twitter, subscribe to our RSS Feed, college football newsletter, and get the Eye On College Football Podcast from iTunes. You can follow Chip Patterson on Twitter here: @cnpatterson3.

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