Thursday November 5th, 2009

About 20 players gathered behind Mickey Andrews as he faced the media on Tuesday night. A few hours earlier, a simple press release had gone out informing the college football world of what everyone had long suspected: This will be the final season for Florida State's longtime defensive coordinator.

"As much as I love Florida State and love these guys back here, time has just got so important for me now," Andrews, 68, told reporters. "And I can't coach football and do what I need to do with the responsibilities that I have now."

Those responsibilities far outweigh any concerns on the football field. Andrews and his wife, Diane, are raising two of their five grandchildren. They didn't expect to be parenting at this age, but life can be cruel sometimes. On Aug. 19, 2007, their 41-year-old son, Ronnie, was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gun shot wound outside the couple's home. Ronnie left behind three children, and his two oldest boys needed caring for.

So let's give Andrews a pass for this year's defense -- his worst by far -- and commemorate his retirement by remembering all those years the Seminoles had the nation's most terrifying defense. It's no coincidence that not long after Bobby Bowden hired Andrews away from the USFL's Arizona Wranglers in 1984, the Seminoles began a string of 14 consecutive top-four finishes that included national titles in 1993 and 1999. Andrews coached Deion Sanders, Terrell Buckley, Derrick Brooks, Peter Boulware, Antonio Cromartie and 13 other future first-round picks, and his defenses dominated through the turn of the century.

Andrews, who learned his football from Bear Bryant and Gene Stallings as a receiver/defensive back at Alabama, forced offenses to change by packing his defenses with so much speed that the Seminoles simply couldn't be blocked. Safeties became linebackers. Linebackers became defensive ends. If you could run, Mickey might consider you for his defense. If you could run and hit, Mickey wanted you on his defense. A few years back, an FSU defensive playbook found its way onto the Internet. Two Mickeyisms stood out. The first came in at No. 4 in a section titled "Basics of FSU Defense." "Runners and Hitters. Force Turnovers or Take Aways (sic). You can't take a mule to the Kentucky Derby." Then there was No. 6: "Kill a fly with an axe."

Ask former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel about that axe. The 1996 Heisman Trophy winner was bludgeoned so many times by the Seminoles -- before, during and after the whistle -- in a regular-season loss to FSU that before the Gators faced the Noles for the national title in the Sugar Bowl, Florida coach Steve Spurrier decided to run much of his offense from the shotgun to give Wuerffel at least a fraction of a second to throw. Spurrier, at the height of his offensive genius, had to radically renovate his offense because of Andrews. He wasn't the only one, either. Today's spread option offenses developed as a direct response to the defensive principles teams copied from Andrews.

Spurrier won the chess match in that Sugar Bowl, but Andrews had more success than anyone against Darth Visor. In 14 meetings between 1990 and 2001, FSU was 8-5-1 with Andrews matching wits against Spurrier.

Andrews had plenty of success against the rest of his opponents, too. FSU led the nation in rushing defense in 1996 and 1997, and the Noles led the nation in pass defense in 1998. In the 2000 Sugar Bowl, his speedsters contained Virginia Tech's Michael Vick just long enough for the Noles to jump out to a 28-7 lead. Vick put on a show, but it was too late, and FSU claimed its second national title.

Bobby Rhodes was a senior linebacker on that 1999 team. Earlier that year, Rhodes had quit the team after a disagreement about playing time. He had run 800 212-yard gassers over a period of weeks to earn his way back on Andrews' defense. Rhodes said that at practice, an Andrews critique could peel the gold paint off a wayward Seminole's helmet. Asked to recall his favorite Andrews sayings, Rhodes just laughed. "You can't print any of them," said Rhodes, who now runs Green Solar Solutions in Mt. Dora, Fla. But, Rhodes said, the drill sergeant routine on the field was all for show. "He was a firecracker on the field," Rhodes said, "but once he got off the field and you saw him at dinner, he was the kindest man."

Life changed forever for Andrews in August 2007 when he got the call that his son had died. His priorities may have changed, too. "I think he is the same coach," Diane Andrews told The Tampa Tribune in December 2007. "I don't think he is the same person."

That new person needs more time with his family. Andrews said it best Tuesday night. Time is just so important now.

So, after this season, the man who changed the way everyone plays defense by commanding his runners and hitters to kill flies with axes will return to the family that shares his DNA and leave the one that shares his passion for football. "I don't know if anybody could be more fortunate to have a job like I do with the coaches that I work with and these guys back here," Andrews said. "I fuss at them a lot of times and say things I ought not to say, but they know I love them and I just want the best for them."

They'll miss him dearly. "The freshmen aren't even going to know what they are missing," FSU linebacker Dekoda Watson said. "There's not going to be another coach like that in a million years."

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