FSU players happy for Mark Stoops

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The news trickled out slowly among a handful of players who had arrived for an early meeting Tuesday afternoon, and Bjoern Werner said he was hardly surprised that defensive coordinator Mark Stoops was leaving to become the head coach at Kentucky.

After the meeting, Werner made a point to pull Stoops aside for a hug and some words of encouragement for the future. Rather than disappointment at the loss of his coach, Werner said he'll be a Kentucky fan going forward -- but perhaps not one who dons a blue cap and T-shirt.

"Oh no," Werner said, "not that much."

Still, the sentiment was universal following Tuesday's practice, as Stoops' tenure winds to a close at Florida State.

Jimbo Fisher announced Stoops' impending departure in a team meeting before practice, and players offered a standing ovation. There was some instant buzz, particularly among the younger players, but that quickly died down as attention turned to the work on the field.

"It actually brought energy," safety Lamarcus Joyner said. "It's always best when someone is honest with you, and everybody wishes the best for Coach Stoops. We believe he deserves that, and we're going to play hard for him before he leaves out. We're going to end this on a good note for him."

Stoops accepted the Kentucky job Tuesday and he'll stay on staff at least through this week's ACC championship game. Beyond that, the future is a bit murky.

Fisher said his focus is entirely on Florida State's upcoming game against Georgia Tech, and he hasn't talked through anything beyond that with Stoops, who appears unlikely to stick around through FSU's bowl game.

Amid swirling rumors Monday, Fisher said he kept an up-to-date list of potential replacements for any assistant coaching vacancies, but he also denied he's given much thought to who might be at the top of his wish list to replace Stoops.

"We'll start that next week," Fisher said. "I'll look at my list and see what's available, what's out there and make a good decision. It happens so quick. I have those lists, and I know what my process is going to be, but I haven't had time to think about it because it's Georgia Tech."

Given the quick announcement by Kentucky that Stoops had been hired, it stands to reason that Fisher isn't ready to make a hire immediately, but Werner indicated a plan was already in place.

"At Unity Council, I asked Coach Fisher, 'Can you give us a little hint?' " Werner said. "He's like, 'Nope, but I have my plan and you guys are going to know soon.' "

Werner is among a handful of FSU underclassmen who will be keenly interested in who is hired to replace Stoops before making a final decision on whether or not to return for their senior seasons or enter the NFL draft.

"That will be something I'll have to pray about," Joyner said. "I'll have to talk to my family, Coach Fisher and Coach Stoops about. We have two games to finish, so I just want to finish strong and let the cards deal what it may."

The job of keeping Florida State's recruiting class together in the wake of Stoops' departure could also be a concern. Several FSU recruits expressed disappointment in Stoops' decision Tuesday, and Joyner said it's not uncommon for younger players to put a lot of stock in coaching changes as they attempt to formulate a final decision on their college choices.

It's also possible that Stoops may not be the only departure from Fisher's staff. Message boards floated numerous rumors following the announcement that Stoops may bring one or more of FSU's current coaches with him to Kentucky, but again, Fisher said those decisions have yet to be discussed.

"He's the head coach and none of those things have been done and nothing is set," Fisher said. "We haven't even talked about those things. We're totally focused on Georgia Tech."

When Fisher's attention does turn to hiring a replacement, he said he anticipates having his pick of top options for the job. Stoops' departure provides an obvious sales pitch to future candidates.

Florida State is a marquee job, Fisher said, and the fact that Stoops was able to parlay three years in Tallahassee into a head coaching job in the SEC speaks volumes.

"I want to be known as the guy that helps guys get jobs," Fisher said. "If they come to a good program and they do well, you get those opportunities."

Stoops arrived at FSU following the 2009 season in which the Seminoles were a dismal 108th nationally in total defense, but the rebuilding happened quickly. The Seminoles rank second in the nation in total defense and seventh in scoring defense this season, and for the second straight season has been one of the elite units in the country.

Add that to Stoops' impressive coaching pedigree -- his brother Bob is head coach at Oklahoma, and and another brother, Mike, coached Arizona -- and he was a hot commodity for vacancies that came about in recent weeks.

It also meant that Stoops' departure came as no surprise to the players he's coached for the past three years.

"I was more happy for Coach Stoops than anything," Joyner said. "He's a coach that's put in his work. He doesn't have to explain that it's best for him and his family and sets him up for what he needs. That's a blessing for him. He's a great man and he deserves it."