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How Jimmy and Bobby changed college football

If etymologists tackled the origins of modern college football, their research would lead to two coaches, one talent-rich state and the annual games that changed everything.

Before Vic Beasley and Shane Ray became first-round picks as sub-250-pound defensive ends, there was Danny Stubbs, a linebacker-turned-end who recorded 17 sacks in 1986 for Miami. Before Gus Malzahn and the HUNH (hurry up, no huddle) offense, there was Florida State's fast break with Charlie Ward at quarterback. Before Patrick Peterson lined up at cornerback as the best athlete on the field at LSU, Deion Sanders did the same at Florida State.

Before position descriptions became fuzzy and the term "hybrid" entered the football lexicon, Jimmy Johnson played 11-card monte with Miami's depth chart.

Picture a route map in the back of an airline magazine, all those parabolas mushrooming out from hub cities. Miami and Florida State were college football's hubs from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s, spreading new ways of recruiting, evaluating and utilizing personnel to all corners of the country.

Johnson and Bobby Bowden were at the controls. The results were historic. Miami and FSU each had a national title and seven top-five finishes between 1986, Johnson's third year at the U, and 1993, when Bowden won his first national title with the Seminoles. No other program had more than four top-five finishes during that span.

"What those two schools did with speed, especially on defense, it changed the game," said Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, a Miami native who grew up watching games at the Orange Bowl before attending college at Florida State and starting his coaching career there. "They were the innovators."

The innovation started with Johnson and his evaluations. He wasn't opposed to the biggest/strongest/fastest rubric that most followed, but he wasn't married to it, either. If a smaller, faster player could be productive in a spot normally occupied by larger bodies, Johnson wouldn't hesitate to put him there.

After all, Johnson used to be one.

"I was on the all-decade team at Arkansas at 195 pounds, defensive nose tackle," Johnson told ESPN.com. "You say, 'How can a 195-pound defensive lineman play?' Not only did we go undefeated [in 1964], we shut out the last five opponents.

"So it goes back to my playing days."

In recruiting meetings, Johnson talked about what prospects could become, not what they were -- the mass they could add or shed, the different positions they could play.

Johnson's non-negotiables: speed and intelligence.

"Speed, speed, speed, No. 1 factor," said Ed Orgeron, who joined Johnson's Miami staff in 1988. "Good athletes with skinny ankles, round butts -- had that racehorse look to them."

Johnson initiated his system at Oklahoma State, but it truly blossomed in Miami, where he had a buffet of local high school recruits at his disposal. Art Kehoe, who coached Miami's offensive line for most of Johnson's tenure and still holds the job today, loved watching Johnson operate during recruiting weekends.

"He'd say, 'What do you think, Art? Can he play guard? Oh, his hands are big, his shoulders are big, let's bring him in. He'll end up being a D-end if he doesn't end up at safety,'" Kehoe said. "I saw so many of them go through, whatever you want to call it, the metamorphosis."

Florida recruits played football both in the spring and fall and also competed in other sports such as track and basketball. Everyone ran. Almost everyone ran fast. When Bowden dispatched Chuck Amato, his lead South Florida recruiter, in the springtime, he told Amato to visit every school he could.

"You have to work really hard in the state of Florida to screw up recruiting," Amato said.

Johnson recruited for specific traits more than specific positions. He stockpiled high school running backs and put the slower ones at linebacker. He focused Miami's offensive line recruiting on centers and left tackles -- "The most athletic positions on the line," Orgeron said -- and filled gaps with high school defensive linemen who were too slow to play on Miami's D-line.

When Johnson got each team on campus, the position tinkering began.

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