Florida State

1971 - 74  Seminoles
(Authentic Reproduction)





Bill Peterson had done a fine job turning Florida State into a strong southern independent team and for years, his offensive acumen attracted attention from the NFL. The rumors of his "impending departure" from Florida State was often used as a recruiting tool by opponents and when Peterson finally did leave after numerous bouts of frustration over the poor athletic facilities at FSU, new coach Larry Jones came in having no idea how pervasive the negative recruiting against the Seminoles would be, or its effect. Jones had a great resume having played under Paul Dietzel during LSU's glory years in the late 1950's and then coached on his staffs at LSU, West Point, and South Carolina. After a stint as the "defensive coach" under Bill Battle at Tennessee, Jones was a red-hot head coaching candidate and he came to FSU with a reputation as a "new breed of coach" who could "relate to the modern player." He inherited a strong, upperclassmen-laden squad of tough, motivated athletes but his own recruiting suffered due to the lack of a weight room, training table, and athletic dorm as well as locker and training room facilities that ranked among the worst in the country. His coaching style also led to a breakdown in discipline although 1971 started strongly, in part due to the assistance of holdover coaches Bill Parcells and designated "Gary Huff coach" Steve Sloan, both whom later made names for themselves elsewhere. The defense was sparked by the secondary tandem of J.T. Thomas and Eddie McMillian. The 8-3 Seminoles were invited to the inaugural Fiesta Bowl vs. 10-1 Arizona State where they lost a shootout to Danny White and the Sun Devils. Under Sloan's guidance, Huff led the country in total offense and in numerous passing categories, throwing primarily to future Packers and Bucs end Barry Smith, Rhett Dawson who played with the Oilers and Vikings, and emerging TE Gary Parris. Unfortunately, at the end of the season the continuing lack of state and school money led to the exodus of Sloan and other assistants. Jones was riding high after his debut season but the bottom fell out as the '72 season progressed and an incredible run of injuries crippled the squad to the point that a scout team DB had to be called from the stands during a home game to dress and then enter the game! QB Huff fell off from his junior performance but was still the second-round choice of the Bears where he played until ’76, completing his pro career in Tampa Bay in ’77 and ’78. The sloppy team performances and frustration were so great that LB Larry Strickland was flagged against Kansas for actually biting a Jayhawk in his buttocks at the
conclusion of a pileup. There were good individual performances as receivers Smith, who was third nationally in receptions, and Parris both went to the pros, Smith as the Packers first-round choice and Parris to San Diego where he started an eight-year pro career that took him to the Browns and then to the Cardinals. RB Hodges Mitchell missed three games, two with injury, and still broke the FSU single-season rushing mark. The two secondary stars completed their collegiate careers with J.T. Thomas going to the Steelers as their first-round pick and serving them well on their Super Bowl teams through 1981 and then completing his pro career with the Broncos in ’82. McMillian played six seasons with the Rams, Seahawks, and Bills. The 1972 record of 7-4 partially obscured what was to follow. From November 11, 1972 through the end of the 1973 season, Jones would lose twelve consecutive games. From November 11, 1972 through November 8, 1974, Florida State would lose twenty consecutive games! The injuries, breakdown of discipline, and lack of state money to improve facilities or keep assistants had caught up to FSU and prior to the final game of the '72 season, Parcells noted in an interview that he would be leaving because he “saw where the program was headed.” All of this was compounded by the most negative of publicity as Jones installed a tougher off-season program after the disappointment of 1972. Two dozen players immediately quit and in June, prior to the opening of the 1973 season, local papers criticized the football program for "brutalizing players" although this off-season program was typical for the era. In fact, a Sports Illustrated expose of the "chicken wire scandal" indicated that if anything, the program was not as tough as many others but Jones had used a chicken wire covering four feet off the ground over wrestling mats to teach the players to stay low while wrestling, standard fare for the late '60s and early '70s. This was publicized as a Gladiatorial bloodletting where players were locked in cages to battle to the death! Of course, chicken wire is designed to avoid injuring chickens and was thus harmless to the players. It was no more than a convenient way to make a "stay-low" type of chute but the media damage was done. Compounded by a tougher schedule, Jones team was finished before the '73 season began. Later, when Bobby Bowden came in, the Seminoles tough independent "we'll play anyone" schedule was a plus but for '73 it was disastrous and the team went winless, losing all eleven contests. QB Billy Sexton, a drop-back passer originally from Tallahassee, did not see much playing time in Alabama’s Wishbone offense and transferred home to FSU. He later became a long-time assistant to Bobby Bowden for the Seminoles. With the lackluster defense error-prone and yielding 331 points, Larry Jones was fired four days prior to Christmas, the first FSU coach to be relieved of his position. One of Jones’ legacies, though perhaps not as long-lasting as the "chicken wire scandal" was his great helmet design. Using the standard gold helmet shell, he added the one-inch garnet center stripe, one-inch white flanking stripes, and on each side of the helmet, placed a solid gold shape of Florida, beautifully trimmed in white and garnet. Inside the Florida design was the word “STATE” in garnet lettering that was trimmed with white. The entire effect of the trim made for an outstanding helmet presentation and one of the most attractive of the era and it remains a sought-after collectors' item.    


Florida State was desperate to win after Larry Jones was fired and they looked to Darrell Mudra who if nothing else, was a proven winner, even earning the nickname “Dr. Victory.” Looking back on a long career, Mudra was successful everywhere he coached, before and after Florida State. A member of The College Football Hall Of Fame for his fine achievements at Arizona State and North Dakota prior to taking the Florida State position, and later, at Eastern Illinois and Northern Iowa, his two year 1-10 and 3-8 performances at Tallahassee may be more indicative of the horrible state of affairs on campus rather than a reflection of his abilities. In retrospect, echoing Jones' statements, Mudra later pointed out that Bill Peterson built the school's football reputation and record a lot faster than its facilities and finances. Under Mudra they finally built a weight room and moved the players under one roof into an apartment complex. Actor and former Seminole halfback Burt Reynolds spearheaded a fund- raising effort to reduce a deficit that was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Mudra found a paucity of quality athletes stating "...it was obviously a group put together after the athletes were picked over" and certainly not a group that could play against SEC level competition. An "innovation" in '74 was the decision, one still in effect, to play all home games at night to enhance home field advantage and attendance. Assistant Coach Dan Henning, later a long time NFL assistant and head coach, would contribute with an offense that helped FSU play tough although losing football against a brutal bowl-bound team schedule. RB Leon Bright and his 457 rushing yards was one of the few “bright spots” for the ‘Noles and he teamed well with WB Larry Key. DT Greg Johnson was the pillar on a defense that improved from 1973 but still gave up more than twenty-five points per game. After twenty consecutive losses, the lone Seminole win came against hated Miami in a 21-14 squeaker. Mudra maintained the helmet design introduced for 1971 by departed coach Jones but would make his own contribution to the FSU helmet collection in ’75.

If interested in any of these Florida State helmets please click on the photos below.