Rick Stockstill jumped head first into coaching just months after leaving Florida State. Soon, he was teaching elements of the Seminoles’ offense as an assistant coach at Bethune-Cookman.
FSU’s quarterback from 1977-81, Stockstill was part of the team that went on the road in October and defeated Ohio State, Notre Dame and LSU – helping put Bobby Bowden’s program on the college football map nationally. Stockstill listened and learned from Bowden, helping to also mold in him how he wanted to coach.
“I’m so appreciative of coach Bowden and all of the coaches there,” Stockstill said. “Everybody that I came across at Florida State. I was lucky. I had a phenomenal college experience. As a football player and as a student, I’m proud of Florida State. It holds a special place in my heart. Coach Bowden, I owe him the world. To me he’s the greatest coach, not just football coach, of all time. How he impacted our lives. Florida State football wouldn’t be what it is today without him. But I believe Florida State University wouldn’t be what it is today without Coach Bowden. He has impacted so many lives. Other than my father, he’s had the biggest impact in my life.”
Stockstill went on to be an assistant coach at UCF, Clemson, East Carolina and South Carolina before he was hired to be Middle Tennessee’s head coach in 2006. He is 91-86 in 14 seasons at the school. Stockstill sat down with the Osceola to discuss why he got into coaching, his mentors and more.
Did you always know that you wanted to coach?
My dad was a high school coach and he coached a little bit in college at an NAIA school in Kentucky. I grew up in the coaching profession. I knew in the second or third grade that this was what I wanted to do. When you go to college, all you know is what you’ve been around, what you’ve been exposed to. I went to Florida State with the idea of ‘I’m going to play, I’m going to graduate and I’m going to come back and be a high school coach.’ I knew I wanted to coach. I got around coach (Bobby) Bowden and coach (George) Henshaw and coach (Gene) McDowell, coach (Billy) Sexton. I started talking to them about college coaching and I said, ‘I want to try this.’ I graduated and I was fortunate enough that Larry Little had just got the head coaching job at Bethune-Cookman. He called coach (Howard) Schnellenberger at Miami, coach (Charley) Pell at Florida and coach Bowden. He asked if there was anybody around that he would recommend as the quarterback coach and offensive coordinator. I went down there and interviewed and I was fortunate enough to get my start there. I went to Florida State knowing I wanted to coach. I just soaked up everything coach Bowden said, everything my other coaches said.
Did you find you were often spending time with your dad, asking questions, soaking it up?
I just remember tagging along. When he was coaching in college, he was the offensive line coach and the head baseball coach. I’m second, third grade and I’m the bat boy and I’m up there all the time. I’m on the sideline jumping on dummies and all of that but listening and watching. I’d go up there on weekends after a game, sitting in his office in the back, listening and watching. My son (Brent), he played for us, he was our quarterback. Now he’s in the coaching profession. He did the same thing. When I was at Clemson, he tagged along. My wife would drop him off after school. He was just hanging out at practice and would come up to the office all the time and watch film. You hear my dad at home at the dinner table and my son Brent would hear me at the dinner table, talking about games or if a kid messed up or if a kid did something good. You are exposed to so much at a young age that a young kid that doesn’t grow up in the coaching profession he never hears or sees until he becomes a player or until he gets into the coaching profession. I was the ultimate gym rat. I was just around the whole time.
What is the most gratifying thing about being a coach?
It has kind of evolved. The older you get, not that you change. I got into coaching because I loved the sport. You want to be around the sport. You want to be around young people, help them grow into good men. When I went to Bethune-Cookman, I’m a year older than the seniors. That father figure that I probably am now, that coach Bowden was to us wasn’t developed yet or wasn’t earned yet. I didn’t have enough experiences. It has evolved. Now that you’re the head coach, you want to win every game. I’m as competitive as I ever have been in my life. But at the same time you also want to see these players that you’re responsible for to either get on or stay on the right path to being successful in life. Trying to help them be a good husband and a good father, a good provider for their family. When I started out at Bethune-Cookman, what do you know about being a father? I wasn’t one. I wasn’t married at the time. Not to say it was all ball. But in the beginning you’re just so locked in to coaching and developing your coaching philosophy and learning as much as you can about recruiting or the X’s and O’s part of the game that you could. When I went to Bethune-Cookman, I took my Florida State playbook. That’s all I knew. Five months ago, I was a player. I think it has evolved.
How did the FSU coaches influence you and your coaching style?
I’ve always said that other than my father, coach Bowden was the biggest male impact in my life. I’ve been very fortunate in who I’ve coached with, coached for. I coached for Larry Little, who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Then I went with coach McDowell to Central Florida, who was Florida State’s first All-American. I went to Clemson with Danny Ford, who won a national championship. And then Ken Hatfield and Tommy Bowden. Then I go to South Carolina and Lou Holtz won a national championship and Steve Spurrier won a national championship. The people I’ve been around are some of the all-time great coaches. But I always say this that I try to run the program here at Middle Tennessee, I try to coach and treat our players more like coach Bowden did than every other coach I’ve been around. If you were to come here and look around and watch me coach or watch me interact with our players, I hope you would say, ‘I see a lot of similarities in him and coach Bowden and how he communicates.’ Coach Bowden was a great communicator. He was a great motivator. Back when we played, we didn’t have any right to beat Nebraska, Pittsburgh, Ohio State, Notre Dame and LSU. Those guys were more talented than us. We had good players but we were successful because we were a true team. Guys were close to each other. Nobody had an ego. We played for coach Bowden. I wanted to do good, I wanted to win because I didn’t want to let coach Bowden down, I didn’t want to let coach Henshaw down, I didn’t want to let coach Sexton down, I didn’t want to let coach (Nick) Kish down. I played for those guys first and then Florida State and then yourself personally. At Middle Tennessee, how do we beat Missouri? How do we beat Georgia Tech? How do we beat Maryland? How do we beat the guys that we’ve beaten that have four- and five-star guys and we have two- and three-star guys. We beat those guys because coach Bowden made us believe and motivated us that we were better than what our talent level really was. That’s what I try to do here at Middle Tennessee.
What was your experience coaching Brent, who was Middle Tennessee’s quarterback (2014-18)?
When he was in high school, his junior and senior year, we talked about him going off and blazing his own trail. Because you hear all of the horror stories. Especially being a quarterback at the college level, your dad is a head coach, all of that kind of stuff. We talked about blazing your own trail, so he signed with Cincinnati. After he signed in February, he also played baseball. They get beat in the regional tournament and I said ‘Brent, this is a coach speaking. You are going to have a great career. You are going to have everything that a coach wants to coach, from toughness to competitiveness to leadership to all of those intangibles that you want to coach. You are going to have a great career at Cincinnati.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Dad, all I ever wanted to do was play for you.’ So that hit me like a ton of bricks. And as I looked back on it, he wore a Cincinnati hat on signing day but that’s really the only time he wore it. We talked about it a little more. And I called Tommy Tuberville. He said, ‘Let me think about it for a couple days.’ I called him back, he said, ‘Stock, if it was my son, I hope you would do the same.’ He released him from his NLI. He came here. I said ‘Brent, you can win the Heisman here or you can never come off the bench. But I’m going to coach you the same as I coach anybody. But I don’t want anything to jeopardize our father-son relationship.’ He understood. We had just a phenomenal relationship prior to him coming here and it only strengthened. I tell everybody, if you get the opportunity to coach your son do not let it pass you by. It was the greatest five years. Whatever happens these next 25 years, nothing will replace the five years I spent with Brent. He started as a redshirt freshman. He was just short of Jameis Winston’s freshman record for passing yards (Stockstill had 4,005 in 2015 while Winston had 4,057 in 2013. We won games. Won bowl games. He had a great career. But to be able to watch him, how he competed, how he interacted, his toughness, his leadership and if you had come to a practice or come to a game you would not know he was my son. The first couple years he called me coach and then after he got settled in it was Pops. He helped me create memories that will last my a lifetime. It was a phenomenal experience. I know there have been other college coaches that it didn’t work out good but this one was really special.
What has changed about football since your playing days?
Just what high school and college athletes are exposed to today. If coach Bowden asked us to do something, we did it. It was never questioned. And now it’s more of they almost want to know why. Not in a negative way. But why are we doing this? There’s no secrets in recruiting. Everybody knows everything. You can’t hide somebody anymore that you’re recruiting. 7-on-7 camps. There’s just so much exposure that I don’t want to say they are smarter than us but they are so much more aware of what’s going on than what we were. Forget about the X’s and O’s because that changes all the time. But I think when I played we had 105 guys on scholarship and now you are at 85. You can’t practice as physical and as long because we don’t have the bodies. Coaches are more aware of players, their health. Coach Bowden never told us to eat healthy. Make sure you eat color on your plate. I learned that from coach Spurrier. Make sure you are eating your grains and your vegetables. Put color on your plate and don’t eat the fried food all the time. We’re more aware, more cognizant of how to take care of our players from a physical standpoint and a healthy standpoint. And the name, image and likeness comes up in the next year. You have to be more aware and cognizant of that.
How have you addressed the subjects of racial inequality and the COVID-19 pandemic?
That’s one thing that I’m really proud of. If this world would become an athletic locker room – everybody is black, white, Catholic, Baptist, atheist, Christian, Muslim, there are so many different people that at the end of the day, people break it down and they say, ‘Family,’ ‘Brotherhood,’ ‘I love you.’ There are racial inequalities in this country. And to me the way you can change it is it starts with respecting each other. There is no respect for human life in this world right now. When we were growing up, if you had a disagreement you might have ended up in a fight but that was it. Now if there’s a disagreement, people are killing each other because we don’t value human life. To me it has to start with your heart, loving people, respecting people and education. And it’s how the guys at Florida State – how are they going to raise their children. How are they going to create a better world by how they raise their children. It starts with love and education and teaching them. That’s what I want to do. Our guys know where I stand. I’m with them. We decided as a team that we wanted to get 1,000 book bags donated and take them to some local elementary schools so that everyone can walk into their schools and they all have a backpack. They all feel good that I’m not coming in with my crayons in a paper bag. We are starting school on an equal basis. I want to get involved with the Boys & Girls Clubs and start mentoring programs with our players, they have had ideas about doing that. A big brother deal. I want to support them.