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Seminoles reflect on impact of Jack Stanton

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Jack Stanton, who was the defensive coordinator for Bobby Bowden in his first eight seasons at Florida State (1976-1983), passed on Sept. 18 after a prolonged illness. Stanton was 82.

Florida State’s best defense was the 1980 Orange Bowl squad that gave up the fewest points in the nation that year (85). The Seminoles’ defense was instrumental in compiling a 10-1 regular season record, which included an 18-14 win at No. 3 Nebraska and No. 3 Pittsburgh, led by College and Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino. Opponents did not score on the Seminoles in the fourth quarter of any game of the 1980 season. 

“Bobby and I have enjoyed Ruthie and Jack as a couple and having them on the staff,” said Ann Bowden, who spoke for her husband who was unavailable for comment while recovering from an infection in his leg. “Ruthie and I used to play tennis a lot. They’ve kept their home here in Killearn and I will reach out to her to offer my help once  things begin to settle down for her. We have lost a lot of good friends, players and coaches over the years and it is always tough because life is precious.”

On behalf of Bowden’s former coaches, Jim Gladden paid tribute to Stanton.

“I had the privilege of working with Jack Stanton from 1976 to 1984. Jack was a very committed football coach and was a tireless worker,” said Gladden who coached defensive ends under Stanton. “He was demanding of the players and expected the same from the staff.  During those years we were able to put together some of the most outstanding defenses that Florida State University had seen. It was during Jack’s tenure that we began to establish a national brand, with victories over The University of Florida and the 1980 victory over the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. 

“I have had calls from former players from that era expressing their condolences. Jack was a man of integrity and will be greatly missed by his many friends.”

The players will attest to Stanton’s tireless work ethic, each of them using words like hard-nosed, uncompromising and tough.

“One standard,” added former safety Keith Jones, who is now a sports commentator and co-host of the “Front Row Noles” radio show. “We talk about living up to the standard. Well, Jack was preaching the standard 44, 45, 46 years ago.”

Jones also remembers Stanton as an innovator.

“He was a very, very innovative guy,” said the Academic All-American. “We did things that were just unheard of at the time that were ideas he came up with. “We were playing a ’50 look’ where you had five down people and two linebackers. In the 1981 Orange Bowl, he moved Jarvis Coursey from the strong side linebacker to the middle of the defense about eight yards off the line of scrimmage. It looked like a defensive diamond if you will. Reggie Herring and Paul Piurowski were normal linebacker position about five yards deep and Coursey was eight yards deep. We put in different calls for who had the quarterback and who had the pitch man. Coursey ended up with double digit tackles and was the Defensive MVP of the game.”

Linebacker Paul Piurowski uses the same words — tough and demanding — to describe his coach but is careful to add: “in a fatherly way.” 

“You know when you are 18 years old you are not used to that and it’s kind of alarming,” Piurowski said with a laugh. “He wanted you to be the best. We called him the King of the Rewind. We got to the point we would bet a couple of bucks on how many times he’d rewind a play on the projector. He actually broke the rewind button on the clicker but it was all good because he taught you how to look at film, how important it was.”

Piurowski said there was a reason for the long film sessions.

“He wanted you to learn your position and why it is important but try to learn other players’ positions as well, so you got a complete picture and it made sense,” said Piurowski. “He told me defense is like an 11 piece puzzle and I want you to learn that one piece, which is you, but I want you to learn the other 10 pieces that make up the whole puzzle.”

It paid off for Piurowski when he was with the USFL’s Tampa Bay Bandits. “Our defensive coordinator, Charlie Bailey, would have you get up on the white board and draw your responsibility for any given play,” Piurowski recalls. “I got up and did what I was taught to do by Jack Stanton. I did my responsibility and then I did all the other 10 responsibilities. Charlie was like, ‘Holy cow, you know more than most of my coaches do.’ ” 

“I learned it because I was taught it,” Piurowski told him. ”If you don’t know all the pieces of the puzzle you have a very limited understanding of the scheme. So, yeah, that’s the way Jack Stanton was. Just a tough guy who wanted the best out of you and out of everyone.”

Every day Scott Warren remembers coming onto the practice field and seeing Stanton’s defensive backs already out there, soaked in sweat, working on ball drills. 

“In addition to being our defensive coordinator, Coach Stanton coached the secondary where he sought perfection,” said Warren, also an Academic All-American who is a dermatologist today. “Our defensive backs were so prepared from film and practice that they would call out the opponents play before the snap.”

Dr. Warren believes the hard, detailed work helped him later in life.

“There was nothing in medical school more difficult than practice, at least not physically,” Warren said. “I think the preparation did make me mentally tougher which helps you accomplish goals later in life.”

Defensive back James Harris knew Stanton as a player and later as his graduate assistant.

“I came to FSU in 1978 to play for Jack Stanton. It was that simple,” Harris said. “I knew Coach Bowden was building something special, but we were far from a dynasty at that point. There was an energy, though, from car keys (Larry Keys) rattling in the stands during recruiting to running on to the field at Doak Campbell with the first Chief Osceola and Renegade. That was all great, but Coach Stanton was what brought me to Tallahassee from Gainesville and I’ve never regretted that decision.” 

Harris grew to admire him even more as a coach. 

“He was a great teacher, motivator and in later years, friend to all of us,” Harris said. “Coach was a tough, hard-nosed, disciplined man that when he spoke, we listened. If the defense was struggling, let’s just get to halftime. We, as a defense, knew that Jack would make some adjustments and we would control the second half. We believed in him and he cared about us from how school was going to wanting to know if we had called our mother. Every defensive player has a Jack Stanton story.”

Harris spoke for each of the former players when offering condolences to “Mrs. Ruthie Stanton” and the family, as well as their heartfelt thanks.

“I spent four great years as a member of Seminoles football teams, made wonderful, lifelong friends on the field and on campus, and am a proud graduate of The Florida State University,” Harris said. “All of that, and more, because I wanted to play for Jack Stanton.” 

Bobby Butler, who was an All-American cornerback on that 1980 football team, had the opportunity to play six years for Stanton, four at Florida State and two more at the Atlanta Falcons.

“Jack is probably the most influential person in my life and had the most influence on my career,” Butler said. “You hear most guys talk about how hard he was, and he was, but he coached every detail. He coached your technique to the letter. That made you a better player. When I got to NFL I was so well prepared, so advanced, even among the corners already on the roster.”

But that’s not what Butler appreciated most. 

“God sent him to Atlanta for me,” Butler said. “He sent him to me because at exactly the right time because I was ready to get out of Atlanta. I almost left to go to the Tampa Bay Bandits to play with all the Florida State guys down there. I came really close but Jack came here and  really turned me around. By him coming and helping me get through that time, I became a better player, a better man and a better professional.”

Butler’s problem in Atlanta was losing. The Delray Beach Atlantic high school state champion had never been on a losing team, which is what the Falcons were at the time. 

“The worst record I ever had was 8-3 in Pop Warner and then 8-3 my second year at FSU,” Butler said. “I got to Atlanta and the first year we went 7-9 and I was not in a good place mentally. It was a hard deal. Coach Stanton was a great man but a lot of people never go to know that man. As I became an adult and he coached me at Atlanta he was everything to me. We talked as adults and he helped me through it. I am glad I was coached by him all those years.”

Butler has a message for every player who ever played for Jack Stanton.

“He genuinely cared for people,” Butler said. “He would do anything to make you a better person and a better man. Sometimes when you get pushed like that, you don’t think the coach cares about you but I can assure you he cared about everyone he coached.”

A native of Carnegie, Pa., Stanton played defensive back at NC State from 1956-60 and later coached his alma mater for five seasons. Stanton came to FSU as a defensive backs coach in 1974, left for one season to join Bill Dooley on the North Carolina staff, then returned in 1975 as Bowden’s defensive coordinator. 

Following his tenure at Florida State, Stanton became defensive backs coach for the Atlanta Falcons in 1984-85, during which the Falcons compiled a record of 8-24. Stanton then coached defensive backs for the Los Angeles Raiders from 1989-94, compiling a record of 55-41 and 2-3 in the playoffs. 

Stanton retired in Tallahassee, in the same Killearn Country Club home where he and Ruthie raised their four children. 

Funeral arrangements were still being contemplated at the time of publishing. 

Comments

  1. Kirk Coker Reply

    Coach Stanton was certainly a tough, detail oriented individual. LOL…my experience as a offensive scout team player was a little different from my defensive teammates. Heaven forbid us scout teamers executing successfully against the 1st team D…I have fond memories mimicking Jim Kelly/Mark Richt of Miami; Dan Marino of Pitt, and Wayne Peace of UF…My deepest condolences to his family. God bless.

    • Jerry Kutz Reply

      I can only imagine what that must have been like!

  2. Chuck Newcomer Reply

    Great article. Several items I was unaware of, so I learned some more FSU history, which I love. But it also raised a big question. First I recall that following the 1983 season where FSU had gone 7-5 and had one of the worst defenses in the country (allowed 28pts/gm; 38ydsTO/game), Statnon was interviewed by the press and asked how it was that FSU had gone from the #1 ranked defense in 1980 to the second worst FSU defense in school history by 1983? Jack replied to the effect that “Bobby takes the best recruits for the offense.” That led to Stanton’s leaving and what some have suggested was the only time Bobby openly fired an assistant. Bill McGrotha’s book, “SEMINOLES! The First Forty Years” covers it gently, but makes it clear that Bobby was not satisfied, which led to hiring Mickey. No doubt the passing of Jack is not the time to overly focus on negatives, but a full accounting would seem to require some reference to all of the Stanton years at FSU. FSU and Bobby’s reputation grew from the ’81-’83 seasons. Those were the “Murder’s Row” and “Octoberfest years”. The years where FSU became known as the team that would play anyone, anywhere, at anytime. Jack resume diminished.

    Obviously it was surprising (to me) to learn that the Bowdens and Stantons remained neighbors and friends.

    • Jerry Kutz Reply

      As you noted, the story was a tribute to the great work Jack did in helping jump start the Bowden era.
      The pinnacle season was 1980 which was probably impossible to duplicate when almost that whole defensive unit — defensive backs Butler, Jones and Bonasorte, linebackers Piurowski and Herring and linemen Simmons, Futch and Macek — graduated.
      Those guys had played together four years and routinely spent hours in the film room and practice fields soaking in all kinds of schemes.
      I have a memory of UF head coach Charlie Pell saying, “I have never been so glad to see one class graduate.”
      The 1981 defense obviously didn’t have the experience or cohesiveness as eight guys who had started together for at least three years. The fans expectations didn’t change and suddenly there were questions about FSU’s defense.

      I recall concern about all the “talented” players being “put” on offense but I don’t think that was Bowden putting them there. I think it was more about how much priority Stanton placed on recruiting talented defensive players. I don’t mean any disrespect when I say Stanton was an outstanding technician who was less interested in recruiting which explains why he went to the NFL and not to another college.

      You can divide coaches into two groups, those who are good recruiters and those who are good enough coaches to take the position, “You recruit them and I’ll coach them.”

      I think Jack would tell you he fit into the second camp. He loved coaching them up.

      I think there was another issue in play too: the 20 hour rule was coming.
      While it would be 1991 before the NCAA wouldn’t pass the “20 hour rule” limiting the time coaches could schedule time with players to 20 hours per week in season, I think Bowden could hear the train acoming.
      The NCAA was increasing academic standards and Bowden needed the players in study hall after dinner and not in more film meetings. Again, Stanton fit better in the NFL were learning football was a full time occupation for the players.

      Mickey’s attacking style of defense was certainly demanding on players but it didn’t require the number of hours in the film room scheming as Stanton’s. When Mickey came in, Bowden told him he didn’t want to see the players in meetings after dinner.

      One more memory about Bowden allegedly wanting to put the best players on offense. When Deion Sanders showed out in the first Florida – Georgia All Star game, I did an interview with Bowden where he raved about Sanders and pondered a package where he might be able to contribute on offense too.
      A short while later, while interviewing Andrews at the bottom of the Moore Center stairs, I unwittingly mentioned Bowden’s comment to Andrews, who bristled, then sprinted up the stairs to Bowden’s office.

      While it never happened, apparently Andrews was concerned that an offensive-oriented head coach would covet the most-talented players. And I would have loved to see it.

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