At FIU, the process of grieving Luke Knox is just beginning

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MIAMI — Practice ended at Florida International on a steamy morning, and coach Mike MacIntyre gathered the team to go over the plan for the rest of the day.

When he was finished, there was one last order of business.

“Let’s have a prayer,” MacIntyre said. “A prayer for Luke’s family.”

Football resumed at FIU two days after 22-year-old linebacker Luke Knox – the brother of Buffalo Bills tight end Dawson Knox – died in a Miami hospital. The cause of death still has not been announced, though police have said foul play is not believed to have been involved.

MacIntyre has been close with Knox’s family for decades. He’s known David Knox, Luke Knox’s father, for more than 40 years. MacIntyre went to Brentwood Academy in Tennessee, the same prep school that many in the Knox family attended.

He coached Luke Knox at Mississippi, and MacIntyre taking over at FIU after last season is part of the reason why Knox transferred there.

MacIntyre and his team spent the day off the field grieving, snacking on pizza, and chicken sandwiches, trying to watch a movie, telling stories about Knox, sometimes crying, sometimes laughing, often hugging. The next day, they got back to football.

“There’s no perfect formula, but you love the kids, you’re with them, you’re listening to what they say,” MacIntyre said. “And like I told every one of them, and our coaches reiterated it multiple times, everybody grieves differently. You don’t know when it’s going to hit you. So, we allowed our kids to say, `I want to practice, I don’t want to practice,’ and I think that they’ve you handled it the best they can.”

Most players chose to practice. Some asked to be excused, instead spending time with counselors and psychologists.

Luke Knox was unresponsive when found in his dorm room there by a teammate, police said. Police officers administered CPR upon arrival, and county rescue personnel took over when they came to transport Knox to a nearby hospital.

MacIntyre spent hours there, hoping for a miracle. He then went to the airport to pick up Knox’s parents in the wee hours.

“We’re in the process of working through this,” MacIntyre said.

He has had to deal with something similar before, at Georgia Tech in the late 1980s, when one of his teammates, tight end Chris Caudle, drowned in a boating mishap. MacIntyre said he also had been getting calls from other coaches who have lost a player.

Lane Kiffin, who coached Knox at Ole Miss, said he was thankful for having known him.

“Really neat kid,” Kiffin said. “Got to spend a lot of 1-on-1 time with him. I’m fortunate for that. Sometimes you don’t because you’ve got so many players. Just happened to with him. It’s very unfortunate. … He impacted a lot of people. Probably more than he imagined, and you can see that from the reaction from so many people hurt.”

Some of that hurt has been turned to good.

Dawson Knox has helped raise funds for the P.U.N.T. Pediatric Cancer Collaborative in the Buffalo area during his time with the Bills. In a span of about 24 hours following the announcement of Luke Knox’s death, the organization received more than $100,000 in donations.

Most of those donations were for exactly $16.88. The 16 signifies Luke Knox’s jersey number at FIU, the 88 signifying Dawson Knox’s number with the Bills.

Dawson Knox announced that services for his brother will take place in Tennessee, adding that his family is thankful “for the outpouring of love and support.” FIU is also deciding how it wants to honor Knox throughout this season, with MacIntyre saying he would leave that primarily up to the leaders on the team.

The first of their many tributes came after the post-practice prayer. Their final chant as they broke the huddle was “1, 2, 3, Luke.”

“I thought that was very fitting,” MacIntyre said.

And when he said that, he was no longer able to hold back his tears.

FIU says Butch Davis won’t return after this season

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MIAMI — Butch Davis will not be back as FIU’s football coach in 2022, and the search for a new coach will not begin until the school’s hiring of a new athletic director is completed.

The Panthers have two games left in Davis’ fifth and final season at the school.

“We wish Coach Davis well in his future endeavors,” university president Mark Rosenberg said.

The move was expected, given that Davis was in the last year of his contract and that the person who hired him – athletic director Pete Garcia – stepped down last week. FIU stunned Miami 30-24 on Nov. 23, 2019, and has gone 1-16 since. The lone win was against lower-division Long Island University to open this season.

The Panthers have been outscored by an average of 23.1 points against FBS competition this season, the fifth-worst mark in the country.

“Our search is underway for a new athletic director who will hire our next football coach,” Rosenberg said.

Davis is 103-73 in parts of 15 seasons as coach at Miami, North Carolina and FIU, with six bowl wins. He also spent parts of four seasons as coach of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.

Sunshine State falls out of the AP Top 25

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
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Florida has fallen out of the AP Top 25.

As in the Gators.

And the rest of the state.

The Sunshine State Blues are back. The latest AP Top 25 failed to have a team from the state of Florida on the list for the first time since Nov. 20, 2011. The Gators dropped out, ending a run of 52 consecutive poll appearances.

With that, the state that had 11 AP national championships in a 31-season span from 1983 through 2013 – and none since – was gone from the poll as well.

“We’ve got to play better,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said after Saturday’s 49-42 loss to LSU. “We’ll evaluate it all. We’ve got to coach better, play better, look at our personnel, make sure we’re putting guys in the right position to make plays and get better.”

That may as well be the state college football motto right now.

Sunday marked only the seventh time in the last 638 polls since December 1982 when no team from Florida was ranked by AP voters; the other six times were all in the 2011 season. There won’t be any national championship, almost certainly no conference or even division championships, and at this rate even getting more than one or two bowl bids doesn’t seem guaranteed.

The state has seven FBS teams – Florida, Florida State, Miami, UCF, South Florida, FIU and Florida Atlantic. Of those, only the Gators have a winning record right now, and 4-3 isn’t exactly anything that they’re celebrating in Gainesville these days.

UCF and FAU are 3-3. Florida State and Miami are 2-4. FIU and USF are 1-5. Add it up, and the state is 16-27 this season, on pace for more losses than ever. Plus, five of those 16 wins – and, in Florida State’s case, one of those losses – came against teams from the Football Championship Subdivision, the level that used to be called Division I-AA.

Florida has some of the best high school football in the country and more native players in the NFL this season than any other state.

But the college football statewide, again, mediocre – and that might be too kind a term. Only the Gators and Hurricanes have been ranked this season; Florida reached No. 10, Miami reached No. 14 and those days are already long forgotten.

“There’s a really good team in that locker room,” Miami coach Manny Diaz said after the Hurricanes lost 45-42 at North Carolina on Saturday, the 2-4 start matching their worst in the last 24 seasons. “We don’t have a good record, and we are what our record says we are. I understand that.”

The state’s seven teams are 0-7 against ranked opponents this season, meaning this could end up as the first year without a Sunshine State win over an AP-ranked team since 1975. And this stat might be even more damning: against Power Five opponents, plus Notre Dame, the state’s teams are a combined 4-15 this season – after going 18-14 against those schools in 2020.

“We’re halfway through the season,” UCF coach Gus Malzahn said after his team’s 56-21 loss to unbeaten Cincinnati. “And we’ve got to get better.”

During the statewide appearance streak that started in November 2011, Florida had been ranked 110 times, Florida State 90 times, Miami 59 times, UCF 47 times and USF 21 times.

They’re all on the outside looking in now. And there might not be much hope of getting a Sunshine State team ranked again anytime soon, either – unless Florida finds a way to knock off No. 1 Georgia on Oct. 30.

“We’re all frustrated right now,” Mullen said.

That’s a sentiment shared across the Sunshine State.