TALLAHASSEE — It might sound like coachspeak, but Florida State's Leonard Hamilton insists he doesn't — and can't — spare a moment thinking about what might come in March.
"I'm concerned strictly about preparing for Jacksonville," he said of his Seminoles' season opener tonight. "If you worry about the past and you worry about the future, you don't do anything about the present."
A cliche? Sure. But that doesn't mean it's not an appropriate assessment.
Success today, and the day after and the day after that, is the best way to summon a bright tomorrow he might need to end speculation about his job security.
Though Hamilton, 60, has raised the bar, in terms of luring talent, compiling eye-catching wins and improving graduation rates for players who exhaust their eligibility, his teams haven't managed to clear the big one:
The Seminoles haven't earned a spot in the 65-team NCAA Tournament during his first six seasons, extending the program's absence from March Madness to 11 years.
"It's become the standard that dictates whether you're doing the job or not," ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said.
The NIT just doesn't do it.
"I certainly hope Florida State would be different in that trend, but the question is a fair one …" ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. "It's the world we're living in. It doesn't make it fair or right or wrong, it's just the way it is."
Shortly before last season, Hamilton was again seen by pundits as a coach on the "hot seat," which prompted FSU president T.K. Wetherell to instruct his staff to extend the coach's contract by two years and to publicly announce this show of support to end rumors that could negatively impact recruiting.
But a confusing and embarrassing mistake occurred in the paperwork.
Instead of adding to a deal that ran through the 2009-10 season as it was and should have gone through the 2011-12 season (as the news release stated) to comply with Wetherell's wishes, the 2007 amendment incorrectly said two more years would mean the deal would go through the 2008-09 season.
Now what? Well, months later, new athletic director Randy Spetman said he and Hamilton have agreed to work under the deal that was in place before the talk of a two-year extension. Hamilton has never been one to discuss his contract.
Wetherell didn't respond to an e-mail from the St. Petersburg Times asking about the issue, but he did comment in the spring at a Football Forum.
"A lot of people are saying things about Leonard," he said. "Now, you win 20 ball games, you graduate every one of your kids, you do the right things for the university, you present the right image, and he's very involved in the community, I kind of don't give a damn if we go to the NCAA Tournament. I'd love to go, don't misunderstand what I say, but what more can you ask?"
Spetman is another unabashed fan of the overall job Hamilton has done and said there is "no ultimatum" for Hamilton to lead his team to the NCAAs this season or else.
"We don't want to make a change; we want Leonard Hamilton to be here," Spetman told the Times.
An NCAA appearance would take care of the Internet chatter.
"I think they're going to be very competitive," Vitale said.
Why? Well, senior guard Toney Douglas is a top-shelf talent and six newcomers, led by McDonald's All-America forward Chris Singleton, are brimming with ability. Hamilton also addressed a criticism from the NCAA selection committee by beefing up his nonconference schedule.
"Just give us our team, the one we've put together. That's all we need. That's all we want," Hamilton said, referring to a little luck with injuries that have hurt his team's NCAA chances in 2006 and 2007. "Then judge us."
That starts today.