TALLAHASSEE — Mickey Andrews possessed neither blazing speed nor intimidating size as a defensive back and receiver at the University of Alabama in the early 1960s.
"I only started one year … that was my senior year," he said. "The only way I could play was to try to be hard-nosed and not make mistakes and be physical."
He did that. He earned second-team All-America honors the one year he started, and the Crimson Tide won its second national title during his time there. He has continued to rely on those traits manning a position outside the lines, including the last 26 in Tallahassee as Florida State's defensive coordinator.
"He coaches as intense as anybody I've seen, and he played at that same wild, wild reckless level," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said.
Andrews pushed and prodded his players, much to their dismay at the time, to build the backbone of two national championship teams and an unparalleled dynastic run of 14 straight years of Top 5 finishes (1987 to 2000) in the Associated Press poll, all the while grooming a legion of future NFL stars who reflected his passion and pride.
"I don't know of anybody who could have done a better job through the years," Bowden said simply.
This month, Andrews, 68, announced he would retire this season so he could devote more time to his wife, daughter and grandchildren. He will be honored as part of FSU's final home game against Maryland on Saturday.
"It's special, there's no doubt about it," he said. "It's always nice when people say, 'Thank you.' I've been thanked before for things I really didn't have much to do with."
That's not the case here.
• • •
Cornerback Martin Mayhew, a redshirt freshman in 1984 when Andrews arrived, didn't know what to make of a drill his new coach introduced. The quarterback would get the ball and every defensive player had to take a specific pursuit angle to a cone on the opposite side of the field.
Andrews promptly yelled that they weren't running faster than they could.
"How can you run faster than you can run?" Mayhew asked himself between gasps of air.
But back they went to line up again and try again. And again.
"There were so many times when the going got tough, you weren't getting any pity from Coach Andrews," said Mayhew, who went on to star for FSU, play eight years in the NFL for Washington and Tampa Bay and is now the Detroit Lions general manager and senior vice president. "He made me a tougher player and a tougher person."
• • •
Terrell Buckley, another in the long line of FSU All-America defensive backs who dazzled in the NFL, said most people only see how Andrews behaves on the sideline.
"They don't see afterwards what happens," said Buckley, now a graduate assistant. "I've had a few incidents where coach would get onto me during practice or a game and then afterward he put his arm around me and explain to me why he got on me like he did. … A lot of coaches don't do that. That's why he's beloved the way he is by former players. He's tough. But he's tough with an explanation. I like that."
Of course, from Day 2, he tried his darndest not to be on the receiving end of any more of that tough love.
• • •
Derrick Brooks, the future face of the Bucs after his FSU career, can now laugh about Andrews' brand of "verbal motivation."
"He told me if I bit on another play-action pass and let another deep ball get behind me, I should just keep running to the bus station and tell them Coach Andrews sent me and he would FedEx my belongings the next day," he said. "He just wanted the best out of you. Most times we players thought we gave our best, but there was always something extra we could give. For the most part, he got it out of you.
"I can say for myself, he got it out of me."
• • •
Cornerback Deion Sanders, who redefined the position at both the collegiate and professional level, recalled that Andrews' son Ronnie was a walk-on during his era in the late 1980s.
Although the younger Andrews lacked the natural ability that some of his teammates possessed, "he had his dad's toughness" and tireless work ethic, Sanders said.
"And Mickey never took it easy on him," he said. "Today, my kids play for my team and that taught me a lot, to see the umbilical cord from a coach to a son; even though they're connected, he didn't give him any special privileges. He doesn't even know he taught me that. "
• • •
Safety Myron Rolle will never forget a Thursday practice when Andrews told the defensive backs they had to shave their chest hair before getting on the plane the next day, telling them they weren't "man enough to have hair on your chest anyway."
With that, Andrews exposed his "jungle" of chest hair. A player then bet Andrews that he wouldn't remove his chest hair and with that …
"And he starts grabbing chunks of hairs off his chest and ripping it out," said Rolle, now in England on a Rhodes Scholarship. "We all started yelling and running away like little school girls. … I will laugh at his funny quips and jokes for the rest of my life, but I will apply the values and lessons of hard work and discipline every day in every facet of my life."