Sue Semrau gave Florida State her all for 25 years. On Sunday, her FSU family thanked her.
Semrau had returned to the FSU campus for games, but it was her first basketball game at the Donald L. Tucker Center since retiring in March 2022. A standing-only crowd in a banquet hall under the arena for a pre-game ceremony that was a reunion, roasted and brought tears to the eyes of many with fond memories.
“I can’t even remember who played together,” Semrau said, often addressing a group of a few dozen of his players who made the trip back to Tallahassee. “It’s the trick of a coach who has been doing this for 25 years. There are a lot of really, really cool moments. But honestly, you’re here, it’s unreal.
Semrau was roasted by a freshman on her first team, Vanessa Fuchs, who later became her boss as FSU’s senior female administrator. Fuchs now works with WeCoach, which promotes relationships with women in coaching. After a tribute video showed Semrau through the years since he was hired in the summer of 1997, Fuchs reflected on what Semrau meant to her and decades of playing.
“I love what the video says,” Fuchs said. “What Sue told us from day one: I’m going to treat you first like a person, then like a student and like an athlete. And my teammates can attest to that. It was a tough time for some of our seniors. They had been through three different head coaches in three years, so sometimes when you go through that transition as an athlete, confidence is affected.
Semrau built confidence and there were some tough early times, including three straight losing seasons before the young Seminoles entered the NCAA Tournament in 2000-01. Fuchs remembers not hearing Semrau swear in practice or during a game until his senior year, when the Seminoles were trying to win at No. 2 Duke.
“We had to win two of our last three games in order to get a general offer to play in our first NCAA Tournament in 10 years,” Fuchs said. “And we are in caucus. We’re at Duke, I think No. 2 in the nation at the time, we had to win this game. And Sue joined the group and I remember her saying the D-word. Yeah, fuck.
FSU won 19 games in 2000-01, the senior season for Brooke Wyckoff and Fuchs. It was the first of 16 NCAA tournament trips and 492 wins over 25 seasons. Towards the end of Sunday’s event, athletic director Michael Alford said Semrau would be inducted into the FSU Athletics Hall of Fame this fall.
Semrau took a sabbatical from coaching during a 2020-21 COVID season, recruiting remotely while caring for his mother, Rosemary, who has cancer. On Sunday, she said: “My mum is doing great.”
Among the many players who returned over the weekend was Courtney Ward, who now coaches men’s basketball in Montgomery, Alabama. Bally Sports announcer Angel Gray flew in to call the game. Some of his longtime assistants, from Lance White at Pittsburgh to Cori Close at UCLA, are now head coaches.
Coach Brooke Wyckoff did not attend the event as she prepared for FSU’s game against Duke, a 70-57 win in a top-25 showdown. The Seminoles improved to 19-5 in Wyckoff’s first season as full-time head coach. Wyckoff served as interim head coach through the COVID season in 2020-21, helping the Seminoles reach the NCAA Tournament.
Semrau, of course, beamed with pride at what Wyckoff and the Seminoles have accomplished.
“She should slow down a bit because you don’t want to set those expectations,” Semrau said. “But it’s amazing. And I’m so, so proud.
Semrau has also remained close to her players over the years. And she also serves as a mentor for those who have taken up coaching. A few who were unable to return for the meeting have recently contacted Semrau.
“I got messages from people yesterday, Ganiyat (Adeduntan) was at Colgate, ‘Do you have time in the next few days to talk?’ Semrau said. “And I love that. When you’ve done it for a long time, the experience, you get some kind of wisdom and you’re able to pass it on. And for them to want that has been special and exceptional.
Semrau’s impact was felt throughout the community as she strengthened relationships with fans and boosters. She made sure community service was a part of her heart, training barefoot to raise awareness of the need for footwear in third world countries through Samaritan’s Feet. Stories like these are well known, but there are others that are not.
“15 years ago you called me and invited me to dinner,” said Mark Zeigler, a professor in FSU’s college of communications. “And it was the day before camp started. “Sue asks me to speak. And I leaned over and said, ‘Sue, what do you want me to do?’ And she says, ‘Eat.’ So I was waiting to be introduced as the speaker and Sue has a way to bring us back to Earth and she said, “I have a speaker for you all tonight.” I clear my throat. And she introduced a gentleman. He was a janitor. He was homeless. And he was hanging out on Tennessee Street.
“And every night he had a radio, he listened to the matches. And he was inspired by your ladies and he came here and he got himself a job cleaning the floors. And you befriended him. And you brought him in as a speaker before camp started.
Zeigler is one of FSU’s most well-known faculty, building relationships with students and student-athletes. A strong advocate for the FSU but also for those in the community, Zeigler said Semrau was one of his favorites.
“Sue didn’t go here, but she represents the best of all things Florida State University,” Zeigler said. “That’s what Coach (Bobby) Bowden taught us. That’s what you taught us. This is what Lonni Alameda teaches us. That’s what Mike Norvell teaches us is that everyone is important at this university.
Fuchs spent time roasting Semrau, but was also clearly grateful for the impact she had had on her life. As a freshman, Fuchs considered a transfer and spoke with Semrau. The coach’s words were soothing and encouraged Fuchs to stay at FSU.
“’V, you are much more than a basketball player. Find ways to do little things that set you apart and make you an asset to this team and this university,” Fuchs recalls. “That’s the best advice I’ve ever received.”