Dan Mullen predicts a national title for Gators but doesn’t say when

Dan Mullen made a very public promise the other day. The Florida Gators are going to win a national championship in football with him as head coach, just like the two they won when he was Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator in 2006 and 2008.

At halftime of Florida’s Saturday afternoon basketball win over Baylor, Mullen took the microphone to brag about the school’s standards for excellence, highlighted by the reigning

FILE – In this Nov. 27, 2017, file photo, Dan Mullen, the new head football coach at the University of Florida, is introduced during a news conference in Gainesville, Fla.(Alan Youngblood/Star-Banner via AP, File)

national championship baseball team, and then, with voice rising and arms flailing, he added “On the football field, that standard is not just SEC but national championships. That’s what we promise we’re going to bring back to you here in the Swamp in Gainesville and put the Gators back on top as the most dominating team in the United States of America.”

Now it’s recruiting season and all, a time when the sales pitch never stops and the salesmen sometimes get carried away, but there’s really no reason for Mullen to hold back.

The Florida fan base was spoiled long ago by the bold promises Steve Spurrier made, and the success he had in keeping so many of them.

At his introductory press conference on Dec. 31, 1989, Spurrier said there was no reason that Florida shouldn’t take control of the Georgia series, which had been pretty much of a disaster in the previous two decades. That came true, and so did the previously unimaginable reality of Florida winning its first SEC title, and then stringing a bunch of them together.

Just prior to his first game as Gators coach, Spurrier wrote a letter to be published in the student newspaper, saying “We trail FSU and Miami heading in the 1990’s. We have the resources to catch and pass them and that is our target.” That also happened when the Gators won the 1996 national title.

At SEC media days, Florida was predicted by sportswriters to finish seventh in the league in 1990. In addition, there were no offensive players from Florida selected to the preseason All-SEC team. Spurrier guaranteed that would change by season’s end, and it did, with Shane Matthews as the highlight. Fifth on Florida’s quarterback depth chart in the summer, Matthews earned SEC Player of the Year honors that year and the next as the operator of Spurrier’s outlandish Fun ‘N Gun offense.

Of course, Spurrier said a lot of other things during his 12 seasons at Florida and infuriated a lot of people in the process. These are just a few memories of what he did and how he acted before coaching his first Gator game.

That’s where we find Mullen now. He doesn’t have his quarterback problem solved right off the bat any more than Spurrier did when he took this job. He doesn’t have a lot of momentum from the previous season, either, with the Gators coming off a 4-7 faceplant. Might as well say what people want to hear, though.

In short, like always, Florida has the resources to catch and pass everybody, and if Mullen doesn’t do it or at least come close, he won’t make it to end of that six-year contract.

It’s the same rock that Willie Taggart is pushing up the hill at FSU, and Jimbo Fisher is pushing at Texas A&M, and the one that Mark Richt continues to push at Miami. Oh, and let’s not forget Josh Heupel at UCF. That sounds like a sin of omission to many these days.

More power to any coach with the courage and the credibility to try.

And one day, when Nick Saban retires at Alabama, it will be a lot easier for all of them to reach that ultimate standard.

[Who knew Hoffman was bound for Cooperstown when Marlins traded him?]

[Only accomplishment remaining for LeBron James is player-coach]

[Eagles coach Pederson once saved Shula’s bacon as Dolphins’ QB]

 

 

 

Mullen and Gators need to join SEC’s parade of true freshman quarterbacks

If Dan Mullen doesn’t start Emory Jones at quarterback next season, the Florida Gators hired the wrong coach.

That’s because freshmen are all the rage in college football these days. No more waiting around to get the system completely down. These big, strong, smart kids are having systems built around them, improvisations and mistakes included.

Former Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen gives the scoreboard in the closing seconds of the team’s 31-28 loss to Mississippi on Nov. 23, 2017. Three days later he was hired to coach the Florida Gators. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Is this any way to run a major college program?

Well, Nick Saban went 14-1 at Alabama in 2016 with true freshman Jalen Hurts. On Monday night he benched Hurts at halftime and got just enough from Tua Tagovailoa, another true freshman, to win the 2017 national championship over Georgia and Kirby Smart’s true freshman quarterback, Jake Fromm.

Now comes word from FAU coach Lane Kiffin that Tagovailoa probably would have transferred if he hadn’t gotten into that title game. That’s insider knowledge from Alabama’s former playcaller, as announced on Dan Patrick’s national radio show.

What’s more, the Seattle Times is reporting that Jacob Eason, a former freshman starter at Georgia, is expected to transfer to Washington rather than sit the bench behind Fromm.

Young people are impatient by nature, of course. They want to play. They want to know that the promises they heard during recruiting were genuine, and that they won’t be left out when all the high-profile signees start stacking up at quarterback.

More important to this discussion, Mullen needs to shake things up at Florida with a bold approach that has nothing in common with the cautious offenses that Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain rolled out before him.

If Jones, the nation’s No. 4 dual-threat prospect, was good enough to get offers from Alabama and Ohio State and FSU, he’s good enough to start for the Gators against Charleston Southern on Sept. 1.

After all, Florida made a coaching change because 4-7 doesn’t work around there. Mullen was the choice because he develops dual-threat quarterbacks into big winners. Jones was Mullen’s choice in his first round of Gator recruiting because the top target of the former Florida staff, Matt Corral, is more of a pro-style quarterback.

Add it all up and there’s no reason for the Gators to look toward anyone but Jones, who as a January enrollee is already on hand and ready to dive into offseason workouts and spring practice.

Feleipe Franks is brawny and can run but his decision-making is spotty and often too slow. It figures that McElwain would have played any of the other underclassmen last year if they were ready, if only to save his own job. If this isn’t the time for a fresh look at a freshman quarterback, when will it ever be?

The need is not so urgent for Mark Richt at Miami. He’s got a returning starter in Malik Rosier who has flaws but also has wins over Notre Dame and Virginia Tech and the honor of clinching the program’s first ACC Coastal Division title. Still, N’Kosi Perry spent his freshman season watching from the sidelines last season and Jarren Williams, the highlight of a great early signing period for UM, may prove to be better than both of them if given a chance.

It’s a risk playing freshmen at quarterback, but a waste to keep the best ones idle.

Most have forgotten this, but freshmen weren’t eligible to play varsity football or basketball until the NCAA approved the idea in 1972. The old Big Eight Conference voted against it at the time but in 1985 one of its members, Oklahoma, turned to true freshman quarterback Jamelle Holieway when Troy Aikman broke a leg in an October game against Miami.

Holieway, a great option quarterback, led the Sooners the rest of the season, helping Barry Switzer to the last of his three national titles.

[Somehow, the latest national title in Bama’s dynastic run came as a shock]

[Richt next task is to surpass his Season 2 highlights at Georgia and UM]

[$10 million sure didn’t buy Dolphins much with Jay Cutler]

Bravo to college football for making a national title by its greatest dynasty come as something of a surprise

Is it possible to be shocked when Alabama wins a national championship?

I would have said no before Monday night. That 26-23 overtime win over Georgia was almost too much to process, even for Nick Saban, who when it was over actually sputtered “I’ve never been happier in my life.”

Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, right, sits next to head coach Nick Saban during a press conference in Atlanta, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Alabama beat Georgia in overtime to win the NCAA college football playoff championship game. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Think of what just happened here. The Tide won with Saban grasping for straws this time, not mechanically processing and dominating one situation after another.

When his young star quarterback got off to a lousy start, Saban switched to an even younger one, true freshman Tua Tagovailoa, and came climbing out of a couple of 13-point holes. Oh, and the hero is a lefty from Hawaii wearing lucky No. 13. You know, the usual.

When Alabama’s kicker missed two standard-range field goals, including what should have been the game-winner in regulation, Saban forfeited his usual bonus of stellar special-teams play but overcame that, too.

Finally, when a disastrous sack opened Alabama’s overtime possession, Saban hoped that new playcaller Brian Daboll, a former Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator, could come up with something remotely positive to get his balky kicker in position to force a second extra period.

Who could have dreamed that the game would end on the next play, a 41-yard touchdown bomb, and that Georgia’s night would turn out so horribly wrong after the Bulldogs had done so many things right?

It’s not like Saban has never been shocked and disappointed in a similar manner. Clemson beat Alabama in last year’s national title game with one second remaining. Also, at the end of the 2014 season, the top-ranked Tide drew No. 4 Ohio State in the first College Football Playoff and lost 42-35.

This year, though, it was Alabama’s time to squeeze into the last playoff spot. That got a lot of people grumbling, and not only because the Tide didn’t even win their division, or because the title game was an all-SEC affair. The biggest annoyance was that everybody kind of figured Saban would win it all again, like always.

Well, Alabama did win it, but not like always. This was a crazy demolition derby, with tensions so high that one Tide player had to be restrained from going after an unidentified man on the sidelines and another player needed emergency personnel to cart him away with some kind of medical issue.

Put it all together and you’ve got five national titles in nine years for Saban at Alabama. Miami fans don’t need that kind of dynasty to be explained to them. The Hurricanes won four titles in nine years, plus five in the space of 19, and ESPN made an epic 30-for-30 documentary about it.

What if I were to tell you that Saban isn’t slowing down at the age of 66, and that after winning six national titles, including one with LSU in 2003, he’s still adapting and finding new ways to crush the competition?

That’s not a documentary. It’s a horror movie, played on an endless loop.

[Richt must advance beyond his Year 2 highlights at Georgia and UM]

[$10 million sure didn’t buy Dolphins much with Jay Cutler]

[Does anybody, including Nebraska’s Scott Frost, want a piece of UCF now?]

Gators’ Jim McElwain follows the clumsy coaching norm by keeping Antonio Callaway on the team

 

Antonio Callaway, the only sure playmaker on a Florida offense that has ranked among the nation’s worst for a couple of years now, is suspended for the season opener against Michigan.

The kid earned every bit of it, and really should be kicked off the team by now. This latest case of misusing school-issued funds to buy textbooks and then resell them is piled on top of previous problems.

GAINESVILLE – Florida wide receiver Antonio Callaway runs after a reception against Kentucky a 2016 game. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Pleading no contest to a marijuana charge and paying a fine. Being suspended for a semester by the university during a sexual assault investigation that eventually came to nothing. Getting pulled over as a passenger in a car with a 40-year-old man whose criminal history is well known to police. Being far too well acquainted, overall, with the school’s hearing system for student conduct code violations.

Of course, Gators coach Jim McElwain needs this spectacular wide receiver and kick returner against the Wolverines on Sept. 2. Heck, the way this offense struggles to put points on the board, he needs Callaway against Northern Colorado the following week.

“Very disappointed,” is how McElwain described his reaction, as well as the necessity to suspend six other players for the opening game because of the same text-book scam.

Very light, in Callaway’s case, the punishment. He isn’t learning anything from all of these close calls and dodges except that McElwain, like most major coaches trying to get a shot at the national title, will do whatever he can to keep his best players eligible.

Here, meanwhile, is what I have learned through the years of watching college players trade touchdowns for true accountability.

First, there is a reason that the Gators and many other high-profile programs generally schedule an easy game or two to open each season and have done so forever. It allows room for painless suspensions in response to offseason idiocies. This Michigan opener is an experiment, and with the exception of Miami as a season kickoff game in 2019, it’s not the kind of instant challenge that Florida will pursue on a regular basis.

Second, Cam Newton got away with a lot of stuff before he left the Gators in 2009 but more than that we probably still don’t know the whole story.

Urban Meyer knew what he had in this transformational quarterback, the logical successor to Tim Tebow, and he didn’t want Cam to get away. So even though a Fox sports report said Newton was caught three times for academic cheating before and after an arrest for buying a stolen laptop computer, he only decided to transfer to a junior college when the university threatened to expel him for repeated violations of the school’s honor code.

Was Newton worth the trouble that Meyer and his staff must have gone through to try to keep him on the team?

The fraternity of coaches probably has a different answer on this than you might, but consider that Gene Chizik had an undefeated and national championship at Auburn in his one season with Newton at quarterback. Two years later, without Newton, Chizik bottomed out and got fired.

[Is there anything with this waivers thing to worry about with Giancarlo Stanton?]

[Pahokee’s Anquan Boldin will have a strong influence on Buffalo Bills]

[The two places in America where there’s nothing but love for Jay Cutler]

“I saw these strides, right, and then sometimes you take a step back,” McElwain said of Callaway’s suspension. “Yet I’m sure he’s not the only one that’s done that, and yet it’s my responsibility to keep teaching.”

Teach on, just like Nick Saban has done by deciding not to suspend Da’Shawn Hand for the season opener against Florida State, even though the star defensive end was charged with DUI for being asleep at the wheel of a car while impaired.

This is how it works with the best players, in every sport, at every level. This is how it always will.

Not expecting a major step back for Adam Gase, no matter what Las Vegas says

 

Not quite sure where I’m going with my Dolphins prediction right now. Training camp opens Thursday and it makes no sense to guess that there will be no injuries between now and September.

It does seem harsh, though, to predict a major step back in Adam Gase’s second year as coach. That’s what USA Today is doing with a 7-9 pick for Miami in 2017.

Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase smiles as he speaks during a news conference after an NFL organized team activities football practice, Thursday, May 25, 2017, at the Dolphins training facility in Davie, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Back in May, the Southpoint Casino in Las Vegas went the same way, naming 7.5 as the over-under for the Dolphins.

Of course, it could happen that way. Gase, among all people, can be counted upon to stress to his players that a 10-6 playoff season in 2016 is wiped clean. The Dolphins of 2017 are a different animal, with some new players but all the old challenges.

Looking back, though, I can only find seven times in franchise history where the Dolphins had a dropoff of three or more wins from one year to the next. That’s seven times in 51 seasons. (Can’t count 1982, the strike-shortened season when Miami dropped from 11 wins to seven but reached the Super Bowl anyway.)

Don Shula had three of those precipitous drop-offs, proving that not even the winningest coach in NFL history can win them all.

The others were 2004, the year Dave Wannstedt resigned. He was 10-6 the previous season but stumbled to a 1-8 start and bailed on what turned out to be a 4-12 finish.

Nick Saban had a three-game dropoff in 2006, the year he already had one foot out the door for Alabama.

Cam Cameron broke all Dolphin standards by going 1-15 in 2007, a dropoff of five wins from Saban’s low point.

Finally, Tony Sparano went from that magical 11-win debut season in 2008 to 7-9 the following year.

In the last four cases, Miami didn’t have a great quarterback, or, at times, even a serviceable one.

Gase, on the other hand, seems to have something going now with Ryan Tannehill, providing all the good signs on that rehab from last December’s ACL injury continue to be good.

Working against Miami is a schedule that ranks sixth-toughest in the NFL. The Dolphins’ 2017 opponents had a winning percentage of .547 last year.

It’s possible, however, to read too much into that.

Prior to the 2016 season, and using the same methods, Buffalo was judged to have the 10th-toughest schedule in the league. Miami was No. 11 and Carolina No. 12.

Two of those teams wound up with losing records. Miami, going against the grain, had its best season in eight years.

[’72 Dolphins put up entirely different numbers during a different time]

[Here are trap games that should worry Seminoles, UM and Gators]

[A travel itinerary to attend all the best college football games in our state]

So my inclination right now is to say 9-7 for Miami this year. Sure, it’s a small step back, but I can find just one example of a Dolphins coach improving the team’s win total by four games from one season to the next and then immediately stepping it up again.

That was Shula, who went from six wins to 10 to 11 between 1976-78.

It’s a tough ask.

 

Lane Kiffin says that FAU’s new QB is moving past old troubles

We don’t get to hear from Lane Kiffin that often, at least outside of tweets and videos and such. So far he has addressed the South Florida media twice, on the December day he was introduced as Florida Atlantic football coach and again for Wednesday’s announcement of the Owls’ 2017 signing class.

Lane Kiffin is introduced as the new Florida Atlantic football coach on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)
Lane Kiffin is introduced as the new Florida Atlantic football coach on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)

It’s important, then, to get the best questions in first, such as what does he think about De’Andre Johnson, the quarterback who was dismissed by Florida State in 2015 after being caught on security video punching a woman at a Tallahassee bar.

A plea deal followed, with probation plus a fine and 10 days in a sheriff’s work program to put those legal issues behind him. Johnson, a former four-star recruit, played last year at East Mississippi Junior College, a program featured as “Last Chance U” in a Netflix documentary, and signed with FAU a few days before Kiffin was hired there.

“I’ve had a chance to be around him a little bit,” Kiffin said Wednesday, “and also to see him around our recruits. Every weekend that we’ve been here, he’s opened his door and showed our recruits where he stays. He’s hosted guys every weekend.

“He’s a very humble kid, and I also got to go to his junior college because we ended up signing a player from there (defensive end Tim Bonner) and go to meet with the people there. Not just the head coach but the president of the university. The way they talked about him, he’s a really special kid that had a really bad decision that he made and has really learned from it and he’s moving forward, so I’m excited that he’s being given this opportunity.”

Kiffin went heavy on the signing of junior-college transfers, including wide receiver/tight end DeAndre McNeal. He played for Texas as a true freshman but was dismissed for an unspecified violation of team rules. UCLA and Missouri were among the teams offering 2017 scholarships to McNeal  but Kiffin won out.

“DeAndre was a tough get,” Kiffin said. “He did some major offers. Kind of at the last minute it came down to us and UCLA. That was kind of tough for him because he had west-coast ties from playing junior college out there (at Fullerton College).

“We had some background with him, which is why I hire coaches, because they have backgrounds. So he had been in our camp at Alabama and I had worked with him there and had a plan for him there and we ended up signing him for that reason. He’d always been a guy that I had a plan for, how we’d play him. We always wanted him every time I saw him. Now he can come play in the offense here and work with (offensive coordinator) Kendal Briles, who has been successful with receivers.

“It makes it pretty easy to recruit receivers if you’ve been fortunate to have a lot of really good receivers. Myself and Kendal have coached a lot of good receivers.”

Briles, who will handle FAU’s playcalling, is another scrutinized addition because he last worked at Baylor. Kiffin declined comment when asked about an ongoing investigation into allegations of sexual assault by Baylor football players against women between 2011 and 2014.

“We obviously have a policy of not discussing any allegations at any other university,” Kiffin said. “Today’s focus is on our signing class, and we’re excited about that class and we’re excited about our coaching staff. I thought we brought a very dynamic coaching staff here and, as you can see, guys are excited about playing for them.”

[Super Bowl LI starters who got stiffed on National Signing Day]

[Some candy to treat Dolphin fans sick of Pats in Super Bowl]

[Wondering if Dolphins’ No. 22 draft slot is haunted]

It won’t every be boring with Kiffin in Boca Raton. Most major recruiting sites ranked his first FAU signing class as the best in Conference USA. Some of these junior-college transfers will surpass the talent level commonly found in the league. Now it’s a matter of getting everybody on target with everything from grades to discipline to motivation.

If Kiffin wishes, he can relate to things he learned about tightening down on those goals while working for Nick Saban at Alabama. Or he can forge his own path. Again.

 

Lane Kiffin’s breakup with Alabama before national title game does FAU no favors

 

Lane Kiffin always was an odd fit at Alabama.

You can’t say it was a bad fit. Not even close. Not with College Football Playoff appearances all three years he was the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator and a shot a second straight national title for Alabama next week. If Kiffin was doing a lousy job, Nick Saban would have kicked him to the curb right away.

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31: Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin of the Alabama Crimson Tide and Head Coach Nick Saben of the Alabama Crimson Tide walk during pre game of the 2016 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome on December 31, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA – DECEMBER 31: Former offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin of the Alabama Crimson Tide and Head Coach Nick Saban talk during pre game of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome on December 31, 2016. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

When the announcement came Monday, however, that Kiffin won’t be calling plays for the championship game against Clemson, the personality gap between this flashy, me-first coach and every other Saban assistant was made evident one last time.

“We made the decision because it was in the best interest of our players, our program and for Lane for him to assume his duties at Florida Atlantic,” Saban said. “We mutually agreed that this was best for both programs.”

Compare that to what Saban was saying about Kirby Smart last January, back when Georgia had already hired Alabama’s former defensive coordinator as head coach but Smart was permitted to stay with the Tide through the College Football Playoff title game against Clemson.

“You know, it’s sort of like you have a son and he’s moving away, and you want to see him do really, really well,” Saban said of Smart at the time.

“I certainly appreciate the fact that he’s stuck here with us and done a really good job as far as trying to finish this year for our players. I think that’s the number one reason that he’s here.”

The Georgia job is a whole lot bigger than FAU, with more impactful recruiting energy to be spent in keeping up with the SEC neighbors. Yet Smart saw the value of standing in the confetti shower of a national championship celebration and decided to do it the hard way, postponing many of his new duties at Georgia to get his hands on another trophy at Alabama.

“Kids see it,” Smart said after Alabama beat Clemson 45-40, not exactly his greatest night as a coordinator but a trophy moment all the same. “They identify with it. Me being on TV and being in the national championship did way more for me tonight than say somebody who wasn’t.”

Now Kiffin joins the vast majority coaches who won’t be on the field at Tampa next Monday when Alabama and Clemson do it again.

That’s too bad for him and too bad for FAU, which can use every precious syllable of network TV conversation in the raising of its Div. I football profile. That’s why the Owls hired Kiffin in the first place. Win games in the fall, sure, but get people talking all year round.

[Some leftover nuggets from Lane Kiffin’s introduction at FAU]

[The Lane Kiffin revival tent puts down stakes in Boca Raton]

[Lamar Jackson’s Heisman campaign drew comparisons to Tim Tebow’s]

What caused the breakup at this critical moment for Alabama football? Probably nothing major, but when you lose focus on Saban’s objectives for even an instant, that’s a tidal wave of trouble in Tuscaloosa.

A couple of times Kiffin was late to meetings prior to the Peach Bowl national semifinal, including Media Day, when he missed the bus back to the team hotel. Then, in an easy win over Washington, the Alabama offense was good but not great.

Couldn’t have helped, either, when Sports Illustrated came out with a long article about Kiffin house-hunting in Boca Raton during Christmas week, with $4 million waterfront homes on his target list so that boats and jet-skis will always be at the ready.

Made me think of the more common SEC coaching profile, Will Muschamp. When he was plucked off Texas’ staff to be head coach of the Florida Gators, Muschamp lived in a Gainesville hotel for several months while waiting on his family to finish school and join him. All work, no play, the Saban way.

That takes us back to that recent SI story. While referencing the relative social isolation of life in Tuscaloosa, Kiffin told the writer who tagged along on his house search, “This will come across wrong, but it’s like dog years. Three years is like 21.”

He knew it would come out wrong but he said it anyway. That’s Kiffin, who always goes back to smooth things over, but the joke too frequently is on him.

Why would a guy who desperately needed the structure of Saban’s system to restore credibility to his own career get sloppy the moment that the payoff of a new job is secured? It doesn’t say much about the maturity that Kiffin supposedly has gained since his days at Tennessee and USC, or about his stated desire at the FAU introductory press conference to keep it boring for a while.

None of this means, of course, that Kiffin can’t be successful at FAU, or that the Owls won’t benefit from his magnetism and his coaching, or that Nick Saban regrets the modernization that Kiffin brought to the Alabama offense.

The bottom line is that Kiffin has been quiet for a long time. It’s bound to get noisy at FAU, and fast, because the goal is to keep him around for more than a few crazy headlines, and it’s unlikely that anyone over there is going to have the nerve to tell him to tone it down or else.

 

 

 

 

FSU keeping Jimbo is the program’s most important news since hiring Jimbo

 

LSU really messed up by not getting Jimbo Fisher when he was available as he ever will be.

This was the year to strike, with no College Football Playoff possibility for Florida State and no reason for Jimbo to delay a decision until January.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and running back Dalvin Cook celebrate the team's 31-13 win over Florida in an NCAA college football game in Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and running back Dalvin Cook celebrate the team’s 31-13 win over Florida at Tallahassee, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

This time next year the Seminoles could be right back in the national championship chase. LSU, meanwhile, will probably be licking its wounds after getting aced out again by Alabama in the SEC West.

Ed Orgeron isn’t the guy you need to catch and pass Nick Saban. If he coaxes Lane Kiffin from Alabama to run the Tigers’ offense, it would be closer to reality, but why wouldn’t Kiffin hold out for a head coaching job or stick with the No. 1 team?

Orgeron was 3-21 against SEC teams in a previous head coaching opportunity at Ole Miss from 2005-07, and Saban didn’t even have Alabama up and running until 2008.

Jimbo, on the other hand, is an elite coach. He’s one of four active coaches with a national championship, joining Saban, Urban Meyer and Bob Stoops.

He’s a recruiter persuasive enough to get Alabama native Jameis Winston to Tallahassee instead of Tuscaloosa.

Also, he’s close enough to his players to find and push all their buttons, including the ones that make them go out and pound Florida on a week when their head coach is being rumored as the top candidate at another school.

If you want all of that, you’ve got to pay for it, in the same way that Alabama broke the bank for Saban.

Instead, Jimbo is out on the recruiting trail, avoiding the kind of big rebuild that new Texas coach Tom Herman is facing. Everything is in place for many more great seasons with the Seminoles. Jimbo has seen and will see to that.

[Ravens have a sophisticated offense weapon that Adam Gase lacks]

[Tebow’s Arizona Fall League season is over but look for him at spring training]

[One recent Dolphins head coach made quite an impression on Gase]

This is such massive news for FSU, but there may actually be people who don’t fully appreciate it. The monotony of beating both Florida and Miami the last four years makes it seem as if such dominance is automatic. It is not.

The jackpot of getting superstars like Dalvin Cook to play for FSU instead of Florida or Miami is impossible to quantify.

The disappointment of not playing for a national title every season? Beyond being a little silly, that’s missing the larger point.

If Jimbo’s not your head coach, who would be better to lead the Seminoles?

The name of Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt keeps coming up as a possible replacement one day. He called the defensive plays for Jimbo during FSU’s national championship season of 2013, but Pruitt has never been a head coach.

Kirby Smart, another highly-regarded Alabama defensive coordinator, was in a similar position when he got the Georgia head coaching job. Favored to win the SEC East in the preseason, he is working on a 7-5 debut with home losses to Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech and a dud of a performance against Florida in Jacksonville.

A guy like Pruitt probably does better than that with the talent Jimbo has put together at FSU, but wouldn’t you just rather have Jimbo?

Other names tossed around as possible FSU coaches during the period of LSU’s flirtation with Jimbo include North Carolina’s Larry Fedora (coming off losses to 4-8 Duke and 6-6 North Carolina State in the last three weeks), Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy (if he finishes in Top Ten, that will make twice in 12 seasons at Stillwater), Colorado’s Mike MacIntyre (turning Buffs around but his only postseason experience as head coach is a Military Bowl victory over Bowling Green) and Chip Kelly (brilliant run at Oregon but he’s on an NFL kick now and seems to have lost his momentum).

I even saw Les Miles’ name come up as a person for FSU to call in a pinch. That would be taking the guy LSU fired to replace the guy LSU hired. That would be taking a guy who misses so many details and loses games over penalties and a general lack of discipline.

Remember that game a few weeks ago where LSU lost to Florida despite being a two-touchdown favorite at home? Orgeron said his running back ran the wrong way on the goal-line stop that won the game for the Gators, leaping over the middle instead of looking for a short toss around the end. That’s the kind of game Miles sometimes lost, and the kind of game that always had Tiger fans calling for his head.

Bottom line, Jimbo’s decision to stay at FSU is far bigger news than Herman going to Texas or any other coaching switch.

We’ll see that when FSU plays Alabama or Ohio State or Michigan or Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff sometime in the next few years. Those are the teams with heavyweight coaches and monster programs all tied up tight and looking for more.

Those are the only situations, apparently, that would ever convince Jimbo to leave and try his hand somewhere else. LSU either didn’t make the cut or wouldn’t pay the price.

In the end, it comes out to be the same thing.

 

 

 

 

Beating Atlanta in tonight’s preseason game wouldn’t make Adam Gase a great coach, but it sure would set a tone

The Miami Dolphins’ third preseason game is tonight in Orlando and who cares if they lose?

Something tells me that Adam Gase does, whether or not he’ll admit it.

Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase at Miami Dolphins training camp in Davie, Florida on August 10, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase at training camp in Davie, Florida. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

He’s a rookie head coach, for openers, and it builds confidence to have the other guy meeting you with congratulations at the postgame handshake rather than a conciliatory pat on the back.

Also, Gase means to build a winning culture in Miami. He wants every play to count on the practice field for every individual, and every group effort to yield positive results. Losing preseason games may not stop that momentum, but it does get in the way.

So the Dolphins prepare to play the Falcons, knowing that many of the players who take the field at Camping World Stadium won’t make the NFL regular-season rosters of their respective teams. Who cares if they lose?

Fans do. They see the good things that the first unit did, even in a lousy loss like last week’s 41-14 blowout at Dallas. They understand the process of winnowing through a long list of players and philosophies to see which ones stand up to pressure. They really do get what’s happening here, but they also really do want to trust in Gase’s ability to turn around the franchise, sooner rather than later.

That’s the difference between 2-1 and 1-2 once this Falcons game is finished.

That’s why Don Shula winning his first three preseason games as Dolphins coach was such a boost. Before his arrival the franchise had only won 20 games altogether, regular season and preseason included.

That also is why Joe Philbin going 0-4 in his first preseason as Dolphins coach was so predictive of the mood to come. Counting the regular season, Joe lost seven of his first eight games here. Each failure was met with calm analysis and a note of congratulation to the other side. There would be small winning streaks in the future, but never enough of a psychological wave in the opposite direction.

Now I’m not saying that exhibition records are the best method for dividing the sideline savants from the duds. Cam Cameron won his first two preseason games as Dolphins coach, after all, and Nick Saban lost his first three.

[Don’t tell Anthony Steen what happened to Dolphins’ last fill-in at center]

[If head coaches had to play QB in an emergency, who would you leading your team?]

[A look back at 1985 Dolphins, loaded for the Super Bowl return that never came]

Gase will make certain, however, that his players learn to hate disorganization, to hate sloppiness, to hate losing, no matter the opponent or the circumstances. That begins with the preseason, and in tonight’s game he will be earnestly working, too, on the art of head coaching, from the bus ride to the stadium to the final gun.

There’s just no use in wasting these opportunities. Cameron did. In the fourth and final preseason game of 2007, a 7-0 loss to New Orleans featuring tons of reserves on both sides, he didn’t even wear a headset, abdicating his normal playcalling duties and giving to an assistant coach the job of throwing the red challenge flag.

That’s not Gase. It can’t be.

Adam Gase faces most brutal schedule as first-time NFL head coach

Of the four first-time NFL head coaches entering the league in 2016, I figure Miami’s Adam Gase has the most work ahead of him in order to establish his credentials and possibly compete for an immediate playoff spot.

Admittedly, this contradicts the official strength of schedule numbers, which are based on the 2015 records of opponents.

Dolphins new head coach Adam Gase is introduced at Dolphins training camp facility in Davie, FL on Jan. 9, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Dolphins new head coach Adam Gase is introduced at Dolphins training camp facility in Davie, FL on Jan. 9, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Tampa Bay’s Dirk Koetter, for instance, must face a slate of opponents that combined to go 139-117 a year ago. That .543 winning percentage is tied for the fifth-toughest in the league for 2016.

Gase and the Dolphins are scheduled against a group that went .516 last season. That ranks as the 11th-toughest schedule.

Koetter has two advantages over Gase, however.

First, he doesn’t open the season with trips to Seattle and New England. The Bucs open at Atlanta and Arizona instead, a difficult draw but not as brutal as Miami’s, and that opinion isn’t changed by the strong possibility that Tom Brady won’t be available early to the Patriots.

Second, Koetter previously has been a head coach, three years at Boise State and six more at Arizona State. There are things about delegation and organization you can’t know until you’ve actually done the job, things that Gase will be picking up on the fly.

Two other first-time NFL head coaches got a break in scheduling, as if any NFL schedule can be considered a light load.

Doug Pederson of Philadelphia draws the 26th-toughest schedule in 2016. The Giants’ Ben McAdoo goes against a group that ties for 30th.

Gase, 38, is the youngest head coach in the league and has never run an entire program at any level but he doesn’t lack for confidence. In the end, he will probably fall into the middle of the pack when it comes to first-time NFL head coaches who made their debuts with the Dolphins.

Tony Sparano won the AFC East in 2008, leading Miami to an 11-5 record and a wild-card playoff spot. Tony had previous college head coaching experience at New Haven.

[Coming off 10-win season, Gators’ Jim McElwain still has some heavy lifting to do]

[If Dolphins’ stadium debut doesn’t go smoothly, it won’t be the first time]

[Buddy Ryan always loved a good feud, even if it was against Don Shula]

Nick Saban went 9-7 with the Dolphins in 2005 without a playoff appearance. His college head coaching experience was extensive and impressive both before and after that NFL experiment.

Joe Philbin and Cam Cameron had no head coaching experience when they took the Dolphins’ job. Joe went 7-9 in his first season and Cam went 1-15.

Each coach has a different set of circumstances and strength-of-schedule is only one of them.

It might help to know, though, that the three teams in Miami’s division face a slightly tougher list of opponents than the Dolphins do. The New York Jets’ task is tied for seventh-toughest, New England comes in at No. 9 and Buffalo is No. 10.