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]

 

 

 

Pat Summitt was one of Steve Spurrier’s best friends and inspirations

Way back in 2001 I did a long interview with Steve Spurrier for a personality profile on the colorful coach, who at the time was still pestering everyone in the SEC as boss of the Florida Gators.

FILE-- Pat Summitt, coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Vols, talks with player Shannon Bobbitt during the last minutes of their game against the University of North Carolina during the semifinal round of the NCAA women's Final Four tournament at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, April 1, 2007. Summitt, who was at the forefront of a broad ascendance of women’s sports, winning eight national basketball championships at Tennessee and more games than any other Division I college coach, male or female, died on June 28, 2016. She was 64. (Suzy Allman/The New York Times)
Pat Summitt, coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Vols, talks with player Shannon Bobbitt during the last minutes of their game against the University of North Carolina during the semifinal round of the 2007 NCAA women’s Final Four. Summitt, who was at the forefront of a broad ascendance of women’s sports, winning eight national basketball championships at Tennessee and more games than any other Division I college coach, male or female, died on June 28, 2016. She was 64. (Suzy Allman/The New York Times)

We started talking about how he used to hang out with basketball coaches at the conference’s annual meetings as much or more than he spent time with his football peers. The way that basketball coaches really dig in on the sidelines to personally and passionately motivate, direct and correct their players really made an impression on Spurrier.

One of the first names he mentioned was Pat Summitt, who Spurrier called a personal friend. Consider it just one more example of the way that Summitt, who died on Tuesday, connected with and inspired the leaders of every sport. Men and women. Celebrities and small-town strivers.

Spurrier’s other major hero from the world of basketball? John Wooden.

This week Spurrier talked with The State newspaper in South Carolina about Summitt, who in 38 seasons at Tennessee won eight national titles and a Div. I record 1,098 games. The two first met at the SEC spring meetings when Spurrier became Florida’s coach in 1990. Summitt also invited Spurrier and his wife Jerri to visit her beach house in Florida’s panhandle, which they often did.

“She (Summitt) sort of always liked me for some reason, and I always liked her,” Spurrier said. “There’s a fact of life that people who win a lot, they admire and respect other people who win a lot. Winners admire and respect other winners. We were both doing pretty well at that time, so we got along very well.”

Summitt was tough-minded, too, or she wouldn’t have been able to stand or appreciate Spurrier’s jabs, many of which were aimed at her fellow Tennessee staffer, Vols football coach Phil Fulmer.

Summitt, whose last name was the perfect tagline, would have been a winner in any walk of life, and more specifically she would have been successful as coach of any men’s basketball team, too.

[Buddy Ryan always loved a good fight, even with a giant like Shula]

[If Warriors climbed out of 3-1 hole, why can’t Cavs do it now?]

[My strange day spent with Macho Camacho at his Clewiston camp]

This is a big loss for American sports, and twice as cruel because Alzheimer’s was involved.

Think of it. A women’s basketball program drawing major attention in the heart of SEC football country. That’s the kind of innovation that not even an improvisational wizard like Spurrier could ever hope to match.

Muschamp, Golden and Richt take a ride on the dizzy coaching carousel

New South Carolina NCAA college head football coach Will Muschamp stands in the tunnel at Williams Brice Stadium Monday, Dec. 7, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. Muschamp was officially introduced today as the new coach of the Gamecocks. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
New South Carolina NCAA college head football coach Will Muschamp stands in the tunnel at Williams Brice Stadium Monday in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

Just a few random thoughts on the recent college coaching carousel and it how it impacts major names from our state schools. Some real puzzlers here.

Will Muschamp – The guy goes 1-3 against South Carolina as Florida’s head coach. Just last season his Gators blew a late-fourth quarter lead to lose to the Gamecocks in overtime, and it was that result that directly led to the announcement by his boss that Muschamp would not return in 2015 to coach Florida.

So who does South Carolina hire as its new coach? Will Muschamp, of course. He’ll be back in the Swamp on Nov. 12, 2016, leading the team that Steve Spurrier used to coach against the team that Steve Spurrier used to coach.

Al Golden – He sure didn’t gain much by staying loyal to Miami through a nasty NCAA investigation and sanctions that school officials didn’t warn Golden about at the time of his hiring.

In January of 2014 Golden was considered a candidate for the Penn State job, his alma mater. Now, after being let go by the Hurricanes, he can’t even get hired on at Rutgers back in his old New Jersey neighborhood. Rutgers announced Ohio State defensive coordinator Chris Ash as its new coach Monday and that had to sting. Golden had already started following the Twitter accounts of New Jersey’s top high school prospects so you know he was interested.

Mark Richt – His Georgia career was highly successful overall but he lost that job based on an inability to beat Florida often enough. Richt went 5-10 against the Gators and didn’t put up much of a fight this season in a 27-3 loss that probably sealed his fate despite an overall record of 9-3.

So who quickly jumps in to snatch Richt up? The University of Miami, of course, otherwise known as the program that hates the Gators more than anyone logically could.

Wishing success for all of these coaches, who are also fine men. It’s just the quirkiness of this game that sometimes gets me. Always entertaining.

[Instinctively you knew this, but no 5-7 Dolphins team has ever gone on to make playoffs]

[We wanted firings, we got firings, but now it’s on-the-job training for rest of Dolphins staff]

[Sun Bowl may not be flashy, but here are five reasons Hurricanes should be fired up about it]

Steve Spurrier was a furious force on the sidelines, more like a hoops coach

 

 

Could he coach? Well, Steve Spurrier won an ACC football championship at ever-loving Duke before the Fun ‘N Gun revolution took hold in Gainesville.

Could he cut and slash and dig? The answer here isn’t yes, but rather how deep would you like? Spurrier regularly skewered his rivals with jokes and sarcasm that sprang from the cocky, trash-talking star athlete lifestyle of his youth. It made his enemies hate him, and made sportswriters love him almost as much as Bull Gator boosters did.

Could he last forever? Of course not. Nobody can. Still, when Spurrier told his South Carolina team on Monday night that he was retiring immediately at 70, everybody who follows college football had to take a step back and decide how they felt about that.

It’s fair to say that nobody feels 100 percent great about it, and that includes fellow coaches who gauged Spurrier to be arrogant and mean-spirited at his worst. It also includes fellow coaches embarrassed by Spurrier at his best, when he happily hung “half a hundred” on opponents through a flood of innovative plays that came at defenses from out of nowhere and had officials tossing flags for reasons they couldn’t quite explain.

Characters like this just don’t come along that often, or if they do, they’re not as successful.

112099 Gators coach Steve Spurrier rotates quarterbacks #7 Jesse Palmer and #12 Doug Johnson in game against the Seminoles. Staff photo by Allen Eyestone
Former Gators coach Steve Spurrier rotates quarterbacks #7 Jesse Palmer and #12 Doug Johnson in game against the Seminoles. Palm Beach Post staff photo by Allen Eyestone

Spurrier made a national championship program with real staying power out of a Florida operation that had never produced so much as an SEC title prior to his arrival. Six conference championships eventually came his way, plus a seventh that prior NCAA violations by Galen Hall wiped out.

Spurrier did all of that with a flair that Nick Saban lacks. He did it with a twang that proved he, like Bear Bryant, was born for the SEC and would never be completely happy if he wasn’t dominating the SEC.

He did in the most personal way possible, calling every play from the sidelines and then changing that play right until the last possible second while exasperated quarterbacks asked themselves if there are limits to this genius business. I mean, who acts like that?

We’re not just talking about flinging visors, which actually didn’t happen as much as everyone remembers. Think instead of alternating quarterbacks play after play, which is how Spurrier beat FSU one year. Think of having so many guys going out for passes that Danny Wuerffel was a consistently lonely target in the Florida backfield, taking so much punishment that I’m convinced he won the 1996 Heisman Trophy based on his physical toughness as much as anything else.

Always, you got the impression that Spurrier believed it was child’s play scanning a defense and tossing the ball where the resistance was thinnest. These were his “ballplays,” and no doubt the coach believed he could still run them himself if only his eligibility hadn’t run out in 1966.

This guy was a great multi-sport athlete in his Tennessee high school days. An all-state selection in basketball, among other things. Matter of fact, he behaved more like a hoops coach than a football coach, stomping up and down the sidelines and working officials with dramatic poses and pained facial expressions.

Back in 2001, near the end of his great Florida run, I did a long interview in Spurrier’s office in which my favorite response was to the question of whether he ever had been benched.

“In ninth-grade basketball,” he said, “my coach was the football line coach. I could dribble behind my back, which not everybody did, and I would shoot a fancy hook shot up to the goal every now and then. He thought I was too much of a showboat. That’s the word he used. I was a little upset about getting taken out of the game but after a while he sent me back in.

“I think we won that little old tournament, too.”

Couldn’t leave out that detail, right?

On that same day, I asked Spurrier why he gets under everyone’s skin.

“I’m in the forefront out there, not sitting off to the side with my headsets on, looking like I’m listening. I’m not afraid to put my name on the line every play that’s called.”

It’s an important distinction, one that will come to mind the next time you see a coach at the NFL or college level seemingly off to himself, a spectator set in motion by an occasional flurry of handclapping and nothing more, a robot who can’t even fling a red challenge flag with gusto, much less a clipboard. They’re the ones who give the cliché quotes heading off the field at halftime. They’re the ones that nobody remembers.

Spurrier will be remembered. In fact, we’ll be hearing his voice for decades because of the quirky little phrases he invented. You will hear of somebody being “coached up” and of somebody being “the head ball coach” of this or that team, and few will recall the origins. That’s pure Spurrier, however, and always will be.

So was taking a crack at NFL coaching with the Washington Redskins, which turned into an utter failure, and so was coming back to the SEC to compete with his alma mater, and in the same division no less. South Carolina had never done all that much in football but Spurrier believed he could make an SEC champion out of the Gamecocks just like he did the Gators.

Didn’t quite work. The program enjoyed more success than ever but in the end Spurrier grew tired of falling short, lost the fun in prowling the sidelines. He was the old lion resting over in the corner of its cage, majestic no more.

Was there a time, though, when Spurrier could growl and revel in the danger he represented? Ask anyone who loved him, ask anyone who hated him. Not only when they say yes but, if being honest, they will say that they miss it already.

Cutting down on penalties might be Jim McElwain’s grandest opening gesture

GAINESVILLE – There were a lot of jaw-dropping numbers in Florida’s 61-13 win over New Mexico State in Saturday’s season opener. Eight-for eight in the red zone, for instance, and five different Gators scoring the first touchdowns of their college careers.

The stat that really stands out, however, is a reflection of something the Gators didn’t do for a change.

Penalty flag on the field during an preseason NFL football game between the Detroit Lions and the Buffalo Bills at Ford Field in Detroit, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)

Florida was hit with just one penalty for 10 yards against the Aggies. That’s as close to a clean game as you’re ever going to see, and it’s the first time since 1977 that the Gators have been tagged with only one.

It was an illegal block by a special-teamer that finally broke up the no-flagger and that happened in the fourth quarter, when the backups were busy. Heck, I can remember games when previous Florida teams had penalties called for unsportsmanlike conduct prior to the kickoff.

Just last year there were 150 yards worth of laundry draped around the Gators in a single game, and they won anyway, at Tennessee.

That Gator tradition, marked by penalty yardage leadership in the SEC for five years running, is the only one that McElwain does not need to reclaim. Steve Spurrier, whose innovative playcalling often brought motion penalties and such, overcame the penalties by scoring all kinds of points. Will Muschamp, fired a year ago, tried to tamp the penalties down by raising his sideline decibel level, but with no success.

Earlier this summer McElwain put particular emphasis on striking out personal fouls, saying “Those are the unforced errors that have been the Achilles’ heel for a long time around here. I’m tired of it.”

Now it must be noted that New Mexico State, a sloppy team in every way, was hit by just one penalty, too, at the Swamp. Makes you wonder if the officials were just in a forgiving mood, or wanted to move a bad game along, or weren’t quite warmed up for the new season.

Most of those zebras, however, were part of the same crew that worked the Florida-Alabama game last season. There were 16 flags dropped in that 42-21 Crimson Tide victory. Eleven of them were against Nick Saban’s team. At Tuscaloosa.

Doesn’t seem like that shy of a group, or at least not one that makes a habit of looking the other way.

Florida’s going to have to work a lot harder against future competition, and that means straining longer to hold blocks, getting meaner with gang-tackling, etc. The Gators don’t schedule much heavy-lifting in season openers, and that’s a big reason why their streak of 26 consecutive wins to start the year is the longest active streak in the nation.

Took a look at the 2014 opener, though, or at least the one that counted in the wake of that weather-canceled match with Idaho. Florida rolled Eastern Michigan 65-0 last Sept. 6. It was a big night in every way, with 655 total yards, 27 first downs and, gulp, 10 penalties for 100 yards.

That was Muschamp, never quite in control of the whole package at Florida. This is McElwain, a more comprehensive leader, demanding better execution to go with the necessary enthusiasm and intensity.

Paring down on the penalties may just be the foundation to everything else he builds in Gainesville. Helps keep the offense from sputtering. Maintains momentum on both sides of the ball. Builds team discipline and demonstrates it in a tangible way.

Gives the Gators a better chance to win, and what better recommendation is there for any coach than that?

 

Fewest penalty yards (single game) in Florida history

Opp.                                 Yr.               Yds.

Florida State                 1977             5

LSU                                   2007             8

Alabama                          1994           10

Alabama                         1978           10

Kentucky                        1977           10

Georgia                           1975           10

Maryland                         1974           10

Miami                               1974           10

New Mex. State              2015           10

It’s been a long time since Gators had simultaneous restart in football and hoops

Not since 1990 have the Florida Gators simultaneously started over with new coaches in football (Jim McElwain) and basketball (Michael White). Spooky stuff, but it really did work out pretty good that other time.

 Michael White (yahoo.com)
Michael White
(yahoo.com)

All Steve Spurrier did was give Florida its first SEC title. Then he won five more of those and the 1999 national championship, too — another Gator first.

Meanwhile, Lon Kruger — who also came on in 1990 — was making something of Florida basketball, too. He took the Gators to their first Final Four in 1994, the highest achievement for the program until Billy Donovan came along.

White’s turn at the wheel begins Monday with his introductory press conference in Gainesville.

White seems painfully young at 38, but he’s eight years older than Donovan was when he took the Florida job in 1996.

White is a coach’s son, but his father moved on from small-college track and field to become an athletic director. Today Kevin White is the athletic director at Duke. They seem to know a little about basketball up there, so that’s a good sign.

Florida AD Jeremy Foley had more than just White’s coaching record at Louisiana Tech (101-40) as a job recommendation. In his college days, White played basketball for Ole Miss, starting at point guard from his freshman year on. That sounds like leadership. What’s more, White is tied for seventh on the Rebels’ career assists list. That computes as leadership, too, and is an example of the kind of team-first concept that Donovan made work at Florida.

And how did White do as a player in games against Florida? Well, it’s pretty tough digging up box scores from 1998 and 1999 on the fly, but the overall results suggest he had a pretty good handle on the Ole Miss offense.

Jim McElwain (Getty Images)
Jim McElwain (Getty Images)

The Rebels beat Florida 90-79 at Oxford during White’s junior year. As a senior, he was part of a 79-68 win over the Gators at the O’Connell Center. That Gators team went 22-9 and made it to the Sweet 16 for the first time under Donovan. Matter of fact, that Ole Miss game was the only one Florida lost at home that season.

White is getting $2 million a year to coach the Gators. Not bad, considering Billy D signed for $400,000 per year on his original contract at Florida.

Not much pressure, then, on McElwain and White. Like I said, this double dose of change hasn’t happened at Florida since 1990. Prior to that, you have to go back to 1960, when Ray Graves became the football coach and slippery old Norm Sloan began his first of two runs in charge of Florida hoops.