THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; DECEMBER 6, 2018
Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden the Florida Gators had another one of those couldn’t throw it in the ocean if they were standing on the end of the pier basketball games. They hit only 16-48 from the field, just 6-21 from the 3-point line and they missed 18 free throws. And still, they beat West Virginia, 66-56, largely because they forced the Mountaineers into 21 turnovers that were converted into 22 Florida points. What this game proved once again is that you can leave your offensive game back in Bora Bora but if you bring your defensive A-game, you’ve always got a shot to win. Defense travels.
Florida’s offense, I am convinced, will come around although I’m not sure this team has the right balance of inside-outside to win many – if any – shootouts. Florida has an elite point guard in Andrew Nembhard who knows how to distribute the basketball. He gets the ball to the right shooter and at some point you have to believe these guys will start making shots. Having seen Jalen Hudson heat up, I have to believe his shooting problems are between the ears and once he gets a clear head the shots will start falling, which could be contagious.
While the Gators are trying to find some consistency on offense, they are good enough defensively to win games against very good teams. Make no mistake about it, West Virginia is a very good team but Florida held the Mounties to 29.7% from the field and 30.4% from the free throw line. That kind of defensive effort is borderline elite.
Too often, shooting problems carry over on the offensive end and when that happens, players start thinking too much about shots that aren’t dropping and slack off defensively. If Mike White can convince this Florida team to remember that defense always travels, the Gators have an exceptional chance to find themselves marching to the madness at the end of the regular season.
A FEW QUICK THOUGHTS ABOUT URBAN MEYER
I will never apologize for the fact that Urban and Shelley Meyer are my friends. They’ve been my friends since Urban’s first day on campus in December of 2004 and they’ve remained that way in the years since. I’ve never thought Urban was perfect but I think what he did at Florida was remarkable. Two national championships and three 13-1 seasons in six years are extraordinary but it all came to an end way too soon. He burned his very bright candle at both ends and twice as hard in the middle to the point that he ran his health and his perspective into the ground.
I’ll not go into all the details about perspective but I’ll offer this about Urban and my friend, the late Avery Atkins. I know how devastated Urban was emotionally when Avery died of a drug overdose. In case you aren’t aware, Avery Atkins was one of the most brilliant corner prospects that has been at Florida in the last 30 years. He left the UF program after his freshman year in 2005 when he got his girlfriend in Daytona Beach pregnant. He ended up selling drugs and eventually drugs killed him. Urban constantly reached out to Avery and tried to bring him back to Gainesville where there were people who cared about him, but Avery was in too deep in things he couldn’t control. He died in July of 2007.
I don’t think Urban has ever gotten over Avery’s death. Urban always understood that there are just so many Tim Tebows and Boy Scouts who can play football at a high level to go around. You don’t win in the SEC or any championship level program in Division I without taking a few risks on players but I think Urban took too many, especially after Avery died. He really thought he could save these kids if he could just bring them to UF. Some of the risks worked out well and there are two national championship trophies to prove it. But there were some borderline (or worse) sociopaths who Billy Graham couldn’t have straightened out.
I believe that the combination of very real health issues and too many risks that didn’t pan out were his undoing at Florida. I know a lot of folks still believe he faked the health issues, but you’re wrong there, just as you’re wrong to think he quit Florida because he knew Ohio State was going to open up. At lunch with him the year after he left Florida he told me that the ideal jobs were Southern Cal, UCLA or Texas (not Notre Dame or Ohio State) because they had the combination of great weather, a huge recruiting base within a two hour radius of those campuses that almost assured winning 10 (or more) games a season and access to speed. Of course, Southern Cal (Lane Kiffin), UCLA (Jim Mora Jr.) and Texas (Urban’s close friend Mack Brown) all had a coach at the time.
That he took the Ohio State job didn’t surprise me since it was the highest profile job that was open and he got his coaching start as a graduate assistant there under Earle Bruce. As an 82-9 record in seven seasons with a 2014 national championship proves, it was the right fit but he had health issues again and finally concluded that he could be a husband, dad and grandfather or a coach but not both. So he retired. Again.
I believe he’s at peace with the decision and I think he’s walking away from a game he truly loves for good. I know a lot of you are skeptical and there are many who will never forgive him for leaving UF, but really, should you be angry that he quit or that Florida spent seven years in football purgatory after he left while Ohio State thrived under his leadership? Personally, I think if you want to be angry or unforgiving, direct your harsh feelings to the former athletic director who brought in two coaches who weren’t ready to coach at this level when in both situations he could have made a big time hire.
WHAT IF JIM HARBAUGH STILL CAN’T BEAT OHIO STATE?
The moment Urban Meyer announced he is going to retire from Ohio State immediately following the Buckeyes’ close encounter at the Rose Bowl with Washington, Michigan fans began a celebration that won’t end anytime soon. Unofficially, the over on the number of beer mugs and cans that either clinked or clanged in toasts wherever Michigan fans gather to numb their Ohio State anxieties is an estimated 23,884,273 give or take 201,409.
That he’s resigning means Urban can’t kick Michigan around anymore, good news to every Michigan fan who despises Meyer because he won’t call Michigan by name. Michigan is referred to as “The School Up North.” You will not find the name Michigan anywhere in the Woody Hayes Center. It’s always “The School Up North.” Michigan has only beaten Ohio State three times in this century (2000 and 2003 under Lloyd Carr; 2011 under Brady Hoke when Ohio State was led by interim Luke Fickell) and is Oh-fer-Urban. In the minds of Michigan fans everywhere, Meyer is the offspring of a marriage between Lucifer and Godzilla’s daughter. Or worse, if that is possible.
But now Meyer is leaving and he won’t be around to torment Michigan anymore, which raises this question: what happens with Jim Harbaugh if he still can’t beat Ohio State? Harbaugh is 0-4 against the Buckeyes and fresh on every Wolverine fan’s mind is what happened three weeks ago in Columbus. How could that have happened? How could the nation’s #4 team with allegedly the best damn defense in the land get pole-axed 62-39 by the same Urban Meyer who looked like he was days from death on the sideline just a week earlier when Ohio State needed a bad pass on a 2-point conversion to beat Maryland?
So how long will the people who write the biggest checks to help keep Michigan athletics in the black react if Harbaugh continues his Oh-fer Ohio State streak in 2019? And how will those same people react if Michigan loses its Peach Bowl matchup with the Florida Gators, who are led by Dan Mullen, who cut his coaching teeth working for Urban at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida? It’s bad enough to lose to Urban Meyer and Ohio State, but to Florida and Meyer’s protégé?
This could be really, really juicy.
SOME SEC FOOTBALL THOUGHTS
ALABAMA: Mike Locksley, who won the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach, will continue to coach the Alabama offense through the playoffs before taking over full time at Maryland. There should be plenty of speculation in the next few weeks about whether Jalen Hurts will transfer to Maryland to play QB for Locksley.
ARKANSAS: Backup QB Cole Kelley, who started six games in his Arkansas career, is transferring out as is freshman linebacker Tyler Pennington.
AUBURN: Speculation that QB Jarrett Stidham is bolting for the NFL was confirmed Wednesday when it was announced he has accepted an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl.
GEORGIA: Corner Deandre Baker, a likely first rounder in the NFL Draft this spring, announced that he will play in Georgia’s Sugar Bowl game with Texas on January 1.
KENTUCKY: Linebacker/defensive end Josh Allen, already selected as the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, has won the Bronko Nagurski Award, beating out Alabama nose tackle Quinnen Williams and LSU safety Grant Delpit among others.
LSU: Devin White was selected winner of the 2018 Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. White announced that he will be playing in LSU’s Fiesta Bowl matchup with UCF.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Bulldog fans got good news from the Outback Bowl. They’ll be able to bring their cowbells into Raymond James Stadium in Tampa for the matchup with Iowa.
MISSOURI: Barry Odom got a raise (to $3.05 million) and a contract extension (through 2024), plus more money for assistant coaches. Odom’s new contract comes with $1.8 million of incentives. The buyout is $450,000 per year.
OLE MISS: Wide receiver A.J. Brown has declared for the NFL Draft. Brown caught 189 passes for 2,984 yards and 19 touchdowns in three years at Ole Miss.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who came back from a season-ending injury in 2017 to catch 62 passes for 882 yards and 11 touchdowns, announced that he will sit out South Carolina’s Belk Bowl game with Virginia.
TENNESSEE: Jeremy Pruitt wanted to hire Chip Lindsey as his offensive coordinator but Lindsey took an offer to join Les Miles’ staff at Kansas. Among the others that Pruitt is trying to lure to Knoxville are Alabama QB coach Dan Enos and North Carolina State offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz.
TEXAS A&M: The new tight ends coach, replacing Tim Brewster who joined Mack Brown’s staff at North Carolina, is Jon Finley, who spent the last three years coaching tight ends at Missouri.
VANDERBILT: Suspended quarterback Deuce Wallace will be returning to school in January. Also Vanderbilt could be a landing spot for Riley Neal, a graduate transfer who has thrown for 7,393 yards and 46 touchdowns at Ball State.
HIRINGS AND FIRINGS
Former Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will be paid $2.4 million in 2019, increasing to $3.5 million in 2023. Tucker will not be coaching Georgia’s defense in its Sugar Bowl matchup with Texas.
Charlie Strong is looking for a new offensive coordinator at South Florida after Sterlin Gilbert took the head coaching job at D1AA McNeese State.
Charlotte has hired Will Healy away from Austin Peay. Austin Peay was 1-45 in the four years prior to Healy’s arrival, 13-9 in the two years since. Healy is considered one of the bright young minds in the game.
Former Florida graduate assistant Ryan Day will be paid $4.5 million a year as the head coach at Ohio State.
John L. Smith, who has been a head coach in Division I at Louisville, Michigan State and Arkansas, has been fired as the head coach at DII Kentucky State after an 0-10 2018 and a 7-24 record in three seasons.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Kerwin Bell has Valdosta State unbeaten (12-0) and hosting a Division II semifinal Saturday against Notre Dame College of Ohio (13-0) from the Mountain East Conference. Bell’s Blazers are averaging 54 points per game with 279.9 yards on the ground and 262.5 through the air … Since 2011, North Dakota State has won six Division IAA national championships. The only year missed was 2016. North Dakota State (12-0) hosts Colgate in a Division IAA quarterfinal this weekend … The St. Louis Cardinals got first baseman Paul Goldschmidt in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks for pitcher Luke Weaver, catcher Carson Kelly, infielder Andy Young and a draft pick. The Diamondbacks just got snookered and the Cardinals came away with a steal … Lefty pitcher Patrick Corbin is 56-54 in his MLB career with a 3.91 ERA. For that the Washington Nationals gave him $140 million over the next six years. As the late great Bill Veeck once said, “I don’t mind the high price of stardom. I just don’t like the high price of mediocrity.”