THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; JANUARY 14, 2019
AS YOGI WOULD SAY: “IT’S DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN”
We saw an all-too familiar tune being played Saturday night when #3 Tennessee (14-1, 3-0 SEC) totally outplayed the Florida Gators (9-6, 1-2 SEC) down the stretch to score a 78-67 win at the O-Dome. Against the Vols, the Gators played 32 minutes of winning basketball but those other eight minutes were killers. During that stretch, Tennessee hit shots it couldn’t hit in the previous 32 minutes and the Gators couldn’t buy a basket. That sounds like what happened when the Gators lost their SEC opener to South Carolina and what happened earlier in the week at Arkansas although UF hit some free throws to save that one.
What we have seen in Florida’s three SEC games is a team that plays exceptional defense and hits just enough shots to stay in the lead until crunch time at the end of both halves. For reasons unknown, the Gators rarely seem to seal the deal at the end of the first half. Instead of a knockout blow that would give the Gators momentum going into the locker room, they seem to let opponents off the hook. That’s what happened in both the South Carolina and Tennessee losses. Of course, at the end of both those games, the Gators neither could hit shots nor get stops.
This has to be driving Mike White absolutely nuts. He knows he has a team whose defense has to make up for incredibly inconsistent shooting, but when the game comes down to white knuckles time, the Gators seem to be apprenticing for their union cards with the iron workers because their shots don’t come close to finding the net. The Gators could compensate perhaps if they could continue to get some stops, but that seems to go into the tank as well. Take Saturday night, the Gators had blanketed Jordan Bowden all night but in the final eight minutes he seemed to take (and make) only wide open shots, hence the collapse.
Unless the Gators can figure out a way to at least maintain their defensive intensity at the end of the first half, but certainly in the last eight minutes of games, it’s going to be a very dicey season. The Gators won’t make it to the the NCAA Tournament on defense alone but if they can play tough defense from bell to bell, they’ll have a chance.
UF FOOTBALL RECRUITING STUFF
Get ready for a fast close as we enter the stretch run toward National Signing Day in a mere 23 days. Put these two guys on Florida’s most likely list – 4-star defensive end Charles Moore (6-4, 268, Louisville, MS) and 4-star corner Kaiir Elam (6-1,182, North Palm Beach, FL The Benjamin School). The Gators are also in very good shape for 4-star athlete Mark-Anthony Richards (6-1, 195, West Palm Beach, FL Wellington) as well as 3-star offensive tackle Ira Henry (6-5, 320, Saint Louis, MO Trinity Catholic).
If the Gators can land Moore and Elam, they will almost certainly finish in the top ten in the recruiting rankings. Adding Richards and Henry could move UF up to about eight.
MULLEN AND CONTINUITY OF HIS COACHING STAFF
Following his brilliant 6-catch, 153-yard performance against Alabama in the national championship game, Clemson freshman wide receiver Justyn Ross, a native of Phenix City, Alabama admitted one of the reasons he turned down Alabama and Nick Saban was the lack of continuity in the football coaching staff. Whereas Dabo Swinney has kept his staff fairly much intact the last several years, it has been a revolving door at Alabama. While Nick Saban somehow maintains Alabama at a high level despite the constant change in his coaching staffs, Dabo’s success at Clemson proves there is something to keeping a staff together.
While at Mississippi State (2009-17), Florida head coach Mullen lost a couple of defensive coordinators who went on to become head coaches (Manny Diaz, now at Miami; Geoff Collins, now at Georgia Tech) and three other coaches to HBC gigs (Mark Hudspeth to Louisiana-Lafayette; Tony Hughes to Jackson State; Carl Torbush to East Tennessee State). There were other staff changes but for the most part, Mullen maintained a reasonable level of continuity. When he took the Florida job, Mullen brought several of his Mississippi State staff with him to form the core of the UF staff.
When Mullen was announced as Florida’s head coach in December of 2017, his first hires were offensive line coach John Hevesy, wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and strength and conditioning coordinator Nick Savage, who all came to UF from the Mississippi State coaching staff. Hevesy and Gonzales were with Mullen at Florida as part of Urban Meyer’s coaching staff. Hevesy was with Mullen from day one at Mississippi State while Gonzales took a couple of coaching detours upon leaving UF before joining Mullen and Hevesy in Starkville in 2013. Grantham was with Mullen at MSU in 2017 and Savage was with Mullen at MSU beginning in 2014.
As for the rest of the Florida coaching staff, Mullen brought with him three more Mississippi State assistants and another who was a former MSU assistant (Running backs coach/special teams coordinator Greg Knox, safeties coach Ron English, linebackers coach Christian Robinson and quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson). Knox was with Mullen from the beginning at MSU while English was on the MSU staff in 2017 and Robinson was a graduate assistant. Johnson was at MSU from 2014-16 and was actually recruited to Utah by Mullen in 2004 when Urban Meyer was the Utah head coach and Mullen coached quarterbacks.
The other three members of the Florida staff – corners coach Charlton Warren, tight ends coach Larry Scott and D-line coach Sal Sunseri – all had extensive SEC backgrounds so there was familiarity with Mullen. Warren and Scott were on the Tennessee staff in 2017 while Sunseri, formerly with Alabama and Tennessee, spent the three previous years with the Oakland Raiders.
When you assess Florida’s improvement from 4-7 in 2017 under Jim McElwain to 10-3 and a #6 final ranking in 2018 under Mullen, much credit has to be given to Mullen’s ability to put together an exceptional staff. That the entire staff apparently will remain intact for 2019 is a real plus and a good reason why the Gators will find themselves in the top ten in nearly every preseason ranking.
There is indeed something to be said about familiarity and continuity.
COACHING SITUATION AT EVERY OTHER SEC SCHOOL
There could be more changes than these listed because the coaches convention just ended, but here is the situation at every other SEC school as of Sunday night.
ALABAMA: Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley is the head coach at Maryland while wide receivers coach Josh Gattis is the new OC at Michigan, quarterbacks coach Dan Enos is the new OC at Miami and offensive line coach Brent Key will be the OL/assistant head coach at Georgia Tech. That leaves only two assistants on the offensive side of the ball. It’s being reported by some outlets that Steve Sarkisian (yes, that one who was the OC for the Clemson loss in 2016 and then bolted for the Atlanta Falcons) is the new OC, but Nick Saban also interviewed Notre Dame OC/QB coach Chip Long Sunday. Long is a former QB at North Alabama and a Birmingham native. Then there is Butch Jones, who some outlets say is the new assistant head coach for Locksley at Maryland, but Al.com is reporting that Jones is still working at Alabama and could coach wide receivers and possibly take over as offensive coordinator. Saban hasn’t even gotten to the defensive side of the ball where Alabama is in need of some changes in the worst way.
ARKANSAS: Arkansas gave defensive coordinator John Chavis a raise to $1.6 million. He is signed through the 2020 season.
AUBURN: Former offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, who was briefly the OC for Les Miles at Kansas, is now the HBC at Troy. Gus Malzahn replaced Lindsey with Kenny Dillingham, who has the title of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach although Malzahn plans to call the plays. Running backs coach Tim Horton is expected to move to an off-the-field position on the Auburn staff.
GEORGIA: Georgia is still without a defensive coordinator following the departure of Mel Tucker to take the HBC job at Colorado. Jim Chaney left Georgia in a lateral move to be the OC at Tennessee. After Chaney’s departure, Kirby Smart offered the job to Kentucky OC Eddie Gran, but Gran elected to stay in Lexington. Smart then promoted James Coley, who has been coaching Georgia’s wide receivers the last two years and had the title co-offensive coordinator in 2018.
KENTUCKY: Having retained offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, HBC Mark Stoops expects to keep his entire coaching staff intact for 2019.
LSU: Secondary coach Corey Raymond interviewed with Kirby Smart at Georgia but elected to remain on the LSU staff. Passing game coordinator and wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan announced hisretirement.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Joe Moorhead hasn’t announced any changes to his coaching staff.
MISSOURI: Derek Dooley has gotten some mention as a potential offensive coordinator at Alabama, where he would be reunited with Nick Saban, but that is highly unlikely to happen. Mizzou’s outside linebackers coach, Brian Odom, turned down a job offer to go work at Oklahoma for new DC Alex Grinch. Odom worked for Grinch at Washington State in 2015-16.
OLE MISS: Matt Luke has overhauled the coaching staff. Former Colorado HBC Mike MacIntyre is the new defensive coordinator, replacing Wesley McGriff who was fired. The new offensive coordinator is former West Virginia/Michigan/Arizona HBC Rich Rodriguez. Also hired was Calvin Magee, who was at New Mexico. Magee, who was RichRod’s offensive coordinator at West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona. Tight ends coach Maurice Harris left the Ole Miss staff to join former Ole Miss HBC Hugh Freeze at Liberty.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Tight ends coach Pat Washington and defensive line coach Lance Thompson have not been retained by Will Muschamp. Muschamp hired former Miami assistant Thomas Brown to join the staff as the running backs coach with running backs coach Bobby Bentley shifting to tight ends. Muschamp gave offensive line coach Eric Woolford a three-year extension with a significant raise in pay.
TENNESSEE: Jeremy Pruitt made a bold move to poach offensive coordinator Jim Chaney off the Georgia staff. Chaney got a three-year deal at UT that starts at $1.5 million
TEXAS A&M: Tight ends coach and ace recruiter Tim Brewster left the A&M staff to join Mack Brown’s new staff at North Carolina. There was some speculation that Aggie defensive coordinator Mike Elko would get the Temple head coaching job but he’s staying with Texas A&M.
VANDERBILT: Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig left Vanderbilt to become the offensive coordinator for Kyle Whittingham at Utah.
MORE SEC FOOTBALL STUFF: After visiting Maryland, quarterback Jalen Hurts is visiting Miami. He’s still expected to transfer to a school in the Big 12. Alabama linebacker Mack Wilson and safety Dieonte Thompson have declared for the NFL … Arkansas starting QB Ty Storey has decided to transfer out amid rumors that HBC Chad Morris is talking to SMU QB Ben Hicks about coming to Fayette Nam as a grad transfer … Auburn D-lineman Jauntavius Johnson is off to Colorado as a grad transfer … LSU corner Kristian Fulton, D-lineman Breiden Feheko and linebackers Michael Divinity Rashad Lawrence have elected to return to school for their senior seasons rather than bolt to the NFL … Georgia quarterback commitment John Rhys Plumlee (6-1, 185, Hattiesburg, MS Oak Grove) took an official visits to Mississippi State and will also visit Ole Miss and Miami before National Signing Day in February … Missouri running back Damarea Crocket has declared for the NFL while tight end Albert Okwuegbunam has announced he’s returning to school … South Carolina defensive back Javon Charleston has placed his name in the NCAA transfer portal. Wide receiver Bryan Edwards has elected to return for his senior season with the Gamecocks … Tennessee starting right tackle Drew Richmond has entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal … Vanderbilt’s explosive running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn announced that he will return for the 2019 season. Safety Zaire Jones announced that he will transfer out.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: A second former Oregon football player has filed a $5 million lawsuit against former head coach (now FSU) Willie Taggart, former strength and conditioning coordinator (now FSU) Irele Oderinde, the University of Oregon and the NCAA … Former Florida offensive line coach Mike Summers, who spent the last two seasons at Louisville, is the new O-line coach at Florida Atlantic … The Oakland Athletics are prepared to offer Heisman Trophy quarterback Kyler Murray even more money (he signed a $4.66 million bonus contract) if he will forego football to concentrate on baseball … Did you happen to catch the New Orleans Saints and their 11:29 drive for a touchdown to take the lead on the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday? The drive took 18 plays, covered 92 yards and required the Saints to overcome four penalties … Tom Brady obviously has a little bit of football left in him. He threw for 343 yards and a TD as the New England Patriots advanced to yet another AFC Championship Game … Michigan (17-0) and Virginia (15-0) are the only two unbeaten teams remaining in Division I college basketball. Virginia has a showdown with Duke (14-1) next Saturday … On a sad note to close, Miami Dolphins great Bob Kuchenberg passed away at the age of 71. When the Dolphins posted their historic unbeaten season, it was the threesome in the middle of the O-line of Kuchenberg, center Jim Langer and guard Larry Little that made that running game so dominant.