Some of the best advice I’ve ever heard was “Live where your feet are planted.” This is particularly relevant these days for Gator football fans as we come to the end of The “M Decade.” An up-and-down decade, from Muschamp to McElwain to Mullen.
Until Dan came along it looked like the “M” was going to stand for misery. My how the landscape has changed. It went from “Misery to Mediocre” and from “Mediocre” to – well, could “Marvelous” be too strong a word?
We’re not going to adjudicate every last footprint of this era, because we don’t need analytics to tell us the obvious: After a little dance near the dumpster, life is good again for The Gator Nation.
This is the time for celebrating double-digit wins, a New Year’s Six Bowl and what looks like a bumper crop of recruits so far. Go ahead, celebrate where our feet are planted at the moment. All in all, a pretty good place to be.
But wait! How are the Gators going to replace those four veteran wide receivers? Will they get that four-star defensive lineman? If Todd Grantham goes to the NFL, what will Mullen do? When are they finally and going to get that football complex built?
It doesn’t take much grousing, and there go the feet.
As I once said to my colleagues Franz and Tim during a 2:30 post-game breakfast at Denny’s in South Florida, just after Tim Tebow’s team had beaten Oklahoma for the national championship, “Enjoy this time. It won’t last forever.”
Live where your feet are planted.
For the past decade, Florida football has been on a roller coaster ride, from mediocre to poor, resulting in the banishment of Muschamp and McElwain, who could not muster 50 wins between them. All in all not terrible – four seasons of double digit victories, 80 wins, 46 losses.
This was not lost on a weary fan base, tired of playing giveup football to Georgia, lost in a non-competitive abyss at the end of a winning cycle, while seemingly the rest of the SEC was zooming past UF in facilities and other player amenities.
I also subscribe to the Satchel Paige theory: “Don’t look back. Somebody might be gaining on you.”
Enter Scott Stricklin, who not only found his man, but mounted a challenge to address the issues of the future. With it Stricklin embraced an almost spiritual mandate to do things the right way which seems to have struck a chord of trust with donors. It appears to have inspired people like James W. "Bill" Heavener to open his purse strings for building Football Training Center, projected to cost $85 million as a new day-to-day home as early as December 2021.
But hang on feet! Here we go again, getting seduced by the future, looking past the present.
Finally we arrive at the crossroads in late December 2019, where we lock the present and future together: The current recruiting class which by all projections after the first round of national signing day has met and surpassed all expectations.
Again, however, there’s that word “projections” which has very little to do with where our feet are now. As I am writing this, my feet are pointed toward the Orange Bowl, which provides us with another measuring stick. This was no small feat: The first major bowl game in six years.
So as we close out this “M Decade,” we must at least acknowledge some of the special moments this past year, begging the pardon of Satchel Paige about not looking back.
The Kyle Trask story was one of the best in college football. It was extraordinary because by all rights he shouldn’t have even been there that night in Lexington, having been exiled to the bench since ninth grade, but as the consummate team player, stayed the course. The offense was even better as Trask carved out his own Minuteman legacy: The player who was always ready to step up. And he did so with class, always with respect toward his injured friend Feleipe Franks, who would quietly exit with dignity.
I’ve said all season somebody ought to name a “Relentless Effort Award” after Kyle Trask as the guy who selflessly stayed around instead of transferring when he kept getting passed over as the starter.
Another worthy sidebar is the manner in which Mullen and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham parlayed transferring and the transfer portal into a resource center, picking some prime talent out of the hopper to bolster the defense. Mullen was ahead of the curve two years ago when he brought in wide receivers Van Jefferson and Trevon Grimes. The impact of All-SEC defensive lineman Jon Greenard was huge and transfer Adam Shuler paired up with him nicely.
Finally, almost overlooked now, was the way Mullen’s team negotiated so-called “Murderer’s Row” of Auburn, LSU, South Carolina and Georgia. That four-game stretch proved tough, but not insurmountable. Beating Auburn helped. The Top Ten matchups vs. LSU and Georgia were highly competitive and used as measuring sticks. The Gators were competitive with both, losing to LSU 42-28 in a game that was much closer than the score. And they challenged the Bulldogs before losing, 24-17.
Asked after the game about the difference between Georgia and his program, Mullen replied curtly: “Seven points.”
By Jove I think he nailed it.
This edition of GatorBait is our final one of 2019, which is why we made it a double issue.
Meanwhile, we took a few days to be with our families during the holidays and it was on to Miami for our team to cover the Orange Bowl. So the next time you see us, unless you happen to dial up The Buddy Martin Show during the holidays, it will be in our Orange Bowl issue on Jan. 3.
We want to wish a happy holiday to the men and women who make GatorBait Media possible – our magazine, website and TV Show: Brenden Martin, Kassidy Hill, Franz Beard, Chad Ritch, Ainslie Lee, Stephanie Giera, Alex Shepherd and Tom Schmitz.
We would like to say thanks to all of our readers and customers who have made our journey possible since we took over in July 2019 and wish them a very happy holiday season.