A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning:
At some point decisions will have to be made. In three years on the job, Dan Mullen is 29-7 as Florida’s head ball coach. In the Southeastern Conference, only Alabama (35-3) and Georgia (30-8) have won more games. Alabama you would classify as great. Georgia is always great in the preseason expectations but flubs along the way. Near national titles, near greatness. Near, near, near but never great. That’s Georgia since Herschel departed after the 1982 season.
As for Florida under Dan Mullen the Gators are perpetually really good. After eight years spent like the lost ball in the tall grass, Mullen has brought the Gators back to a very respectful position. The Gators are good. Very good in fact, but they aren’t great. Not yet anyway.
To get to where the Florida program is right now – perpetually good – Mullen has had to spend far too much time doing his best impersonations of Ernest Aingley, Oral Roberts and Benny Hinn. Genuine polyester prayer cloths and shouts of “Be healed!” can only do so much to repair all the damage done by the previous two coaches. One of them knew how to recruit and coach up a defense, but never took his thumb off the offense. I have no idea where the other one was coming from. Maybe his dog Clarabelle could give us some insight.
Damage was done and it has taken a Herculean effort by Mullen and his staff to repair the damage. This is a far different scenario than the one Steve Spurrier inherited from Galen Hall or the one that Urban Meyer inherited from Ron Zook. Neither Spurrier nor Meyer inherited players who had been through a losing season. Spurrier inherited a ready-made defense, tremendous offensive linemen and a QB in Shane Matthews who simply needed a chance. Of the 22 starters on the 2006 national championship team coached by Meyer, 20 were recruited to UF by Zooker.
Gator fans want to be Alabama but Nick Saban has won five national championships since 2009 and it is going to take time to get the Florida program to a national championship level. And, will anyone ever duplicate what Saban has done? The only coach who ever came close to that was Bear Bryant.
Gator fans want to be better than Georgia. Beating Georgia this year was a big step in the right direction but look at the foundation Kirby Smart inherited compared to the one inherited by Mullen. Kirby took over the players that went 8-5 the year before and were five points from 11-2. Mullen inherited a 4-7 team that had been rocked by a scandal involving players fraudulently using a credit card and a coach who never quite understood that it’s legal and actually affordable to get your teeth whitened when you’re knocking down $4 million a year.
Slowly – slower than he wants – Mullen is inching Florida up the recruiting ladder. Alabama and Georgia have tremendous momentum and too often they dip into Florida as do, Clemson, Ohio State and Michigan. This might sound like a controversial notion to some, but Florida’s recruiting will improve when the programs and Florida State and Miami start winning at a high level once again. Go back to the 1990s. When Florida, Florida State and Miami were all winning there wasn’t the talent drain that you’re seeing today. Kids wanted to stay in state because everyone knew championship road went through Gainesville, Tallahassee and Miami. Nowadays the road to a national championship travels through Tuscaloosa and Clemson, SC.
I believe very strongly that Mullen will not settle for the perpetually good mode he has Florida in right now, but to take the next step to go from perpetually good to perpetually great will require some changes. I understand staff loyalty but look at the constant flux on the Alabama staff. Since he took over in 2007, Nick Saban has had eight different offensive coordinators and five different defensive coordinators. It seems with every change Bama gets better. Mullen has surrounded himself with coaches he likes and trusts, but to get where he wants to go he is going to have to do some serious evaluations of his staff and probably make some changes.
I understand the frustration that a lot of fans feel. They think Mullen should fire Todd Grantham today but it’s far more complicated than just letting one coach go and hiring someone new. Your staff has to mesh and that’s not easy. From Lou Holtz, Urban Meyer learned that you always have a short list of coaches whose careers you follow. Meyer made a science of studying which coaches were great teachers, which ones were great recruiters, which ones were great in the booth on game day and which ones were like the priest in the confession booth who players trusted with their problems. He knew how to plug in someone who was the right fit.
Take a look at the 2006 national championship staff. He had Mullen as his offensive coordinator, Hevesy and Steve Addazio coaching the O-line, Billy Gonzales coaching the wide receivers and Stan Drayton the running backs. Over on defense he had Greg Mattison coaching the D-line and serving as co-coordinator along with Charlie Strong, who coached linebackers. In the secondary he had Chuck Heater with the corners and Doc Holliday with the safeties.
Mullen was a great tactician and QB coach. Addazio was a terrific O-line recruiter and the energy guy who was called “Vitamin A” by the team. Hev preached toughness. Billy G turned Dallas Baker into a consistent go-to receiver. Drayton was the guy players on the offensive side of the ball confessed their problems to. Mattison was like a second dad to the kids on defense. Strong was a tactician who could recruit. Heater didn’t do that much recruiting but he was a tactical genius in the secondary who turned Ryan Smith and Reggie Nelson into All-Americans. Doc might be as good a recruiter as there has ever been at UF. That is one of the great staffs of the past 30 or so years.
Going from really good to always great might be painful for Mullen because he may have to tell a friend good-bye for the good of the program. Will he find the balance that completes a staff and gives what is needed to teach, recruit, energize and come up with winning tactical plans?
Those are questions that will have to be answered, the sooner the better.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS TOP 25 POLL: (1) Alabama 10-0; (2) Notre Dame 10-0; (3) Ohio State 5-0; (4) Clemson 9-1; (5) Texas A&M 7-1; (6) Cincinnati 8-0; (7) Indiana 6-1; (8) Iowa State 8-2; (9) Coastal Carolina 11-0; (10) Georgia 7-2; (11) FLORIDA 8-2; (12) Oklahoma 7-2; (13) Southern Cal 5-0; (14) BYU 10-1; (15) Northwestern 6-1; (16) North Carolina 8-3; (17) Louisiana 9-1; (18) Iowa 6-2; (19) Miami 8-2; (20) Tulsa 6-1; (21) Texas 6-3; (22) Liberty 9-1; (23) Buffalo 5-0; (24) North Carolina State 8-3; (25) San Jose State
THE COACHES TOP 25 POLL: (1) Alabama 10-0; (2) Notre Dame 10-0; (3) Clemson 9-1; (4) Ohio State 5-0; (5) Texas A&M 7-1; (6) Cincinnati 8-0; (7) Indiana 6-1; (8) Iowa State 8-2; (9) Georgia 7-2; (10) Oklahoma 7-2; (11) Coastal Carolina 11-0; (13) Southern Cal 5-0; (14) Northwestern 6-1; (15) North Carolina 8-3; (16) BYU 10-1; (17) Iowa 6-2; (18) Louisiana 9-1; (19) Miami 8-2; (20) Tulsa 6-1; (21) Liberty 9-1; (22) Oklahoma State 7-3; (23) North Carolina State 8-3; (24) Texas 6-3; (25) San Jose State 6-0
NOTHING NEW ON KEYONTAE There is very little new in the way of an update on Keyontae Johnson. He remains in Tallahassee Memorial Hospital in critical but stable condition. The University of Florida flew his parents in from their home in Norfolk and head coach Mike White has remained in Tallahassee as well. There has been much speculation what caused his collapse on the floor of the Tucker Center where the Gators were playing Florida State, but nothing concrete in the way of news.
With Johnson in the lineup, the Gators were off to a rousing start against Florida State, but his collapse not only took Florida’s best player out of the lineup but took a serious emotional toll on the team as well. The next couple of days will require serious regrouping both to find a lineup that can function well but emotionally as well. Although a relatively quiet guy, Johnson is the most respected player on the Florida team and the unquestioned team leader. Finding someone to fill those voids is going to be a serious challenge for White.
This might be the time for Anthony Duruji to step up his game and try to fill Johnson’s shoes. Although he hasn’t done much in Florida’s first four games, Duruji is one of the team’s best athletes. He’s 6-7, 220 and has a reported 48-inch vertical. At Louisiana Tech in the 2018-19 season he averaged more than 12 points and seven rebounds per game.
The Gators (3-1) are scheduled to play North Florida (1-7) Wednesday night at the O-Dome and Florida Atlantic (4-2) next Saturday.
GUS BUS JOINS THE EXTINCT SPECIES LIST
If only they had waited 48 hours at Arkansas State they could have hired native son Gus Malzahn for a second tour of duty as their head coach. Arky State hired former Tennessee coach Butch Jones only a day before Auburn took Gus Malzahn off life support and put him on the Extinct Species List.
For Butch, it was time for gainful employment since his Tennessee buyout money ends in another month or so and you can’t go on forever living on the $35,000 he makes in Alabama at St. Nick’s Home for Wayward Coaches. Former coach Blake Anderson, now the head coach at Utah State, was making $825,000 a year.
Gus Malzahn was the head coach at Arkansas State in 2012 when he led the Red Wolves to a 9-3 record. Malzahn’s predecessor at Arky State was Hugh Freeze, rumored to be his successor at Auburn.
Gus will have to squeeze by on a $21.75 million buyout with half of that due within 30 days and the other half due over the next 12 months. There is no mitigation clause. Auburn is on the hook for the full amount.
Auburn is on the hook for $8.3 million in buyouts of assistant coaches in the event none of them are retained by the new head coach. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, who has been named interim head coach, is owed $5 million in buyout money if he isn’t retained.
If Freeze elects to stay at Liberty (entirely possible) Auburn is thought to be taking a long look at Oregon coach Mario Cristobal, who is being upgraded from his $2.5 million per year salary, and Coastal Carolina’s Jamey Chadwell, although Coastal is working with Chadwell on a serious contract extension and salary upgrade. Chadwell is making $375,000. One other name to watch is Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy.
Other coaching news: Illinois fired Lovie Smith, who was 17-39 in five seasons. Thought to be candidates for the job are Army’s Jeff Monken, Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell, former Wisconsin and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and Buffalo coach Lance Leipold ... Monken is also being mentioned as a serious candidate for the opening at Vanderbilt … Arizona fired Kevin Sumlin. Thought to be candidates for that job are Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, Southern Cal offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, former UCLA, Washington and Colorado head coach Rick Neuheisel and UCF head coach Josh Heupel.
A COUPLE OF PITHY THOUGHTS ON A MONDAY MORNING: McKenzie Milton, who nearly lost his leg after an horrendous knee injury suffered against USF in 2018, is cleared to play football and will transfer to Florida State. Given that the sieve of an offensive line at FSU has allowed 29 sacks this year, Milton might want to be in his feets don’t fail me now mode from the moment he steps on campus … Duke and Kentucky have begun the basketball season a collective 3-6. For some reason, the mere thought of them doing poorly out of the gate has me smiling.