A CULTURAL SHIFT
Perhaps it was a gamble what Dan Mullen did as soon as he arrived on the University of Florida campus as the new head football coach in December of 2017. Mullen decided to wipe the slate clean for the entire roster. Discipline issues. Academic issues. Even non-football issues such as nine players who had missed the entire 2017 season for their part in a credit card fraud scheme.
“I just knew what we were going to build, what we were going to establish,” Mullen said Saturday night after the Gators had wiped the floor of The Swamp with the Florida State Seminoles to the tune of 40-17. That was Florida’s second straight win over the Seminoles, who had won the previous five games prior to Mullen’s arrival at UF. It was also the Gators’ 10th win of the season, giving Mullen a 20-5 record built largely with players he inherited from a previous head coach fired the week before the 2017 Georgia game after he wouldn’t or couldn’t offer any proof of death threats he claimed he and his family had received from over-zealous Florida fans.
Mullen understood what he was getting into when he came to Florida and the last thing he wanted or needed to do was impede progress toward rebuilding the football program culturally and on the field from the ground up was to give everybody a fresh start.
“I never judged,” Mullen said. “I tried not to watch any film, honestly. I tried not to even look at a lot of record and issues – guys that maybe had discipline issues or academic issues or maybe guys were great. I wiped all that out in my first meeting. I said this is what we’re going to do, and we need you guys to buy in.”
We hear that term “buy in” a lot in sports today. It’s really just another way of saying commitment. The late, great Vince Lombardi believed that it wasn’t always the most talented team that won football games but the team that was the most committed to success and winning. Mullen inherited a lot of talented players from the Jim McElwain regime, but what happened in 2017 was living proof commitment was lacking.
Mullen has transformed Florida from a team lacking direction and commitment into one that seems poised to make the next big leap to the championship level.
In 2017, the Gators won four games. “That’s not why they came here,” Mullen said. “These guys bought into what we were doing. They came in here to live up to that Gator standard and play in great bowl games and compete for championships. They’ve set the foundation for us to continue to do that in the future.”
So the gamble has paid off, perhaps even beyond what Mullen expected. He wiped the team’s slate clean and they’ve rewarded him with 20 wins in two seasons. This is one cultural shift that has paid off.
GATORS GO 4-0, DROP OUT OF BOTH BASKETBALL POLLS
Despite winning the Charleston Classic with three straight wins and a home win over Marshall last week, the Florida Gators dropped out of both the Associated Press and Coaches top 25 basketball polls. The Gators received 110 points in the AP poll, two behind 25th-ranked Utah State and 60 in the Coaches poll, eight behind #25 Oklahoma State. The Gators are idle until Saturday when they face 24th-ranked Butler in Indianapolis.
Three teams from the SEC are ranked in both polls – Kentucky, Auburn and Tennessee.
Associated Press Top 25 Poll (1) Louisville 7-0; (2) Kansas 6-1; (3) Maryland 8-0; (4) Michigan 7-0; (5) Virginia 7-0; (6) Ohio State 7-0; (7) North Carolina 6-1; (8) Kentucky 6-1; (9) Gonzaga 8-1; (10) Duke 7-1; (11) Michigan State 5-2; (12) Arizona 9-0; (13) Oregon 6-2; (14) Auburn 7-0; (15) Memphis 6-1; (16) Seton Hall 6-2; (17) Florida State 7-1; (18) Baylor 5-1; (19) Dayton 5-1; (20) Colorado 6-0; (21) Tennessee 6-1; (22) Washington 5-1; (23) Villanova 5-2; (24) Butler 7-0; (25) Utah State 7-1
Coaches Top 25 Poll
(1) Louisville 7-0; (2) Virginia 7-0; (3) Kansas 6-1; (4) Maryland 8-0; (5) Michigan 7-0; (6) Ohio State 7-0; (7) North Carolina 6-1; (8) Duke 7-1; (9) Gonzaga 8-1; (10) Kentucky 6-1; (11) Arizona 9-0; (12) Michigan State 5-2; (13) Auburn 7-0; (14) Oregon 6-2; (15) Seton Hall 6-2; (16) Baylor 5-1; (17) Dayton 5-1; (18) Memphis 6-1; (19) Florida State 7-1; (20) Tennessee 6-1; (21) Colorado 6-0; (22) Villanova 5-2; (23) Washington 5-1; (24) Butler 7-0; (25) Oklahoma State 7-0
SEC FOOTBALL STUFF
Alabama (10-2, 6-2 SEC): On WJOX-FM in Birmingham Monday, Paul Finebaum of the SEC Network said, “The greatest coach in college football has been outcoached in his last three significant games and you guys know the stats as I say them: He’s lost two out of three to Dabo [Swinney]. That’s a fact. He’s lost two out of three to Gus Malzahn and that’s the one I think is difficult for a lot of people to digest.”
Arkansas (3-9, 0-8 SEC): Arkansas AD Hunter Yurachek has met with Florida Atlantic HBC Lane Kiffin … Redshirt freshman O-lineman Silas Robinson (6-4, 306) has entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal.
Auburn (9-3, 5-3 SEC): The Southeastern Conference has fined Auburn $250,000 after its fans stormed the field following the Tigers’ 48-45 win over Alabama … Auburn linebacker Zakoby McClain was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week and placekicker Anders Carlson was named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week.
FLORIDA (10-2, 6-2 SEC): Jon Greenard was named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week after his performance in the Gators’ 40-17 win over Florida State. Greenard was in on six tackles with three sacks and a forced fumble … Tight end Lucas Krull will go the graduate transfer route for his final year of college football eligibility.
Georgia (11-1, 7-1 SEC): Georgia’s highly regarded defensive unit will have to slow down an LSU offense that ranks #2 nationally in scoring (48.7 per game), passing (390 yards per game) and total offense (560.4 yards per game).
Kentucky (7-5, 3-5 SEC): Freshman linebacker Tra Wilkins (6-0, 215), who appeared in two games in 2019, has entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal.
LSU (12-0, 8-0 SEC): Auburn is the only team that held LSU to fewer than 30 points in a game this season. Against Georgia, the Tigers will face a defense that hasn’t allowed more than 20 in a game all season and ranks #2 in scoring defense (10.4 points per game) and #4 in total defense (257 yards per game).
Mississippi State (6-6, 3-5 SEC): Mississippi State’s offense in 2019 did pretty much what it did in 2018. The Bulldogs scored 28.5 points and gained 397.4 yards per game last year, 27.6 points and 402.9 yards this year. The difference was on defense: 13.2 points and 263.1 yards allowed per game in 2018; 28.1 points and 389.9 yards per game this year.
Missouri (6-6, 3-5 SEC): Tight end Albert Okwuegbunam and defensive tackle Jordan Elliott will leave for the NFL. The 6-6, 255-pound junior caught 26 passes for 306 yards and six touchdowns. He’s viewed as a potential first rounder. Elliott, a 6-4, 315-pound junior, was in on 44 tackles with 8.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and six quarterback hurries.
Ole Miss (4-8, 3-5 SEC): In the immediate aftermath of firing HBC Matt Luke, offensive tackle Bryce Matthews entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal and four recruits de-committed including four-star safety Eric Reed.
South Carolina (4-8, 3-5 SEC): Jake Bentley, who started at quarterback for two-and-a-half seasons and was the starting QB when 2019 began, will take the graduate transfer route and play his final season of college football someplace else. Bentley broke his foot in the season opening loss to North Carolina and took a redshirt. His dad, Bobby, is the running backs coach at South Carolina ... OG Sadarius Hutcherson, who has started 25 games the last two seasons, announced he will return to South Carolina for his senior season.
Tennessee (7-5, 5-3 SEC): Redshirt junior offensive lineman Ryan Johnson (6-6, 301) and freshman wide receiver Jerrod Means (6-2, 214) have placed their names in the NCAA transfer portal. Johnson has started 18 games in his career although only two in 2019. Means played in five games before missing the rest of the season with an injury.
Texas A&M (7-5, 4-4 SEC): Sophomore tight end Glenn Beal (6-5, 265) has entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal. Beal played in nine games in 2019 with five catches for 21 yards.
Vanderbilt (3-9, 1-7 SEC): Tom Stephenson of the Anchor of Gold (Vanderbilt) website opines, “Just why is Derek Mason being brought back for the 2020 season? There’s an explanation given but it doesn’t make a ton of sense, mostly because it runs into the reality that we all saw the football team in 2019 and exactly no one is convinced that nicer locker rooms or the football-specific facility that is Jordan Rodgers’ pet project will make a difference as long as the coaching is deficient.”
COUNTDOWN TO FIRING DAY UPDATES
Bobby Wilder, Old Dominion: It will officially go down as a resignation, but Bobby Wilder, the only coach ODU has had since resuming football in 2011, was fired after three consecutive losing seasons. His career record at ODU 77-56.
The three front-runners for the opening at South Florida are former USF, Oregon and FSU head coach Willie Taggart and Clemson’s co-offensive coordinators, Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott. Scott is the son of former South Carolina HBC and FSU offensive coordinator Brad Scott, who didn’t play college football and is a USF graduate.
Athletic director David Coburn said he expected a new head coach would be in place at FSU by the end of the season at the very latest. Here it is Tuesday and FSU is still coach-less.
Chris Peterson wasn’t fired nor was he forced out at Washington Monday. He simply decided now was time to take a sabbatical – maybe even a permanent sabbatical – from football.
SEC BASKETBALL STUFF
Tuesday’s games #24 Butler at Ole Miss Austin Peay at Arkansas Charleston Southern at Missouri Buffalo at Vanderbilt New Orleans at LSU
GOOD QUOTES FOR TUESDAY
Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated on Florida Atlantic HBC Lane Kiffin on the hot list for openings at both Arkansas and Ole Miss: “Kiffin is the hot mess of a super model football executives just can’t seem to resist. He’s been fired by the Oakland Raiders and USC Trojans in previous lives, and in between those gigs made a poor decision to Jilt Tennessee after one season. As offensive coordinator at Alabama he was told to take a hike in the middle of the College Football Playoff by Nick Saban, because his mind was on his next job and not on playoff business. The late SEC commissioner Mike Slive couldn’t stand Kiffin during his year at Tennessee.”
A statement by Auburn dean of the college of liberal arts, Dr. Joe Aistrup, on tweaking the final exam schedule at the university after Auburn’s 48-45 win over Alabama: “It is undeniable that when every second counts, Auburn men and women make great things happen. Under Coach Malzahn’s leadership student-athletes have twice proven the difference that :01 can make. In the spirit of continued success, I hereby authorize professors and instructors to add one second to the allotted times for next week’s final exams.”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: The New England Patriots waived placekicker Kai Forbath Monday. Forbath is the fourth kicker the Patriots have used this season, signed to replace Nick Folk, who had an appendectomy last week. Folk could return at some point later in the season … This is scary, but Clemson is actually ahead of last year’s pace through 12 regular season games. Oh, the record is the same – 12-0 – but defensively, for example, the Tigers are allowing four fewer points and 51 fewer yards per game through the first 12 games … Waiting for the NCAA to drop the hammer on these rogue basketball programs reminds me of the book by my late friend, the great Lewis Grizzard: “When My Love Returns from the Ladies Room, Will I Be Too Old to Care?”