A few thoughts to jump start your Thursday morning:
MULLEN WASTES NO TIME REPLACING BRIAN JOHNSON
At some point the departure of Florida quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson was inevitable. Johnson is a brilliant young coach with an enormous future, but to remain at Florida was to remain in the shadow of Dan Mullen. Johnson loves Mullen and loves Florida, but he also wants to be a head coach someday so it was time to sprout his wings and move onto the kind of challenge that can get him to his goal. In the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles he will be working with Carson Wentz and former Alabama/Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts.
The news that Johnson was departing was still fresh when word got out that Mullen is elevating Garrick McGee to Johnson’s old spot. As a quarterbacks coach, McGee has had good success in the past, particularly working with Bobby Petrino at Arkansas and at Louisville. At Arkansas, McGee coached Ryan Mallett, who went on to become an NFL first rounder, and at Louisville he coached Lamar Jackson as a freshman and sophomore.
McGee also worked under John Robinson at UNLV and Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern.
The only blemishes on his record are turning down the Tulsa job where he could have won, taking the UAB job where he couldn’t have won under the circumstances of 2012-13, and working for Lovie Smith at Illinois.
Opinion: This isn’t a sexy hire but Mullen wasn’t exactly looking for sexy. With Emory Jones about to embark on becoming Florida’s starting quarterback and stud-in-waiting Anthony Richardson needing only coaching and experience to harness Dak Prescott-like ability, Mullen needed a quarterbacks coach who is exceptional at teaching fundamentals and reading defenses. He’s got that in McGee.
GATORS GET SLOPPY BUT HANG ON TO BEAT VANDY The good news at the O-Dome Wednesday night was the Gators (9-4, 6-3 SEC) hit the midway point of the league schedule with their third straight win. The bad news was there is no excuse why they let Vanderbilt make a close game of it in the closing minutes. The Gators led by as many as 22 (57-35) with 9:52 left in the game, at which point they pretty much went on cruise control, allowing Vandy to close the gap to four with 37 seconds remaining.
“I think we regressed today,” said Scottie Lewis, who had 10 points, four assists and two steals in his first action in four games as the Gators took a 78-71 win.
Noah Locke, who scored 12, added, “We pretty much gave in, in a way that wasn’t focused enough and was playing as if the game was over. That’s something that we can’t do. We have to continue to play the same way throughout the whole game.”
Try that in Morgantown on Saturday in the SEC/Big 12 challenge and 11th-ranked West Virginia will run the Gators out of the gym.
Now, if the Gators play the way they did in the first ten minutes of the second half, they can play with anyone but after a 20-6 blitz straight out of the locker room, the ball stopped moving, players stood around too much on the offensive end and they couldn’t keep Scotty Pippen Jr. out of the lane. When the intensity lagged, Vanderbilt started chipping away and had the Gators on the ropes before a late barrage of free throws put the game on ice.
Florida led 37-29 in a first half in which Mann only played three minutes and Colin Castleton five due to foul problems. In their absence, Lewis (all 10 of his points) and Locke (eight of his 12) picked up the scoring slack with help off the bench from Anthony Duruji (five) and Samson Rhuzentsev (five).
The Gators did shoot well – 51.9% (28-54) overall and 43.5% (10-23) from the 3-point line – and they did a good job of sharing the basketball as five players scored in double figures and nine different Gators broke into the scoring column. Mann led the way for UF with 15 points, four rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot. Castleton scored all 13 of his points in the second half to go with five rebounds and a blocked shot. Tyree Appleby scored nine of his 12 points in the second half and led the Gators with six assists.
Wednesday night SEC scores
FLORIDA (9-4, 6-3 SEC) 78, Vanderbilt (4-10, 0-6 SEC) 71 South Carolina (4-5, 2-3 SEC) 83, Georgia (9-6, 2-6) 59 Arkansas (13-4, 5-4 SEC) 74, Ole Miss (8-6, 3-5 SEC) 59
Saturday SEC games FLORIDA (9-4) at #11 West Virginia (11-4) #9 Alabama (14-3) at #24 Oklahoma (10-4) Texas A&M (7-7, 2-6 SEC) at Kansas State (5-12) #10 Texas Tech at LSU (11-4) TCU (9-5) at #12 Missouri (10-3) Auburn (10-7) at #2 Baylor (15-0) Arkansas (12-4) at Oklahoma State (10-4) #15 Kansas (10-5) at #18 Tennessee (11-3) Iowa State (2-8) at Mississippi State (9-8) #5 Texas (11-3) at Kentucky (5-10) Ole Miss (8-7, 3-5 SEC) at Georgia (9-6, 2-6 SEC) South Carolina (4-5, 2-3 SEC) at Vanderbilt (4-10, 0-6 SEC)
SEC FOOTBALL SCHEDULES FOR 2021 ALABAMA: 9/4 vs. Miami (Atlanta); 9/11 Mercer; 9/18 at Florida; 9/25 Southern Miss; 10/2 Ole Miss; 10/9 at Texas A&M; 10/16 at Mississippi State; 10/23 Tennessee; 11/6 LSU; 11/13 New Mexico State; 11/20 Arkansas; 11/27 at Auburn ARKANSAS: 9/4 Rice; 9/11 Texas; 9/18 Georgia Southern; 9/25 vs. Texas A&M (Arlington, TX); 10/2 Mississippi State; 10/9 at Ole Miss; 10/16 Auburn; 10/23 Arkansas-Pine Bluff; 11/6 Mississippi State; 11/13 at LSU; 11/20 at Alabama; 11/27 Missouri (Little Rock)
AUBURN: 9/4 Akron; 9/11 Alabama State; 9/18 at Penn State; 9/25 Georgia State; 10/2 at LSU; 10/9 Georgia; 10/16 at Arkansas; 10/30 Ole Miss; 11/6 at Texas A&M; 11/13 Mississippi State; 11/20 at South Carolina; 11/27 Alabama FLORIDA: 9/4 Florida Atlantic; 9/11 at USF; 9/18 Alabama; 9/25 Tennessee; 10/2 at Kentucky; 10/9 Vanderbilt; 10/16 at LSU; 10/30 vs. Georgia (Jacksonville); 11/6 at South Carolina; 11/13 Samford; 11/20 at Missouri; 11/27 Florida State
GEORGIA: 9/4 vs. Clemson (Charlotte); 9/11 UAB; 9/18 South Carolina; 9/25 at Vanderbilt; 10/2 Arkansas; 10/9 at Auburn; 10/16 Kentucky; 10/30 vs. Florida (Jacksonville); 11/6 Missouri; 11/13 at Tennessee; 11/20 Charleston Southern; 11/27 at Georgia Tech
KENTUCKY: 9/4 Louisiana-Monroe; 9/11 Missouri; 9/18 Chattanooga; 9/25 at South Carolina; 10/2 Florida; 10/9 LSU; 10/16 at Georgia;
LSU: 9/4 at UCLA; 9/11 McNeese State; 9/18 Central Michigan; 9/25 at Mississippi State; 10/2 Auburn; 10/9 at Kentucky; 10/16 Florida; 10/23 at Ole Miss; 11/6 at Alabama; 11/13 Arkansas; 11/20 Louisiana-Monroe; 11/27 vs. Texas A&M
MISSISSIPPI STATE: 9/4 Louisiana Tech; 9/11 North Carolina State; 9/18 at Memphis; 9/25 LSU; 10/2 at Texas A&M; 10/16 Alabama; 10/23 at Vanderbilt; 10/30 Kentucky; 11/6 at Arkansas; 11/13 at Auburn; 11/20 Tennessee State; 11/27 Ole Miss
MISSOURI: 9/4 Central Michigan; 9/11 at Kentucky; 9/18 SE Missouri; 9/25 at Boston College; 10/2 Tennessee; 10/9 North Texas; 10/16 Texas A&M; 10/30 at Vanderbilt; 11/6 at Georgia; 11/13 South Carolina; 11/20 Florida; 11/27 at Arkansas (Little Rock)
OLE MISS: 9/6 vs. Louisville (Atlanta); 9/11 Austin Peay; 9/18 Tulane; 10/2 at Alabama; 10/9 Arkansas; 10/16 at Tennessee; 10/23 LSU; 10/30 Auburn; 11/6 Liberty; 11/13 Texas A&M; 11/20 Vanderbilt; 11/27 at Mississippi State
SOUTH CAROLINA: 9/4 Eastern Illinois; 9/11 at East Carolina; 9/18 at Georgia; 9/25 Kentucky; 10/2 Troy; 10/9 at Tennessee; 10/16 Vanderbilt; 10/23 at Texas A&M; 11/6 Florida; 11/13 at Missouri; 11/20 Auburn; 11/27 Clemson
TENNESSEE: 9/4 Bowling Green; 9/11 Pittsburgh; 9/18 Tennessee Tech; 9/25 at Florida; 10/2 at Missouri; 10/9 South Carolina; 10/16 Ole Miss; 10/23 at Alabama; 11/6 at Kentucky; 11/13 Georgia; 11/20 South Alabama; 11/27 Vanderbilt
TEXAS A&M: 9/4 Kent State; 9/11 vs. Colorado (Denver); 9/18 New Mexico; 9/25 vs. Arkansas (Arlington, TX); 10/2 Mississippi State; 10/9 Alabama; 10/16 at Missouri; 10/23 South Carolina; 11/6 Auburn; 11/13 at Ole Miss; 11/20 Prairie View; 11/27 at LSU
VANDERBILT: 9/4 East Tennessee State; 9/11 at Colorado State; 9/18 Stanford; 9/25 Georgia; 10/2 UConn; 10/9 at Florida; 10/16 at South Carolina; 10/23 Mississippi State; 10/30 Missouri; 11/13 Kentucky; 11/20 at Ole Miss; 11/27 at Tennessee
VOLS HIRE JOSH HEUPEL
Josh Heupel isn’t the home run hire that Tennessee fans envisioned, but in hiring Heupel athletic director Danny White made sure he didn’t strike out and turn the hiring process into a sideshow. What do Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley, Butch Jones and Jeremy Pruitt have in common? All four were at least the sixth or seventh choice as previous athletic directors made the hiring process the joke of the country.
Give White credit for swinging for the fence by going after Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck and Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott. Both of them said no. He also reached out to Luke Fickell at Cincinnati and James Franklin at Penn State but never got around to offering because they also said no. You can’t blame any of them for their lack of interest because there is no telling how badly the NCAA is going to stick it to Tennessee when its men in black suits come calling. Tennessee is admitting “several” Level I and Level II violations so this isn’t going to be pretty.
When White couldn’t hit his home run, he went after Heupel, who he hired at UCF three years ago, and promptly gave Heupel a 6-year contract, which is a pretty good indicator just how badly UT expects the NCAA sanctions to be. Heupel isn’t a bad hire under the circumstances. He’s a very good offensive mind who knows how to put points on the scoreboard so he might be able to keep Vol fans entertained while they sweat out the punishment. Heupel has SEC experience as Missouri’s offensive coordinator prior to taking the UCF job. With Heupel calling the plays for Mizzou in 2017, the Tigers averaged 37.5 points per game with QB Drew Lock throwing for 44 touchdowns.
So, who does UCF hire? Since there is no athletic director and it’s rather late in the game to be doing a coaching search, the prudent thing might be to keep interim Randy Shannon on the job through the 2021 season then go after a permanent replacement. If they try to move quickly, three names stand out: Ole Miss QB/OC Jeff Lebby; Georgia DC Dan Lanning and North Carolina OLB/special teams coordinator Jovan Dewitt. Lebby was the QB coach when Dillon Gabriel broke in as a true freshman in 2019. Lanning is thought to be a lights out recruiter and UCF desperately needs players on the defensive side of the ball. Dewitt was an integral part of the UCF staff when the Knights ran the table in 2017. If they’re smart, they go get Lebby.
OTHER SEC STUFF
ALABAMA: It is being reported that former Tennessee assistant Jay Graham is now part of the Alabama staff.
AUBURN: Veteran NFL assistant Nick Eason is the new defensive line coach at Auburn. GEORGIA: The replacement for departed Charlton Warren is former West Virginia secondary coach Jahmile Addae. LSU: Austin Thomas, who spent 2020 as the associate athletic director for football at Baylor, has been hired as the general manager for football at LSU.
OLE MISS: Defensive back Nigel Knott, who began his career at Alabama, is transferring in from East Carolina.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Running backs coach Des Kitchings, a holdover from Will Muschamp’s staff, is expected to leave for the Atlanta Falcons.
TENNESSEE: Former head coach Jeremy Pruitt has taken an assistant’s job with the NFL New York Giants. Running back Eric Gray is joining offensive tackle Wanya Morris and defensive back Key Lawrence at Oklahoma ... Last year’s defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley is off to the NFL with the Los Angeles Chargers.
ONE LAST PITHY COMMENT: When the Atlantic Coast Conference announces its 2021 football schedule either today or tomorrow, all eyes will be on Notre Dame. After breaking with tradition to join the ACC for the 2020 season, Notre Dame has to know that the path to the College Football Playoff will be infinitely easier in the ACC than it is as an independent. As an independent, Notre Dame almost has to go unbeaten to make the playoff and judging by the way they’ve been blown out both ties they’ve made it, the Irish are teetering on the verge or irrelevance. As a one-loss ACC champ, the Irish could still get in so there is a big decision that has to be made.