Thoughts of the Day: January 29, 2021

A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning:

THINGS THAT SHOULD MAKE YOU GO HMMM 1. Dan Mullen didn’t get tossed off the turnip truck: As I read some of the commentary that’s out there regarding (a) Brian Johnson leaving for the Philadelphia Eagles and (b) Dan Mullen’s rapid promotion of Garrick McGee from analyst to quarterbacks coach, you would think that at the very worst Dan was dropped on his head too many times when he was an infant, at best tossed off a turnip truck back in November days before the Gators lost to LSU. He’s actually in full control of his faculties and he actually was steps ahead of the “Dan is clueless” crowd.

Start with Brian Johnson. Mullen knew that it was time to kick Brian out of the nest. Brian Johnson wants to be a head coach and that wasn’t going to happen unless he actually had the kind of experience that lands him a coordinator position somewhere that he actually calls the plays. So when BJ took the job as the Eagles QB coach, it didn’t come as a surprise for Mullen. If anything it was encouraged. With the Eagles, he will be working with Carson Wentz and Jalen Hurts. In a year, maybe two, if the Eagles are successful – and they should be – Brian Johnson will either be somebody’s offensive coordinator in the NFL or he will have college teams inviting him to become their OC.

Mullen knew that BJ would need to spread his wings and fly on his own a year ago, which is one of the reasons for the hire of Garrick McGee. McGee spent 2020 as an analyst learning the Mullen offense and getting to know personnel and other coaches. When it came time for BJ to make his move, McGee was right there, ready to take over.

For those who think this was a “lazy hire,” please use your brain beside something to part your ears with. This was a calculated move all along and in elevating McGee into the QB coaching job, he got an assistant who (a) is an outstanding teacher of fundamentals, (b) is great at breaking down film and explaining the do’s and don’ts to the guys in his room, (c) having played quarterback himself and having coached quarterbacks for the better part of 20 years knows the position quite well and (d) is a rather decent recruiter.

Recruit, you say? Ever hear of Lamar Jackson? I’m told by a Louisville booster friend of mine that Bobby Petrino wasn’t exactly sold on Lamar Jackson until Garrick McGee convinced him how he could dynamically change the offense. And, McGee was the hands on QB coach the next two seasons at Louisville before he made a rather monumental mistake and went to work for Lovie Smith at Illinois. No one will ever convince me that Lovie Smith is anything more than The Peter Principle personified. As a defensive coordinator he was at the zenith of his abilities. So here’s a question for you. What kind of QB was Lamar Jackson in college and what kind of QB does he continue to be in the NFL? Your standard drop back guy or a dual threat? Now ask yourself this question: What kind of quarterbacks are Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson?

Dan Mullen didn’t take leave of his senses. He knew what was going to happen with Brian Johnson and he had a coach who spent a year learning the system ready to go. It wasn’t a coincidence that within an hour after word leaked out that BJ was leaving that Garrick McGee was promoted.

2. Mike White is doing a great coaching job: The Fire Mike White crowd probably is going to cringe when I say this, but Mike has done a rather impressive coaching job this year, especially when you consider he’s had to do it without Keyontae Johnson. When Keyontae went down, first and foremost, White had to hold his team together. This wasn’t a star player going down with a knee injury or some other typical injury. When Keyontae went down, teammates and fans alike feared for his life. The emotional toll took weeks to overcome.

Three cancelled games after Johnson went down, White and the Gators plunged straight into the SEC portion of the schedule and it took a few games to figure out what would work in a post-Keyontae universe. The usual patsy suspects weren’t there to let him experiment with his rotations. All that had to be done on the fly. About three games ago, he found his combination that works with Tyree Appleby taking over the point and moving Tre Mann to the wing where he can focus on scoring. The scoring element for Mann was critical since the Gators are without Keyontae’s point production. On the wing, he can still be a creative passer but he’s looking first to score and most of his assists come when he gets into the lane off the bounce when he’s going head first to the rim.

Another advantage of Appleby at the point is that Mann no longer has to deal with the opposing team’s quickest player defensively. That’s Appleby’s job and he’s thrived. In the three games since he took over as the starter, Appleby is scoring (13 per game … he’s in double figures the last four) and he’s distributing (5.3 assists per game) while hitting 50% of his shots.

Did anyone see Colin Castleton turning into rock solid in the middle? He’s averaging 12.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots per game while hitting 63.6% of his shots. Combined with Omar Payne, the Gators are getting 16.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.7 blocked shots per game. You win a lot of games when you get that kind of production from your center.

We’ve also seen in the last three games great production off the bench even when White has had to play what seems like some rather unorthodox combinations.

The Gators rank fifth in the SEC in scoring (77.8 per game), first in field goal percentage (47.9%), first in 3-point shooting (37.8%), and third in free throw shooting (73.5%).

Heading into Saturday’s SEC/Big 12 Challenge game in Morgantown against 11th-ranked West Virginia, the Gators sit solidly on Joe Lunardi’s seven line and they’re 27th in NCAA Net Rankings, 24th in Kenpom. If the Selection Committee were choosing tonight, the Gators would be solidly in the NCAA Tournament.

Maybe it’s time for the Mike White skeptics to grudgingly admit that he does know how to coach a lick.

3. Prediction: This spring at least a couple Division I athletic programs will declare insolvency: None of the insolvent schools will be named Auburn, South Carolina or Texas although all three just spent an insane amount of money paying Gus Malzahn, Will Muschamp and Tom Herman not to coach their football teams anymore. At Auburn, South Carolina and Texas a few very well-heeled boosters simply got together and wrote some rather hefty checks to not only buy out their coaches but spend the money for the new guys to come in and take over the football programs.

Not everybody has boosters who can write the huge checks, however, and there are more schools than we know about whose bank accounts are running on fumes. It’s easy to blame the pandemic because it cut sharply into everybody’s revenues but ridiculous to place all the blame on Covid-19. Reality is far too many schools have been living way too far beyond their means to the point that it only took a financial downturn to leave them gasping for air.

Schools that have the benefit of boosters with deep pockets and large television contracts will figure out a way to survive, but the little guys who have champagne tastes and soda pop budgets are going to be hurting. The current financial model for anyone who doesn’t receive excessive millions in television money is unsustainable. As much as I don’t want to see it happen, I believe more than one school will announce it is dead broke within the coming months.

More schools, particularly those in the Group of Five, should look to the Clemson model if they can avoid going under. Back in 1934 IPTAY was begun at Clemson to provide financial support for the athletic department. Back then it meant “I Pay Ten a Year” and in the years since the T has stood for twenty, thirty and thousand. With more than 30,000 members, IPTAY is formidable because it raises large amounts of money without relying on a few sugar daddy boosters. Clemson has a few fat cat boosters, but even without them, IPTAY has provided a rock solid foundation. You don’t need gozillionaires to succeed although it helps when you have them.

4. Speaking of folks with more money than brains …: This week’s hands down winner of The Dumb and Dumber Award goes to the University of Tennessee. Big surprise there, right?

Not only has Tennessee set itself up for a gigantic lawsuit involving Jeremy Pruitt but it owes Kevin Steele a $900,000 buyout.

Start with Pruitt. Yes he was the man in charge when all the recruiting violations took place but unless there is concrete evidence that he sanctioned the cheating or had knowledge that it was taking place, he may have himself one dandy of a lawsuit on his hands that can recover a substantial portion of the $12.8 million he would have been owed if fired without cause. Now, UT could very well have all the evidence they need, but if Pruitt sues – and he will – it could get messy proving who knew what and when. Tennessee knows that and the school will settle. Pruitt isn’t about to get $12.8 million, but he will have a rather nice golden parachute to ease his pain and suffering.

Onto Steele. Phattus Maximus (former athletic director Phil Fulmer) approved the hire of Steele to be Pruitt’s defensive coordinator on a two-year deal worth $450,000 per. When Pruitt was canned Steele became the interim head coach. When Josh Heupel was hired as the replacement head coach, he decided he didn’t need a certifiable backstabber (That’s good ole Kev). So, now Tennessee is on the hook for $900,000 payable in installments over the next two years. And, he’s getting $4.1 million for getting fired along with the rest of the staff at Auburn.

It does pay to get fired in the SEC!

5. Jamie Newman says he has no regrets for opting out in 2020: At the Senior Bowl, Jamie Newman who was the Heisman Trophy in Waiting Quarterback who opted out on perpetual National Champion in Waiting Georgia back in August, told folks at the Senior Bowl, “I don’t have any regrets about playing this season.” If that’s true, then I believe it is because Newman knew he was going to bomb as the Georgia QB and quit in an attempt to keep his NFL Draft stock from sinking to unfathomable depths in case he (a) couldn’t beat out Stetson Bennett IV for the starting job or (b) he couldn’t read a defense spelled CAT if you spotted him the C, the A and the T.

I think Newman thought his draft stock was high enough – some had him the fourth or fifth draftable QB back in August – that the scouts would fall for his opt out and that he could wow them with his athleticism and ability to heave a football a long, long way at the Combine. Oops. No Combine this year.

Now all the scouts have is his 2019 tape which includes, among other things, a deer in the headlights performance against Clemson.


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