Thoughts of the Day: January 4, 2020

A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning: The National Football League concluded its regular season Sunday night. The New York Jets were the first to beat the Monday rush to kick off the No Fun League’s version of Countdown to Firing Day by ousting Adam Gase after two seasons. There will be others, perhaps as many as four or five more, before the annual coach firing carnage comes to an end.


If you are a Florida football fan, then you have the right to start sweating because Dan Mullen is going to be targeted by owners and general managers intent on bringing in someone who knows how to develop quarterbacks and put points on the scoreboard. In Mullen’s three seasons at Florida, the Gators have put up the best numbers since Urban Meyer was the head coach, Mullen was the offensive coordinator and Tim Tebow was a regular at the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York.


Will Mullen leave UF for the NFL? Everybody will be offering Mullen a salary in the $8-9 million range but money isn’t going to be a key factor. What it will take is the right fit with the right general manager and personnel director plus either a quarterback needing only a whisperer of Mullen’s skills to take the league by storm or a chance to draft a QB that has can’t miss written all over him. The Jacksonville Jaguars, who have the first pick in the draft, are expected to fire their coach and bring in someone capable of developing likely first round pick Trevor Lawrence of Clemson. The hot rumor is that Urban Meyer is the Jags’ target, but if Urban says no, Mullen is only an hour or so away in Gainesville. The New York Jets have the second pick and they’re expected to take Ohio State’s Justin Fields, who is coached by Ryan Day, who spent two years as Mullen’s graduate assistant at Florida in 2005-06.


So, there is reason to sweat.


However, there is also reason to believe Dan Mullen is content to continue his rebuild of the Florida football program. He came here to win championships and he was within three possessions of making the College Football Playoff as SEC champ with an 11-0 record. The taste of coming that close might be all the motivation Mullen needs to continue what he set out to do when he got off the plane in Gainesville in December of 2017.


I think it’s going to be a close call, but my gut instinct is that Mullen won’t leave Florida until he has re-established the Gators as a legimate year-in and year-out national championship contender.


BEST WISHES FOR TORIAN GRAY AND RON ENGLISH

Ron English and Torian Gray have been pink slipped by Dan Mullen, which is another reason why I believe Mullen isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. New coaches will be hired to replace English and Gray so Gator fans will rejoice, believing their absence and the infusion of new coaching blood will help the University of Florida (a) recruit better players and (b) win championships in the future.


I think everyone is dismayed by the play of the Florida secondary in 2020. In the more than 50 years I’ve been writing about college football I can’t recall too many times when I’ve seen a position group make the exact same mistakes week in and week out. The few games the Gators played well in the secondary raised hopes that the sinking ship would be righted but a game or two later it was back to the same blown coverages and mental mistakes. If these were true freshmen making the mistakes, we’d find it in our hearts to forgive, believing even the bad experiences would translate to better play in the future. But these were veterans who every week couldn’t line up in the right place or got lost in space while some second-rate receiver blew by them.


Change was necessary, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a painful experience. I’ve had to fire people and I’ve been fired. It’s never pleasant even when necessary. When it comes to coaches, we only think of the on-the-field product, winning and recruiting. We rarely consider the disruption of lives and the trauma that is involved when there is a firing, not just for the coach but his entire family. Relationships are severed. Houses have to be sold. Kids will have to transfer to a new school and make new friends. A coach who has had an impeccable relationship might not be able to find a decent job and the family income plunges. And that’s just the obvious.


It didn’t work out well for Ron English and Torian Gray, but they deserve our respect instead of everyone in the Gator Nation proclaiming good riddance and, in many cases, ridiculing them. They worked hard and gave their best but obviously it wasn’t good enough. They’re moving on and we should too, but not before offering them our good wishes, respect and the hope that things will work out well for them wherever they land.


CASTLETON, DURUJI GIVE THE GATORS A NEW DYNAMIC It is quite obvious that during the time between the Florida State loss when Keyontae Johnson went down and last week when the Gators (5-1, 2-0 SEC) opened play in the Southeastern Conference with wins over Vanderbilt and LSU, that Mike White re-tooled the Gators to incorporate more of the abilities of 6-11 Michigan transfer Colin Castleton and 6-8 Louisiana Tech transfer Anthony Duruji. With Johnson out a minimum of three more months, the question became who can fill the void. Rather than trying to make up for Johnson’s absence with a single player, White has used both Castleton and Duruji with great effectiveness in the two SEC wins.


Castleton, in particular, has been a revelation. In his sophomore season at Michigan, Castleton averaged only 3.4 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. In Florida’s first four games he totaled 26 points and 18 rebounds. In the last two games, he’s gone off for 44 points (23 vs. Vandy, 21 vs. LSU) and 11 rebounds while hitting 18-23 from the field. Against LSU, he scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half.


Duruji, who averaged 12.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game as a sophomore at Louisiana Tech, had five points and 10 rebounds and was 0-5 from the 3-point line in Florida’s first four games while coming off the bench. Inserted into the starting lineup for the Vandy game, Duruji has scored 27 points (11 vs. Vandy, 16 vs. LSU) and pulled down 12 rebounds while also hitting 3-6 of his 3-point shots.


Castleton offers the possibility of a viable scoring threat in the low blocks to go with size and shot blocking abilities. Duruji is an inside-outside threat with a 48-inch vertical that allows him to play much bigger than 6-8.


We are still early in the season. There are 16 more SEC games that have to be played, but if Castleton and Duruji can combine for something like 23-25 points and 11-12 rebounds per game, the Gators have a chance to be a very good basketball team. Bump those combined numbers up to something like 28 and 14 and the Gators might very well challenge for the SEC championship.


SEC BASKETBALL SCORES FROM SATURDAY FLORIDA (5-1, 2-0 SEC) 83, LSU (6-2, 1-1 SEC) 79 Alabama (7-3, 2-0 SEC) 71, #7 Tennessee (7-1, 1-1 SEC) 63 #12 Missouri (7-1, 1-1 SEC) 81, Arkansas (9-1, 1-1 SEC) 68 Texas A&M (6-2, 1-1 SEC) 68, Auburn (6-4, 0-2 SEC) 66 Kentucky (2-6, 1-0 SEC) 78; Mississippi State (6-4, 1-1 SEC) 73 South Carolina (2-2) 78, Florida A&M (1-6) 71 Wichita State 6-2) 83, Ole Miss (5-3) 79 TUESDAY’S GAMES FLORIDA (5-1, 2-0 SEC) at Alabama (7-3, 2-0 SEC) Vanderbilt (4-3, 0-1 SEC) at Kentucky (2-6, 1-0 SEC) #12 Missouri (7-1, 1-1 SEC) at Mississippi State (6-4, 1-1 SEC) WEDNESDAY’S GAMES Arkansas (9-1, 1-1 SEC) at #7 Tennessee (7-1, 1-1 SEC) Georgia (7-1, 0-1 SEC) at LSU (6-2, 1-1 SEC) Texas A&M (6-2, 1-1 SEC) at South Carolina (2-2, 0-0 SEC) Auburn (6-4, 0-2 SEC) at Ole Miss (5-3, 0-1 SEC)


COLLEGE FOOTBALL IN THE SEC AND ELSEWHERE Alabama (12-0) has been established as an 8-point favorite to beat Ohio State (7-0) in the national championship game, which will be played in Miami one week from tonight. Call me an SEC homer if you will, but I think Alabama is going to win by a couple of touchdowns.


With Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian on his way to Texas as the new head ball coach, the early favorites to replace him are a pair of fired NFL coaches. Bill O’Brien, fired by the Houston Texans, is part of the Bill Belichick coaching tree (as is Nick Saban). Fired New York Jets coach Adam Gase worked as a student assistant to Saban at Michigan State and followed him to LSU where he spent one year as a recruiting assistant and two years as a grad assistant.


The tab for firing Tom Herman and hiring Sarkisian at Texas is going to be at least $50 million. It will cost $25 million to buy out Herman ($15 million) and his assistants. Details haven’t been released for Sarkisian’s contract but it’s going to be five years with likely starting pay of $5 million per. And then there are assistants that have to be paid, plus moving expenses, etc.


It’s only January, but on the strength of sneaking past Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl and the anticipated return of quarterback JT Daniels, Georgia fans are already claiming 2021 will be the year of the Poodle. While Daniels is vastly superior to Stetson Bennett IV, I haven’t seen anything that indicates he’s elite. Given Kirby Smart’s history of botching things with quarterbacks, I have to wonder how it’s going to work out with Daniels and hotshot early enrollee Brock Vandagriff this spring. For the life of me I can’t imagine that both of them will be happy.


Texas A&M senior defensive tackle Jayden Peavy says he’s going to take advantage of the NCAA ruling that will let him come back for another year. There is plenty of speculation that Peavy is not the only senior that will return. Should quarterback Kellen Mond choose to come back for one more year – more than a few think he might – the Aggies could find themselves in the early national championship chatter.


A COACH OPTS OUT OF FOOTBALL There was a time when Tony Franklin was considered one of the more innovative offensive minds in all of football. There have been many whistle stops in his lengthy career, among them offensive coordinator at Auburn and at Cal, where he mentored quarterback Jared Goff. After 40 years in coaching, Franklin has decided to retire but not before a farewell letter. Here is an excerpt:


“Football is not a contact sport. It’s a violent game. If played the way it must be played to maximize success, you must mentally and physically condition a group of young boys, or men, to have little to no regards for their health, or the health of their opponents. You must swarm to the football and destroy everything on your pathway to reach it.

“Over the years I have been both the destroyer and the ‘destroyee’ as a player and as a coach. I’ve witnessed and partaken in the splattering of brain cells and the breaking of bones. And on November 21, 2020 at the ripe young age of 63, I ended this violent experiment in an unexpected final game of the 2020 season at Troy University. It is time to discover what I want to do when I grow up.”


A PITHY THOUGHT REGARDING TARGETING: I’ve had it with the inconsistencies of the targeting penalties in college football. As much as I understand the need for safety in the game, there is absolutely zero consistency in the way targeting is called. For example, a running back lowers his head and veers into a linebacker coming in to make a tackle. There is helmet-to-helmet contact. The linebacker gets flagged for targeting and is ejected. The running back stays in the game. It’s not always the defender’s fault and for that reason I think it’s in the best interests of the game to handle targeting the way basketball deals with flagrant fouls. There is a Flagrant I which results in ejection and a Flagrant II which is shots and the ball. In football, a Flagrant I should be something like what happened to Kyle Pitts in the Georgia game when the defender came in helmet first with vicious intent. For that, keep the 15-yard penalty and ejection. For lesser offenses, maybe the penalty and then disqualify the player for 10 or 15 plays before letting him return. Call that a Flagrant II and two Flagrant II penalties in a game would result in ejection. The current rule is way too inconsistent and it’s doing nothing for the integrity of the game despite its good intention.

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