Thoughts of the Day: January 7, 2020

NO BULLET DODGED; MULLEN WAS NEVER LEAVING

At some point if and when he’s bored with winning college football championships, Dan Mullen might succumb to the temptation of the National Football League. It could happen, but it won’t be any time soon because Mullen is far too busy building the Florida Gators into a sustainable championship-level program. It’s fairly amazing what he’s done in just two years but as much progress as Mullen has made, there is still a way to go before he has the Gators in that perpetual reload mode. Until that happens, there is no need to sweat Mullen leaving although with success you can bet the farm he will be on the short list any time there is a big time opening, whether it’s college or pro.


For all the talk about the Dallas Cowboys, there was never any serious interest on Mullen’s part. I’m told that all the contact with the Cowboys was filtered through Mullen’s agent Jimmy Sexton, who gets paid to listen to any and all callers by Mullen and his long, impressive list of coach-clients. If the interest in the Cowboys had been mutual, Sexton would have arranged for direct negotiations but that didn’t happen. In this particular case, Mullen said thanks but no thanks and that was the end of it.


No bullet was dodged because Dan Mullen was never leaving. He’s got too much he wants to accomplish at Florida before the NFL ever crosses his mind.

ON THE PERSONNEL FRONT Redshirt sophomore cornerback Marco Wilson announced Monday that he will return to Florida instead of declaring for the NFL. That’s a smart move on Wilson’s part. He has the cover skills the NFL likes, but he had too much of a roller coaster season in 2019. If he has a consistent 2020, he will seriously enhance his draft status.


There has been no official word, but there were Justin Shorter sightings at the Florida football complex Monday. From what I was told he’s gotten his academic clearance to enroll at UF and as soon as he’s official, there will be an announcement.


GATORS NEED TO SUSTAIN THE MOMENTUM IN COLUMBIA TONIGHT

South Carolina’s record doesn’t fool Mike White in the least. Sure, the Gamecocks (8-5, 0-0 SEC) lost a home game to Stetson. That was a shocker, but they also have beaten Clemson and last year’s national champion Virginia on the road.


“With these guys, they’ve proven they can play with anybody in the country,” White said Monday afternoon before the Gators (9-4, 1-0 SEC) departed for Columbia, where they will face South Carolina tonight (7 p.m., ESPNU) at Colonial Life Arena.


The Gators have also proven they can play with anybody in the country. Their problem has been consistency, which makes tonight’s game a real concern for White. The Gators played 18 minutes of the worst basketball they could possibly play Saturday night against Alabama when they fell behind, 46-25. Then they staged Florida’s biggest come-from-behind rally since the 2003-04 season for a 104-98 double-overtime win in the SEC opener.


That’s the kind of win that gives the Gators momentum that they’ll need to beat a typical Frank Martin-coached team, which is to say physically very tough and defensively very good.

“South Carolina has a very unique approach in how they defend,” White said. “They’re very, very disruptive and one of the more unique defenses we’ll play all season, and they’re really, really good at it, of course.”


Lewis SEC Freshman of the Week: Scottie Lewis was named SEC Freshman of the Week after putting up 15 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in the win over Alabama. Lewis also contributed three blocked shots, a steal and an assist.

SEC BASKETBALL Tuesday’s games FLORIDA (9-4, 1-0 SEC) at South Carolina (8-5, 0-0 SEC), ESPNU Tennessee (8-5, 0-1 SEC) at Missouri (8-5, 0-1 SEC), SEC Network #14 Kentucky (10-3, 1-0 SEC) at Georgia (10-3, 0-0 SEC), ESPN Ole Miss (9-4, 0-0 SEC) at Texas A&M (6-6, 0-1 SEC), SEC Network

Wednesday’s games Mississippi State (9-4, 0-1 SEC) at Alabama (7-6, 0-1 SEC), SEC Network Vanderbilt (8-5, 0-0 SEC) at #5 Auburn (13-0, 1-0 SEC), SEC Network Arkansas (12-1, 1-0 SEC) at LSU (9-4, 1-0 SEC), ESPNU

TALL TALES FOR TUESDAY AND OTHER AIMLESS MEANDERING

(1) Tua Tagovailoa has elected to enter the 2020 NFL Draft, which tells us the NFL people – doctors and officials alike – he met with in New York over the weekend told him he’s a lock to be one of the first 10-15 picks in May. CBS Sports draft guru Ryan Wilson has Tua going #5 to the Miami Dolphins while Mel Kiper of ESPN has Tua listed as the #3 overall prospect in the draft and the second-ranked quarterback behind LSU Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow. Tua is likely to sit out the entire 2020 NFL season to strengthen and rehab his fractured/dislocated hip no matter who drafts him. There was plenty of sentiment that Tua really and truly wanted to return to Alabama but made the business decision that is best for his family. If he elected to come back to Alabama and then either couldn’t play in 2020 or got hurt again, he could lose millions and perhaps never play again. By leaving now, some team will take the gamble that he’ll be able to play and stay healthy in the future and give him a contract that will be worth in excess of $25 million if he’s drafted in the top ten, even more if he goes top five. Whether he ever plays again, Tua Tagovailoa will be set for life financially.

(2) Louisiana-Lafayette coach Billy Napier could still change his mind and say yes to Mississippi State, but folks who know him say he’s holding out for something bigger and better. Napier got his 11th win last night at the LendingTree Bowl in Mobile. He loses only eight players off his two-deep so the Ragin Cajuns figure to be loaded enough to win the Sun Belt Conference next year and at least match the 11 wins from the 2019 season. That would make Napier more of a hot ticket item, able to pick and choose a job somewhere other than the most difficult place to win in the SEC West.


(3) As for Mississippi State, the new conventional wisdom is that New England Patriots special teams coordinator and wide receivers coach Joe Judge will take the job. Judge and his wife are Mississippi State grads so they are familiar with the territory and know what it takes to recruit players to Starkville. The negative on Judge is that he’s never been a head coach, which was said to be a priority for the MSU higher ups. The fact that he’s worked for Nick Saban at Alabama and for Bill Belichik at New England will probably help the people who do the hiring to overlook the lack of head coaching experience.


(4) Here are some of the SEC players who announced they’ll return for 2020: Joshua McMillon, LB (Alabama); Devonta Smith, WR (Alabama); Malik Herring, DL (Georgia); Big Kat Bryant, DE (Auburn); KJ Britt, LB (Auburn); Eric Stokes, CB (Georgia); Quinton Bohana, DT (Kentucky); Landon Young, LT (Kentucky). Leaving for the NFL: Henry Ruggs II, WR (Alabama); Shyheim Carter, S (Alabama); Willie Gay, LB (Mississippi State); Quartney Davis, WR (Texas A&M).


(5) Following Tennessee’s Gator Bowl win over Indiana, HBC Jeremy Pruitt announced that “This decade is going to be the decade of the Vols.” Excuse me if I beg to differ. Seems to me we were hearing similar things from Butch Jones after the Vols went 9-4 in back-to-back seasons in 2015-16. How’d that work out? I’m not at all convinced that Pruitt is a better football coach than Butch Jones.


GOOD QUOTES FOR TUESDAY

Jay Bilas of ESPN on how the lower quality of play and lack of outstanding teams so far in the college basketball season will translate into a strong NCAA Tournament: “Coupled with this cyclical talent drain has been a drop in the quality of play in the early season. The level of play to this point in the season has been lower than in the past three seasons, and there are several reasons for that, which will be explained below. The bottom line? By the time March arrives, the top tier of the best teams will have separated themselves not by being overpowering, but by being the most consistent. The NCAA Tournament will be as it always is, a wild ride that is full of upsets but also full of Power 5 teams left standing. The only question will be the number of party crashers from non-Power 5 conferences, and just how far a few of them can go.”


Will Brinson of CBSSports.com on the possibility that Tom Brady will be playing somewhere other than New England next season: “Here’s the reality: Brady is a free agent and will have a life-altering decision to make. It’s a decision not entirely up to him either – even if he wants to return to New England, the Patriots don’t have to re-sign him, obviously. There are reports Brady isn’t willing to give the Pats a hometown discount next year and the way things were phrased in the wake of the loss to the Titans certainly makes you think change could be in the air.”


From Jon Machota of The Athletic, Hall of Fame QB Troy Aikman states how miserably Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones handled the firing of head coach Jason Garrett: “He committed everything he had to the organization and to doing the best job that he could. He made it a priority and he committed himself. Breakups are always hard – we understand that – at whatever level they occur, but I don’t know that after all that he gave and committed to this organization that he received the same in return. When the organization was unwilling, for whatever reasons and I don’t know the back stories to it all, but when the organization was unwilling to come out publicly and say, ‘We are seeking a new coach,’ and yet at the same time reports are coming out that they’re interviewing potential candidates for the head coaching position – that’s disappointing. I think in a lot of ways it shines a light on some of the dysfunction, if you will, within the organization and kind of how they got to the point that they’re in now.”


RANDOM THOUGHTS: The Dallas Cowboys made a mess of the Jason Garrett firing but came away with a new head coach in Mike McCarthy, who led the Green Bay Packers to the 2010 Super Bowl Championship with Aaron Rodgers at QB. McCarthy’s first hire was New Orleans Saints linebackers coach Mike Nolan to be his defensive coordinator … Buster Olney of ESPN ranks former Gator Pete Alonso as the #2 first baseman in all of Major League Baseball with only Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves ranked higher. Alonso, the National League Rookie of the Year, hit 53 homers with 120 RBI last season. That’s not too bad for a guy who wasn’t expected to make the roster back in the spring … Speaking of baseball, Florida’s season opens on February 14 against Marshall. Kevin O’Sullivan’s roster will be bolstered by the #1 rated freshman class according to D1Baseball.com.

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