Thoughts of the Day: January 8, 2021

A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning:

MULLEN HIRES WESLEY MCGRIFF; WILL CHARLIE STRONG BE NEXT? One down, one to go for Dan Mullen.


Mullen filled one vacancy on his defensive staff Thursday with the hire of former Auburn secondary coach Wesley McGriff to coach Florida’s corners. The rumor mill was hot and heavy later in the evening that the vacant safety position would go to former Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, who spent 2020 working as an analyst for Nick Saban at Alabama.


Among McGriff’s stops on the road to Gainesville are defensive backs and recruiting coordinator at Baylor (2003-06), defensive backs at Miami (2007-10), secondary coach and recruiting coordinator for James Franklin at Vanderbilt (2011), Ole Miss co-DC and corners coach (2012), New Orleans Saints DB coach (2013-15), Auburn co-DC and DBs (2016), Ole Miss DC and associate head coach (2017-18) and another stop at Auburn (2019-20).


McGriff’s undergraduate degree is from Savannah State with a masters in public administration from Georgia Southern. He was a commissioned officer in the Army Reserve from 1990-2001.


Football Scoop, which is usually quite reliable when it comes to movement on the coaching trail, says that Strong is a possibility along with Texas safeties coach Chris Ash and Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Cory Sanders.


If Strong were hired, it would be the fifth time in his coaching career that he’s worked at Florida and Mullen would be the sixth head coach at UF he’s worked for. Strong started out as a graduate assistant for Charley Pell (1983-94); coached outside linebackers for Galen Hall (1988-89); defensive ends and tackles for Steve Spurrier (1991-94); defensive coordinator for Ron Zook (2003-04); co-defensive coordinator/linebackers (2005-07) and then defensive coordinator/linebackers (2008-09) for Urban Meyer. Strong was also the associate head coach for Spurrier (1994) and the interim head coach for the Peach Bowl after Zook was fired (2004). Strong has a 74-53 overall record as a head coach at Louisville (37-15 from 2010-13), Texas (16-21 from 2014-16) and South Florida (21-16 from 2017-19).


From a strictly recruiting standpoint, Strong would be a lights out hire for Mullen. When he worked for Meyer, Strong was a vital recruiting presence in Polk and Hillsborough counties. Among those Strong had a hand in for the recruiting class of 2007, were the Pouncey twins, Chris Rainey and Ahmad Black, all from Lakeland. Strong was also the lead recruiter for Carlos Dunlap from North Charleston, South Carolina. The Pounceys were thought to be FSU locks but the combo of Strong and John Hevesy working with Meyer flipped them to UF where they both made All-America. Black made All-America while Rainey and Dunlap both made All-SEC during their time at UF.


Strong has always worked with defensive linemen and linebackers. If hired, could this be a signal there will be additional shuffling of the defensive staff?


PITTS (WHO ELSE?) WINS THE MACKEY AWARD Kyle Pitts, who became the ultimate matchup nightmare in 2020 when he caught 43 passes for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns despite 4-1/2 games, won the John Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end. Those numbers are gaudy, but this gives you an even better understanding of why it was Pitts for the Mackey and second place wasn’t even close. Of the 43 catches Pitts had, some of which were absolutely spectacular, 39 went for first downs. Absorb that for a moment then consider this. Even though he was doubled up nearly every snap and drew opponents’ best defenders, Pitts didn’t drop a single pass.


Additionally, Pitts became Florida’s first unanimous first team All-America since Vernon Hargreaves III in 2015.


Any questions why Pitts could be among the first five players taken in the NFL Draft?


Other award winners Thursday night: In what could be called the Alabama Invitational, six major awards went to five Bama players at the College Football Awards Show. Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith won the Biletnikoff Award (best receiver) and the Maxwell Award (nation’s outstanding player) while Mac Jones won the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award, Landon Dickerson won the Rimington Award (best center), Najee Harris won the Doak Walker (best running back) and left tackle Alex Leatherwood won the Outland Trophy (best interior lineman). Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins won the Bednarik Award (best defensive player), Georgia Tech punter Presley Harvin II won the Ray Guy Award (best punter), Miami’s Jose Borregalas won the Lou Groza Award (best placekicker), and TCU safety Trevon Moehrig won the Jim Thorpe (best DB).


NOT A VERY GOOD UK TEAM, BUT IMPORTANT GAME JUST THE SAME

This is not the typical Kentucky basketball team the Gators will be facing Saturday evening at the O-Dome (5 p.m., ESPN). Although the Wildcats are off to a 2-0 start in SEC play, they have already endured a six-game losing streak, longest of John Calipari’s UK career. Unlike most Kentucky teams of the Calipari era, this one is the gang that can’t shoot straight. The Wildcats are shooting a dismal 29.9% from the 3-point line.


If there is one truly bright spot for the Wildcats it is their ability to defend on the perimeter. Opponents are shooting only 29.3% from the three-point line. Calipari has to be concerned about Kentucky rebounding. The same Vanderbilt team that Florida destroyed on the boards outrebounded Kentucky 42-29 on Wednesday night.


Florida comes into the game on the heels of a bad road loss to Alabama Tuesday night, a game in which UF turned in its worst defensive performance of the season. Florida’s inability to keep Alabama from penetrating at will and scoring in the paint (46 points) kept the Gators from ever mounting a serious comeback. On the offensive end, the Gators struggled to find any kind of rhythm.


Two key matchups: 6-11 Colin Castleton (11.9 points, 5.3 rebounds) vs. 7-0 Olivier Sarr (11.3 points, 6.0 rebounds): Sarr has been up and down for UK. He’s combined for 38 points and 19 rebounds in the two SEC games, but in the two previous matchups against Louisville and UNC, he combined for three points and five rebounds. Sarr is quite foul prone so Castleton, who is averaging 19 points and 6.3 rebounds in Florida’s three SEC games, will need to go straight at him from the opening whistle. Defensively, Castleton has to hold his ground to prevent Sarr from using a spin move for an up and under shot that draws a lot of fouls.

6-5 Tre Mann (14.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists) vs. 6-3 Davion Mintz (10 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists): Mann is going to score his points. His questions are on the defensive end where he will be going against Mintz, who is 10-21 from the 3-point line in his last four games. Mintz is a catch and shoot type who doesn’t score much off the bounce so Mann should be able to crowd him.

SATURDAY’S SEC BASKETBALL GAMES Kentucky (3-6, 2-0 SEC) at FLORIDA (5-2, 2-1 SEC) Alabama (8-3, 3-0 SEC) at Auburn (6-5, 0-3 SEC) Mississippi State (7-4, 2-1 SEC) at Vanderbilt (4-4, 0-2 SEC) #9 Tennessee (8-1, 2-1 SEC) at Texas A&M (6-3, 1-2 SEC) Georgia (7-2, 0-2 SEC) at Arkansas (9-2, 1-2 SEC) LSU (7-2, 2-1 SEC) at #13 Missouri (7-2, 1-2 SEC) South Carolina (3-2, 1-0 SEC) at Ole Miss (6-3, 1-1 SEC), Postponed


FOOTBALL IN THE SEC ALABAMA: Alabama had five players who were unanimous All-Americans with Smith, Dickerson, Harris, Leatherwood and corner Patrick Surtain.

AUBURN: New HBC Bryan Harsin raided the South Carolina staff to hire offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and O-line coach Will Friend. Bobo was on the South Carolina staff last year, while Friend, who coached at Tennessee last year, was with South Carolina for approximately two weeks. Also added to the new Auburn staff is former Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason … Defensive back Christian Tuitt declared for the NFL Thursday ... Auburn is on the hook for $1.47 million in severance pay to former offensive coordinator Chad Morris.

GEORGIA: Georgia self-reported an NCAA recruiting violation of improper contact with a prospective student-athlete … Defensive back Mark Webb became the latest Bulldog to declare for the NFL Draft.

KENTUCKY: Kentucky hired Cincinnati Bengals assistant Jemal Singleton as running backs coach and special teams coordinator.

LSU: Linebacker BJ Ojulari will be returning to LSU for 2021, lending hope in Baton Rouge that high school teammate tight end Arik Gilbert might reconsider transferring and return to LSU … New offensive coordinator Jake Peetz will have a starting salary of $1.2 million, rising to $1.3 million for 2022. New passing game coordinator DJ Mangas is starting out at $400,000 per year.

MISSISSIPPI STATE: Running back Lee Witherspoon has put his name in the NCAA transfer portal … Defensive lineman Marquiss Spencer is leaving for the NFL.

MISSOURI: Defensive back Adam Sparks, who opted out of Mizzou at midseason, has placed his name in the transfer portal … Former defensive coordinator Ryan Walters owes Mizzou a $300,000 buyout after joining the Illinois staff.

SOUTH CAROLINA: One day after losing offensive coordinator Mike Bobo to Auburn, Shane Beamer landed his replacement from the NFL. The new OC is Marcus Satterfield, formerly the offensive coordinator at Temple and most recently the O-line coach with the Carolina Panthers.

TENNESSEE: ESPN has joined Football Scoop in stating that Jeremy Pruitt isn’t being allowed to hire new staff or renew contracts of current assistant coaches … Former Virginia Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker, who threw for 1,339 yards and nine touchdowns while rushing for 620 yards and nine TDs, will transfer to the Vols.

TEXAS A&M: Quarterback Kellen Mond ended speculation that he might return for another season when he declared for the NFL Draft. Mond, who threw for 71 touchdowns and ran for 22 in his A&M career, is projected to go no higher than third or fourth round in the draft.

NON-SEC FOOTBALL STUFF Rumors have been swirling that Ohio State is having Covid-19 problems that could lead to a one-week postponement of Monday night’s national championship game with Alabama. However, Ohio State coach Ryan Day says the Buckeyes will have “plenty of players” available for the game. Quarterback Justin Fields, who suffered an injury to his rib area against Clemson, says he will be ready to go against Alabama.


Wasn’t it about two months ago that Jim Harbaugh and Michigan were negotiating an amicable divorce? Apparently they have kissed and made up because Harbaugh has a new 5-year deal but at only $4 million per year, which is half what he has been making. Apparently, the new deal is loaded up with incentives that could make up the lost $4 million.


New Texas coach Steve Sarkisian is making a protracted effort to lure LSU corners coach and recruiting coordinator Corey Raymond to his new staff in Austin.


ONE LAST PITHY THOUGHT: The only concern I have about Alabama in Monday night’s national championship game with Ohio State is pressure. An Alabama win not only caps off an unbeaten season, but any win with a 10-point or greater differential will have the experts proclaiming this as one of the greatest teams – at least from an offensive standpoint – in college football history. As if that isn’t pressure enough, a win would give Nick Saban a record seventh national championship and tie Bama legend Bear Bryant for the most in school history (6). Finally, there is the pressure of winning with an offensive coordinator (Steve Sarkisian) who has spent the last few days putting together a coaching staff for his new gig at Texas. If Ohio State comes into the game feeling loose with an us against the world mentality, this could get interesting, especially if Alabama is the slightest bit tight from the outset.

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