Marshall: Foley, Gators in Unique Situation

Phillip Marshall takes a look into Florida athletics, Auburn spring football and the NIT.

For almost 60 years, Florida was the epitome of an underachiever in athletics – usually good, never great in the sports that mattered.

When Steve Spurrier returned to his alma mater as head football coach in 1990, the Gators had never won a Southeastern Conference championship. Not one. Before Billy Donovan moved, basketball at Florida was mediocre and no one much cared.

My, how times have changed.

Florida will begin pursuit of history this week. If the Gators repeat as basketball national champions, they will be the first ever to win the football and basketball national championships in the same school year.

The sleeping giant has awakened, and that's not a good thing for the rest of the schools in the SEC.

Florida has more students, more money, a more fertile recruiting base and a better climate than any other school in the SEC. On top of that, it is an outstanding academic institution.

In short, it has more resources than any other SEC school. And it's not even close.

The Gators are rolling, and there is no end in sight. They could recruit enough football and basketball players in their own state to have more talent than most SEC schools, but their success and the recognition that comes with it have made them a national recruiting force.

At a lot of schools, winning is hard. At Florida, it's hard to not win.

No one knows that better than athletic director Jeremy Foley. That's why he probably has the quickest trigger finger of any athletic director in the SEC, regardless of the sport.

If you coach at Florida, you can expect to have everything it takes to win championships. You're expected to produce. If you don't, you can expect to be fired.

Foley certainly has made mistakes. Hiring Ron Zook to follow Spurrier was a puzzling move. Zook certainly did a terrific job recruiting, landing most of the players who led the way to the national championship last season, but he was a disaster on the field.

Recognizing that, Foley cut Zook loose and outbid Notre Dame for Urban Meyer. He made a masterful decision in hiring Donovan a decade ago.

Florida is not unbeatable and won't win every championship. But the truth is, as distasteful as it might be for Auburn, Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Tennessee and the rest, the Gators will have more talent and a better opportunity in most seasons than anyone else.

And it's going to be that way for a long time.

Donovan and the Gators won their third consecutive SEC Tournament and earned the No. 1 overall seed in the field of 65.

Moving on...

I would never claim to be able to watch spring practice and have any real idea of what it means for the coming football season. For players and coaches, spring practice is work. It's about the fundamentals of the game, not flash and dash.

But the most positive sign I've seen this spring for the 2007 Auburn football team is the smile on the face of quarterback Brandon Cox.

Cox was miserable through most of the 2006 season, playing in pain every Saturday. He couldn't do the things he was accustomed to doing. Bad legs messed up his throwing mechanics. It resulted in a disappointing season for him individually, though he got enough done to win 11 games.

Cox is having a solid spring.

This spring, Cox is healthy. He is comfortable in the role of elder statesman. He is clearly viewed by his teammates as a leader to be respected and followed.

It's been almost six years since Cox arrived on the Auburn campus. He's a grown man now. He has experienced everything SEC football has to offer. He's played in the biggest of games, made big plays and faltered, thrown crucial touchdown passes and costly interceptions.

Never underestimate the value of all that experience, and don't be surprised if Cox has an All-SEC kind of season...

Despite saying repeatedly that he didn't expect his team to get into the NIT, Auburn basketball coach Jeff Lebo was disappointed when it didn't happen. And who can blame him?

It makes sense that Georgia, Mississippi State and Ole Miss were ahead of Auburn in the NIT pecking order. That Alabama went ahead of Auburn wasn't surprising, but it wasn't easy for Lebo to swallow.

After all, the Tigers beat Alabama handily twice. They had an equal conference record and a higher seed in the SEC Tournament. One can only surmise that it was all about RPI.

When it comes to picking teams for college basketball's postseason, computer programs often count for more than what actually happens on the court.

And that's why the RPI needs to die. And the sooner the better.

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I am doing a new blog on Auburn athletics on It's called Tracking the Tigers. Simply go to, go to Auburn sports and click on the Tracking the Tigers link. It'll be updated daily, sometimes more than once a day. Check it out...

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