For Friday, here are 10 things I’d like to see happen:
1. A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD FOR Jim McElwain: The more I know about Jim McElwain, the more I like him and the more I think he’s going to do really, really well as Florida’s head football coach. I think he has the right personality, a nice touch of swagger and an appreciation for what his assistant coaches do, probably because he spent years working his way up the coaching ladder, rung by rung. I believe he knows what it takes to put a team together that can compete for and win championships. I also know that he needs a level playing field in the form of better facilities to compete. Back on November 4, I rated Florida’s facilities #10 among the 14 teams in the SEC. That was probably generous. The infusion of cash from the SEC Network will easily offset the cost of upgrading. I’m convinced if Florida makes the commitment to facilities that are equal to just about any in the SEC – only God has enough money to out-facility the Aggies – that McElwain could bring about a very special era to Florida football.
2. A SECOND CHANCE FOR Randy Shannon: I’ve always liked Randy Shannon and that goes all the way back to when he played linebacker for Jimmy Johnson at The U. He spent two years with the Dallas Cowboys because Johnson wanted him on the team to teach an entire team what it’s like to show up every day prepared to go all out doing whatever the coach asked. I’ve talked to people who wrote about The U and the Cowboys back in those days and they all tell me the same thing – nobody every practiced harder every single day than Randy Shannon. When I heard about his story about how his older twin brothers and older sister became addicted to crack and died of AIDS and how he used football to rise above his Liberty City circumstances, I had to pull for him. I thought he got a raw deal at Miami when, after being loyal to the school for all those years and doing his best to clean up the program, he was dumped as the head coach. As I look at The U these past four years, I think they would have been far closer to getting back to championship form with Shannon than good ole “You Win a Few, You Lose Just as Many” Al Golden. Well, that’s Miami’s problem. Shannon is a Gator now and while I hope he turns UF linebackers into one of the most feared units in all of college football, I’m also pulling for him to get a second chance as a head coach. He deserves it.
3. PLAYER DEVELOPMENT AT QUARTERBACK: I know I probably sound like a broken record here, but Florida’s slide backward has everything to do with the lack of development at quarterback and that dates back to 2010. The revolving door of offensive coordinators didn’t help things. Who knows what Jeff Driskel might have turned into if he could have (a) been coached by someone with a serious track record for developing quarterbacks for four straight years and (b) had an imaginative offensive scheme to work with. Driskel is a good kid who got far too much of the blame for what went bad during his time at UF. By the time 2014 arrived and he was on his third coordinator, I think Driskel had lost all confidence in himself to the point that I don’t know if anyone can re-tool his mind and muscle memory to bring out all that talent. I really like it that Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier are here together. Both of them have a reputation of getting kids focused and capable of carrying out their assignments with almost robotic efficiency. Their quarterbacks just don’t make a lot of mistakes and they typically improve every single year. It’s been a while since we’ve seen that. I hope they view Will Grier and Treon Harris as a blank canvas and start turning them into somewhat of a masterpiece on the field.
4. SAFE LANDINGS FOR ALL THE FORMER MUSCHAMP COACHES: Mike Summers has been retained to coach the O-line for McElwain and Chris Leak is going to switch to an administration position within the athletic department, which is his long term goal. Will Muschamp has landed at Auburn and taken Travaris Robinson with him. D.J. Durkin is the new defensive coordinator at Michigan. Brian White has a job coaching the quarterbacks at San Diego State. That leaves Kurt Roper (offensive coordinator), Derek Lewis (tight ends), Brad Lawing (defensive line), Coleman Hutzler (special teams) and Brad Dillman (strength and conditioning) still looking for jobs. All these guys have families to support so here’s hoping they won’t be out of work for a long time and that the new job will allow them a chance to grow in their chosen profession.
5. A TEAM WITH A HEART FOR Billy Donovan: We can only hope that Wednesday night’s win over South Carolina was the turning of a very big corner for Florida’s basketball team. For the first time this season we saw a Florida team that went hard as it could bell-to-bell and acted like it was ready to do whatever it takes to win a basketball game. In winning their first SEC game of the season, the Gators acted like a team with a real pulse. Perhaps Donovan suspending Jon Horford and Zach Hodskins for conduct detrimental to the team and sitting Michael Frazier on the bench the first five minutes of the game served as a necessary wakeup call. For this team to win and have a shot at something other than the Nobody’s Interested Tournament (NIT), they’re going to have to find a heart and find it soon. Donovan deserves better than what he’s gotten from this bunch so far but if anyone can turn this group into winners, it’s Donovan. There isn’t a coach in the country I’d rather have leading my team.
6. A DATE WITH REALITY FOR Jameis Winston: If you go by sheer talent and ability to throw a football, Jameis Winston is one of the elite talents we’ve seen in awhile. He’s got a million dollar arm. He’s also got about 17 cents worth of common sense. Somewhere between the ears there is a connector that is either unplugged or rusted out after years of idleness. Every time Winston has screwed up off the field in the past, he’s grinned, shrugged his shoulders and goofily explained that he has to do better. And then, of course, he did something stupid again. Now that he’s leaving for the pros, whoever his agent is will assign 24-hour baby sitters whose sole function in life is to keep Famous Jameis out of the kind of trouble that can get him run out of the league and million dollar paydays. What he really needs – more than baby sitters – is a date with reality. At some point, he needs to realize that there are consequences for every act of stupidity. Take a moment and consider the girl who he allegedly raped and consider the possibility that she might be telling the truth. Her life is permanently altered yet Jameis Winston will go on to make millions of dollars. Unless Winston grows up enough to change his ways, at some point there will be retribution and it won’t be pleasant.
7. DITTO FOR JIMBO FISHER: Has anyone ever sounded more disingenuous than Jimbo Fisher? For the past two years every time a microphone has been shoved in his face we’ve listened to him defend every act of stupidity by Winston. I understood the first time Winston got in trouble. It’s an unwritten code among coaches that you stick with your guy the first time he screws up and say things like “this isn’t the guy I know … yadda, yadda, yadda.” But the second, third and fourth times? And then when Winston dressed out for Clemson even though he was suspended for the game? But good old Jimbo was ready to go down with the Titanic for his QB. They say that winning is like a drug. That’s the only thing that explains Jimbo’s defense of Winston. He has spent the last two years sounding like he had a snootful of some mind-altering substance.
8. AN SEC TITLE FOR THE OLD BALL COACH: I am a Gator first, last and always, but so is Steve Spurrier, even if he does coach at South Carolina nowadays. Since he’s 69 years old and reaching the twilight years of a brilliant career, I think it would be truly awesome to see him ride off into the sunset with an SEC title at South Carolina. He’s already the winningest coach in school history at both Florida and South Carolina, and he is just 16 wins away being one of the few coaches to ever win 100 or more games at two different schools. The only championships South Carolina has ever won in football are the 1970 ACC championship back when Paul Dietzel was the coach and the 2010 SEC East championship. I’d love to see Stevie Wonder cap his career with an SEC championship at South Carolina, which would probably put him in the final four with a shot to come home with a national title. The national title is a real long shot, but the SEC would be a nice way to call it a career. If he ever wins the SEC, bet that Spurrier will be the only college coach in the country with a statue at two different schools.
9. EXPAND THE PLAYOFF TO EIGHT TEAMS: What we have now is better than what we had before. I’ve always thought college football deserved a playoff but when there wasn’t one, I did say that at least the BCS was better than what we had before. Well, the BCS is gone, we’ve got the playoff I wanted and now I think we still don’t have it right. Four teams is better than the BCS, but I’m convinced that eight teams is right. What I’d like to see are the champions of the power five conferences as automatic qualifiers, two wild card teams and the best team from the non-power conferences. I do think Cinderella deserves a shot.
10. A CHAMPIONSHIP GAME THAT LIVES UP TO THE HYPE: Now that we have a playoff, I do hope the championship game isn’t a dud. I hope Oregon and Ohio State play a game like the 2005 championship between Texas and Southern Cal or the 2010 Auburn-Oregon matchup, games that were well played, exciting and had our hearts pumping long after the final whistle blew. Common sense tells me that Oregon is going to win this game. After all the Ducks have the Heisman Trophy winner in Marcus Mariot and the Buckeyes are playing a third stringer. That third stringer (Cardale Jones) keeps me thinking my common sense is going to get thrown out the window.
On your sports wish list of what you’d like to see happen, what are your top two choices?
“Morning Dance” by was the song that got me listening to Spyro Gyra back in 1978. Now some 36 years and 32 years later, the band is still touring and cranking out the albums. Jay Beckenstein still plays the saxophone and Tom Schumann is still on the keyboards, the only two original members of the band. Julio Fernandez is back with them again and bassist Scott Ambush has been with them since he replaced Oscar Cartayo just before their Florida tour in 1992 which included a stop in Gainesville a couple of days before they played SunFest. Today’s song is “Waltz for Isabel” which Beckenstein wrote for his daughter and was the best song on their 1993 “Dreams Beyond Control” album.