Last year the University of Georgia paid its assistant football coaches $3.22 million, which was on the low end of middle of the Southeastern Conference pack. Georgia has been making a statement the last three weeks by raising the pay grade of all its assistant coaches. Next year, Georgia assistants will be paid $4.495 million.
What Georgia is doing is indicative of a trend throughout the Southeastern Conference. For years a lot of schools – Florida included – have gotten by with the attitude “it’s the SEC … they want to coach here” but that doesn’t cut it anymore. All the proof you need is in what they’re doing at Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Auburn. At Ole Miss and Mississippi State, both Hugh Freeze and Dan Mullen received raises of $1.25 million (now both make $4.5 million) and they both received a million or so to add to their assistant coach salary pools. At Auburn, Will Muschamp was hired as the defensive coordinator for $1.6 million a year. To bring in Travaris Robinson and Lance Thompson to the defensive staff is going to cost more than a million.
Those are not isolated cases. The cost of doing business in the SEC has gone up substantially and it’s a direct result of the infusion of money from the SEC Network. Mississippi State had athletic revenue in the $33 million range last year, about 1/3 of what Florida rakes in ($99,454,773) and Ole Miss had revenues of approximately $54 million but both of them have spent big bucks to upgrade their facilities and they’ve shown a willingness to spend on coaches, too. The extra $25-30 million they will be getting from the SEC Network levels their playing field and allows them to compete.
How is the University of Florida going to respond?
It’s good to have the extra cash to spread around to the various sports so that every sport has the chance to win at the highest level, but football is the cash cow that pays all the bills and how UF responds to the new challenges of upgraded salaries and facilities is going to shape the success of the next 10-20 years. Certainly, it would be unwise to take on the mountain of debt that some schools have done, but there is plenty enough revenue that UF should never lose a football coach anywhere over a salary issue nor should the Gators lose a top recruit because FSU or Auburn or Georgia have better football facilities.
Because of suspensions and injuries, it’s taken a juggling act by Billy Donovan that merits the center ring at Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey. Just 10 days ago the Gators looked like a team that would struggle to finish the year with its head above the water. Three games into the SEC schedule the Gators are looking like a team that is very capable of finishing among the top two or three teams in the league. Because of all the personnel issues that Donovan has had to deal with the offense has suffered, but the defense hasn’t rested and has only gotten better. Through 16 games, the Gators have allowed only two teams to score as many as 70 points (#5 North Carolina and #11 Kansas) and they have yet to allow even one team to hit 50% of its shots. In their Thursday night win over Auburn, the Gators held the Tigers to 32.7% from the field overall and 33% from the 3-point line. When you’re playing defense like that you’re going to be in a lot of ball games.
A couple of other things to consider: The Gators are now 10-6 on the season. Five of those losses are by six or fewer points. Also, in light of Miami’s blowout win over Duke, that two-point loss to the Canes in game two when UF had only six scholarship players doesn’t look so bad.
2. Cardale Jones is staying: Is it the right move?: He admits he’s not ready to go to the NFL and so Jones has committed to another year in Columbus but what it the third string QB turned national championship star stays another year at Ohio State and goes back to third string? It could happen if Braxton Miller comes back and J.T. Barrett returns from the broken ankle healthy and without any loss of speed or quickness. Even though he’s only started three games, Jones’ big arm and size (6-5, nearly 260) would almost ensure that someone would take him first three rounds of the NFL Draft so you have to wonder if it’s the right move to stay another year?
3. If you’re Urban Meyer, do you really want this kind of logjam at QB?: Having three outstanding quarterbacks worked to Meyer’s advantage in 2014, but what if everyone is healthy in August and the season starts with Miller, Barrett and Jones on the roster? All three could start just about anywhere in the country but unless Urban figures out a way to three-platoon them or play two at the same time, there are going to be some unhappy campers. Meyer has to deal with three proven players at a position that demands a #1.
4. If you’re Braxton Miller do you stay at Ohio State or do you transfer?: Nobody in college football has more what ifs to deal with than Miller. What if he stays at Ohio State and finds himself the third string quarterback? What if he stays at Ohio State and is asked to change positions? What if he transfers to a place like Oregon or Florida State and then his shoulder doesn’t respond? Miller is convinced he can play quarterback in the NFL but both of the guys who replaced him throw the ball better. If he does transfer he could very well be exposed if he makes the wrong choice and goes to an offensive system that requires pinpoint passing. The way receivers run free in the Ohio State system you don’t have to be pinpoint, just close enough that your guy can run to the ball.
5. Sporting News has Arkansas at #4 preseason 2015: Ohio State as the all too early #1 for 2015 is a no-brainer since the Buckeyes return 35 of the 44 on their two-deep on a roster that will be dominated by sophomores and juniors. TCU at #2 is also a no-brainer since the Horned Frogs return 10 offensive starters including QB Trevone Boykin. Baylor gets the #3 nod and then things get interesting as the pick for #4 is Arkansas. Yes, that Arkansas. And here’s a shocker. There’s no Alabama in the SN top ten. Positions 5-10 are: (5) Oregon; (6) Auburn; (7) UCLA; (8) Georgia; (9) Michigan State and (10) Southern Cal.
6. Another golf season: Will Tiger bounce back?: Tiger Woods is 39 and has battled through injuries and a personal scandal that tarnished what was once a very squeaky clean image. He hasn’t won a major since the 2008 US Open and he doesn’t seem to have the intimidation factor that he once had. The young guys who are dominating the PGA Tour now just aren’t afraid. With Rory McIlroy looking like the second coming of the young Tiger Woods the pro tour could certainly use a revitalized Tiger to challenge and renew interest in the game. The question is: does Tiger still have it in him to be not just a contender but a winner again?
8. Welcome back Coach O: Ed Orgeron is now the defensive line coach at LSU, as if all those studs Les Miles has been stockpiling need another advantage. There are D-line coaches and then there are Coach O and Greg Mattison. They are on a different planet. Now, throw in Coach O as a recruiter along with Frank Wilson, the LSU receivers coach who is one of the best lockdown guys in the country when it comes to landing the talent, and LSU might have the best 1-2 punch in the SEC.
9. Do you think Nick Saban is sweating the losses of Kevin Steele and Lance Thompson?: In the last 36 hours, Alabama has lost Kevin Steele to LSU as DC and Lance Thompson to Auburn as linebackers coach. At first glance you might think that coaches are bailing on Saban, who, after all, doesn’t exactly have this great track record of keeping coaches on his staff for long stretches. On second thought, do you think maybe Nick ENCOURAGED these guys to find gainful employment somewhere else? Steele and Thompson coached the linebackers and what Alabama position got seriously exploited by Auburn in the Iron Bowl and then by Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl? Things that make you go hmmmm.
10. At some point, someone is going to knock off Kentucky: You can almost count on it and that might not be a bad thing. For the second straight year the Wildcats have had a bunch of broadcasters saying they should go undefeated. It’s worse this year because some of those same broadcasters were saying the only team capable of beating Kentucky’s starters was Kentucky’s second team. Well, the Wildcats would have two SEC losses already if not for a Rupp-job against Ole Miss and the Aggies inability to hit a bull in the butt with a bass fiddle from the foul line. Losing could be a good thing for the Wildcats if it simply relieves the pressure of unrealistic expectations, but it could also have the detrimental effect of creating a case of the doubts.
Super agent Jimmy Sexton, whose client list includes Jim McElwain, Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher, Gus Malzahn, Will Muschamp, Tim Tebow and Jim Mora Jr., on why Nick Saban is the right guy to handle the crazy fan base at Alabama:
“Alabama has to have the right guy to be a power. Nick’s the perfect guy for the job because he can handle the crazies. He’s not going to let them push him or move him. His key is focus. I’ve often said if he’s driving down the street and if a bomb goes off and doesn’t hit his car, he doesn’t know the bomb went off.”
“When people start comparing him [LeBron] with Jordan then that’s not a fair comparison. Jordan was a far more superior player in a very tough league. He was very creative. That’s not taking anything away from LeBron because he is a great player but it is not a fair comparison because Jordan is a far superior player.”
If you’re the GM of the Tampa Bay Bucs, who do you choose with the #1 draft pick: Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota? Since you’re not the GM, who do you think the Bucs will take?
Probably the greatest song writer to every graduate from Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville was the late, great Hoyt Axton. He left town shortly after graduation because he was part of a prank that burned down Knauer’s Hardware Store. He wrote the hit “Greenback Dollar” for the Kingston Trio, “Joy to the World” for Three Dog Night, “The Pusher” for Steppenwolf, churned out 26 albums and had a nice career in the movies in films such as “We’re No Angels” (Robert DeNiro, Sean Penn, Demi Moore) and “Gremlins.” While listening to some Hoyt Axton tunes while fighting off the flu this week, I came across my favorite, “Boney Fingers.”