Jeremy Foley made two things perfectly clear Monday morning: (1) Jim McElwain won’t lack for support when it comes to reshaping the University of Florida football program in his own image and (2) he’s going to take the lead in reshaping a contract for basketball coach Billy Donovan.
At a press conference in which the topics ranged from facilities to Donovan to the contract that continues to pay Will Muschamp more than $2 million the next three years, Foley made it abundantly clear that he’s more than willing to spend the money it takes to keep his two high profile coaches happy.
Stating “We have a history of getting stuff done here,” Foley committed to do whatever is necessary to rebuild the football program to a national championship level. Conversations with McElwain, Foley said, have “made it clear what his vision was as it related to infrastructure, and it's my job to help him achieve all those things."
Donovan got a raise to nearly $4 million a year when he signed a contract extension last year, but that was before Kentucky signed John Calipari to a 7-year contract extension worth $52 million. It’s unlikely that Foley would match what Kentucky pays Calipari, but a long term extension in the $5-6 million per year range would be the kind of contract that would keep Donovan in Gainesville for years to come.
“We’ll be very proactive with his contract,” Foley said. “Billy is our guy.”
Of course, football is the cash cow for the entire athletic program and that means facility upgrades have to keep pace with what’s going on in the Southeastern Conference where an all-out arms race has been fueled by revenues from the SEC Network that have leveled the playing field for every school in the conference. The addition of more than $30 million to each SEC school from network revenues has made it possible for schools like Ole Miss and Mississippi State, traditionally among the lower athletic budget schools in the league, to significantly upgrade the salaries of their head and assistant coaches while continuing to improve their facilities.
Florida has retaliated with an indoor practice facility that should be ready by the time fall practice begins. Had the Gators not pushed that facility to the front burner, UF would have been the only school in the SEC without an indoor facility. That $15 million expenditure combined with renovations to the O-Dome and a new office of student life will add $100 million of debt to the University Athletic Association, which Foley says is not “a significant amount.” Other projects that will be taken on in the near future are upgrading dorm facilities for athletes and expansion of the weight facilities in the basketball practice complex.
When it comes to football, Foley made it clear that McElwain would get whatever he needs.
“At the end of the day, the University of Florida is still a special place,” Foley said. “At the same time, we are going to evaluate our facilities and make sure Coach Mac has everything he needs to be successful. We're moving forward with that.”
By and large, Florida fans are upset that former coach Will Muschamp will continue to receive payments of $2.1 million a year from UF while making $1.6 million as Auburn’s defensive coordinator. The anger has risen considerably since Muschamp grabbed four recruits the Gators coveted for Auburn.
"I get the angst that causes, but at the end of the day, we terminated Will,” Foley said. “It's not like he moved on on his own. We terminated his contract. We said we needed to go in a different direction. He's free to work. He's free to go get a job. He’s free to do his job. I imagine Auburn was recruiting some of those guys before he got up there, and Will is a good recruiter. So is Jim McElwain. You look what he did on signing day; look what he did a couple of days prior to signing day.”
What Foley didn’t say is that Florida has a history of paying the full amount of whatever is called for in contracts. It might upset fans, but it’s one reason that when Foley calls, nearly every coach in the country will listen.
Women’s basketball is struggling to keep its head above water this season, which caused one reporter to ask Foley if head coach Amanda Butler is on the hot seat. Butler is 11-12 this season, 3-7 in the Southeastern Conference. Butler is 151-107 since arriving at Florida and prior to this season has posted four consecutive 20-win seasons, but the Gators have never finished higher than a tie for fourth in the SEC.
Women’s basketball is the only sport at UF that hasn’t won a conference championship and one of only three (women’s cross country and lacrosse are the other two) that hasn’t won a national championship.
Foley said that Butler took over a tough situation and said, “Hopefully, we’ll get this thing turned around.”
That didn’t sound like a ringing endorsement.
Per ESPN’s Brett McMurphy, 24 schools including six from the Southeastern Conference are interested in landing Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson, who will graduate in May. Golson is expected to go through spring practice at Notre Dame, which ends in April, then make a decision about coming back or transferring out. Golson, who has thrown for 41 touchdowns in his Notre Dame career, played poorly at the end of 2014 and was replaced by sophomore Malik Zaire, who led the Fighting Irish to a Music City Bowl win over LSU. Because Golson was academically ineligible in 2013, he would require a waiver from the Southeastern Conference to play at an SEC school.
Here are the four SEC schools that would likely appeal to Golson:
1. LSU: He is a serious upgrade to Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris and would start immediately for a team that is absolutely loaded at the skill positions and will have one of the best defenses in all of college football. With Golson as the starting quarterback, LSU would be a certain preseason top 10 pick and considered an instant contender for the SEC title. Jim Kleinpeter of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, an excellent reporter with fine sources, says Golson has reached out to LSU already.
2. FLORIDA: Take a look at what Jim McElwain does with quarterbacks and you understand why Golson would take a long, hard look at the Gators. McElwain went 12-0 in the regular season at Alabama in 2008 with John Parker Wilson at quarterback. He won a national championship in 2009 with Greg McElroy, who had thrown 11 passes in his Alabama career prior to 2009. He won a national championship in 2011 with A.J. McCarron, who had thrown 48 passes in his Alabama career prior to that season. At Colorado State, Garrett Grayson threw two TDPs and six picks as a freshman. In his three years under McElwain, he threw for 62 touchdowns and only 21 picks and 8,648 yards.
3. South Carolina: Golson is from Myrtle Beach. If he transferred to South Carolina, he would have a chance to be coached up by Steve Spurrier and his parents would only have to drive 152 miles to see him play. South Carolina graduated its starting quarterback so the job is up for grabs. The big question would be could he pick up the offense in the summer? Shane Matthews and Connor Shaw are the only two quarterbacks who ever picked up the Spurrier offense without taking a full year to learn it.
4. AUBURN: Jeremy Johnson has an absolute cannon of an arm and Auburn is loaded to the gills with outstanding wide receivers who all have speed, but he’s not much of a runner. If Gus Malzahn wants to continue running a lot of read option as a staple of the offense, then Johnson’s not his guy. Golson is an outstanding runner so he would be a perfect fit.
Mark Schlabach came out with an updated all too early top 25 for college football on Monday. No one should be surprised that he’s got national champ Ohio State as his number one. The Buckeyes return 16 of their top 24 (offense, defense, special teams), three outstanding quarterbacks and perhaps the best running back in the country in Ezekiel Elliott. He’s got two SEC teams in his top ten – Alabama at #4 and Georgia at #8 – and six other SEC schools (#12 Auburn, #14 Ole Miss, #16 LSU, #20 Tennessee, #22 Arkansas and #24 Missouri) in the top 25. He has Florida State all the way down to #15 and trailing ACC rival Clemson for top spot in that conference.
1. Ohio State
3. Southern Cal
7. Michigan State
11. Notre Dame
14. Ole Miss
15. Florida State
18. Arizona State
19. Georgia Tech
21. Boise State
Scratch Braxton Miller off as a possible replacement for Heisman winner Marcus Mariota at Oregon. While Miller is enrolled at Ohio State and contemplating his future, the Ducks have resolved their quarterback of the future issues with Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams. Yes, he played in DIAA but in his three years on the job at EWash all he did was throw for 10,438 yards and 110 touchdowns while running for 1,235 and 11 more touchdowns. He’s coming off a season in which he threw for 36 touchdowns and ran for six more. In his three years as a starter, Eastern Washington made it to the DIAA semifinals twice and the quarterfinals once. Adams, who graduates in the spring, chose Oregon over UCLA and Texas.
Miller is enrolled at Ohio State and contemplating his future. He could stay at Ohio State, compete with J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones for the starting job, but that could mean he’s the third string quarterback which would do nothing for his NFL Draft stock. He could change positions, which some think he should do, particularly coming off shoulder surgery – he wasn’t exactly a light it up passer before; he could be worse once he can throw again. Or, he could transfer.
Right now, transferring out probably will be the option he takes. With Oregon out of the picture, the likely landing spots are Texas, LSU and Florida State. Because of the relationship between Urban Meyer and Charlie Strong, Texas might have a serious advantage.
Former Florida defensive coordinator Jon Hoke will be paid $750,000 the next two years as the co-coordinator at South Carolina …. Former Florida offensive line coach Frank Verducci has been hired as the offensive coordinator at UConn. Verducci coached the O-line at Northern Iowa last year … Arkansas running backs coach Joel Thomas has taken a job with the New Orleans Saints … Rutgers offensive coordinator (former Maryland head coach) Ralph Friedgen isn’t returning. If there is an opening on the Penn State staff, he could land there … Former UMiami linebackers coach Michael Barrow landed a job on the Seattle Seahawks defensive staff … Brennan Carroll, Miami’s receivers’ coach, will coach the receivers for his dad (Pete) with the Seattle Seahawks … LSU wide receivers coach Adam Henry has taken the receivers job with the San Francisco 49ers … Bret Bielema has gotten a raise and a two-year extension of his contract at Arkansas. Bielema becomes the eighth SEC coach with a salary of at least $4 million per year in a deal that extends through 2020.
Should Foley tear up Billy Donovan’s old contract and replace it with something like 10 years at $6 million per year?
Delbert McClinton will turn 75 in November but he’s still touring and still putting on a terrific show. He’s put out nearly 30 albums over the years but he’s far better in person. If you’re in the Orlando area on March 21, catch him at The Plaza Live. You will be thoroughly entertained. Today’s song is “Every Time I Roll the Dice” from his 1992 album “Never Been Rocked Enough.”