Eventually, all good things come to an end. John Wooden, Al McGuire and Dean Smith all walked away from college basketball when more national championships could have been won. Billy Donovan walks away from University of Florida basketball as a young enough man that only a fool would believe he couldn’t still lead the Gators to more national championships than the two he brought to UF in 2006-07.
But he’s gone now and there will be some finality to his era at the University of Florida this morning when Donovan holds his farewell press conference. He’s going to the Oklahoma City Thunder of the NBA, walking away from a program that he turned from slightly better than average into one that won two national championships, made four Final Fours, six Elite Eights and won six Southeastern Conference titles.
The timing isn’t great but when is the timing for leaving good? Maybe it killed off Florida’s chances to convince Shaka Smart to come to Gainesville to replace his former boss, but who’s to say Smart wouldn’t have chosen Texas over Florida if it had come down to a head-to-head decision? And who is to say that Gregg Marshall wouldn’t have said no to Florida just as he said no to Alabama? He’s got a good thing going at Wichita State and he turned down Alabama’s offer of $4.9 million a year. It’s highly doubtful Florida AD Jeremy Foley would have offered Marshall that much money.
There is always the remote chance that Foley will swing for the fences and land a coach with a big reputation such as Marshall or Gonzaga’s Mark Few or Virginia coach Tony Bennett but it’s much more realistic to think the target will be someone with just enough experience and cockiness to ignore the fact he’s following a legend. Donovan is a coaching legend but the right guy with the right personality can put his own brand on things and instead of collapsing under the weight of expectation forge his own path of success. It won’t be easy, but it can be done if it’s the right hire.
The name that so many college basketball experts have circled as the perfect fit for Florida is Dayton’s Archie Miller. He’s 37 years old, has four years of head coaching experience in one of the toughest basketball conferences in the country (Atlantic 10) and he’s got the pedigree – son of a high school coaching legend in Pennsylvania, outstanding point guard in the ACC during his college playing days, and has coached for Herb Sendek (North Carolina State and Arizona State), Thad Matta (Ohio State) and older brother Sean Miller (Arizona). While he coaches at an A-10 school, he’s been around schools from the power leagues so he’s not going to be intimidated recruiting against the likes of John Calipari, Bruce Pearl, Rick Barnes or Ben Howland.
But whether it’s Miller or another up and comer such as Xavier’s Chris Mack, Louisiana Tech’s Michael White, Valparaiso’s Bryce Drew or Minnesota’s Richard Pitino, Foley cannot afford a slow selection process. His staff has to get all the background investigation done and interviews have to take place in a hurry. While Foley has stated the hiring process might take two or three weeks, the reality is he knows he doesn’t have that long to make a choice. There is a talented roster Donovan leaves behind that could experience some defections if a new coach isn’t in place in a hurry and we can’t forget that the Memorial Day shoe tournament weekend is three weeks away and camp season starts in June.
This is a time when Jeremy Foley has to heed the immortal words of John Wooden: “Be quick but don’t hurry.” Get the new guy here quickly but don’t get in such a hurry as to overlook the right guy.
How is it that a Florida team that had eight players drafted, third most behind Florida State and Louisville, had to win a bottom feeder bowl game to avoid a break-even 2014 season? That’s just one of many things that make you go hmmm on a Monday morning.
Here’s another. Of the eight draftees, six were from the offensive side of the ball and four were offensive linemen. Additionally, there were four more undrafted Gators who signed free agent contracts, two of which were offensive players. How is it the Gators struggled against teams with winning records (3-5) with that kind of talent? The Gators managed 400 or more yards against just team with a winning record (Georgia, 10-3). While they averaged 30.3 points per game, if you take away the 117 points the Gators scored against D1 bottom feeder Eastern Michigan and D1AA Eastern Kentucky, UF averaged just 24.6 points per game. Take away the combined three points allowed in those two games and the Gators gave up an average of 25 per game.
While we’re putting things into perspective, don’t you think it’s also a good time to finally debunk that ridiculous myth that Urban Meyer left Will Muschamp a bare cupboard to work with? That is a myth that was perpetuated for 3-1-2 years of the past four years and while some have awakened to the fact that Meyer left behind good enough players that the Gators were within a goal line fumble against Georgia in 2012 from playing for the SEC championship. Counting special teams, 21 of the 24 starters on that team were all Meyer recruits), yet some still choose to believe that Meyer left Muschamp a few cards short of a full deck.
Here is reality.
Meyer left behind a roster that included 26 players (as of January 2, 2011) who spent at least one year on an NFL practice or regular season roster. That number should swell significantly as six more players Meyer left behind – Chaz Green (Cowboys), Neiron Ball (Raiders), Andre Debose (Raiders), Gerald Christian (transferred to Louisville; Cardinals), Josh Shaw (transferred to Southern Cal; Bengals) and Ian Silberman (transferred to Boston College; 49ers) – were drafted over the weekend. Additionally, these players left behind by Meyer have signed free agent contracts: Leon Orr (Raiders), Quinton Dunbar (Redskins), Tyler Murphy (transferred to Boston College; Steelers), Lynden Trail (transferred to Norfolk State; Texans); Cody Riggs (transferred to Notre Dame; Titans), De’Ante Saunders (transferred to Tennessee State; Browns) and Michael McFarland (transferred to USF; Texans).
While being drafted in the first three rounds might be a stronger indicator of star potential, the fact still remains that the typical NFL roster is more than 50% made up of players taken in round four or after or who made teams as undrafted free agents. So, taking that into consideration, there is a really good chance the ranks of Meyer players left behind that make it at least a year into the NFL could indeed swell to something like 32 or 33 players.
And one last myth debunker. The Gators were 11-2 in 2012 when the starting lineup was dominated by players Meyer left behind. In the two years after, the Gators were 11-13.
Urban Meyer may not have left behind a roster as talented as the one he won a national championship with in 2008, but it certainly was a foundation for future success that far exceeded the 29-21 record from 2011-14. Will Muschamp may prove himself to be among the nation’s elite defensive coordinators this year at Auburn, but his four-year stay at Florida will be a constant reminder that The Peter Principle is very, very real.
Although their 17-game winning streak was ended by Missouri Sunday, Florida’s softball team still clinched their fifth SEC championship in the Tim Walton era. The Gators go into the SEC Softball Tournament Thursday in Baton Rouge with a 49-5 record. The SEC Softball Tournament is of little significance. It’s a single elimination affair that will have no bearing on the Gators in the NCAA Tournament, which begins on May 14. The Gators are the #1 ranked team in the country and will be one of the top two or three seeds so they will host an NCAA regional and are all but assured of hosting a Super Regional if they get past the regional. So the road to the Women’s College World Series will travel through Gainesville.
Last year, the Gators got a first round bye at the SEC Tournament and lost their only game. Tim Walton used the extra days to rest his team and prep them for the more important NCAA games. Florida went 10-1 the rest of the way and won the NCAA championship. The Gators will be favored to go deep into the WCWS in Oklahoma City even though this is a different team than the won that took home the big trophy last year.
This year’s Florida team doesn’t have a Hannah Rogers who can dominate in the circle every single game, but it has compensated by throwing strikes and playing the best defense in the nation. Through 54 games, Florida pitchers have walked only 81 batters, hit only 27 and committed just 28 errors. As if they need extra help – the Gators have a .313 team batting average and have hit 68 homers – the Gators have worked opposing pitchers for 239 walks and 103 hit batters. Opponents have committed 71 errors.
The Gators aren’t invincible but any team that beats them from here on out is going to have to earn it because the Gators aren’t going to give games away.
Florida had four offensive linemen drafted, five if you include Ian Silberman, who transferred to Boston College for his senior year. Are you shocked that UF’s offense was so inadequate with this much offensive line talent?
The song that got me to buy the first Creedence Clearwater Revival album was “Suzie Q” back in 1968. The song that really got me hooked on the band was the very first cut, “I Put a Spell on You.” John Fogerty had one of those voices that no one else could imitate so it made the music so unique. I also loved the first cut on side two of the album, the old Wilson Pickett song “Ninety-nine and a Half (Won’t Do).” Today’s music is that first Creedence Clearwater album, which is still one of the favorites in my collection.