This is that time of year when college football teams find out who their leaders are and just how much leadership they will have going into the fall. With coaches trying to squeeze vacations into a three-week window and NCAA rules hindering their ability to monitor what’s going on with the team in the final 30 or so days before fall practice begins, there isn’t a lot of supervision. History tells us the teams with the strongest core of leaders who assume the responsibility of keeping their teammates focused on getting into football shape both mentally and physically are the ones who succeed in the fall.
When the Gators were truly great – 1996, 2006 and 2008 – there were unquestioned leaders and an abundance of lieutenants to whip the team in shape in that final month before the pads went on and the preparation for a championship season began in earnest. Heading into that 1996 season there was no question this team belonged to Danny Wuerffel and Lawrence Wright. In 2006, it was Chris Leak and Brandon Siler who led the way, and in 2008 it was Tim Tebow and Major Wright.
If you go back through the last 25 years of Florida football, you will find that the seasons in which the Gators were at their best there was an abundance of leadership. In the seasons that the Gators struggled, leadership was questionable – at best.
So while an overall lack of experienced talent is a huge concern as the Gators begin their final preparations before fall camp, the bigger questions have to do with leadership. Typically, leadership comes from your seniors and redshirt seniors but this Florida roster counts five fourth-year seniors and six redshirt seniors and three of those redshirt seniors are recent arrivals from other schools. Of the remaining eight, only three can back up the talk with been there, done that experience – Jonathan Bullard, Antonio Morrison and Brian Poole.
A lack of seniors doesn’t always mean a lack of leadership. Siler, Tebow and Major Wright were all underclassmen blessed with the work ethic and personalities that brought out the best in teammates but they also had a proven track record of excellence on the field. When you look at Florida’s underclassman roster, other than Vernon Hargreaves III there aren’t many names that jump out at you as guys who could step up as leaders.
What this tells us is just how fragile things are for Florida football heading into the 2015 season. It is not an impossible situation because difficult circumstances have this habit of bringing out the best but there is no denying, these are difficult circumstances. We won’t be able to see how it all unfolds over the next month because what the players do in the weight room and on the practice fields is closed to press and public but we will discover in August just who accepted the challenge and stepped up.
Jim McElwain’s resume says he definitely knows what it takes to put a successful team together but he can’t do it alone. He will have to have some leaders who not only have his back but who have the respect of the rest of the roster. The next 30 or so days will determine whether there is enough leadership to go around for 2015.
Georgia 51, Florida 0; November 9, 1968
Do you ever wonder why it is that even today when he’s the head ball coach at South Carolina that Steve Spurrier takes such delight in beating Georgia? Some think it’s because Georgia spoiled Florida’s bid for the SEC championship in 1966, the year Spurrier won the Heisman Trophy. That might have a little bit to do with it, but the root cause is that game in 1968 and it is why Spurrier will never miss an opportunity to run up the score on Georgia. Spurrier was two years gone when Vince Dooley chose to run up the score and further embarrassed the Gators by putting in All-American defensive end Bill Stanfill at quarterback and allowing defensive lineman George Patton to kick the field goal that made it a 51-0 in the closing seconds of a game played on a cold, miserable day in a non-stop drizzle that soaked everyone to the bone. This was a dysfunctional Florida team, split down the middle because of a quarterback controversy between Larry Rentz and Jackie Eckdahl. In an effort to shake up his team the week before the Gators played Georgia, Ray Graves made some unconventional moves with his coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Fred Pancoast had his appendix removed so he was out. Graves moved defensive coordinator Gene Ellenson to offensive coordinator and moved offensive assistant Ed Kensler to defensive coordinator for the week. Graves thought Ellenson would understand the Georgia defense so he could help an anemic offense and thought Kensler’s understanding of offensive tendencies would help the Gators defend. Of course, it was a complete disaster. Georgia dominated the Gators and then Dooley added to the misery by letting Stanfill and Patton rub it in. Stanfill told Dooley he always wanted to be a quarterback so Dooley put him in the game. Patton told Dooley he always wanted to kick a field goal, so Dooley called time and put him in the game. When Spurrier talked to both Graves and Ellenson that night (Steve was playing QB for the San Francisco 49ers at the time), a seed of revenge was planted, one that would sprout and flower into Florida domination to the tune of an 18-3 record against the Bulldogs from 1990-2010. Spurrier went 11-1 against Georgia and ran up the score every time he had the chance, especially in Athens in 1995 when the Gators ran a reverse at the goal line to hang 50 (UF won 52-17) on Georgia. Graves recalled that Spurrier told him after that one, “You’re even with Georgia.”
1. Texas A&M: The Aggies get Arkansas at Jerry’s World and they have homers with Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn. The only tough roadies are at Ole Miss and LSU in the final game of the season. You know the offense will be good. If John Chavis can improve the defense by 7-10 points a game the Aggies could go into the LSU game looking to win the SEC West.
2. North Carolina State: Dave Doeren knows exactly what he’s doing and he has the Wolfpack well on the way to long term success … that is if AD Kay Yow can keep a school with a bigger budget from poaching him. Jacoby Brissett, who Will Muschamp should have never run off at Florida, threw for 2,606 yards and 23 touchdowns (only five picks) plus ran for 529 yards and three more TDs last year. He will be substantially better and so will NC State this year.
3. Missouri: The Georgia Bulldogs are favored to win the SEC East again just as they’ve been favored the last two years. A funny thing happened on the way to Georgia’s last two SEC East titles. Missouri beat them both times to earn a trip to Atlanta and neither time was a fluke. It won’t be a fluke if Gary Pinkel spoils the Bulldogs’ season for a third straight year.
4. Arizona: Everybody expects Southern Cal to win the Pac-12 South this year. They’re overlooking that Arizona not only won the South last year but beat Oregon in Eugene. A smart piece of advice: Never underestimate a Rich Rodriguez team. He’s got it going in Zona with a lineup that’s all his own recruits.
5. Texas: Charlie Strong went 6-7 in year one and took a lot of heat from alums who think anything less than 11 wins is a disaster. Actually, 6-7 wasn’t such a bad year considering the riff-raff and malcontents Charlie had to send packing. Texas will be vastly improved this season but 2016 will be the year you don’t want to play the Longhorns.
1. Art Briles, Baylor: Briles had consecutive 4-8 records his first two years at Baylor but since then the Bears have gone 47-18, won consecutive Big 12 championships and have been to five straight bowl games. In the 11 years prior to his arrival, Baylor went 31-94 with no bowl games.
2. David Cutcliffe, Duke: The Blue Devils went 13-90 in the 10 years prior to Cutcliffe. In his seven years on the job, Duke has compiled a 40-48 record that includes 25 wins in the last three seasons and the first three-year stretch of consecutive bowl games in school history. In 2013 Duke won 10 games in a season for the first time in school history and the Blue Devils won an ACC division championship, also for the first time.
3. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: The Bulldogs are 46-31 and have been to five straight bowl games in Mullen’s six years on the job in Starkvegas. In the previous eight years under Jackie Sherrill and Sylvester Croom, Mississippi State went 29-55 with only one bowl appearance.
4. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina: South Carolina was once a place where just winning enough to get to a bowl game was considered a great season. The Gamecocks were 56-69-1 with three bowl games in the 11 seasons prior to Spurrier’s arrival. In his 10 years on the job, Spurrier is 85-49 with no losing seasons and nine bowl games. From 2010-13, the Gamecocks went 42-11, the third best record in the SEC behind Alabama and LSU.
5. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State: In the eight previous seasons under Bobby Williams, interim Morris Watts and John L. Smith, Michigan State was 39-45 with two bowl appearances. Since Dantonio arrived in 2007, Michigan State is 75-31 with eight consecutive bowl games, one Big Ten co-championship and one Big Ten championship.
"Facilities equal commitment in the eyes of recruits."
That statement was made by Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw in an interview with the Waco Herald-World. Since McCaw became the AD at Baylor back in 2003, the school has spent more than $372 million on its athletic facilities including building a brand new state of the art football stadium that was paid for in cash by Houston Astros owner and Baylor alum Drayton McClane.
The commitment to facilities shows in the overall improvement of Baylor’s entire athletic program but especially in football in McCaw’s 12 years on the job. The combination of an innovative coach with a lights out offense like Art Briles and a beautiful new stadium have brought consecutive 11-2 records and Big 12 championships. Baylor’s 2016 recruiting class is shaping up as the best in the Big 12 and the 2017 class already has a couple of highly regarded commitments.
The retired dean of the business school and an economics professor at the University of Oregon are complaining that it’s unfair that Oregon athletics take in so much money from private donations and marketing and don’t spread the wealth with the rest of the university. Former dean Dennis Howard and professor Bill Harbaugh also think it’s really unfair that the new president of the university will be making one-fourth what head football coach Mark Helfrich is paid. This is classic wealth re-distribution rhetoric, but there is every possibility we will be hearing it more and more in the months and years to come. Alumni will pay big bucks for winning teams and fans will come in droves to support winning teams. Do you think 60,000 would come listen to a great history professor or to watch a dueling equations contest between great mathematical minds? In a column I wrote years ago, I predicted there will come a time when college athletics are forced to privatize. It might happen sooner than expected.
You know it’s a changing world in college football when TCU can outrecruit the likes of Alabama, LSU, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M and Southern Cal for a quarterback. Highly-regarded Shawn Robinson of Denton (TX) Guyer will be a Horned Frog in 2017.
Asantii Woulard, once one of the nation’s top dual threat quarterbacks out of Winter Park, is returning to his home state. He’s transferring to South Florida where he will have two years of eligibility remaining.
Bo Ryan has announced that he will retire at the end of the 2015-16 season. The Wisconsin coach got the Badgers to the NCAA championship game last year. He has a 740-228 career record as a head coach, the last 14 at Wisconsin, and has four Division III national championships earned at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville. He’s one of the really good guys in the coaching profession.
Who do you believe will step up as leaders for Florida football in 2015?
Although they sold more albums after Michael McDonald joined the band, I still prefer the early music of the Doobie Brothers when Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons wrote the songs and sang lead vocals. Health issues forced Johnston to take extensive leaves of absence from the band starting in 1975, which lead to McDonald joining the band and changing the sound to a hybrid rock/Motown. My favorite of the pre-McDonald Doobie albums is “What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits,” which was released in February of 1974. The album produced the Doobies’ first #1 single, “Black Water,” but my favorite song was “Another Park, Another Sunday.”Doobie Brothers