On Thanksgiving Day 2005, my mom was hanging on for dear life at Orlando Regional Medical Center where a careless doctor had nicked her spinal cord during spinal fusion surgery. With the whole family gathered in her room, we staged an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner burgers, fries and pizza three of the staples of a balanced sports writer’s diet, and there was cake for dessert. We weren’t certain there would be another Thanksgiving nor were we certain she would make it until Sunday, which would be her 78th birthday so we were determined to make this a day to remember.
Shortly after noon, my cell phone rang and the voice on the other end was one I probably had heard more than any sports writer in the state of Florida. Considering I had covered every single event on the hamburger steak and green pea circuit in the spring, didn’t miss a single practice in spring, preseason or during the season and had covered every game the Gators played, Urban Meyer didn’t need an introduction. He wished me a happy Thanksgiving and asked if he could talk to my mom.
I handed the phone to her and Urban wished her Happy Thanksgiving and then asked if there was a special day coming up? She replied that she would be 78 on Sunday.
Urban asked, “Is there something special you want for your birthday?”
My mom, the diehard Gator fan who grew up three blocks from the UF campus, perked up and said, “Well, if you beat FSU, I’d really be happy.”
Urban told her, “Watch the game Saturday … we’ll see if we can make your birthday special.”
You’ve heard of the power of positive suggestion, I’m sure, but those words from Urban Meyer lifted my mom’s spirits immeasurably. Saturday couldn’t get here quick enough and when the game came on television, all the morphine and assorted other painkillers couldn’t keep her asleep.
I’m told (I was in the press box at The Swamp so I didn’t see it) that my mom almost jumped out of bed when Marcus Thomas blocked the FSU field goal in the second quarter that Reggie Lewis returned for a TD. Florida not only won that game (34-7), but what happened in the locker room afterward started the recruiting tsunami that saw the Gators land Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, Brandon Spikes and a few other studs.
When he finished his post game press conference, Urban walked by and as he had gotten in the habit of doing, whacked me on the hip with his Gatorade bottle. He paused for a second and whispered to me, “That was for your mom.”
Urban and Shelley called my mom Sunday morning to wish her happy birthday. Urban asked her if she liked her birthday present and my mom told him it might be the best birthday present she ever got. Ten days later, she had improved dramatically and was released from ORMC.
Today is my mom’s 87th birthday and knowing her, a Florida win over FSU Saturday would rank right up there with the best birthday presents she’s ever had. She’s never forgotten Urban Meyer but she does love Coach Mac and would be really happy with a Gator victory.
Last week: 8-1
#10 FLORIDA (10-1, 7-1 SEC) 21, #14 FLORIDA STATE (9-2) 20: Miami, which fired its coach, is probably the best team the Seminoles have beaten this year. The Seminoles are a lot better on paper than in person but they do have Dalvin Cook on offense and DeMarcus Walker on defense. Containing those two guys is Florida’s top priority Saturday. Another key for Florida will be getting a couple of first downs every possession, which will allow Johnny Townsend to flip the field. If the Seminoles consistently start inside their 20 they won’t win this game.
#2 ALABAMA (10-1, 6-1 SEC) 31, AUBURN (6-5, 2-5 SEC) 13: Auburn folks like to point out that strange things happen in this hate ‘til it hurts rivalry. Nothing would be stranger than an Auburn win.
#23 MISSISSIPPI STATE (8-3, 4-3 SEC) 31, #19 OLE MISS (8-3, 5-2 SEC) 29: If this game were played in Oxford, it would be hard to pick against Ole Miss. Because it’s in StarkVegas, it’s hard to pick against Mississippi State. The QB battle between Dak Prescott (Mississippi State) and Chad Kelly (Ole Miss) is worth the price of admission.
LSU (7-3, 4-3 SEC) 27, TEXAS A&M (8-3, 4-3 SEC) 24: It would be just like Les Miles to inspire his team to play a great game at the exact moment the boosters are collecting checks to buy him out. If LSU wins, the Aggie boosters might be doing the same thing for Kevin Sumlin. They aren’t happy that the Aggies have lost 12 games in the last three years.
GEORGIA (8-3, 5-3 SEC) 24, GEORGIA TECH (3-8) 14: Georgia Tech has already knocked off FSU. Knocking off Georgia would not only salvage a bad season but it would cost Mark Richt his job. It might sound good to the GT faithful but it isn’t going to happen.
TENNESSEE (7-4, 4-3 SEC) 23, VANDERBILT (4-7, 2-5 SEC) 3: Like all games involving Vanderbilt, this one will be ugly but Vandy can’t score and can’t win. Vandy couldn’t score on an all-star team from the convent powder puff league.
ARKANSAS (6-5, 4-3 SEC) 28, MISSOURI (5-6, 1-6 SEC): Mizzou would love to send Gary Pinkel off with a win that would make the Tigers bowl eligible. It sounds good but the Hogs have too much firepower.
KENTUCKY (5-6, 2-6 SEC) 17, LOUISVILLE (6-5) 14: The Mildcats will go into their win one for the Gipper mode to save Mark Stoops’ job by becoming bowl eligible.
#1 CLEMSON (11-0) 44, SOUTH CAROLINA (3-8, 1-7 SEC) 17: Two years ago, South Carolina owned Clemson. My how things have changed. It will be a great accomplishment if the Gamecocks hold Clemson to fewer than 50.
COUNTDOWN TO FIRING DAY: WEEK 12 EDITION
EXTINCT SPECIES LIST
1. Tim Beckman, Illinois
2. Dan McCarney, North Texas
3. Randy Edsall, Maryland
4. Steve Sarkisian, Southern Cal
5. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina (retired)
6. George O’Leary, UCF (retired)
7. Al Golden, Miami
8. Jerry Kill, Minnesota (retired)
9. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech (retired)
10. Norm Chow, Hawaii
11. Gary Pinkel, Missouri (retired)
12. Todd Berry, Louisiana-Monroe
13. Paul Rhoads, Iowa State:
14. Scott Shafer, Syracuse
ON LIFE SUPPORT
1. Mike London, Virginia (4-7): Six seasons in Charlottesville, five losers. That about sums it all up.
2. Curtis Johnson (3-8): He’s already been told he won’t be back next year so what happens Saturday against Tulsa is irrelevant.
3. Trent Miles, Georgia State (4-6): There are those who think a win over Troy Saturday will save Miles’ job but those same folks will probably change their minds in another week when Georgia Southern drops the hammer.
4. Kyle Flood, Rutgers (4-7): If he beats Maryland Saturday, the AD will recommend that Flood gets one more year. Of course, the folks who ultimately make the decisions might very well send her packing along with Flood, particularly if the season ends on a losing note.
5. Chuck Martin, Miami Ohio (3-9): The RedHawks went from 2 wins to 3 this year. That’s progress but probably not enough for the people who will decide his fate this weekend.
6. Paul Haynes, Kent State (3-8): Even if he beats Akron this weekend it’s 90-95% certain he’s a goner.
7. Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State (3-8): He’s offered to do a wholesale firing of assistants but that rarely works out. He’s probably past the point of no return.
8. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia (6-4): The Mounties are bowl eligible but they want a whole lot more. Word is he needs to go 2-0 in the last two to have a job in Morgantown next year.
ENDANGERED SPECIES LIST
1. Les Miles, LSU (7-3): Les Miles deserves better than how LSU has treated him this week. He ought to stick it to them for every dime of the $15+ million they will owe him in a buyout if they decide it’s time to pull the plug.
2. Mark Stoops, Kentucky (5-6): Win Saturday against Louisville and everything is hunky dory. Lose and it’s going to be very dicey.
3. Paul Petrino, Idaho (3-8): If not for a couple of stupid mistakes late in a couple of games, Saturday’s game with Texas State could have been for bowl eligibility. It’s probably 51-49 right now that he’ll be back.
4. Dennis Franchione, Texas State (3-7): Half the faithful think his sell by date has expired. The other half think he gets another year if he splits the last two games.
5. Ron Turner, Florida International (5-7): The Golden Panthers were outscored 115-7 in their last two games against Conference USA teams. It’s 40-60 at best that he’s still got a job on Monday.
6. Larry Coker, Texas-San Antonio (3-8): Everybody likes Larry, which is why firing him is such a hard thing to do. If he beats Middle Tennessee Saturday he probably gets one more year.
7. Todd Graham, Arizona State (6-5): He doesn’t like the administration and they don’t like him. If he loses to California Saturday it might be the excuse they need to send him packing.
8. Pete Lembo, Ball State (3-9): Giving up 150 points in the last three games probably trumps the 30 wins Lembo accumulated in his first four years in Muncie.
9. Charlie Partridge, Florida Atlantic (2-9): By taking Florida into overtime last week, he might have saved his job. If he did, then anything less than 6-7 wins next year won’t do.
10. Chris Creighton, Eastern Michigan (2-10): He’s 3-20 in two seasons and folks are wondering if he should be invited back to coach a third season.
11. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M (8-3): If the Aggies lose to LSU Saturday it might not result in Sumlin getting fired, but it will put him on notice than anything less than 10-11 wins in 2016 and he’s toast.
1. Willie Taggart, USF (7-5): He was within one more bad game of being a midseason hire. Now he’s got USF red hot and bowling. Go figure.
2. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt (4-7): They won’t fire him this year but unless his offense plays a whole lot better next year he will never see four years in Nashville.
3. Kevin Wilson, Indiana (5-6): It has already been determined Wilson is back for 2016. Beat Purdon’t and go bowling and not only is he coaching next year but in 2017 as well.
4. Doug Martin, New Mexico State (3-7): Martin will be back next year no matter what happens in the last two games. Who ever heard of a 3-7 team with a tailback (Larry Rose) who has 1,481 yards and averages 7.5 per carry?
5. Darrell Hazell, Purdue (2-9): The only things standing between Hazell and a pink slip are a $6 million buyout and a $60 million commitment to facilities improvements.
6. Terry Bowden, Akron (6-5): The Zipperheads are going bowling, which means Little Terry (head coach) and Chuck the Chest (Amato, DC) will be gainfully employed in Akron next yar.
7. Mark Richt, Georgia (8-3): As long as he beats Georgia Tech he will be coaching Georgia next year. If he loses all bets are off.
8. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado (4-8): He’s another one whose job will be saved by the buyout. The athletic department is broke and can’t afford to fire him.
After a Florida State University official is on the record that maybe only one of 40 FSU football players accused of sexual misconduct were ever found responsible, I find it hard to believe responsible parents would allow their daughter to step foot on that campus. Of course, Jimbo Fisher says he didn’t know what was going on. I could have predicted that.
After watching the Philadelphia Eagles pitiful performance against the Detroit Lions, I’m convinced Chip Kelly is a fish out of water in the NFL. Would the possibility that he’s available convince LSU that it’s time to spend the bucks it will take to buy out Les Miles? Or would Southern Cal, still on parole after time in the NCAA jailhouse, hire a coach whose show cause from his Oregon days just expired?
Guy V. Lewis died Thursday. He was the coach who brought us Phi Slamma Jamma at Houston. Houston basketball used to be a national power but it slipped back into obscurity the day he retired. Guy was a great coach but a better person. He integrated Houston when the rest of Texas was struggling to get past segregation.
If I’m Alabama DC Kirby Smart, the job I want is Virginia. There is plenty enough talent in the state and UVa plays in the ACC division opposite Clemson and FSU. This is a great stepping stone job to build a resume for taking over at Bama when Nick Saban retires. Kirby’s mentioned at South Carolina, but if Hall of Fame coaches Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier couldn’t win the SEC there, how does Smart expect to win a title?
QUESTION OF THE DAY
If you’re an athletic director and Chip Kelly is available, does his obvious skill as a ball coach trump his NCAA rap sheet?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
While driving today Electric Light Orchestra’s “Turn to Stone” came on and I haven’t gotten it out of my head four hours later. The song is from ELO’s great “Out of the Blue” album in 1977 and it’s worth sharing, particularly on a weekend in which I think the Florida defense is going to be like a stone wall for the FSU offense.