Let’s start with a take it to the bank fact: Jim McElwain is Florida’s football coach. He will be Florida’s football coach tomorrow, next week, next month and next year.
Beyond that is anybody’s guess. A lot of things can happen in a year but for this moment, he’s the football coach. So let’s dismiss this notion that he’s going to Oregon. I know for a fact there are people at Oregon who would love to have him as the next head coach, but the only ones who matter in the Oregon decision are the school president, the athletic director and Uncle Phil (Nike chairman Phil Knight), and definitely not in that order. The prez and AD will be the public profile of the Oregon coaching search but even though they have a 2-1 advantage over Uncle Phil, he’s a 1-man majority and the only vote that will count. His guy isn’t Jim McElwain. Bet the farm on that.
So, now that we’ve adequately discussed the Oregon job, let’s talk about Mac and Florida.
Let’s start with the fact he’s 18-7 and has won two SEC East championships. Yes, the East is weak but tell me when since 2009 it hasn’t been? In the last seven years the East has typically produced one pretty good football team and the rest of the division has been somewhere between mediocre and putrid. Some would say that in 2016 there isn’t even one pretty good team and that all the teams are in the mediocre to putrid category.
That the entire division is weak isn’t Jim McElwain’s fault. It was that way when he took over. It was well on its way when Urban Meyer left in 2010 and was already there when Will Muschamp spent four years at UF from 2011-14. The division isn’t going to elevate its status until all seven teams have put together enough strong recruiting classes so they can match the SEC West teams in numbers and talent and that won’t happen overnight. Right now they can’t.
Back to the fact Mac has been here just two years. You can toss out his first recruiting class just as you can toss Ron Zook’s first class in 2002, Urban Meyer’s first in 2005 and the one Muschamp put together in a little more than a month in 2011. When you take over for a coach and you haven’t had adequate time to introduce yourself and your staff to all the high school coaches, recruiting is pretty much hit or miss with far more misses than hits.
That was the case with Zook, Meyer, Muschamp and Mac.
As I’ve mentioned before, you really can’t start judging a coach until he’s brought in at least three recruiting classes. That’s not my opinion, that’s the opinion of Urban Meyer and a number of very successful head ball coaches that I’ve talked to through the years. It isn’t until you’ve put together 3-4 recruiting classes that your 2-deep roster is made up of 80-90% of the players you recruited. Until then, you’re working with a lot of guys who someone else with a totally different football vision recruited and it doesn’t necessarily fit.
Mac is working with a hastily put together first class and one full class when he and his staff had an entire year to recruit. The fact that he’s won the SEC East twice with someone else’s players says two things: (1) the guy before him brought in some good talent and (2) Mac has made the most of playing with guys Will Muschamp recruited. Obviously, Jim McElwain has the kind of personality and leadership abilities that make kids want to play for him.
But he’s got to recruit at least one more class before we can really know if Florida football is going to simply be the best of a mediocre lot or able to bridge the enormous gap that divides the SEC East and West divisions.
Meanwhile, it’s up to Mac to take a look at his body of work the last two years and make some critical decisions. He’s not going to turn the football program in a radically different direction but there are decisions that have to be made about how to stay the course and keep the progress moving ahead of schedule. Those decisions might include staff changes and they might involve taking a couple of graduate transfers at key positions. It might include deciding to bypass some guys who could be signed with the snap of a finger to take a chance on landing some who’ve been leaning or committed somewhere else. To elevate the program, sometimes you have to make tough decisions and Jim McElwain will have more of those than he probably cares to deal with.
But, McElwain will make those decisions and right or wrong, he will live them. If he makes right choices, we’ll see an improved product on the field and a better recruiting class. If he doesn’t make the right choices and the product on the field takes steps in the wrong direction, then athletic director Scott Stricklin will have to decide just how much rope he’s willing to give McElwain before he pulls the plug and looks for a new coach somewhere else.
For now, however, understand that Mac is going to be the football coach at the University of Florida and while it’s certainly understandable that everyone – including Mac – thinks the offensive production has had the fragrance of the sludge on the bottom of a landfill, it’s too early to declare this a bad or wrong fit.
Now if the Gators struggle to break even next year and the offense continues to remind you of the football version of a Yugo in desperate need of a tuneup, then, by all means voice your displeasure.
For now, however, patience Grasshopper.
MEANWHILE, OREGON IS COACH SEARCHING
Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports is reporting that South Florida coach Willie Taggart is emerging as a possible go-to guy for Oregon and it’s a move that makes a lot of sense. Taggart got his coaching break from Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and he’s still one of Harbaugh’s most loyal supporters. It must also be noted that Harbaugh and Uncle Phil Knight are about as tight as tight can be. Guess where Uncle Phil was seen post game last week in Columbus? The Michigan locker room.
Now here is why Taggart starts making real sense for Oregon. During his time at Stanford, Taggart was one of Harbaugh’s best recruiters. Stanford recruits nationally out of necessity. Oregon also has to recruit nationally to be relevant. The other reason why Taggart is the good fit is his lights out offense, which is quite similar to the up tempo, no huddle spread they run at Oregon. USF is averaging 43.6 points per game while running an Oregon-like spread offense with a dual threat QB who lights it up. The Bulls average 515.1 yards per game with 291.75 on the ground and 222.3 through the air.
Junior QB Quinton Flowers might be the best player you’ve never heard of. As a passer he is 184-299 for 2,551 yards (8.5 per attempt) with 22 TDs and just 6 interceptions. As a runner he is 177-1,425 (8.05 per carry) with 15 TDs. Last year, Flowers produced 2,290 passing yards for 22 TDs and ran for 991 yards and 12 scores.
Taggart resurrected the Western Kentucky program on life support before taking over at USF after Skip Holtz had run things into the ground. After a 2-10 and 4-8 baptism at USF, Taggart has taken the Bulls to an 18-7 mark including this year’s 10-2.
#24 GATORS GO FOR SEVENTH WIN TONIGHT
The 24th-ranked Gators (6-1) go for their seventh win of the season tonight against North Florida (3-5) at the UNF Arena in Jacksonville. The Gators are coming off a third place finish in the Advocare Invitational in which they sandwiched a tough loss to 8th-ranked Gonzaga between impressive wins over Seton Hall and Miami (consolation game).
In the win over Miami, redshirt freshman Keith Stone emerged as the kind of player who can solidify Florida’s rotation. A 6-7, 230-pounder, Stone has the strength to score and defend inside with the range to shoot the 3-pointer. Stone’s emergence gives Mike White a 9-man rotation to work with, something that will bode well particularly next week when the Gators face #5 Duke at Madison Square Garden.
Following the Duke game, the Gators have only two more road games before they play their first home game in the renovated O-Dome against Arkansas-Little Rock.
MALIK ZAIRE UPDATE
Notre Dame has granted an unconditional release, which includes any schools on Notre Dame’s schedule. Zaire graduates in December so he will have at least one year of eligibility wherever he goes. It’s anticipated he will get a second year of eligibility from the NCAA since he played in only 1-1/2 games before he was hurt in 2015. Zaire has made it known he’s interested in Florida, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh. Some pundits believe he is the best fit at Florida.
ACC COMMISSIONER SPEAKS OUT ABOUT THE PLAYOFF
With the distinct possibility that Ohio State will be in the final four while either Wisconsin or Penn State, who will play for the Big Ten championship, won’t, Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford made this statement to Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com:
"You do have to look at the body of work over the course of the season. Every season is a bit different and will present different circumstances. I think we'll find that to be true. We all knew coming into this that there was likely to be some controversies along the way, and this could be one of those years where you have some of those controversies. It will be a case study as to how that turns out. I don't think you can throw a blanket over any of this with the selection committee because each year is different, and in a sense unique, and that's why the committee exists."
It will be interesting to hear the reaction from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney. It must be noted that Swofford was a quarterback at North Carolina and Delaney played basketball at UNC for Dean Smith. They’re both UNC law grads and best buddies.
Following a disastrous October when 621,000 subscribers cancelled ESPN, the network got a sobering November report of another 550,000 cancellations. That’s the equivalent of losing the entire city of Dallas. Back in 2013, ESPN had 99 million subscribers but now that number is barely 88 million. It must be noted that ESPNU, ESPNEWS and SEC Network had little if any loss.
Tiger Woods played golf at a pro-am called the Hero World Challenge in Nassau Wednesday and carded two eagles, two bogeys and no birdies for a 2-under par 70. “I was able to hit all the shots I needed to hit,” Woods said after finishing his round.
Apparently, doctors have cleared Isaiah Austin to return to basketball. The former Baylor star was expected to be picked in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft when he was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome, a genetic condition that killed Hank Geathers and volleyball star Flo Hyman.
If Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks never says anything else, I won’t be disappointed. He’s a great player but I’m tired of hearing his opinions.
Chip Kelly has once again stated that he’s planning to be the coach of the San Francisco 49ers next season, emphasizing that he has no interest in returning to college football even with the opening at Oregon.
Dana Holgorsen of West Virginia is one of the 5-6 names on Houston’s short list. Also on the list is former LSU coach Les Miles.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Should the Gators actively pursue a transfer quarterback such as Malik Zaire (Notre Dame) or Jarrett Stidham (Baylor) or commit to developing Luke Del Rio, Feleipe Franks, Kyle Trask and incoming freshman Jake Allen?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Sharon Jones died back on November 18 after a long, hard bout with cancer of the bile ducts. She was 60 and much too young. Sharon Jones was one of the truly great soul/blues singers of the past 253- years. She was one of the truly great soul singers of the past 25-30 years. Today’s music is a full concert from 2010, just before she was diagnosed with cancer.