The sky is not falling. Not yet anyway.
While football recruiting has taken a couple of serious hits in the last 48 hours, it is possible – not probable but possible – Jim McElwain and his staff can pull some rabbits out of hats and still close fairly strong. This is the final on campus recruiting weekend before National Signing Day on Wednesday and the Gators aren’t completely out of it with a number of outstanding prospects. Will Mac close the deal and finish with a flurry? Stranger things have happened, but the opportunity is there. Yogi Berra once said, “It’s not over ‘til it’s over” and we have to hope that it’s true with this football class.
A lot of fingers are being pointed at McElwain and staff as the chief culprits for the less than stellar – up to this point at least – recruiting effort. Too many coaches, it’s said, have no recruiting roots in Florida and the Southeast. The talk around the state is that neither Mac nor his staff have built strong relationships with the state’s high school football coaches and that’s troubling if true. I don’t think these guys are lazy, but I think other than Randy Shannon, Chris Rumph and Torian Gray, there isn’t another strong recruiter who gets it when it comes to what you have to do to get the job done in the state of Florida.
A lack of outstanding recruiters hurts, but the two biggest reasons the Gators are more miss than hit is an incomplete coaching staff and facilities. You can’t expect top offensive linemen, for example, to commit when there was so much uncertainty about the previous O-line coach (Mike Summers, now at Louisville) and the lack of urgency to bring in a replacement. The well publicized whiffs on Mike Locksley and Mario Cristobal were bigger blows to the recruiting effort than anyone could have expected. As for facilities, even with the sudden infusion of cash, UF is trying to catch up with the rest of the SEC. Meanwhile the rest of the SEC isn’t standing still. When UF gets upgraded its position as a bottom tier in the SEC when it comes to facilities will still be true.
Next season McElwain will be playing for the first time with a majority of the roster filled by players he recruited. He’s lost what can only be described as an NFL defense that was left behind by Will Muschamp and while nearly all of his offensive two-deep returns in 2017 these guys have yet to crack the top 100 nationally in total offense in two seasons.
On the surface, the situation looks grim but the sky is not falling. Not yet, anyway. Wait until September and October before we make that determination.
SEC ARMS RACE: BASEBALL STADIUMS/TOTAL FACILITIES RATINGS
ALABAMA: Football has fueled a serious frenzy of facilities upgrades and renovations. The football stadium is the obvious recipient, but Coleman Coliseum was renovated and practice facilities added for basketball and Alabama demolished old Sewell Field to open up brand new Sewell-Thomas Stadium in 2016. As softball has become prominent on the national level, Rhoads Softball Stadium has been expanded and renovated to capacity of nearly 4,000. Swimming, track and tennis have all gotten facelifts and upgrades. The soccer facility isn’t very good but the strength and conditioning facility is first rate.
ARKANSAS: Arkansas has committed $300 million to constantly upgrading its facilities, which already rank top three nationally and might indeed be the best in all of college sports. It seems there is a fight among billionaire donors to outdo their fellow mega rich boosters by donating so much money they get their names on buildings. Beyond football (Reynolds Aluminum family) and basketball (Waltons of Walmart), the Tysons (chicken) have made sure the Hogs have the best track facilities on the planet, which is why they regularly host the NCAA indoor and outdoor championships. The baseball stadium ranks top two or three nationally. The old Barnhill Arena was converted into a palace for volleyball and gymnastics. Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys) spent the money for an academic/dining facility.
AUBURN: Auburn has made a substantial commitment to facilities. The basketball arena is home also to volleyball and gymnastics. Swimming has one of the best facilities in the country and the softball stadium is getting a needed renovation and expansion. The tennis facilities are first rate. The McWhorter Center for Women’s Athletics houses softball and gymnastics training and offices. The Wellness Kitchen is open 24 hours and staffed with a chef to cook made to order. Dorms are exceptional and the Academics Center is first rate. The baseball stadium needs a serious redo.
FLORIDA: Since December of 2015, Florida has been on a spending spree to play catchup in the facilities race. An indoor football facility, the Hawkins academic center and the renovated O-Dome accounted for about $100 million of a $207 million infusion that will also see much needed improvements to the baseball and softball stadiums. That Tim Walton won two straight national championships and Kevin O’Sullivan has UF baseball consistently in the top five is somewhat of a miracle all things considered with facilities. About the only facility that needs no improvement is the lacrosse stadium, built completely with privately donated money. Florida gymnastics got a beautiful upgrade to their training facility. Swimming still lags way behind and is only saved by the outstanding job Greg Troy does. You have to wonder how Mike Holloway keeps winning all those national championships considering he no longer has anything for indoor (the O-Dome was a lousy excuse but at least it did give an indoor facility) and the Percy Beard Track. Don’t even get me going on the bad condition of the golf facilities. Tennis facilities are good but not great.
GEORGIA: As late as Florida got into the arms race, Georgia got in a little bit later if that’s possible. Georgia is the last SEC team to get an indoor facility for football. Training facilities for gymnastics are the best in the country and the baseball team plays in a brand new stadium. Nobody in the country has better tennis and golf facilities. Track and swimming have excellent facilities. The soccer facilities are being completely renovated.
KENTUCKY: While football has gotten $155 million for stadium renovation and a football only facility and Rupp Arena is constantly getting money for something or another, Kentucky has spent money on its other facilities. Old Memorial Coliseum saw capacity reduced by a third from 11,500 and now it’s one of the best women’s basketball/volleyball/gymnastics venues in the country. At some point someone needs to do something about Cliff Hagan Stadium, easily the worst baseball park in the SEC. Softball facilities are only slightly better. Indoor track shares the Nutter Field House with football.
LSU: There is always money for football but LSU doesn’t neglect its minor sports. Alex Box Stadium is the best college baseball park in the country and there is talk of expanding capacity to more than 15,000 since sellouts of more than 11,000 are the norm. Tiger Park gives softball one of the best facilities in the country. The Bernie Moore Track Stadium and Carl Maddox Field House give LSU top five national outdoor and indoor track facilities. The Cox Communications Academic Center is extraordinary. The soccer stadium has been renovated and it’s one of the best in the SEC. Golf and tennis have great facilities. The natatorium is dreary and needs upgrading.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Before he left Mississippi State to take over as Florida’s AD, Scott Stricklin unveiled plans to turn 15,000-seat Dudy Noble Field into a 17,000-seat stadium that ranks with the better AAA stadiums in the country. The soccer stadium is outstanding and the Mike Sanders Track Complex and A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre are first rate. The old McCarthy basketball facility was converted into an indoor tennis center. Golf uses the Old Waverly Club and softball plays in a fairly average facility.
MISSOURI: The athletic park is one of the best designed complexes to house an entire athletic program in the country. The Hearnes Center, which used to be the home of the basketball team, now houses volleyball, wrestling and indoor track and field. The Mizzou Aquatic Center is exceptional. The baseball and softball stadiums both need upgrades. Soccer and outdoor track share the same stadium.
OLE MISS: As part of the $200 million Forward Together campaign for facilities which included bowling the football stadium and adding a new basketball arena, the track and field complex got a complete overhaul and tennis facilities were expanded. Swayze Field (baseball) got a $13 million facelift. The Manning Center, already one of the best facilities in the country, has gotten constant tweaks. The golf and soccer facilities are extraordinary.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Football is the cash cow for the program but substantial upgrades have been made in all sports. South Carolina has one of the five best college baseball stadiums in the country. The Volleyball Center has been expanded and renovated while soccer and softball have gotten cash infusions to improve their facilities. The Dodie Anderson Academic Enrichment Center is a state of the art facility that also has dining and nutrition facilities for all athletics. Tennis got a brand new complex in 2012. Track and swimming are due for upgrades.
TENNESSEE: While most of Tennessee’s massive athletic department debt has everything to do with football spending and the cost of renovating Thompson-Boling Arena, the other facilities haven’t been neglected. The Jones Aquatic Center, Goodfriend Tennis Center, Tom Black Track and Cronan Volleyball Center are outstanding. Regal Soccer Stadium is one of the top three in the SEC. The Thornton Athletics Student Life Center houses the academic facilities.
TEXAS A&M: The $450 million spent to demolish and rebuild Kyle Field didn’t break the bank. Only God and the Longhorns have more money than the Aggies, who are constantly spending on facilities. Blue Bell Park is an outstanding baseball stadium and softball got a complete renovation after last season. Golf, tennis, soccer and volleyball all have outstanding facilities. The Aggies have a dedicated indoor track stadium as well as an outstanding outdoor facility. About the only thing that needs an upgrade is the swimming facility.
VANDERBILT: They don’t spend a lot on facilities at Vandy. Indoor track shares the indoor football facility. Soccer and lacrosse use the same stadium. Tennis has a nice facility and outdoor track has a very average running surface. The baseball stadium provides one of the more scenic venues in college baseball with its version of the Green Monster in left field.
How I rate the SEC baseball stadiums:
3. South Carolina
4. Texas A&M
6. Mississippi State
7. Ole Miss
How I rate the SEC top to bottom in overall facilities:
2. Texas A&M
6. South Carolina
7. Ole Miss
13. Mississippi State
Remember 2008 when Billy Donovan booted the Gators out of the practice facility and took away all their Gator gear just before the NIT? The Gators made it to the NIT Final Four in New York in response. Billy isn’t the only one who uses that tactic. Coach K, who has taken the month off because of back surgery, called his Duke basketball team to his house in Durham Tuesday night to inform them they have been booted out of the locker room and forbidden to wear their Duke gear until further notice. Duke is 2-3 since Coach K had the surgery and says the Blue Devils won’t get their locker room and apparel privileges back “until they start living up to the standards of the Duke program” according to ESPN. Duke was predicted to be a Final Four participant but the Blue Devils are looking like a team that will be gone after the first weekend.
Remember when UCLA hosed Kentucky at Rupp? Well, UCLA has been exposed as a very beatable team in a week in which Villanova, Kansas and Kentucky have all had their flaws blown up and shown to the world. What this week has taught us is there are a lot of very good teams this year but right now it’s hard to see a great one emerging. Gonzaga is unbeaten (21-0) and if the Zags continue their unbeaten ways they’re going to emerge as the overall #1 seed for the NCAA Tournament. Do I think they’ll run the table? There’s a reason no one has done it since Indiana in 1976.
Former West Virginia and FSU QB Clint Trickett, son of FSU OL coach Rick Trickett, will be a grad assistant at Alabama.
South Carolina is paying OL coach Eric Wolford $500,000 and WR coach Bryan McClendon $515,000.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Do you believe Jim McElwain and the Florida football staff can close fast and dramatically improve Florida’s recruiting fortunes between now and next Wednesday?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I heard Deep Purple’s version of the Billy Joe Royal hit “Hush” today on the radio and it’s been in my head ever since. So, here it is, the first cut on The Very Best of Deep Purple, which is today’s music. I heard the band live in Melbourne in May of 1969 when Ritchie Blackmore was fronting. I think it took a week for my hearing to return to normal.