This past Thursday night It was announced that North Carolina State basketball coach Mark Gottfried has been canned but will be allowed to coach out the rest of the season. North Carolina State promptly went out and lost to Notre Dame Saturday, 81-72.
Gottfried has taken the Wolfpack to four NCAA tournaments in six previous years on the job. This year the Wolfpack is 14-14 playing with a talented roster that is dominated by freshmen and sophomores.
You could make a case that the Wolfpack have underperformed this year and maybe Gottfried’s sell-by date has expired, but even so, I’m not sure NC State AD Debbie Yow has really accomplished anything by firing him this close to the end of the regular season (3 games remaining). The way basketball is with extended postseason and more than 120 teams participating past the regular season and conference tournaments (68 in the NCAA, 32 in the NIT and at least 20 more in some obscure tournaments), the successful coaches you would want to hire at NC State will be coaching well into March. So what was the rush? Yow isn’t going to be conducting interviews with anyone she would want to lead the program for probably another month so all she’s done is put doubt in the back of the mind of any potential candidate – “Do I really want to come work for a trigger happy AD?” That’s the perception after Gottfried getting the axe.
After Kentucky eked out a win over Georgia in Athens Saturday, UK coach John Calipari addressed the Gottfried situation in his postgame press conference.
"We're firing coaches in midseason. Are you s----ing me? We're firing coaches in midseason," Calipari said. "You know what I'm putting in my contract? You can fire me at midseason, but you're going to have to pay me $3 million. Oh, you'll let me stay now, won't you? Every coach in the country, put it in your contract!”
There are rumblings in Georgia that Mark Fox is on the hot seat and Cal addressed that too. Playing without best player Yante Maten, the Bulldogs were a play away from beating the blue blood Wildcats.
"They do this to us without Maten," Calipari said. "That's what kind of coach Mark Fox is. So again, 'Well, we want to win more.' No kidding. We all want to. Live with my shoes. You want to win more? We gotta win by 25 or we got problems. We win by two or in overtime, people are jumping off bridges. So we all want to win, but it's about what kind of coach he is, what kind of man he is."
I know a lot of people take issue with Calipari but he has the kind of stature in the game to maybe bring attention to this firing during the season craze. I don’t like it and think it’s a growing problem.
I didn’t like it when Joe Alleva fired Les Miles four games into LSU’s football season. Even if Miles was to be fired, after all he did for LSU in his previous 11 years he should have been allowed to finish out the season. Alleva thought by canning Miles early on he would get the jump start on luring Jimbo Fisher from Florida State or poaching Tom Herman from Houston. Well, Jimbo got a fat raise for most of his assistants and Herman played LSU like a cheap fiddle and took the Texas job. I wouldn’t doubt that both of them thought that no matter how much money Alleva put on the table, you don’t want to work for an AD as unstable as Crazy Joe. Now LSU has Coach O and while I think he’s going to surprise people and do very well, I’ll never be convinced he was anything more than the drop back and punt choice. I think besides Jimbo and Herman at least 2-3 other coaches just told Crazy Joe to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine.
I am convinced we pay coaches too much money, place unrealistic expectations on them without giving them enough time to develop a roster and that the trigger is pulled far too soon in way too many cases when it comes to firing them. I’m sure there are situations where midseason firings are justified, but I’m not sure Gottfried or Les Miles deserved it.
THE DEFENSE NEVER RESTS
The sage George Hill, NBA veteran of nine years and defender extraordinaire, once said this in a discussion about playing defense: “… We can put that [defense] in a suitcase and take it anywhere we want to. The offense may not travel but defense travels and that’s what we try to do.”
That’s what happened for the Gators (22-5, 12-2 SEC) in Starkville Saturday when they squeaked past Mississippi State, 57-52. Florida’s offense took a detour somewhere around Mobile but the defense traveled on to Starkville and held Mississippi State 21.5 points less than their normal scoring average (73.5 per game). Down at the other end of the floor, the Gators endured a bad shooting night plus turned the ball over 16 times that resulted in 17 Mississippi State points. The Gators did score the final five points of the game and they totally locked down the Bulldogs in the final 3:40 to score their eighth straight win. The critical stat was 2-23 or 8.7%. That’s what Mississippi State was held to at the 3-point line as the Gators attacked every potential shooter on the perimeter.
For the Gators to continue their winning ways with four regular season games to go followed by the SEC and NCAA tournaments, they’re going to have to play this smothering style of defense on the perimeter to compensate for the loss of John Egbunu on the inside. Kevarrius Hayes is certainly an elite level defender with real star potential but there is no backup so to protect him the Gators have to go commando on the perimeter, which is to say the basketball equivalent of hand-to-hand combat.
The Gators can clinch the double bye for the SEC Tournament Tuesday night if they can knock off South Carolina at the O-Dome.
1. FLORIDA (22-5, 12-2 SEC) and Kentucky (22-5, 12-2 SEC)
3. South Carolina (20-7, 10-4 SEC)
4. Arkansas (20-7 9-5 SEC) and Alabama (16-10, 9-5 SEC)
6. Ole Miss (16-11, 7-7 SEC), Tennessee (15-12, 7-7 SEC) and Vanderbilt (14-13, 7-7 SEC)
9. Georgia (15-12, 6-8 SEC) and Texas A&M (14-12, 6-8 SEC)
11. Auburn (16-11, 5-9 SEC) and Mississippi State (14-12, 5-9 SEC)
13. Missouri (7-19, 2-12 SEC)
14. LSU (9-17, 1-13 SEC)
Weekend SEC basketball notes: Georgia took Kentucky to the wire even without Yante Maten, who went down with a knee injury two minutes into the game. The prognosis is a knee sprain that will not require surgery but Maten is going to miss some time before he plays again. Maten is averaging 18.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game … Best performance of the weekend by an SEC player was Georgia’s 5-10 point guard J.J. Frazier, who wore out Kentucky with 36 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block and 2 steals in a losing effort … In winning its last three games, Arkansas has played itself back into the NCAA picture and taken Mike Anderson off the hot seat … South Carolina lost its second straight game and third in the last four to Vanderbilt Saturday, 72-67. The difference in the game was Vandy outscoring the Gamecocks 27-3 from the 3-point line .., For all their hype coming into the season, I think this is the second worst freshman class of the John Calipari era at Kentucky. The only one I rate behind this group is 2013.
THE HOME STREAK LIVES ON
Here is #1 Florida women’s tennis by the numbers this weekend.
The Gators beat #6 Oklahoma State on Saturday, 4-2. Oklahoma State was last year’s NCAA runner-up.
The Gators beat #5 Stanford, 4-1, on Sunday. Stanford was last year’s NCAA champion.
In winning those two matches, the Gators extended their home winning streak to 162, the largest NCAA streak of any team in any sport.
Over the last three weekends, the Gators have knocked off #18 Southern Cal, #3 Pepperdine, #13 Michigan, #12 Texas Tech, #6 Georgia, #2 North Carolina and now #6 Okie State and #5 Stanford.
The win over Okie State was impressive and hard fought and conventional wisdom was the Gators might be a little bit worn down on Sunday. Stanford, after all, came into the match rested and the Gators were facing a highly ranked opponent without a day to rest, but UF took the doubles point, won three matches and was ahead in two others when the Gators clinched.
BREAK OUT THE BROOMS
Florida’s #2-ranked baseball team (3-0) opened the season with a sweep of William and Mary at McKethan Stadium, rallying from a 4-1 deficit to win 5-4 on Friday night, then following that up with an 8-1 win on Saturday and an 11-6 whipping on Sunday.
Florida’s veterans showed up and contributed but Kevin O’Sullivan may have unveiled the 2-way star of the future in freshman Austin Langworthy, who went 4-9 with a homer and 2 RBI while playing left field and also contributed 2-2/3 shutout innings of relief. Sophomore pitcher Jackson Kowar had the most impressive outing on the mound with 10 strikeouts while giving up only 1 run and 3 hits in 5-2/3 innings on the Sunday start.
The Gators will play Jacksonville on the road Tuesday and then return to McKethan Stadium Wednesday for a rematch with JU. Next weekend, 18th-ranked Miami comes to town for a 3-game series.
FIVE STRAIGHT SEC TITLES FOR MEN’S SWIMMING
The SEC Swimming and Diving Championships could have been called the Auburn Invitational from 1997-2012 when the Tigers won 16 straight conference championships. Since then Florida has owned the SEC. Saturday night, Gregg Troy coached the Gator men to their fifth straight SEC championship. The Florida women finished seventh.
The conference championship will certainly vault the Gators (ranked sixth) past Georgia (fifth) when the new rankings come out. The NCAA championships get under way in Indianapolis on March 22.
GATORS GO 4-1 AT AQUAFINA INVITATIONAL
Florida’s #1-ranked softball team (10-1) might fall from the top spot after losing to previously winless (0-8 going into the game) Maryland Saturday in the Aquafina Invitational, 4-2. The Gators bounced back from that loss with a pair of shutouts (10-0 vs. Northwestern State and 5-0 vs. FIU) so maybe the loss served as a needed wakeup call. Florida is too good and too talented to lose to a team like Maryland. That can’t sit well with Tim Walton.
Kelly Barnhill pitched the final two shutouts and won three games in Florida’s 4-1 weekend. Barnhill’s line read 14-2/3 innings, 7 hits allowed, 0 runs, 9 walks and 32 strikeouts. For the season she has a 4-0 mark in 27-2/3 innings. She’s allowed just 12 hits, walked 10 and struck out 51.
In Florida’s 10-0 win over Northwestern State Saturday night, redshirt freshman shortstop Sophie Reynoso went 3-3 with a double and a triple and 3 RBI and freshman DH/C Jordan Roberts hit a 2-run homer. In Sunday’s 5-0 win over Northwestern State, freshman third baseman Jaimie Hoover hit a grand slam in the first inning. Hoover leads the Gators with 2 homers and 12 RBI through 11 games.
The Gators played errorless softball all five games and have committed only one miscue in 11 games. The Gators have more walks (62) than opponents have hits (38) and they’ve outscored 11 opponents 73-11.
Next up for the Gators is the Citrus Classic in Orlando next weekend in which UF will play Syracuse, Liberty, Fordham, Elon and Lehigh.
Florida’s 197.125-195.20 win on the road at Arkansas will keep the Gators ranked #3 when the new poll comes out this week. Oklahoma, which posted its third highest score ever (198.350) in a LSU, Georgia and Missouri is locked in at first place, while LSU’s 197.710 on Friday followed by a 197.975 in a tri-meet with Iowa and George Washington on Sunday assures the Tigers have a stronger grip on #2.
Against Arkansas, Gators won all four events plus took home the all-around. Alex McMurtry just missed a second straight perfect 10 (9.975) on the bars while Alicia Boren took the vault, floor and all-around titles.
Next up for the Gators is Missouri on Friday night at the O-Dome.
Maybe you’re getting tired of me saying it, but I’m tired of Beth Mowins calling any men’s basketball game, but especially one in which the Florida Gators are playing. To her credit she does a bangup job calling women’s softball games but when she calls a men’s basketball game or a football game I think I would rather spend an hour sitting in the same room with someone with long fingernails scraping them up and down a chalkboard.
I rate Doris Burke right up there with Jay Bilas when it comes to basketball analysts but Kara Lawson is a rising star. Like Burke, she is a constant stream of insight and fact and she knows the men’s game inside and out.
There is confidence and then there is Lonzo Ball’s dad. The dad of the star UCLA freshman insists his son is a better player than Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors and says, “Put my boy on Golden State and watch what happens.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver says the league and the players union need to have serious talks about the minimum age limit, which is currently 19 years. “I think it requires that we take a new look and a new approach to the issue,” Silver said Sunday in New Orleans in his state of the league address. Here’s a novel idea: Do what baseball does. Let kids be drafted and sign out of high school but those who don’t have to go to school either 3 years or until they are 21, whichever comes first.
The best studio host in all of sports is Ernie Johnson Jr. of TBS/TNT. Not only is he easily the best-prepared host but he understands when to give his cohorts (Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley) a little more rope and when to reel them in. Saturday night at the All-Star weekend in New Orleans, Ernie Jr. also got the NBA stars to raise $500,000 for his favorite charity Sager Strong, which honors the memory of he late Craig Sager.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Two-part question: (1) Are you okay with midseason or late season firings for football and basketball even if there are no egregious mistakes such as NCAA or ethics violations? (2) Why do you think athletic directors are so quick to pull the trigger and fire coaches before a season ends?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
From 1970-87, Yes was money in the bank. The band released seven top 10 albums and regular sold out arenas. The band still tours (Jacksonville last week) but only Steve Howe remains from the original group. Today’s music is the 1971 album “Fragile” which went double platinum and featured the song “Roundabout” which is considered a rock and roll classic.