UF epicenter of some of biggest college sports stories of ’17

Dan Mullen is challenging UF fans. (Alan Youngblood/Staff photographer]

The older you get, the more you realize a couple of things.

  1. It wasn’t better when you were younger, it’s just that you are struggling with everything new.
  2. Youth is still wasted on the young.
  3. There wasn’t hair growing there yesterday.
  4. Sports memories are an annual excursion.

Every calendar year is going to be filled with moments you will remember the rest of your life, and yet, you know that there will be a bunch of them next year.

Even the most indelible snapshots have an amazingly short shelf life in the present. When Chris Chiozza hit “the shot”, it was all we talked about for weeks, but Florida’s remarkable run in the NCAA Tournament lasted only another 36 hours before it was snuffed out like a campfire in a rainstorm.

The “Heave to Cleve” was one of the best plays of 2017. It was only 43 days later that Florida’s football coach was fired and the Gator season was headed for a landfill.

Alex McMurtry won the national championship in gymnastics on one night, but a day later Florida fell short and left St. Louis disappointed. Mary Wise got to within one win of her first NCAA volleyball title before the bubble of swollen pride was popped.

The point is that these memories fly by like the rabbit being chased by greyhounds and the ones you choose to pull out and place into your mental scrapbook depend on you.

So will the way you remember 2017.

You can remember that Tom Petty left us or that incredible celebration at the end of the third quarter of the LSU game. You can remember the O-Dome rocking or the way you felt walking out after a loss.

Perhaps your most vivid memory is not Florida related. Maybe it’s a Falcons’ collapse in the Super Bowl or the Warriors beating the Cavs or maybe it wasn’t sports related at all.

But this much we know for sure — Gainesville was the place to be if you wanted big sports stories this year.

They came fast and they came furious.

And not all of them were good news.

For me, these were the 10 biggest stories in our little world for 2017.

  1. And yet, here’s the thing

In his first two seasons, Jim McElwain won a pair of Eastern Division titles, 19 games and went 13-3 in SEC play. Just seven games into his third season, he was fired after telling the media about death threats without first reporting them to his bosses. This was the excuse UF needed to get rid of a coach who never connected with his fan base and was often critical of the administration.

  1. Mullen it over

Florida flirted with Chip Kelly, who wanted nothing to do with the SEC and the fishbowl that is Florida football. Reluctantly because of his ties to Mississippi State, Scott Stricklin turned to Dan Mullen and the two needed only two days to work out the deal. Florida had a new coach, new optimism and a new shoe brand.

  1. Use the Schwarz

His sister had done it twice, but JJ Schwarz finally got a chance to have the ball in his glove for the last out of the season. Florida finally won the baseball national title in two incredibly tense games against LSU. Hmm. Florida beat FSU for its first football title, UCLA for its first basketball title and LSU for its first baseball title. That’s how you do it.

  1. Cheese stakes his claim

It has to be considered the best single shot in Florida basketball history, right? Mike Miller’s in 2000 was big, but it was a 7-footer. This was a 3-point floater. Even though Florida missed out on a chance to make another Final Four less than two days later, everyone still remembers where they were when Chris Chiozza’s shot went in.

  1. Two more titles

Men’s track and field and women’s tennis both won national titles and even though some people’s perception of how a year went is based on how the football season finished, most of the Gator Nation takes pride in what all of the sports accomplish. In fact, only two of UF’s 21 sports were not ranked at some point this year.

  1. The Knucklehead Nine

You could make an argument that the season-long suspension of nine Florida football players before the campaign started was the biggest story of the season because of the damage it caused to the program. It’s also the longest-running story of the year because it has not completely been resolved.

  1. Close encounter

The volleyball season was terrific, as Florida lost only once during the regular season, but it really heated up in the postseason. The Gators won a five-setter at home and in the Final Four and owned the Pac-12 beating UCLA, USC and Stanford to get to the final.

  1. Eight days a week

In the span of two Saturdays, Florida’s football team had two of the most unlikely wins of any season. First, it was the touchdown pass from Feleipe Franks to Tyrie Cleveland, who somehow got behind Tennessee’s defense, and then the win over Kentucky when the Gators scored twice because the Wildcats failed to recover UF receivers. It was bizarre and also an indication that Florida would need luck to win games in 2017.

  1. Softball after dark

You had to stay up late for a lot of Gator sports this year and certainly softball was no exception. Florida again made the final where it lost two epic games to Oklahoma.

  1. Mother is angry

It wasn’t enough that Mother Nature caused 10 hours of rain delays in the Gainesville baseball regional. For the second season year in a row, Florida lost a game to a hurricane. The Tennessee game also had fans nervous in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma before it was finally allowed to be played.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

 

Pat Dooley :

View Comments (25)

  • Terrific article, Pat--one of your best. So there you go, I'll take the heat c you for whatever the hell is wrong c it! Seriously though, makes me want to live closer to home; appreciate it and hope you're recovering well.

    • GATOR-6, what does "c" mean? You use it a lot in your comments and I can't figure out what it means and I'm sure others can't either.

      • Sorry about that, Gatormark....I'm retired and it's just a residual habit I got into WITH the advent of the damn electronic medical record, which ironically costs you more time, not less, and all the business transacted between faculty on internal email in which we used a lot of brevity codes. It's what Mike (below) said. I thought I was getting better about not defaulting to it, but obviously I slipped again. Just trade code that has no bidness here, I will double my effort not to be so sloppy and confuse my Gator pals. Thanks for pointing it out, bud.

        • for many many years for the sake of brevity (and some laziness) I would use
          w/ for "with". I also wondered what the heck "c" meant. Thanks for clearing it up.

          • Believe me, the older I get the lazier I get, and I ain't ashamed of it at all! Sometimes I'm even too lazy to even be lazy enough to spend time sitting on the front porch smoking cigars, cussing, and throwing rocks at passing cars. That's what the college football off-season will do to you, I guess, but it sure beats working 12 hours a day.

  • Great list Pat. I would have ranked that 17 inning softball game a bit higher. But for me Football is #1 and Softball is #1A.

    Continued success on your recovery.

  • Great list! Another tiny sub moment in time was missing the extra point against LSU. If Eddie had made it, would it have been different in the game and season??? Likely not?

    • Likely not DeWayne, IMO. But interesting question, huh? Unless, you know, it might have sparked momentum that landed us in the CFB Playoffs, right? Oh hell, I forgot to take my meds today, my bad.

  • I Know it's all water under the bridge now, but I get annoyed with the idea that Coach Mac only got fired because he didn't connect with the fan base or administration, that the death threat thing gave them an excuse, but that otherwise he was successful on the field.

    While the death threat did give them an excuse to fire for cause or at least get out of part of the buyout, and while it is true that he didn't get along with the fans or the admin, the truth of the matter is he did a poor job of coaching the football team too. Like anything in life, smart people have to look beyond records and division titles. The reason he had a decent record and won the East is because the East was horrible- the worst it has ever been. He struggled to beat bad teams, and he did it with Muschamp's defense. Anytime his Gator teams played good teams, they were not just beaten, but absolutely destroyed. His teams didn't even belong on the same field. The peak of his triumphs was in his first season vs. Ole Miss. We thought that was the beginning of great things, but little did we know that was as good as it would ever get, and it would never get that good again. He was brought in to fix the offense, and he failed miserable. On top of that, he was not a good recruiter. Once his defenses were no longer good enough to compensate for bad offense, it was all over. The curtain was pulled to reveal the disaster. It was pretty clear, early on in the third season, things were getting worse, not better. It had to be clear to the administration that it was only a matter of time before they would have to fire him for poor performance on the field as well as his poor performance off the field. Then came the incredibly stupid, and totally unsubstantiated, comments about death threats. He was screwed either way at that point- either he made it up, or he didn't report threats to players. Add all of this together, and the Strickland really didn't have much choice.

    I wish the guy the best. I really do. No hard feelings, just business. But make no mistake about it, he failed as a football coach. It wasn't just a matter of not fitting in. Hopefully he will learn from he experience and better luck next time.

    • I just bet you would have taken one of those diluted East championships this year. We are getting humbled for our delusional outlook on Gator Football . Never apologize for Championship’s of any kind , yet the Gator fan base spit on the last two. You are getting what you deserve. We are not as good a program as most of you think we are . Reality is a biotch.

      • Well, we DID take those "diluted East championships", Louis. Why not? We earned them, didn't we? I know you did say, "Never apologize for championships of any kind", true, true, fair enough. I don't think, though, that the majority of us were as delusional as you seem to believe. We knew we were often lucky when we won, and we knew that we had in the course of 6 or 7 years gone from being elite to at best, average, and at worst, embarrassing. We knew that some of us were probably making too much out of those East championships....hell, being clobbered twice at the end of the year by Florida State and Alabama was enough to remind a blind man of it. So no, we are not as good a program as you think that we think we are. We know it, buddy, and we're tired of it. We haven't played Gator football in a long time now, and we know that too. Why do you think most of are so excited right now about the real promise in front of us? Or, are we being delusional about that too?

    • Patrick, that was about the best, most succinct analysis of that situation I've read in a long time. And yet (insert smiley face here), I can't help but agree WITH Sly as well. Let me be clear though, moving forward, at the end of the day (sorry, all the appropriate buzz phrases I can think of at the moment)....the good news is that we've survived the last two regimes somewhat intact, it's over, and we're finally moving forward with real promise this time. Go Gators!

      • I understand where you guys are coming from, but I think you guys are missing something. That is- McElwain wanted out too. If he had not wanted out, they likely would have fired him for cause, but as reasonable adults with mutually beneficial desires, they were able to avoid a legal battle while both parties saved face and saved some money. Look- it wasn't JUST an excuse to fire him. They really had no choice once he made the claims and then continued to screw that up without simply fessing up to the administration that he either lied/exaggerated or failed to report. Grown men know when you make a major mistake, the best thing to do is fess up and try to make it right. He didn't do that, and he continued to make statements to the press that were far from acceptable. "I will take care of threats against students myself unless it gets out of hand," is WAY unacceptable, and the administration could not just let that go. No administration could. It also displays incredibly poor judgement on his part, and perhaps someone very stressed, subconsciously wanting out, and sabotaging himself. So they probably could have fired him for cause, but a bitter, drawn out legal battle is never in anyone's best interest if it can be avoided. I think they did the right thing. But again, from a football perspective, if this had not happened, he was going to be fired either at the end of the season or early next season because his offenses were utterly incompetent. He was hired first and foremost to fix the offense.

        • That's trying to rationalize and justify Stricklin's slimy actions. To speculate that McElwain wanted out and wanted a mutual parting is like saying the victim asked for it. Like I said, I know the majority will probably disagree with me. This is an over generalization but in today's culture, particularly in the legal and financial professions, it's OK to rationalize despicable ethical behavior to achieve the desired ends. It's not about truth, honor, character, and doing the right thing anymore; it's about whether one can get away with it. Just take a look at who our electorate voted for President. How many people are willing to overlook his character because they agree with him and his party on certain issues. Don't think the other party isn't at fault either. The candidate they put up in the general election isn't trustworthy either.

          • GATOR-6 - Thank you. You are a true gentleman. I just don't believe changing the narrative as the means to an end is the conscionable thing to to. I do recognize that's how this nation operates in the current era.

          • You know why you're so hard to argue with, Sly? You make clear points, that's why. But here's the deal--I'm not really arguing with you and I take your points on the ethical level too. I think, though, that Patrick is likewise exploring the potential for Mac to have at some level been looking for a way to end it as well....hence, the speculation. I can see that as well from my camera angle, but it'll remain just that--speculation--since none of us have the means to actually know c any significant or sufficient threshold of confidence to proclaim it absolutely so. At any rate, none of these points are really mutually exclusive so they do not cancel out one another. This is one of those situations where the outcome is absolutely multi-determined, I think.

        • Again well put and very coherently developed thesis at that, Patrick. I do think you're correct, i.e., McElwain wanted out too, and most of us overlook that because the salient indicators were very subtle indeed. Perhaps he saw the writing on the wall, or he was in over his head and finally recognized it, or maybe Florida expectations were just too much for his personality style, regardless. It's one thing being an assistant in the SEC and being a head coach in the SEC, where the buck definitely stops with sudden finality (frankly, as it does in virtually all Power-5 conferences, especially with all the contemporary parity between leagues these days) and relative success in a mid-major conference does not always have the predictive power its alleged to carry. His notable conflicts with his higher headquarters, often in public, might have been known or unknown but they were definitely subject to discovery one way or another. Any road, these were the same administrations and facilities that Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier had great success with. To the point of self sabotage, I would not rule that out either, as you pointed out as well. I won't go into that, obviously, other than to say that the one cannon in modern clinical mental health is that "No behavior is random" (taking into account all the previous public conflicts with administration, the unfounded allegations, etc). All in all, though, this was a very sad era in Gator football, as was the era before it (although different dynamics in play). It doesn't really matter any more, though, and that corner has been turned--hopefully for good. I also wish him well despite of all the drama and disaster that surrounded him here......

    • "While the death threat did give them an excuse to fire for cause or at least get out of part of the buyout..."

      I know most fans will disagree with me but that's absolutely the slimiest way for a respected institution of higher learning to do business. While it may be a good business decision, it's a poor ethical one. While the bedrock of Gator athletics is "winning with integrity", the administration showed little. If you are going to fire someone, fire him and pay the price. Don't use some lame excuse to weasel out of paying full price and make it look like a "mutual" agreement.

  • ''...beat FSU for its first football title, UCLA for its first basketball title and LSU for its first baseball title. That’s how you do it.'' Best line in quite a while, Pat! Hope you're jumping rope, and banging bank-shots soon (or just walking on a treadmill). Lastly, I hope (and pray) Cheese's 3 point shot against Wisconsin (to get U.F. to the ELITE 8) isn't Coach White's Ole Miss game (see: Mac). And Patrick, above, nailed about Mac.
    Go Gators! Beat Vandy!

  • Soon we'll start to make more connections with 'Mother Nature', not just to sports, but to other parts of our lives. We see more and more the consequences of climate change - and while you may not directly see it as being a 'sports story' to remember, it is THE story across everything in our lives. I'm mentioning it here because we need to be accurate in what we are attributing things to. Our changing climate has been, remains and will be a human problem. Hopefully, we won't be too distracted with the sports stories to see that - and soon start acting accordingly.

    • Were I half as enlightened as you, there's no telling what I could have achieved in life. Sadly, I must go on depending on people like you to tell me what and how to think. Cry havoc! What a wasted life.

  • SLY--I really do get where you're coming from vis-a-vis changing narratives as a means to ends. In particular, when you refer to "how this nation operates in the current era", it really reverberates with me. I think it's the culture we've morphed into that is the culprit, which has essentially balkanized and polarized us to the extent that ethical behavior is not the same valued thing across the board that it was years back. I think you're looking specifically to the new AD, and of course there are two ways of looking at that as well, one expressed by Patrick in terms of practicalities, and the other expressed by you in terms of pure ethics. I have a lot of trouble with "situational ethics" myself, but have probably been guilty of it too. Kind of like, years back, the Colorado 5 down touchdown.....had the Colorado coach been a true sportsman, he would have pointed out the error and declined the score in all fairness. Despite him being an otherwise good man, he didn't. He took the win, which he knew he didn't really deserve, and let it go. Was he right, sort of right, sort of wrong, or just plain wrong? Therein lies the rub.