The Back Nine: Stability a key for return to Gator glory

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Florida coach Dan Mullen gestures as he speaks with members of the media during a news conference to announce the 2018 recruiting class on National Signing Day at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

The Back Nine comes at you after a great weekend in St. Augustine with my Dad and siblings, the last retreat before things get crazy around here.

10. Because not only are we in the middle of the stretch run for basketball with some vitally important games coming up (or should that say Vitale-important), but softball has its home opener Wednesday and baseball starts Friday and gymnastics is rolling and on and on we go, and, oh yeah, we’re not that far from the start of spring football and that’s where I get your attention. I used to have a T-shirt that that read, “Athens, a Drinking Town with a Football problem.” That was during the Ray Goff era. I loved that T-shirt. But it applies to Gainesville now and the people in Athens are loving life. We all have to remember that things go in cycles, even at Alabama where the Tide had three losing seasons in seven years before Nick Saban walked through the door. The most difficult part of what has happened in the last five years for Florida fans isn’t the success at other places, it’s that they know what Florida can be and to see it fall woefully short is painful. Most Gator fans have seen nirvana and I don’t mean the band. They saw the national titles, SEC titles and the 12 double-digit wins in a span of 19 seasons, all but three of those years with Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer at the controls. But to have two losing seasons in five years seemed like a place they would never have to go back to. The last time anything like that happened was in 1978 and ’79 when Florida won only four games. The most important thing right now for UF is to establish some continuity, some stability. And that may mean changing the way fans view results in the early part of the Dan Mullen Era. Your team went 4-7 last year. You may or may not have an SEC caliber quarterback on the roster. It’s not going to turn around overnight. There is a plan in place. Enjoy the process.

11. I don’t understand Florida’s basketball RPI. And yet, I do kind of get it. Here’s why it is so low for a team with wins at Texas A&M, Missouri and Kentucky and neutral site wins over Cincinnati and Gonzaga. Florida also has five wins over teams ranked 216th or lower and that loss to No. 102 Ole Miss doesn’t help. But the RPI is no longer the definitive measurement and Florida becomes a difficult team for the bracketologists to get a handle on with the new Quadrant System. For example, Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology has UF as a four seed and Jerry Palm has the Gators as a nine. After the reveal of the top 16 seeds Sunday, I’m not sure losses matter. It seems way more important to win games, win them away from home and win them against good teams. You look at the top two seeds — Virginia and Villanova — and they each have 13 Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 wins. I know, nobody said there would be math. Florida has 10 this season with the opportunities for more coming in these last three weeks. Michigan State, which was a three seed, has only seven, which is why the Spartans were where they were despite a 24-3 record. Let’s stop with all of these numbers before I get a headache.

12. If there is one thing you can consistently count on from the NCAA Selection Committee it is that there will be a lack of consistency. This matters when comparing these two teams, but when we compare these two we’re looking more at this. But then we get to the first Thursday (or the First Four in Dayton if you really are a hoops junkie) and it’s all forgotten. The one thing Florida needs to avoid is the dreaded 8-9 game where you are facing a team that’s probably just as good as you and if you win you get to play a one seed. But no matter how it shakes out, don’t you get the feeling we’re heading for one of those wild and crazy NCAA Tournaments? It’s almost become a cliche for announcers to talk about how there were so many upsets in a week because that’s every week.

13. And the SEC Tournament in St. Louis should be must-see TV. OK, so it may not feel like an SEC experience under the Gateway Arch, but it will be entertaining because the league has improved enough that there can be upsets because of how well a lower seed plays instead of how lethargic a higher seed plays. Does that make any sense? Anyway, we still have six games to go before the pairings are set and Florida fans find themselves in a strange position Wednesday night. While they are rooting for their team to get revenge against Georgia in the O’ Dome, they’ll be keeping an eye on Kentucky at Auburn. And rooting for Kentucky. Sorry, but that’s what the Gators need if they are going to have a shot at winning the conference or at least sharing the title. C-A-T-S. Right? Or would you rather concede the SEC title to Auburn and revel in Kentucky going under .500 in league play? Tough call.

14. So the worst call of the week was a technical and ejection of Louisiana Tech’s Jacobi Boykins, who had a fierce dunk and then glanced at the player he had posterized. You can find it easily on Google. It’s a terrible call, but what was really fascinating to me is that while reading about it I discovered the Ken Pomeroy rankings of all the officials in college basketball. So I was perusing the list because I have my own ideas about who is good and who stinks on ice. We know what Frank Martin thinks about Lee Cassell, who T’d him up in the Florida game. Martin, as you probably read in Kevin Brockway’s story, is angry that Cassell left for the ACC and then returned to the SEC. “I’m sure someone’s going to call me and say, ‘Why did you say that?’ ” Martin said. “And I’m going to tell them, ‘It’s what I feel and I’ve told you this before and you know that I’ve told you this in private because it’s the way I feel.’ It’s not right.’ ” That’s Greg Sankey on Line 2 (Martin was fined $25,000 by the SEC on Monday for his comments). By the way, Cassell was ranked 25th in last year’s ratings. But in the end, you just have to deal with it. Calls even out over a season. There are times when I’m sure Gator fans wish Mike White would get more demonstrative after a bad call, but so often we see a team let the calls bother them to the point where they don’t play well. That’s enough on refs. Many calls are opinions, not facts. You have to play around them.

15. Headline on ESPN Monday morning — “Top German Shepherd out at Westminster.” You HAVE to click on that story just to find out why. Owner abuse? Did he test positive for something? Did he sign with Georgia? Turns out he has something wrong with his ear that makes it flop funny. Kind of like Stephen Colbert. With Fanucci out, it’s a dog eat dog competition.

16. One thing I didn’t mention was the Winter Olympics and that is because I haven’t watched much because I’m pacing myself. It’s nothing against cold-weather sports, but ice dancing and curling are not in the top 10. Instead, we focus on baseball and softball this week, as the women have their home opener Wednesday after winning five games at USF and outscoring the opposition 42-3. Florida had more homers in the five games than it had earned runs allowed. And baseball cranks it up Friday at home. It feels like we’ve been talking about the potential of America’s No. 1 team for months. Here we go.

17. The Tweet of the Week goes to the legendary Jay Bilas, who has to go to work — “A few of the decisions in the bracket preview Top 16 seeds are laughable. I hope this was just to create controversy and discussion. Otherwise, the Committee is wasting its time.” See? I’m not the only one who can’t figure out what this committee is thinking.

18. What little I have watched of the Winter Olympics has inspired me to get to the gym with this playlist, but I think I’m underdressed. Anyone seen my rhinestone gym shorts?

• “Lemon To A Knife Fight” by The Wombats.

• “Already Gone” by Brett Dennen.

• “Don’t Matter Now” by George Ezra.

• “Hope The High Road” by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.

• And for an old one, “Radio Ga Ga” by Queen. It’s an inside joke.

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

33 COMMENTS

    • I’m for both. I think we’ll know a lot more after the O&B game this April, and of course a lot more in August. But the main thing? For the love of God, let’s not chirp and chip and drive this coach away in his first season! Not the nasty crap, anyway. He is one of us, and we already know he’s a winner.

  1. As always with you Pat you might just be the most negative writer I have ever read and it appears we can expect much the same in the future in your columns. Cheerleadering or maybe even charm school might help.

    • Not my job to be a cheerleader, G. Kelley. My job is to write what I think. The number of positive columns I have written over the years far outweighs the negative but a couple of four-win seasons will bring you down.

      • G.Kelly always makes good points, but this wasn’t one of them. All we expect is fair & balanced, and as objective as possible given being a Gator fan. But I’ll say this, you always get g’s opinion, unvarnished and from the heart.

  2. “One thing I didn’t mention was the Winter Olympics….” Who cares Pat, we can find that coverage elsewhere. The one thing one didn’t mention that matters is the near dynasty that has been built by Mike Holloway in track and field. The lack of coverage in these pages is laughable. I know you read these comments because your sensitivity to them comes out on a regular basis. Please fix this terrible oversight.

    • not just track. swimming, tennis, golf, etc, although i will give credit to pat in one respect. his comments tend to follow the fanbase size of the respective sports. for instance there is more coverage of gymnastics, softball, baseball, that some of the other sports, but these differences tend to mirror the fanbase. have you seen attendance at the gymnastics meets lately? not far behind men’s basketball. do think it’s a good point to speak up for other sports, though. the coverage tends to mirror the demand. speaking up for it will help make it happen.

  3. That was painful to read. No, you shouldn’t say “Vitale-important.” No, you never, under any circumstance, root for KY to win. Palm always has UF about 2 lines lower than they should be, and Bilas is a legend in his own mind, nowhere else.

  4. “so often we see a team let the calls bother them to the point where they don’t play well”

    YES! Totally agree with the concept that a bad call has more effect on the heads of the players and coaches than the call has on the game itself, unless maybe we’re talking about a questionable non-call at the end of a game in Lexington of course…

  5. False dichotomy. What if the above mentioned choice were applied to the former regime? Who among us would have chosen stability? If coach Mullen were to behave as nutty as MacMuffin, does the present AD keep him around for the sake of “stability?” Of course stability is something to wish for, but it can only come from one result–winning.
    Coach Mullen was a perfect choice to coach the Florida Fightin’ Gators. His bonafides are unquestionable. But all of this It will take time BS makes no sense. The 2017 team could have easily been a lot better, if not for the weird approach to coaching, i.e. a lackadaisical strength and conditioning program, feckless discipline, and a snake-bit offense so predictable, the opposition didn’t need to study any film to create a game plan.
    It only takes a moment to realize the truth, look south to Orlando or north to just beyond the Georgia line. How long did it take UCF and them Dawgs to become champions? How long did it take the HBC or Urban Meyer? Hell, Bobby Bowden got the hapless ‘Noles to 10-2 his second season!
    If you look at the very underrated talent returning and the potential shot of adrenaline arriving there is no reason to settlfle for a hang-dog, a pre-wait until next year wait until next year attitude.
    Dan Mullen is a winner. He’s smart, energetic, charismatic, confident, and I guarantee you he will expect his Gators to win every damn game they play.

  6. I agree, Gator 6, Eugenio nailed it! The line that bothered me the most from Dooley’s article was ”enjoy the process.” But as a lifelong Gator fan (my earliest memories are of Terry LeCount and Co.), this so-called ”process” has been one of the longest in my Orange and Blue lifetime!
    ”Enjoy the journey” is Mark Wise’s line, and it makes more sense. As Mark Wise is referring to ”the journey of a single season.” But in this article, Pat’s implying the ”process” could take years!
    Not exactly what we want to hear in Hogtown and beyond; a fan base that has been ”waiting” since 2009 (if we’re honest). So, ”come on Gators…”

      • ”The process” for you, Pat, and your article may have ”started the day Mullen was hired as Head Coach.” I, however, was pointing out that ”the process”, ironically, has been going on since O.C. Mullen left U.F. for Miss. State after the 2008 season.
        I could even make the argument that in 2009 (when Tim & Co. with Urban as Coach losing to ‘Bama in the SECCG in Atlanta) was the beginning of the end of a dynamic offense at U.F. (as it wasn’t nearly as dynamic as it was with Dan as the O.C.).
        ”The process” for me, as a Gator fan, has been going on every year since the 2009 season ended. ‘”Square peg, round hole”… yada-yada-yada!

    • I wasn’t bothered by that, gatorgi, but as a lifelong Gator too I do get where you’re coming from. Thing is, the process could indeed take years….or it could be the other way around too, as Eugenio points out. We just don’t know and won’t until….well, until we do know. The thing I’m focusing on is my own opinion that despite the roster turbulence last season, we did in fact have talent remaining on the field. Also my opinion that it wasn’t utilized properly, and never did gel into a team with either cohesion or hustle (aka in my world, “sense of urgency”). Again, in my world, that’s a leadership problem. If you can’t coach, teach, or mentor that leader, then you have no choice but to replace him. So here we are now, we did just that, we have a new leader in whom we all have confidence, or most of us do at least, and a really good class of new recruits. These are the reasons why I, personally, think next year will be a good season and so will next year’s recruiting class be even better, and so will the next season after that, and that we should be gaining elite status back or pretty damn close to it by the third season under Mullen. As Eugenio sustains, that’s what old Bobby Bowden did, and so did Scott Frost and so did Kirby Smart, et al, et al, et all. So as SOS famously said at the beginning of his reign, “Why not us?”. And then he did it too. Why not Mullen? (insert smiley face here, that’s a rehtorical question only, since I know you agree). Go Gators Bud!

  7. Gator Basketball fans just need to worry about the Gators, and no one else. It doesn’t matter what Kentucky or Auburn does if the Gators can’t win the games they’re supposed to win. They’ve already got too many bad losses on the record, and I’m sure there will be plenty more.

  8. It was a pleasant surprise to hear your words get so fired up about something that touched you. Who’s to say the Gator’s could’nt go undefeated this year and win it all in football, Certainly not you. My point was, it seems that if all Gator fans were the majority you would respond in a minority response. Until anything can be proven otherwise on the field, I and the majority of all Gator’s will hold out hope that just maybe, just maybe we can win it all, regardless of what stability you believe the program is in today. I was in J-ville when never ever having won and SEC and leading GA 27-13 at the half that a man on a pay phone was trying to make a hotel reservation for the Sugar Bowl. We all know the Dickey mistake that day, but I have never forgotten that man had a dream, unfortunately on that day it would not come true, but we never gave up.

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