The Back Nine: 12 UF programs in Top 5

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Florida baseball coach Kevin O'Sullivan talks to UF Athletic Director Scott Stricklin before the start of the season. [Lauren Bacho/Gainesville Sun]

The Back Nine comes at you after spending some time in St. Augustine and if you think it’s crowded now they may be getting spillover into Putnam Hall after the next expansion to the east.

10. Sigh. Do you feel kind of lost? There’s nothing orange and blue to cheer for. No more baseball. Softball feels like it ended a month ago. Football is still so far away you can’t even make it out in the distance. What are we supposed to do, read a book? Build something? That’s the thing about Gator sports, for close to 10 months out of the year, there is always something and usually it is played at a high level. For Gator fans, you enter most journeys — whether it be hoops or baseball or track or volleyball — with the hopes of a national title. Sometimes, they might not be realistic, but that’s what fans are for. The great Mary Howard over at the athletic department offers up this stat on the previous athletic year — 12 of the 21 sports finished in the top five nationally. Which means that more than half of the programs had a shot. That’s amazing. Now if UF can only get this football thing straightened out, the Gators might really have something.

11. Because, as we all know, it’s still the straw that stirs the athletic drink. It’s what receives the most clicks and make you buy a Sunday paper. And 4-7 is one reason that this didn’t feel like a great year for Gator athletics, even if the numbers tell you otherwise. As I wrote Sunday, we get so spoiled with championships that SEC titles are met with a shrug. Even SEC East football titles in 2015 and ’16 were greeted with the enthusiasm of a trip to the store to get milk and bread. Gator fans NEED football to be exciting and successful to really enjoy the entire athletic year. Bragging rights are an imaginary thing that are rarely brought up … except in one sport. The thing that I think is different about the fan base and its level of excitement is that this is the first time since Steve Spurrier was the coach that they feel like they are in it together with their coach and staff. Coaches can get so into their daily grind that they forget that the people who care about the program more than anybody — including the coaches and their players — are the hardcore fans. I mean, have you ever heard of a fan transferring allegiance to another school? Or a fan learning the fight song and silly cheers at a rival school because he switched sides. I get it — fans care more than anyone. That can be both a good and a bad thing. Mostly, it’s what makes college football so great.

12. And now we enter the sultry days and nights of the sports vacuum that is late June, all of July and most of August. What do we have? Baseball? While the Braves have pulled me back in, it’s 162 games and almost none of them are on TV. We have two golf majors remaining, but if they are as boring as the first two, I’ll pass. What we really need is for the SEC Network to do a better job of showing old games. They show some, but nowhere near enough. Instead, we get the SEC baseball championship game 43 times. And I’m not exaggerating. I sound like someone who is aggravated by a little sunburn and the thought that I have to spend some time outside. Where’s my floppy hat? But seriously, how many days until football season?

13. Or I could say how many days until SEC Media Days? Because that is now only three weeks away and will get our blood pumping again. We get to interpret what Ed Orgeron is saying and get scolded by Nick Saban and try to keep up with Jimbo Fisher and get to know Jeremy Pruitt. OK, so it’s not that exciting. But I know you are anxiously anticipating the preseason All-SEC teams. If you land on one of those, you get, well, nothing. It’s like Florida defensive back Marco Wilson told me the other day — “They’re going to be based on last year. They can sleep on us. I don’t care if we’re in some magazine, I just care what I do on the field.” Here’s another thing that we might not have thought about last year when the nine players were suspended. Both Wilson and CJ Henderson told The Back Nine that it hurt their development when Antonio Callaway was booted. They really wanted to go up against him every day. I think Van Jefferson will make them better defensive backs.

14. So last year and during this offseason I have railed against the inability for Florida to be any good on special teams despite having the two best kickers in the country. Now that I have calmed down, I have to admit that I knew it wasn’t all about coaching. Don’t get me wrong, coaching and the lack of attention paid to special teams was part of the problem. So was the lack of confidence to pull the trigger on trick plays they practiced on special teams ALL THE TIME. But a major factor was also the suspensions and then the injuries. When you lose so many scholarship players, there is a trickle down effect that often hits special teams the hardest. And the more important players you lose, the less likely you are to put studs on special teams. So I do get that it contributed into stats like these (you may want to avert your eyes):

• Florida was 104th in punt returns and 105th in punt return big plays.

• Florida was 108th in punt return defense.

• There were 139 kickoff reruns for 50 or more yards last year in FBS football. Florida had none of them.

• Florida was tied for last in blocked kicks with one. It came in the first game. That was it.

Thanks. I had to get that off my chest.

15. Anybody who thinks that Florida didn’t hire a certain coach because the athletic director wouldn’t let that certain coach hire his assistant coaches has been sold some magic beans. It’s a bit of a farce and I’m not mentioning names. I will say this — Florida wanted Chip Kelly and UF wanted Scott Frost, but if the Florida AD had not been so close to Mississippi State, Dan Mullen would have been the no-brainer first choice. And in the end, Florida got the perfect person for the job and may have dodged bullets. And that’s all I have to say about that. This feels like a therapy session.

16. One final thought about a remarkable baseball season. I feel like Gator fans went into the five stages of grief on Twitter and elsewhere late in the final game:

• Denial. These guys weren’t that good to begin with. They were never going to repeat.

• Anger. My gosh that calling the Hogs thing is annoying.

• Bargaining. You know, a walk here and an error and one deep fly and we’re tied and I promise to give up fried baloney sandwiches for a year.

• Depression. Has it been a year since it felt so great to see them storming the field? That’s sad.

• Acceptance. This was another great season. Winning the College World Series is hard. Florida picked a bad time to field poorly and couldn’t get clutch hits, but that’s the way the game is. As Kevin O’Sullivan said, it’s a fickle game. They were fortunate to make it to Omaha and won two games there. They were one of the last four teams playing. And we’re gonna miss guys like JJ Schwarz and Brady Singer. Well done, lads.

17. The Tweet of the Week was written Friday by someone who misses her father very much — “May 12, 1937-June 22, 2008. Ten years. Missed by millions. Missed more by his loved ones. What he taught through his actions: Do your work. Speak your truth. Be generous to those with less resources. Speak out for those with less power. Take everyone’s ego to task.” The author was Kelly Carlin writing about her dad, the great George Carlin, who is definitely on my Mt. Rushmore of comedians. I think of him every time someone comes on the radio with a weather report. “The weather for tonight — DARK. There will be scattered light in the morning.”

18. Speaking of greats, the Carpool Karaoke that James Corden did with Sir Paul McCartney was the best thing I have seen on the Interweb in years. Please Google and enjoy. And try out this playlist:

• “One of the Drunks” by Panic! At The Disco.

• “Girls, Girls, Girls” by Ana Egge.

• “Crack the Case” by Dawes.

• “My Way” by Tom Walker.

• And for an old one, “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” by The Foundations.

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

43 COMMENTS

  1. Good article, Pat. But, ”Bragging rights are an imaginary thing that are rarely brought up… except in one sport.” Well , I was jacked-up when Mike White beat U.K. for the 1st time; I was really jacked-up when Billy ‘D’ beat the Tamecats of U.K. 3X times in the same season. But like you said, ”have you ever heard of a fan transferring allegiance to another school?” Cold day in hell… Go Gators!

    • The thought has never once entered my mind, even what’s left of it, even in the darkest hours of Gator football. Although my diploma reads the University of Tampa (I couldn’t get into Florida and the thought of going to FSU, even way back then, was hateful), I have been a Gator all my life and will be ’til the day I die.

        • I’ll be damned…..your Dad was a great American and a great Gator, GI…..that’s exactly what I’ve specified too. I have a Gator helmet signed by Steve Spurrier about 20 years ago (won it at a charity auction) that I’ve instructed to be sitting in my chest.

          Of course, I’ve also instructed that there be a registered nurse sitting on my chest too, doing CPR, just in case there was a mistake………..

      • Gator-6. Uof Tampa produced some great football before dropping it when the Bucs were born. Big John Matuzak, Freddie Solomon were stars. You should value those days as well. Thanks for being a true Gator regardless of where your diploma was printed.

        • I knew both of them, as well as Paul Orndorf. Solomon was about the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet, Orndorf as well, but Tooz? I won’t speak ill of the deceased, but the SOB almost ran over me c his brand new Grand Prix after he came out as the #1 draft pick, and then threatened to beat me half to death for being in his way! I told him that I had already been beat half to death by smaller guys than him, so take his best shot. He was laughing so hard that I actually had time to walk away…..a long way away.

          I miss Tampa; I almost flunked out the first time around, but they let me come back for a second try after Vietnam, and I did OK. Great experience, good school, but my heart was always with UF,

  2. Although my lovely wife of 43 years still has 2 Mississippi St. cowbells on the shelf (her freshman year), the only 2 diplomas hanging on our wall are our University of Florida beauties. We are both Florida natives and Gators to the core. Go Gators!

  3. Chip Kelly as even a CONSIDERATION shows Striklin and others don’t know what they are doing…
    Picking Mullen really tells me they don’t…
    He’s going to be another Muschamp and , like our last “clown” of a coach, even worse…
    Right of the bat I knew our last two coaches would not lead Gators to a National Championship…
    If my opining is vaidated this year it’s time Striklin packs his bags…he’d be better off selling dogs at Doak Campbell Stadium…

    • I couldn’t disagree more. As an AD, he had to kick the tires on the top candidates. And even though I agree that Chip Kelly at UF makes no sense at all, the due diligence had to be done to make sure.

      I’m not sure how you can think Mullen isn’t the answer. He may not be at the end of the day. But as of right now I can’t think of anyone else (that we had a realistic shot at hiring) Stricklin should have hired. Coach Mullen has a great track record and was a huge factor in the successes of 10 years ago at UF. He did a very respectable job at MSU with limited resources. In my opinion, he is head and shoulders above Champ and Mac. In the SEC there’s Saban and everyone else. And Mullen is at or near the top of the list of everyone else.

      • I’m with you Gator-6…everybody is welcome to have an opinion, but you should at least throw out who you believe UF could/would have hired. Anybody that thinks we should have hired Frost is wearing Gator blinders. He was going to go home to Nebraska no matter what our Gators offered.

    • Dr. Kramer — Mullen is not as bad as you say, but it’s my belief that Stricklin would have given the job to Kelly or Frost had either of them accepted. The typical revisionist nonsense that followed Mullen’s hiring is just that — typical revisionist nonsense. Unlike Kelly or Frost, Mullen is a known commodity in the SEC that Stricklin was concerned would not be able to differentiate himself from the other Sabanesque replicants found at UGA, Tennessee, Auburn, etc. Frankly, we’re seeing that concern play out with lackluster recruiting and lack of media attention given to our program. The truth is that we’re not a hot and sexy destination for stud ballers, even with Mullen at the helm.

      • Everyone has their take on that history, Tim, but Kelly I doubt seriously. Stricklin, I believe the facts support, clearly was put off by both his arrogance and game playing while he waited for an offer from the West coast. I don’t think an offer from us was forthcoming, although some people do. My reading says different, and as Rog points out, he was only doing his “due diligence”.

        Frost is a different story. Wonderkind, hot stuff, everything said about him is true. But I think Stricklin knew two things (I said this the other day, just repeating for clarity): (1) He’s a Nebraska guy in the same way SOS was a Florida guy, and (2) there was a chance, albeit slight, that he was a “one trick pony” as they say here in Texas. As far as being young, true enough, but only 3 years younger than Dan Mullen(s). (I’d insert a smiley face emoticon here if I knew how).

        We’re not by any means having “lackluster” recruiting, Tim, but I’ll cede to you we all wish it was a little better until we consider the conditions right now. So no, we’re not a hot and sexy destination right now, and that’s our own fault to go from “elite” to “average” in the span of 7 years. Can’t cry over spilled milk tho, but by God, bud, I think we will be again downright soon. I know you have confidence in Mullen because you’ve said so….let’s give it a chance. If I turn out to be wrong and you’re right, tell you what, I’ll drive up to New York City and buy you a steak.

        Back to you my Gator…..

        • I hear you, 6…you’re correct that I like Mullen and think he’s a good fit for the program and Gator culture. I just see it taking at least 4-5 years before he gets the program back in competitive shape. Hopefully, we won’t run him out of town before then. I disagree, however, that Mullen was our first choice. I think Stricklin was looking to break the vicious and incestuous cycle in the SEC of hiring Saban-clones, most of which end up crashing and burning (just look at our own history). The lone exception is Smart, who despite last season’s accomplishments, has not truly shown that he’s top-shelf quality. Let’s see what he does this season and next. But back to Mullen, if he was truly our guy, then why did we hire Muschamp and McElwain? Stricklin was well aware that the entire SEC has reliable intel on Mullen’s coaching habits and tendencies. Plus, Mullen’s wife’s well-documented issues with G’ville and the Gator fanbase do not help. I’m completely convinced that had Kelly or Frost taken the job, Mullen would still be in Starkville. I expect that Kelly and Frost are under strict NDAs precluding them from even acknowledging an offer was made (in fact, probably requiring them to say that one wasn’t). This way we protect our reputation and control public perceptions.

          • Fair point, but I think Myer left so early and Mullen was so early in his tenure at MSU then. Of course, that doesn’t explain why Mac at all, when Mullen probably would have come out by then. Truth is, you got me there. Only the lawyers know for sure about Kelly and Frost vis-a-vis the NDAs, ie, exactly the point where I lose touch with reality.

            Guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree, bud. But you keep calling them like you see them, and I’ll keep telling you you’re wrong as a left shoe. What we do agree on is that Mullen is the MAN, just not when exactly he proves it. We’ve got some time before that steak is due one way or the other….hell, who knows, we both might be vegans by then anyway!

          • I don’t disagree for the most part but regarding Muschamp and Mac, those weren’t Stricklin hires. And…. Stricklin and Mullen have had a working relationship so Strick knew what he was getting.

            And I don’t have any inside knowledge but the word here in K-Town is that Mullen very well could’ve been the next Vol coach had the Gator opportunity not presented itself. Of course the UT Administration totally botched the coaching search so who really knows.

          • Yeah, you’re sure right about the possibility of Mullen to Knoxville, Rog. I had forgotten that, but now I do remember that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when it started coming up. The corresponding thought was, “Irony of ironies, God, we better pee or get off the pot before those damn Vols steal our man!”.

      • We’re not a hot and sexy destination because the Gator football program hasn’t done squat since 2009. That means this year’s recruits were in the fourth grade. A mirage season by Champ in 2012 and by Mac in 15 and 16 just didn’t move the relevancy needle.

        It is not revisionist nonsense to believe Mullen was the top choice. Kelly or Frost may have been at the top of the initial list but that doesn’t mean Stricklin was ready to offer them day one. After interviews, vetting, and due diligence he came to other conclusions. I haven’t seen anyone “in the know” that has definitively stated otherwise. To say that all three coaches were potential candidates…..I could agree with that. But to imply that we settled for Mullen….I’d disagree 100%. We settle for the Zooker years ago. This is completely different. Stricklin got his man.

      • Kenny c, I rarely comment on an article twice (Gator-6 replies not counting). But those who criticize Coach Mullen’s hiring still, while nearing the real college football season (only 2 more months), are still living in days gone by. I would know, I’ve done it myself at times. But unlike me, they won’t tell us who they would have offered the Gator job to, and Bruce Krammer probably won’t answer you.
        I thought about Coach Mullen’s hiring a lot, and it makes sense. And there aren’t many Coach Spurrier disciples out there. The Bruce Krammer commenter types usually only criticize, and rarely give constructive alternatives and/or thoughts.
        Coach Mullen has my full support. As I went to my 1st Orange & Blue game since 2007 this Spring. And I’m just glad we didn’t get another Colorado State type Coach (I said ‘”WHO?” when they 1st hired Mac).
        Coach Mullen knows U.F. and we know him. And he helped win a ”National Championship”, and only legendary Coach Spurrier and Urban Meyer (elite company) can say that as of today. Not a Muschamp and not a McElwain can say that. But Florida’s Coach Mullen can say ”I helped, TWICE!” And I hope he wins his FIRST EVER National Championship as a Head Coach of the Orange & Blue.
        Go Gators!

    • Wow what an ignorant comment. Some say everyone is entitled to an opinion but I say that opinion should be based on some facts or truths if not you’re just spouting bull crap. And then that reference to the semihole stadium makes me think you are probably a troll with a different name.

      • CO, you more than anyone know how I feel about unwarranted conspiracy theories about so called “FSU trolls”……but I got to tell you bud, after more than 24 hours of waiting for a reply from Bruce Krammer MD to our reasonable retorts, I’m almost convinced now that he’s yet another alter-ego of none other than our old pal, TebowCurse. Arnold shut him down a couple-three days ago, and he’s more than liable to pop back up under more than one new identity.

        Well, that’s about all the effort I’m going to put into it, back to my nap!

  4. Pat, that is an excellent observation. We fans probably do care more than anyone else… players, coaches, administrators, etc. They want to do well, but it’s their job. It’s our life!

    I could NEVER imagine switching allegiances. I was born and raised in Hogtown, went to UF for two years, graduated from another school (no, not FSU) (diploma is hidden in a closet), and now am sending two kids to UT here in Knoxville so I’m surrounded by prison orange all the time. But I’m a Gator for life and everyone around me knows it.

      • Between my wife and I, we have siblings with diplomas from FSU, Miss, St., Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Central Florida, Florida Atlantic, Troy, and her late dad was a Georgia Tech grad. We live in North Carolina and although this is ACC (basketball) country, our Gator license plates still get a lot of sneers. We endure them with sympathy for their envy! Go Gators!

        • Maybe it’s time to come home to a friendlier environment….but I get you, Dan, NC does have a lot going for it. Feel the same about Texas, but my mind still wanders back home now and then.

          My last remaining relative is a retired FHP LTC, FSU grad, and he has a summer place up there too. I love the guy’s guts tho, guess I can forgive him the FSU thing, and besides, he’s too damn big to punch out more than once!

          • Gator-6, we share much in common. My wife and I spent 24 years living in Clearwater, next to Tampa, so we have had plenty of Florida living to enjoy. We also lived just outside of Dallas for 5 years back in the 80’s, and candidly, we did not fall in love with Texas. My wife has a brother who is also retired from FHP. He’s not a Gator, but owns 2 BBQ joints in St Augustine, so that’s almost as good! We had planned to return to FL when I retired, but having previously lived in N Carolina, we chose to move back here and love it (we do get the SEC Network so life is good!) We’re happy cheering our Gators on from here, just as you have done from Texas. Go Gators!!

          • That SEC network is a God-Send, Dan. Without it, I surely would have lost my mind already out here! I was still recovering from a medical misadventure at the time of the O&B game this year, otherwise I would have been there c my FHP-FSU cousin….I made him swear he’d keep his mouth shut on penalty of an atomic wedgie like I used to give him when we were kids, before he got so big I couldn’t anymore. Talk about 10,000 yard stare just on the mere mention of it!

            Clearwater and St Augustine are old haunts of mine, burned down a lot of barns in both of them in my rather callow youth.

  5. I became a Gator in ’93, so Spurrier was already remaking college football. But I have to admit that I could not have been more excited when UF hired Urban Meyer. I had seen a few Utah games and was giddy about how he might take our offense to another level. And he did. Ultimately, the guy is just kind of a weird flake. But I’m sure I wasn’t alone in my excitement. Mullen has the energy and charm that Urban lacked, and I’m hopeful he can translate that into wins. But we can’t just pretend that the Meyer didn’t exist.

    The other thing is, and maybe this is because I grew accustomed to all sports at UF being great, I can completely buy into last year being a great year. It’s not all football for me. I went to more men’s and women’s basketball games (if we want to pine for someone, let’s pine for Carol Ross), volleyball, and baseball games than I did football games, because all of those teams were great. With the exception of women’s BB, all of our teams now have great traditions. I realize that’s relatively new, but we shouldn’t have to diminish an entire year’s worth of success because of one horrible football coach.

    • Hey, damn good point, Steve….I had forgotten that. UT sure did want him, and like you said, what the hell would we have done then? I doubt we would have gone for Kiffin, Charlie Strong is the only quality guy I can think of…..don’t think he was really interested, tho. Dunno!

    • Yeah, I just mentioned that above Lots of folks here in Knoxville think Mullen would’ve ended up the Vol coach.

      Lord only knows who the Gator coach would’ve been had Mullen not came here….. Charley Strong is the only one who really comes to my mind. Without Mullen, we could’ve been in a hurt locker…. 🙁

  6. With a performance like this I expect stricklin to be offered the moon someday soon as I’m sure he is needed in 10 places but hopefully he likes things here and same for all of the coaches. my guess is Chip Kelly knew UF wasn’t going to happen and there was a lot of show in all that. Frost came on strong but Mullen did more at Mississippi State..
    We are the luckiest fans in sports as we have a great team almost year round. Even our newspaper is better than most except it’s bizarre habit of annoying people with talk about Wil muschamp. Let s make it simple…the next time the sun feels tempted to talk about champ please write about womens gymnastics instead. Or men’s tennis. Or any of the 15 or more somethings here that has earned the attention. We even had a UF athlete in winter Olympics for skating. Anything.

  7. Switching To UF Baseball For A Few Minutes: We had a ‘good’ season…not a ‘great’ season. I don’t know if Sully has a “batting coach”, as I have never heard him mentioned nor identified. If there is one, he needs to be REPLACED! If there is not one, Sully should seek out & hire an experienced, knowledgeable and aggressive batting coach ASAP. It is very obvious the team NEEDS one desperately. Although Sully is a good pitching coach, I thought he has been a “marshmellow” when it comes to rallying the players……show some emotion….anything!

    • I too am a Tennessee Gator in that I live in Knoxville. . of all places. . with a Vol I met online. The good news is. . I converted her allegiances to Fla. Still tough at times as she marched in the UT band, later taught at the university for 33 yrs and knows all FOUR verses of “Rocky Top” (I know.. I thought only one of that hideous tune existed too.) As for baseball, I’ve actively followed our boys on the diamond since Sully arrived and have been happy with the progress he has achieved. However, I can agree on the batting coach. It doesn’t appear that some of these players get it. The hitters improved immensely from ’17 to this year but all too often, rallies died with strikeouts, weak ground outs or lazy fly balls. Coaches Bell and Weitzel weren’t noted hitting coaches when hired. An inside source tells me that current volunteer coach Lars Davis MIGHT somehow be put on salary and allowed more freedom to coach up these guys. He was a pretty fair professional player. We’ll see. I’d like to see the Gators become solid contact hitters ala Arkansas or LSU . .even Miss State. Fewer SO’s. More balls in play. It’s hard to argue Sully’s success though. He knows how to motivate. You just don’t often see it on the field.