Back Nine: Strong has learned from UF's best


Louisville head coach Charlie Strong talks with his players during practice at the Superdome in New Orleans on Monday. Louisville will face Florida in the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday. (The Associated Press)

Published: Tuesday, January 1, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 31, 2012 at 8:51 p.m.

The Back Nine comes at you from the Big Easy where I heard there was a lot going on Monday night. A Happy New Year to all of you and especially to my mother who is one of the greatest fighters of all time.Thinking about you every minute out here mom.

10. There's no telling how long Charlie Strong will be at Louisville but the fact that he turned down Tennessee is something that's rare in college football — a coach who shows loyalty to a school which gave him a chance. And the Cardinals will definitely use that when it comes to recruiting. “If he can turn down Tennessee, why can't players come to the University of Louisville?” said defensive coordinator Vance Bedford. There will be a school with a better job than Tennessee which will come along and Strong will be considered one of the hottest prospects in the country no matter what happens Wednesday night in the Sugar Bowl. But if he can find a way to beat Florida, his stock is going to be going through the roof. The man learned from the best coaches who have come through Florida — Charley Pell, Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer — but Bedford told me this week that the coach he sees in Strong the most is Lou Holtz. “He's one of the greatest teachers of coaches,” Bedford said of Holtz. “I see a lot of Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier in Charlie. He's learned from some of the best.”

11. With the Saints playing here on Sunday and the matchup that is the Sugar Bowl, there has been no buzz in New Orleans about this game. And there is very little media. At some of the news conferences there has been less than a dozen reporters. The last time the Gators were here in 2009, the national media was here because it was Tim Tebow's last game and Urban Meyer resigned and then came back. But this week has felt like the Independence Bowl. The great thing for us is that it's a BCS bowl game and the rules are different so you get so much access to players and coaches. The public relations people from the BCS bowl games actually meet before the conference commissioners have their BCS meetings to come up with rules that the schools have to follow regarding media access. It's a beautiful thing. One of the rules is that the 15 minutes of practice we are allowed to watch has to be actual practice (not stretching) and it has to be 15 consecutive minutes.

12. Sharrif Floyd has something interesting to say about coaching changes and obviously he went through one at Florida. “Coaches can pick up any time and leave,” he said. “I just try to learn everything a coach can teach me and when he moves on I learn everything I can from the next coach. It's not that big a deal.” I can tell you that spending some time with the Florida players that their attitude is right for this game. They worked too hard to get here to let a flat effort put a stain on this special season. That's the thing about bowl games — you really have to be on site to see whether a team wants to be at the bowl game. These guys definitely want to be here.

13. I spent a little time with Florida running back Mike Gillislee on Sunday and you have to feel good that his patience paid off with a great senior season. I asked him if he ever thought about transferring while he waited for his chance. “Absolutely not. I'm a patient guy. I've always had patience and not just in football,” he said. “At times, it was tough, but this was my dream come true to play at Florida. I've always been a Gator and I always will.” In this era of players taking their ball and going home if they don't get enough playing time, Gillislee's attitude is refreshing.

14. Florida had not moved the needle in ticket sales during the week leading up to the game and will probably finish with somewhere between 6,500 and 7,000 tickets sold despite not limiting the number of tickets a booster can buy. Florida's issue is not unique. Other than Texas A&M (which has the Heisman Trophy winner and is playing Oklahoma in the Aggies' home state), Vanderbilt (which played in Nashville) and Ole Miss (where fans have a short drive and are thrilled to be bowling), every SEC team is struggling to sell tickets. Part of it is the economy and part of it is the problem that college football is facing with it being more comfortable to stay home and watch it on HD. And a big part of it is a broken bowl system. But there is also the fact that you can get tickets for much cheaper going to StubHub than buying them through the school. Clemson-LSU was a great matchup in Atlanta but if you had gone online you could have gotten tickets for $27. Florida State is in Miami and cut the price of its tickets in half, but is still struggling to sell them. The bottom line is that if this game was Florida-Oklahoma or Florida-Oregon you'd have a different dynamic. There is no question Florida fans are spoiled when they can't sell tickets for an 11-win team, but it's just the way it is these days and even when we get the four-team playoff you're going to see this problem continue. But as someone once told me, the bowl games aren't for the fans. They're for the players and the coaches and the communities where they are being played.

15. I may be wrong about this, but I certainly got the impression Adrian Peterson thought he had broken Eric Dickerson's rushing record until he was told in a live interview by Pam Oliver he fell nine yards short. Still, watching that game was high drama with all that was on the line. If I had a vote, I'd give Peyton Manning the MVP and Peterson the comeback player of the year. But that's just me.

16. I wrote last week about the NFL playoffs being wide open, but I still have to pick a Super Bowl. I'll take Denver and San Francisco. But who knows? I'm just looking forward to watching.

17. The Tweet of the Week comes from Kevin Scarbinsky of the Birmingham News — “Your all-time favorite athlete? Mine passed 40 years ago today flying relief supplies to earthquake victims. Rest in peace, Roberto Clemente.” That was from Monday, the anniversary of his death. Clemente is definitely in my top 10 and I'm not a Pittsburgh fan. I remember the day I heard he was gone. It was devastating. Best right fielder ever.

18. Heard some great music out here in New Orleans. Some of it was on my iPhone. Try these downloads —- “Shadow” by Wild Nothing, “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” by Tame Impala and for the old school in you “Downtown” by Petula Clark. Have a great 2013.

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

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