The Back Nine: Florida still has plenty to celebrate

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Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. [Alan Youngblood/Gainesville Sun]

The Back Nine comes at you after what felt like a week in the press box at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. And we had air conditioning and ice cream.

10. When Florida did not win the SEC All-Sports Trophy for the first time in 13 years, it was mathematical validation that this was a down year for Gator sports. This is the monster that has been created and nurtured and sometimes leads fans to the ledge in the Gator Nation. But in this “down year” for UF sports, there was only one team in the nation that:

• Won a major bowl game (playoff or New Year’s Six).

• Made it to Oklahoma City and the Women’s College World Series.

• Won a game in the NCAA basketball tourney.

• Made the field for the NCAA baseball tournament.

• Reached the Final Four of the NCAA men’s tennis tournament after winning the regular season SEC title.

• It’s men defended its NCAA Indoor Championships team title.

Yeah, down year. And that doesn’t include all of the other successes by Gator teams. It was not a spectacular year for a program that is so used to excellence, but it still had its moments and plenty to celebrate. From the Peach Bowl to men’s tennis to what we saw Sunday at the softball stadium, there are a lot of places who pine for a year like this. The final game on campus for the academic year is over and that is always kind of sad, but there are still potential highlights to come.

11. It has felt all year like everybody was playing for third in women’s softball because Oklahoma and UCLA seem so dominant and both made it to Oklahoma City. Florida’s almost-annual trip there was borne out of one game, that come-from-behind win over South Carolina in the first game of the SEC tourney. If Florida doesn’t do that, it is not hosting the Super Regional and the crowd played a major factor in winning an intense series over Tennessee. It does feel almost like Florida is playing with house money in Bricktown, but one thing gives the Gators a puncher’s chance. And you can guess who I am talking about. “I know she’s gotten roughed up at times,” said Tennessee co-coach Karen Weekly of Kelly Barnhill. “But experience-wise someone who has thrown a lot of innings on big stages since her freshman year and she takes responsibility for the team when she goes out there. She owns it. When you have someone owning it like that you always have a chance.” Barnhill’s Sunday performance has to go into the weathered pages of Florida athletics history as one of the greatest I’ve witnessed. I was like a lot of people who wondered where she was physically and mentally after the last regular season series. Now we know … She’s in OKC.

12. It would have been interesting if Florida’s baseball team had also been sent to Oklahoma City for its regional (ninth-seeded Okie State is hosting), but Florida getting into the tournament is all that matters. It’s a tough regional because Dallas Baptist has a strong program (making its eighth regional in nine years) and Texas Tech had a great season. But the Gators are in and a couple of weeks ago there weren’t a lot of people who thought they had a chance. Anyway, you could have a doubleheader Friday night if UF softball wins its opener in OKC — baseball at 8 p.m. and softball at 9:30. Be sure to hydrate and get a nap. I know I will.

13. For every positive thing that happened to you as a sports fan this weekend, it certainly was a somber one. We lost three really special people and it stinks. Gerry Fraley was a friend of mine and one of the toughest, most professional writers I ever dealt with. He didn’t suffer fools well, especially guys with mini-cams who thought they owned the interview space. But he had an incredible caring side and treated media members he respected like they were kings. Bart Starr was the first superstar I can remember as a kid. He was the 200th draft pick and is in the argument for best quarterbacks ever. Rod Bramblett was another who had a level of fame but went out of his way to make people feel welcome and special. Sometimes the simplest words are the most powerful for an announcer, like the famous Kick Six when Bramblett screamed into the mike, “AUBURN’S GONNA WIN THE FOOTBALL GAME!” Beautiful. All three will be sadly missed and never replaced.

14. Come on down, Toronto. Come on down to a different world because there is nothing like the NBA Finals. It was nice for LeBron to join a glorified G-League team and let someone else win the East. It could be an interesting series, but it’s hard to believe the Warriors got here again and aren’t going to keep the foot on the gas, even if they could have taken an around-the world cruise in the time between the end of the Western Conference finals and the start of the last series of the year.

15. So I read this big ESPN piece on Jim McElwain and it included “dead fish” quote, the shark and a couple of “pretty cools” and the fact that the McElwains are living in a barn in Central Michigan. But I was struck by this one quote from the former Florida coach that pretty much took the high road to sum up his time in Gainesville: “There were people there to help, and I just didn’t use them,” he said. “I’m one of those guys that’s always tried to figure out how to fix it, whatever it might be. They deserved to win, and I didn’t get that accomplished. That is what it is. I probably wasn’t a very good fit, and in this business, there is a lot to be said about that.” OK, so some of that high road might be because of the financial agreement between him and Florida, but I think he’s being genuine. He was not a good fit in a lot of ways, from the bunker mentality to dealing with the media. But I always liked him and thought he was a genuinely good person. Meanwhile, on the other end of the scale (and you can take that any way you want to), Urban Meyer said this weekend he thinks he’s done coaching, but hasn’t ruled out a return. My, how Ohio State fans will turn on him if he’s at USC or Notre Dame in 2020.

16. Former NCAA champion Nick Gilliam still has some game. The Gainesville resident and Gator grad won the local BMW event at Haile Plantation, won the next round at Pinehurst and went to Cabo, all expenses paid, and won there. As a result, he will be in the BMW FedEx Cup Pro-Am at Medinah in August. Nick will be playing for GiGi’s Playhouse Gainesville, a great organization that was the first Down Syndrome Achievement Center in the state. Hey, Nick, need a caddy?

17. The Tweet of the Week goes to Fox Sports researcher Michael Mulvihill — “With 13.6 million live viewers, the Game Of Thrones finale would have ranked 71st among all NFL games in live viewership last season.” I will leave that there without comment.

18. I’m taking a break today from finding YouTube versions of the playlist because like a lot of people who spent three days at softball, I am spent. Still, these are some dandy tunes:

• “Weird Like Me” by Slingshot Dakota.

• The new version of the great Byrds’ song “Bells of Rhymney” by Jacob Dylan and Beck from the new “Echo in the Canyon” soundtrack.

• “Ain’t This the Life” by Ted Lennon.

• To get your heart started after a long weekend, “Got You” by Amyl and the Sniffers.

• And for an old one in honor of the movie “Rocket Man” coming out, “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John, which is my favorite by Reggie Dwight.

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

30 COMMENTS

  1. While I can certainly appreciate anyone liking Mac, unless it was inspired by fake news I just can’t wrap my head around the issue of “death threats” in the middle of his tenure unraveling and the associated character issues that engendered. Unless of course, that was all fake news. I’m not sure which troubles me more, but I was in his corner up until then.

    • The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand wasn’t the cause of WWI but it was the trigger. My take is that the death threats wasn’t the central issue but it was the straw. With all the crazy fans, it would be foolish to conclude that there weren’t any death threats, especially with some of the bad losses. Mac chose not to disclose the details, to his demise, probably to protect his players who could have retaliated with death threats of their own. Don’t get me wrong. Mac had a lot of faults and he was on the hot seat. He was probably going to get fired at the end of the season but Stricklin used the death threats in an attempt to cheat Mac out of his buyout. How did that work out?

      The main issue was the disagreement between Mac and Stricklin over the direction of facilities. Facilities was the cornerstone of the program Mac wanted to build. At the time, there were a lot of momentum in facilities improvements. The stand alone football facility, which was the center piece of the plan, was on deck to be built. Stricklin came in and wanted to establish he was the alpha and create his own legacy. He wanted to delay the football facility and use that allotted funding to pay for a brand new baseball stadium. He manipulated fans into believing the old plan is garbage and his plan was better. Of course anything can be made bigger and improved if you throw more money at it but I don’t think a 100,000 SF facility at a cost of around $50M+ is garbage. That ended the facilities momentum because not much dirt got turned over the next two years while they went back to the drawing board. Needless to say, Stricklin’s plan didn’t sit well with Mac. Stricklin used the death threats and the fan furor over the lack of offense and bad losses to get rid of an impediment to his legacy. Now that the new baseball stadium is underway, the football facility is still on the back burner due to lack of funding. Otherwise, we would be seeing tweets of the demolition of the old baseball stadium and ground breaking photo ops by now. Wasn’t it supposed to start at the end of this baseball season? I don’t think we will be playing any more baseball games in there this year.

      I’m sure this article will bring out a big party for the Butters Bashing Club. Keep in mind that Stricklin has a marketing background and marketers are master manipulators. He’s good at manipulating the fans but he’s not very savvy with legal, contractual, and financial matters. He’s successfully manipulated fans to focus their anger on Mac and away from facilities.

      • Sly, while I agree on some of your points, the one thing you didn’t mention that has completely changed my opinion on Mac, was the strength program. If the stories about players having to go outside of the program for working out are true,,,I don’t see how Mac could have ever gotten the program back to an elite level. If true, that alone should have gotten him fired. His “aw shucks” attempts will only get you so far, then results have to match expectations.

        • I get what you are saying. Mac may not be of the caliber to get us back to the elite level. He certainly had some faults and evidence that support that thesis. However, he far exceeded everyone’s W-L preseason predictions in each of his two full seasons, albeit with offensive production lacking. Yes, the SEC East was weak during those years but everyone knew that beforehand and should had factored it into their predictions. To his credit, Mac found a way to win with a bad hand. Sometimes, you win with a pair of deuces because everyone else has a bad hand. In spite of not starting the job with the name recognition among Florida high school coaches and recruits, his recruiting had turned around and was going well by the third year. His next class was ranked #7 with the following year ranked #1. The commitments may not have stuck until NSD with the way the season was going but if I remembered correctly, they did stick for a couple months even after the firing. It didn’t begin unraveling until the decommitment of Matt Corral who Mullen did not favor. In short, I do think Mullen is an upgrade which I am happy about but we are also paying him 1.5X Mac’s salary. I’d expect that. If we paid someone 1.5X Mike White’s salary, I’d expect an upgrade in basketball too. I don’t think it’s fair to vilify Mac because we got what we paid for and he exceeded W-L expectations, just not in offensive production.

          Reports of players paying for strength and conditioning outside the program is certainly deeply troubling. Have we gotten any names of the players or were they just from “reliable” and “trustworthy” anonymous sources inside the program? Why did the players do it? The closest I’ve seen is the article in which Taven Bryan’s dad was critical of his son’s conditioning when he returned to Wyoming during the summer and there are anecdotal evidence to suggest that the SC program was lax. It certainly wasn’t as rigorous or structured as what we have now with the Savage program by all reports.

          • So the only way you’ll believe the stories about the S&C program is if you see actual names? All you had to do was watch a game in person to see the difference in the size and physicality of basically every team they faced. They were constantly getting manhandled and were completely gassed midway through the second half of games under Mac. You couldn’t see the difference in not only how they looked physically, but how they played and got stronger in the second half of games under Mullen? That’s not enough proof for you to accept how terrible the S&C program was under Mac? Sly seriously, are you related to him?

          • Joe – To be clear, I’ve stated that Savage’s program is better. As a rule, I discount any news that come from anonymous sources. I’ve yet to hear of the names of the players, the number of them, and their explanation of the circumstances of why they chose that route. Until then, it’s group think and conjecture.

          • “… Stricklin came in and wanted to establish he was the alpha and create his own legacy. He wanted to delay the football facility and use that allotted funding to pay for a brand new baseball stadium. He manipulated fans into believing the old plan is garbage and his plan was better.”

            “Do we have any names of the players or were they just from “reliable” and “trustworthy” anonymous sources inside the program?”

            Can you cite sources for the steaming pile of bull cookies contained in the first excerpt from you post, Mrs. McElwain?

          • Albert – I don’t need Mrs. McElwain or an anonymous source with an ax to grind or a journalist trying to make headlines to tell me what I’m suppose to believe. I can think for myself looking at the facts.

            This is the second shot you’ve taken at me in as many weeks. I actually don’t mind it because it gives me an opportunity to expound further rather than bullied away. You may think that I am against the Gators by being critical of Stricklin but that’s nothing further from the truth. As an alumnus and a passionate fan, I want UF to win with integrity, not to win at any cost. I don’t want us to become like FSU which we make fun of the way they handle shoes, crab legs, sexual crimes, and what not. I don’t want us to fall back into the dark days of NCAA sanctions. I sense troubling signs under Stricklin in the way he conducts business. Sorry if If I don’t follow the party line and tell you what you want to hear all the time.

      • Sly we all know you hate Stricklin, but the fact of the matter is, even though it’s going to take a little longer, the new plans are far better than the old plans with everything but timing. The standalone complex will be much better where it’s going now. It’ll be attached to the indoor practice facility and have more space and not require a 3 story building crammed into a small area further away from everything else. Rushing just to get something done to please recruits instead of taking a little more time to build something better, is a horrible decision. In the end, recruits and players will be much happier having all the facilities together. That’s besides the point that the baseball team gets a brand new stadium instead of just being renovated. It’s a win win for everyone except the few impatient fans who can’t wait a little longer.

        • Truth be told, you both make solid points from each perspective, Joe. There are probably layers of both types of truth — objective and subjective — embedded within, but I’ve been reading both of you guys for a pretty long time by now and I don’t think “hate” enters into it. Maybe more like “suspicious”?

          • Ok hate might be a strong word. Maybe hypercritical might be a better description. I’ve just never seen him have anything positive to say about him, so it kind’ve comes across as a strong dislike.

        • Joe – I am critical of Stricklin not because he fired Mac but because I question his moral compass and manipulative tendencies. First, he could have had the decency to wait until the end of the season to fire Mac rather than pull the rug out from under the players in the middle of the season. He did it in an attempt to void or reduce Mac’s buyout. In the end, the university may end up having to pay more because the offset clause was eliminated in the negotiated settlement. Second, his first choice to replace Mac was Chip Kelly, who has been sanctioned by the NCAA for questionable practices if not outright cheating. Third, the motive behind changing Foley’s facilities master plan was to pay for a new baseball stadium, not because the original plan was bad. Of course you can make anything better by throwing more money and time at it, not because it was bad. Sure the new football facility will have more SF and room to grow, but it’s at a higher cost and years of delay on top of whatever number of years we are already behind the competition. Let’s give Alabama, Clemson, and Georgia another 2 years or so head start, shall we? So what if the coaches and players have to work in a 3 story building instead of 2? So what if the players have walk across the outdoor practice field to get to the indoor practice facility? Let’s hope it never rains in Gainesville on game day or the players have to do jog across the field to warm up. It’s not like they have to walk across the campus like they are doing now. If he really needed the football facility to be attached to the indoor practice facility, he could have put it on the north side where the president’s residence is located or to the east in place of a parking garage. Wherever the football facility is located, something else has to be relocated. He conveniently chose to get a new baseball stadium at a much higher cost and years of delays.

          • I honestly don’t have these insights so I can neither agree or disagree with them — but even if I did disagree, By the Eternal Man! I haven’t read such effective use of good old fashioned American sarcasm since….well, since…..since CO Jones last weighed in on something. Were I not so freakin’ old and if my heart could handle such inspiration, I think I’d find the nearest recruiter and re-enlist! 😎 GO GATORS!

  2. I appreciate and laud #10. And we’ll be #1 again next year. As for Mac, I had a permanently raised eyebrow when he said he could get his dog to play QB and our QBs were nothing short of doggone bad. He probably is a nice guy, but he can keep his P B & J sandwiches and sockless feet.

    I always thought Meyer would find his way to Notre Dame, his third #1 dream job. If they hire him, I’m sure ol’ Urbs will keep the confessional busy.

    With my Dad’s love of the Cleveland Browns from the 40’s on, I knew their players more than the rest of pro football. But the one name from another team I knew and remembered in my elementary school days was Bart Starr. I’m certain not enough can be said about the player and the man.

    This team has had quite a bit of time since the A & M game to regroup and work on fundamentals at all positions as well as tweaking their offensive approach, which has been uncharacteristically offensive this season.

    Being in a regional is great experience for our young players, an obvious plus. Tech is clearly the favorite here, and even though they swept UK in three in Feb., I don’t look at their schedule and see it being tougher than ours. DBU is probably sneaky good. Hope they’re not the next Coastal Carolina!

    I watched our Lady Gators defeat the Vols in an extremely intense series. I bet they make some noise in the WCWS. Go Gators!

    • I had forgotten that comment about the dog playing QB, Phil. I suspect, in retrospect, I wasn’t bothered by a lot of comments he made that are now “cringe worthy” — I guess because he was “our” coach at the time. At any rate, the only then-current HC I was ever troubled deeply about was Ron Zook and that was because from the “out of the blue” get-go I couldn’t understand why he was hired and I knew he was over his head the minute he signed the contract. And I count from the days of Bob Woodruff and Ray Graves. I agree with Pat though, inasmuch as Mac just never was a good fit despite his otherwise good pedigree. After Myer I remember really regretting that the timing was wrong for Mullen to come back, and I had the same regret about Charley Strong after Champ’s demise…….who I firmly believe would still be at Florida had that not been the case. Well, I guess sometimes you do have to wander in the desert for a while until you get it right, don’t you? Time to count our blessings, finally, and let bygones be bygones — that’s for sure!

    • You guys forgot about the BBQ Sauce. But yes bygones can be let go. I was at a lot of Mac’s games and said before the coaching was bewildering. Now from his command center (barn) in a he can lead the mighty Chippewas (native American for Shark) to a Michigan title. Maybe he can beat MI for the state title.

  3. Gotta comment on the “Game of Thrones” tweet ……..and I am not a GOT addict like some.
    But get real. GOT is on a “pay for view” channel …………….NFL games are…for the most part..free.
    There is only 1 GOT finally…….there are 10s of thousands NFL games………………what a useless analysis.

  4. Sparky, you are right twice. First the conditioning problem was bigger than many of us realized at the time and 2018 proved that. It reminds me of the first time I saw Meyer’s first team in sept……you could just tell they were in better shape than we had seen in a very long time. And the rest is history.

    Second, you are right again….I missed the “last year” part of the tweet comment . I thought he was talking about NFL history. Perfect time to quote one of my all time favorites , Emily Litella, : “Never mind”!!

    • Wouln’t that be something?
      Has anybody ever won NC’s at three different schools? It would be possible were that the case — not because Notre Dame is particularly capable of it, but the sports media would be so ape over it that they’d probably just award it to them regardless of record. Sort of like UCF awarding one to themselves, but different. 😃

      • That’s an interesting scenario, 6. I don’t think it’s been done, yet. When Mack Brown resigned at Texas, and when they fired Charlie Strong, I thought UT should’ve courted Saban with the opportunity to be the first to win titles at three different schools. With their resources, it would’ve only been a matter of time. I think Meyer would jump at the chance to be the first to do it and one-up Saban.

        • Hey Joe — hope you had a blessed Memorial Day. I think he would too, and part of me actually hopes he gets the chance…….I wasn’t kidding tho when I implied that it would almost be a “gimme”, given the irresistible narrative it would create for the media. A similar irresistible narrative is going on right now at Texas, but that’s in reality a bridge too far at present no matter how wonderful everyone wants you to believe they are. But $$? Yeah, they got plenty of that. I think the “real” story may well be Mack Brown at NC tho…….not much more than a curiosity to the media right now, but brother, give him a year or so…..that old coach still has it. Wait and see.

          • Thank you, 6. I had a great Memorial Day and hope you did, as well. Thank you for your service, and thanks to Gator Ed, all our other fellow Gators who served, and all who’ve ever served in our military. If you attended a celebration, I hope you didn’t see any of the honorees in the audience as our recent president once did.

            Like you, I have no ill will toward Urban. I’m grateful for the two NC’s, and I really don’t think UF’s reputation is any worse for wear as a result of some questionable characters on the team. Aaron Hernandez was clearly troubled, but probably no more than Lawrence Phillips on Dr. Tom Osborne’s Cornhuskers. If we’re going to assign guilt by association, we’d have to condemn Tim Tebow for not dissociating himself from the team at the time, and for that matter, we’d have to praise Chris Steele now for transferring and separating himself from JJ.

            It certainly would be interesting to hear comparisons of Urban and Saban if Urban were able to win a title at third school. That would certainly help him close the gap on ol’ Nick in my book.

            You may be right about Brown, too. With generally everybody in the ACC being down except Clemson, his timing probably couldn’t be better.

  5. Add me to the list of those that would like to see Urb try to win a 3rd natty with the gold domer’s. The hard feelings that I used to have toward him have softened these day’s as I recognize that he is nothing more than a hired mercenary ( albeit an excellent one ) and is incapable of loyalty to anything other than his own personal legacy. I agree with 6 in that the media would be so enthralled with the thought of ND winning and contending for championships again that any success he would have would be magnified and glorified beyond belief. I do think that if anyone could bring them back to the pinnacle of college football again , he might be the one to do it. Besides that, anyone one upping Saban in anything sounds great to me.

  6. “…Urban Meyer said this weekend he thinks he’s done coaching…”

    To those that buy that steaming little nugget, I ask, did you also swallow this one?

    https://www.gainesville.com/article/LK/20090805/News/604155831/GS/

    If little urbie’s lips are moving, he is most likely lying. I got a buck that says when Notre Dame is done with Brian Kelly, or vice versa, little urbie will finally get the only coaching job he ever described as his “dream job.”