The Back Nine: Every new coach faces change in culture

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Dan Mullen prepares for his first season at the University of Florida as its head football coach. [Alan Youngblood/Ocala Star-Banner]

The Back Nine comes at you after a week off to have our golf tournament, spend some time with my two daughters and chill for a couple of days. Miss me?

10. The one thing about having the golf tournament a little earlier than normal (and it was a perfect day) is that you feel like you have a full summer for once. But then you realize that we are less than a month from SEC Media Days in Atlanta. And even though the Media Days are a speed bump on the way to the college football season, there is no doubt this is one of the most anticipated seasons in a long time for Gator fans. You think about the situations inherited by Florida coaches in the modern era and this has to be one of the best. But not THE best. That would belong to Steve Spurrier, who inherited a stacked defense in 1990 and built an offense that would change the conference. One thing all of the modern day UF coaches had in common was changing the culture:

• Ron Zook inherited a lot of talent, but there was an attitude issue he struggled to overcome early because those players came to UF to play for Spurrier.

• Urban Meyer inherited really good players who needed to take the game more seriously.

• Will Muschamp inherited what were probably the worst attitudes of all, players who felt entitled and didn’t feel that practice was important.

• Jim McElwain inherited the best environment in that the guys played harder than anyone thought they could in their bowl game. But he had to get them believing they could win again after a record of 11-12 the previous two seasons. And the talent level was the worst of any of these coaches.

Dan Mullen inherits a team that went 4-7 last year and like every coach before him needs to change the culture. But I never got the impression that the attitudes were the problem last year. These guys just needed to be taught differently whether it was weight training or commitment or fan involvement or running precise routes or SPECIAL TEAMS!! Soon, we will see how much the culture shift pays off. That was kind of a long-winded way to say that football season is closer than you think here in the middle of June. And I promise I will stop putting SPECIAL TEAMS in all caps as soon as they show some improvement.

11. The display by Florida’s baseball team Sunday night/Monday morning was certainly discouraging for anyone who stayed up to watch it. You can’t give away runs in the College World Series and this continues to be a late-season problem for a Florida team built on pitching and defense. Obviously, there is going to be a lot of second-guessing about putting JJ Schwarz back into the lineup, especially at first base. I get why Kevin O’Sullivan did it, but it did not turn out well, Schwarz looked lost at the plate and lost at the position. The problem was that any move you made to get Schwarz’s bat back in the lineup after four weeks off was going to hurt the defense. If he was the DH, you have to put Nelson Maldonado in the outfield so you’ve downgraded that position. And obviously, they didn’t feel good about Schwarz catching. This team probably isn’t coming back after losing Game 1, but it has faced elimination before. And you are seeing just how hard it is to win this thing, especially two years in a row.

12. Because I have seen this before: In 1998 and 2012. Florida went to Omaha as the team to beat and spent the first few days out there receiving all kinds of awards. Then the games started and in both cases Florida went two-and-barbecue. College baseball is such a mental game with the draft during regionals and all the hoopla that goes with being in Omaha as a No. 1 seed. Florida looked like a tight team in its opener. But it wasn’t over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor (don’t @ me) and it’s not over for this team. There is a way to climb back into it starting today against Texas. It’s just going to be a really tough road.

13. The Back Nine watched more golf this weekend than anybody even though the U.S. Open was — for the most part — pretty boring. The USGA really struggles to give us what we want because we don’t know what we want. We want train wrecks, but when there are too many like there were Saturday they overreacted and made the course too easy. Mostly, a lot of people were unfulfilled because of the coverage. Paul Azinger has a way of talking over the action that makes you pine for Johnny Miller or Nick Faldo. And how many times did he say, “This green doesn’t receive shots, it repels them?” I lost count at 34. There were numerous sound problems and even the enhanced sound was annoying because of the fans who wanted to get on the broadcast. An occasional “Baba Booey” is fine, but it bordered on the obnoxious, not to mention obscene when the mics caught two guys talking about rough sex. It was a combination of a ridiculous course set-up, some really poor golf at times and less-than-riveting coverage.

14. But we did have Phil Mickelson’s meltdown for entertainment purposes. If you missed it, Mickelson blew a putt past the hole on 13 Saturday, chased it down and hit the ball while it was still moving. It was a bush league move and his explanation sounded like something he spent the next five holes trying to spin in his own head. I wasn’t offended the way some golf people were, but Mickelson just should have used his old line from another Open — “I am such an idiot.” He lost his mind. It happens. The fans continued to cheer for him and his reputation was only damaged for the serious golf people. The explanation was worse than the actually act, in my opinion. But that’s me.

15. I did watch about three minutes of the World Cup, but without a real rooting interest it was difficult to get into it. Maybe the answer for the United States is to get LeBron James to forego a move to another NBA team and get him on the pitch. Once his hand heals, of course. Although you don’t really need a healthy hand to play soccer.

16. One final thought on the 24th Bob Dooley Invitational, which was last Saturday at Ironwood. If you want to feel better about humanity, spend a few weeks following me around for this event and see how great people can truly be. It’s humbling to have so many people say, “Sure,” when you approach them about being a sponsor or donating a prize or helping with the tents (16 of 18 holes had one) or being on a hole serving food or beverages for 5½ hours. Everything went well and we will know the final total donated to Stop Children’s Cancer soon, but the best moment to me was Florida soccer freshman Lauren Evans, who has been battling leukemia, and her emotional speech when she was presented with our Jill Darr/Bonnie Freeman Courage Award. She finished treatment a few days later and that’s as happy as I have been in a long time.

17. The Tweet of the Week goes to the great golf writer Jason Sobel of ESPN.com, who was on his Twitter game during the carnage at the U.S. Open on Saturday — “The players who missed the cut at 9-over might wanna stick around all weekend and see if that’s enough to get into a playoff.”

18. So I haven’t been as diligent as I should be about getting into the gym because of the golf tournament (bad excuse) and the steam room being shut down while they renovate (better excuse) and a pain in my ankle (you have a lot of excuses, don’t you?) I promise to be better starting this week because my family has a vacation planned to the Grand Canyon, so I need to get in some semblance of shape. This playlist should help:

• “Hi Hello” by Johnny Marr.

• “Gold Rush” by one of my faves Death Cab for Cutie.

• “Fallingwater” by Maggie Rogers.

• “Dead and Gone” by State Champs.

• And for an old one, I watched the documentary and it was very sad and yet, very nostalgic so “I Woke Up in Love This Morning” By David Cassidy.

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

63 COMMENTS

  1. Jackah, it doesn’t matter if we the fans give up, but the players also seem to have given up, and well before the game Sunday. The frustration being expressed by many over this highly talented and decorated team is not based on one game such as Sunday’s. Even forgetting the SEC tourney (what a waste of time!), this team has been doing a belly flop for the past month or more. The wonderful Gator softball team also lost in the WCWS, but I never once got the feeling that they mailed in even a single play. Yes, Gator Nation continues to set the bar high for all of our teams, but that’s who we are and we’ll stay that way.

      • Gator-6, as that famous baseball sage, “Chico Consuella” once said, “baseball been berry berry good to me”. You are spot on about those inexplicable elements of baseball. I played through all levels of Little League, 4 years of HS varsity, 1 year of college and a couple seasons of a semi-pro league in south Florida and there are still times when I am watching it on TV and say “what the heck was that?” I think the more you know about game, the more it will drive you nuts. I think I just need to talk to Crash Davis and see what he thinks. Thanks my friend.

    • Dan F….when did making it to the College World Series for the fourth straight year and being only one year removed from a CWS baseball title become…….not a high bar for the baseball team? It seems to me that the bar for the baseball team is way high, since not winning the title is somehow a failure even if the team makes it to Omaha. The two major misplays in the game yesterday were physical, not mental. The effort was there. The execution on two players was not…..one by a very good shortstop that usually makes that play and the other by a player who is a catcher and has not played much first base this year. Good grief.

      • Tampa Gator, you are misreading my comment. I’m stating that the reason so many Gator fans, myself included, have been frustrated with this team is because we HAVE set the bar so high, because this team HAS been to the CWS 7 times in the last 9 years, 4 years in a row now and ARE the defending champs. With this team’s strong play and #1 ranking much of the season and 3 first round draft picks, why would we NOT have high expectations for this CWS? In regards to the game Sunday, my critique centers not so much on that game, but the play over the past 6 weeks. I agree that making it to the CWS, though not winning, still constitutes a successful season. Just ask our friends In Seminole Nation, who have been there over 20 times and have never won it. They still have a top flight program, and so do we. Many of us are simply saying that this team has not played up to their talent level the past 12-15 games, and I think even they would agree with that.

        • Dan, I think most on here are loyal Gator fans, and based on your history of comments, I put you firmly in that category, and I respect your opinion. But to make negative, subjective comments such as saying the Gators “mailed it in” over the last several games is tough, if not impossible, to defend. This is especially true when your case is based mostly on the sweep at MSU. That series was played without the services of Singer and Schwarz, for the most part. I know there are other loyal fans, like Todd, making similar comments and also saying that he doesn’t buy the Singer hamstring injury. I’d almost bet everything I own that had Sully pitched Singer and he’d been injured and lost for the tournament, Todd, would’ve criticized Sully as the biggest idiot ever. Add to the absence of Singer and Schwarz the play of MSU that now has them one win away from the CWS finals, and it’s clear that the Gators were facing a hot team. Given those circumstances, it’s not reasonable to make a blanket statement that the Gators were coasting.

          It bothers me that when the Gators win, most of these comment sections are bare, but when they lose, fans come out of the woodwork to make claims like the Gators mailed it in, have no fire, lack focus, showed no grit, or need to be tougher. As I type this, the Gators are up on Texas 5-0, in the top of the 8th with Kowar having struck out 13 and Butler coming on to get a strike out to end the 7th. I think that’s pretty gritty, tough, etc., etc., etc.

          • Joe, appreciate your feedback. After reading your comments, I would agree that my assessment that they “mailed it in” was not a fair comment to make on my part. While results can be measured, measuring effort and heart from the distance of a TV or box score is not what we should do. I’ll make it a point to avoid doing this in the future. When I post comments, I try not to throw in negative personal comments about other posters, and I should give the same respect to the players, win or lose. Again, thanks for your feedback. Go Gators.

          • Dan, Joe, and TampaGator, et al: Greetings. No, you haven’t been drafted into the Army, but I would like to congratulate you guys one and all for resolving this issue without anyone being called a troll or any otherwise fratricide. This is what it’s all about, so Go Gators!

          • Dan, I appreciate your understanding. I knew from your previous insightful comments on both the baseball and softball teams that you’re a true fan deserving of my respect and civility. I enjoy reading everyone’s opinions, even the one’s from TebowCurse that get my blood boiling, and I usually learn something. Sometimes our passion for the Gators causes us to step on each other toes a little, but as fellow Gators we can enjoy the debate without getting nasty.

            Thanks for your input Gator-6. I always look forward to reading your comments on football. Maybe you should expand your repertoire and join us for some baseball and basketball conversation.

          • Thanks, Joe….but I’ve forgotten more about baseball and basketball that I’ll ever know. Just kidding, actually played through high school and American Legion, but then I discovered girls. And cars. And beer. I do follow the Gators tho.

          • It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking – because: defending champs because: #1 seed – that Gators baseball is a machine rather than a team. And baseball is maybe the most fickle of team sports (hockey/puck luck probably disagrees). It’s been said for over a century: “That’s baseball.” Slumps happen (at the worst times). Sometimes a hit ball has eyes. Sometimes it has legs (see Auburn outfielder’s glove). Sometimes the “best” team doesn’t win (or even look that good). As for the Gators, I think missing JJ Schwarz was a huge deal. And reintegrating him into the lineup hasn’t been seamless. But the team is still in this and gets another chance to make something good happen tonight. And maybe more chances going forward. That’s (still) baseball. Go Gators.

  2. Not sure how someone can devote so much time and text space to golf but decide that without a predetermined rooting interest he cannot enjoy the Workd Cup. Maybe you can catch us up on NASCAR and horse racing so that we can hear about all the athletic exploits in those activities. For what it’s worth, watching a middle-aged multimillionaire blatantly cheat at his game/career makes me want to throw a pitching wedge at my flatscreen.

    I am amazed at the state of the baseball program, which we now not only expect to get to Omaha, but to be a leading contender to win it. Sully has this team roaring like Spurrier had his team’s in the 90s. I only hope that our (my!) unrealistic expectations don’t drive him away. With all of the draft-based distractions the team has faced, the weather has provided way too much down time and unpredictability. They were able to slog past Auburn. I’ll see today if they can find a way past a disappointed Texas team. If it happens, I can’t wait to see what the freshman pitchers might do in their third game. And who might catch their pitches.

    And, to be honest, I’ve had a couple of Partridge Family songs clanging relentlessly in my brain the last couple days. So stupid. So catchy.

      • I don’t know…something about a round ball….Europeans, who wouldn’t know a football if it hit ’em in the ass……for some reason call it “football”. All I know is that if your team loses, you get to tear up the stadium and kill a couple hundred people. Or maybe that’s if your team wins, beats the hell out of me. Sounds like fun, tho.

        • Open your minds Gator fans. You know, we have a Women’s “football” team.

          One thing that does bother me about the World Cup (and international soccer in general) and that is the ready acceptance of a draw. They really need to go to elimination rules for all matches. Play until someone wins.

          • I’m all for playing until someone wins, David; but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna open my mind. Besides, my brains might fall out if I did.

          • Ties are common in the first round of play since the goal is to advance to the second round and a tie still gives you one point but if you lose then you face an uphill climb to advance. Just like our gator baseball is facing right now.

        • Come on 6 just because you don’t understand it you don’t have to dis it. Your European counterparts could point out the riots and destruction of public property in most of our great urban centers anytime a local teams wins anything as seen in Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit and many other of our wonderful cities.
          BTW the World Cup is not for Europeans, the Brazilians and Argentinians would have a cow if they heard you, it’s a worldwide phenomenon and it’s catching on here as well. Though it would help if the US squad could have made it in.

    • NWIA TB man I thought the same thing. I think for one it’s age related as in golf is for old farts and secondly, ignorance with a provincial attitude towards soccer. In terms of sports we alone are blessed to have such an enormous variety to choose from with great athletes performing in a plethora of different sports. NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL (not golf). On top of that we have the college games which I much prefer to the pros and we have sports nirvana. No where else in the world do they have anything remotely close to this, what they have is soccer or futbol as they call it. Imagine if the top 11 athletes in the country were all on the same team playing the same sport. Kevin Durant, LeBron, Tom Brady, Aaron Judge, NOT Phil Mickelson, etc, you get the picture. That’s the World Cup that’s what’s going on in the rest of the world.
      It’s coming to a town close to you in 2026, the US team will be playing then, drop the provincial attitude and climb on board the bandwagon, we are the last country in the world to embrace the biggest sporting event in the planet. You got another 8 years, it’s not too late.

      • Now CO, why’d you have to go and play the “ignorance with a provincial attitude” card. I’m perfectly blissful not liking soccer, and I’m not one to pretend to like something just because most others do. I just can’t get over what I consider the insanity of a supposedly legitimate sport that doesn’t allow its participants to use their most finely tuned and highly skilled bodily appendages. However, I don’t begrudge anyone else their choice of sport, and I am still proud of the Gators’ ’98 NC. Go Gators!

  3. Pat, if you’re heading to the Grand Canyon through Phoenix, drop me a line. I’ll hook you up with some primo AZ barbecue. Plus, you can talk to the Desert Gators Club, if you’re so inclined. It’s hot and dry here, but our thoughts are never far from the Swamp.

  4. Ive enjoyed the world cup, it generates the kind of excitement that the gators used to a few years ago. The Mexicans created a man made earthquake celebrating their win over Germany… the excitement was contagious. Thing is, even in the world cup you see things that need fixing, but its about the fans loving the game. that’s the culture change the Gators need. years ago a gator game was like a beatles concert, pure bedlam. nothing better than running up the score on Georgia, bowing down to emmitt in awe, watching tebow do anything, seeing danny get up after yet another cheap shot by FSU, seeing our basketball team destroy the ohio state super odoms by 30, the list goes on. now they are working to “improve the fan experience”, but you cant improve on those times. Sure we have some good moments, but id love to see just a little more of the magic, I know these kids are giving it their all, I’m just wanting it to be about more than it has been the last few years…we all do.

  5. Going to games in the days of being on top the Swamp had a different energy. Electric, rowdy, brash. Some of the older folks (I am one now) used to complain (I don’t complain) about fans standing the whole game. There was something about the majority of the fans on their feet making noise and supporting the team. I have been to some FSU games with a friend who is a FSU fan. At their best they didn’t have the energy and exuberance of the SWAMP. The fair weather fans have faded. The die hard fans (we go to as many games as work and life allow) have been there all along through thick and painfully thin. Mullen said it is going to start with the fans. The fans provide a lot of the energy for the game. I think the coaches are going to give all of us something to cheer for and hopefully the talented players play to their potential. Return us to the days when the SEC Championship game was part of the schedule.

          • Now I didn’t say I was the oldest posting here. Just in the ranks that I get membership notices from AARP. I refuse to join.
            Changing the subject is Mike Jones, Cheeky Monkey and Tebow Curse all the person?

          • I guess so, it’s really hard to keep up with. I’m pretty sure “Mike” is him, but that refers to someone named “Mike Winters” I’m told by those in the know. Cheeky Monkey seems like a good bet, especially if TebowCurse was apparently shut down by the administrators just before he appeared. I suppose the jury is still out, in all fairness–not that I’m going to go full court press to find out.

            I recently went through being falsely accused of being a troll and/or TebowCurse myself, which made me madder than hell for quite a while, so I’m quite sensitive to fratricide or friendly fire casualties. Apparently, in the effort to weed these trolls out, it doesn’t take much to become so accused—a different opinion here, a disagreement there, so on and so forth–but usually they stand out on their own merit (or lack thereof). We used to have a guy named Mike, a UF graduate and an engineer by profession, who relied on crunching numbers in his job–so naturally, when he crunched the numbers for the Gators over the last 7 years or so, they didn’t add up and his critical comments were taken way out of context. He took so much heat for being a troll that, sadly, he doesn’t post here anymore. More recently, I fear that Tim and GatorG have taken the same road, which is a shame since they’re both good guys and loyal Gators.

            Anyway, that’s my take on it. Being an ORF (old retired fart, as Dan F calls it), I spend a lot of time here myself; just my opinion is all……..but all in all, really good guys and all of them very well versed on both the Gators and football in general, just a little edgy sometimes. Really glad you’re here, ’65, I can tell you’re going to be a great contributor.

  6. Gator-6 Though I graduated UF in ’75 (BSBA) and am a little younger, I too am an ORF by way of a slightly early retirement. I enjoy reading the comments and opinions expressed on this sight, and posting my own as well. In my view, we need more posters such as yourself and Joe who can disagree respectfully and intelligently. Also, I think you’re quite funny, a real hoot! While I am a Florida native now living in N Carolina, I lived in Texas for about 5 years early in my career, and I know how boring it can be just watching the tumbleweeds blow by, playing dominoes and chasing the armadillos out your yard. So keep up the great comments! We need them.

    • Shoot, Dan—I got hem’roids older than you! I admire you tho for having the guts to pull the plug early, I almost did after 32 years in the Army back in ’03, but didn’t trust the numbers and wound up taking a
      GS faculty job here at Ft Hood for another 10 years. When I woke up one day and realized that I had enjoyed all I could stand of the federal guv’mint, I finally did retire for good. You must have lived out in West Texas (I spent 2 years at Ft Bliss, an overseas hardship tour if there ever was one)…..but life in Central Texas is about the same as Florida (Avon Park-Sebring, anyway)……minus really big trees but we do have lakes with gators in them).

      I totally agree with you on the quality of the posters here, I swear, some of the best football minds I have ever encountered in one place…..I learn something every day.

      • I graduated UF in 1967…yeah, started UF the same year as Spurrier. Like Gator-6, I seem to have the time to do this.

        Gator-6: didn’t you used to NOT have that “dash” in your commenter name?

        Also, previous to Mike Winter, I think he was Black Ju Ju.

        • Well, that makes you 2 years older than me, but I didn’t graduate until ’73 since I had a prolonged detour to the Southeast Asia War Games from about 69-71 or so, and a 2 year commitment to boot when I did get home. I’m a little fuzzy on memory before February of this year, but I seem to think I didn’t have the “dash” for a long while, but I did after I signed up and damned if I can remember when that was either.

          You’re right, Brewski….it was Black Ju Ju. Then it became Mike Winter, and somewhere along the way it was TebowCurse. Now it’s ________ (fill in the blank). Man, there are sure a lot of us old retired farts here, huh? I might have lost some of my hair, most of my mind, a wife or two, and a hell of a lot of great dogs ……. but like you, I never lost my love for the Gators!

          • G6 – I took 4 years of ROTC so I did my first 4 years of military right after graduating (followed later by a lot of reserve duty to actually qualify for retirement), and GS work too. I enjoy your frequent comments laced with historical perspective. Go Gators and Gator Baseball.

          • 6 thank you for your 30 years. I was in Army for 4 active and 6 in NG. Some of the best times and people I met there. I was guessing the “6” was commander but you never know. It is good to have a good difference of opinion here on these boards. Or at least a different point of view. hooah! I like the eye test with facts to back it up. What I saw the last three years was some lucky wins that made us look better than we were. I was at the SEC Championship games we lost to Alabama. The first one we were out coached at a basic level. The players were not prepared and not fit. I was on the 50yard line 20 seats off the floor. Our team was gassed before half. I did see the talent was there just not the coaching on what to do. Was painful to watch. Ditto the second year and last year was a nightmare. I’ll give Muschamp credit for recruiting. McElwain was not my choice for FL. Gonna go out on a limb and guess you were armor with an infantry start. I’ve seen good plt sgts and sqd ldrs take misused or misguided talent and do some real special things. I think Mullen is that kind of guy. What he did as OC was special. If (I think he can, have to believe he can) he can do for us with our talent we will be great again. Mikey, JuJu, whatever he goes by is the comical entertainment. Or if the players/ recruits are reading these boards his comments could be used for motivation ala the video the Gators had up the year they stumbled under Meyer.

          • Brewski & ’65: It is me who should thank you guys for your service. It would have been a lot tougher than it was, had guys like you not signed up to do their part when it wasn’t the most popular thing to do.

            We must have been separated at birth, that’s all I can say.

            Gator-6 was my call sign thru 4 levels of command. Yup, Infantry, Military Police, Operations, Multifunctional Logistics, and last 10 years as an Army doc. Never could keep a job, you might say. But that was then, this is now, and being an ORF, as Dan would say, is the life for me. GO GATORS Y’ALL!

    • See, AA, you would only think that if you had taken a history course at FSU (or alternatively, at Texas A&M). But I know you didn’t, so it must have been a misprint is all.

      Good to see a post from you again, bud.