The Back Nine: UF football still work in progress

(Brad McClenny/Staff Photographer)

The Back Nine comes at you after a weekend with plenty of news and a Mother’s Day Sunday that made me miss mine that much more.

10. Certainly, last week was not the best for Dan Mullen with the whole Chris Steele saga and some high-profile commitments changing their minds about UF. And it didn’t help when some Gidiots went after Steele on Twitter. Sometimes I think Twitter should require a license, like, you have to pass a common sense test to log on, but that’s another story for another day. There certainly was a faction of UF fans who turned on Mullen, although I get the level of concern right now because he worked so hard to close the gap with Georgia and now it feels like — personnel-wise — the Bulldogs are starting to pull away again. But this is a long-term project, not one that will be defined by one player leaving. It wasn’t a good look for Florida publicly, but as is the case with every transfer there is more to the story. And Mullen isn’t the kind of coach who is going to come out and say anything about a player leaving just so you can feel better about yourself.

11. I don’t know why I am surprised at anything anymore, but John Beilien to the Cavs was definitely one of those “What!??!?” moments Monday morning (Beilein once said of Michigan, “This is our home forever.”) Now Michigan has a big hire to make and, of course, one of the names that has popped up is Billy Donovan. I don’t know if Billy wants to get back into the grind of recruiting, but Michigan has to take a swing at him. One reason the NBA appealed to him was that Donovan is a basketball junkie and loved the idea of only having to worry about basketball. I’ve never gotten the impression he is anything but happy in Oklahoma City, but he’s 4-12 in the postseason since Kevin Durant’s departure. There have been inquiries before from elite programs about Donovan’s availability since he went to the NBA and he has passed. He is on a one-year deal so it will be interesting to see where this goes.

12. So here is what we know about Florida’s first-round opponent in the NCAA softball tournament, Boston University. The coach, Ashley Waters, is a star on the rise. Top pitcher Ali DuBois has faced Tennessee and Arkansas early this season and allowed 10 hits in 5.2 innings. Alex Heinen is the top hitter at .332 with 10 home runs but the Terriers have hit only 31 and rank only 157th in home runs per game. The two programs have faced each other twice, splitting a pair of games, the most recent was a 4-3 Florida loss way back in 2000 in Tampa, where one of the UF pitchers was current LSU coach Beth (Dieter) Torina. The most interesting thing will be to see if Tim Walton unleashes red-hot Kelly Barnhill on Boston or saves her for the Saturday game.

13. Allow me for a minute to go into my full softball geek mode and tell you that the NCAA Selection Committee seems to have gotten most of it right, but the one area where there was controversy involved the mighty Gators. Once again, a selection committee is pushing teams to schedule tougher opponents in the non-conference and it certainly helped Florida and hurt regular-season SEC champs Alabama. If you’ve seen the video of the reaction of the Florida players when their five seed was announced, they are almost incredulous, like they were sheepish about being such a high seed. I was stunned as well, especially with Alabama being an eight. Alabama swept Florida in Gainesville and lost by a run in the SEC Tournament final. But the Tide played the 106th toughest non-conference schedule. On the other hand, Minnesota got the seven seed because it played one of the toughest schedules in the conference but also went 0-5 against SEC teams. In the end, Alabama still gets to stay at home, so it’s almost meaningless. But as is always the case with selection committees, there is flawed logic. It was reminiscent of the Florida men’s basketball team in that they played a tough schedule and it didn’t seem to matter that they lost most of those difficult non-conference games.

14. Meanwhile, it doesn’t look like we will see a postseason for the Gator baseball team, something that hasn’t happened under Kevin O’Sullivan. It’s difficult to see a path to the NCAA tournament that doesn’t include a sweep at Missouri this weekend and maybe a couple of wins at the SEC Tournament. I thought that come-from-behind win against Tennessee on Friday might turn this thing around, but pitching continues to be a problem. Crooked numbers, getting behind in counts, gopher balls to light hitters, it’s all there. The guys expected to carry the load on the mound have been scuffling and Sully has been forced to push freshmen into roles they were not ready for. Junior Austin Langworthy said it was “embarrassing” that the Gators finished off their home schedule with two losses in must-win games, but it’s just been one of those seasons to forget. And yet, you’d like to think the guys next year will be hungry to restore the standard. Don’t forget, this group was talking about a national championship in the preseason.

15. Anyway, it’s a men’s tennis school, right? There is not much that is more agonizing than watching the scores in real time on your phone of a match as tight as Florida’s win over Tennessee to advance to the Elite Eight in Orlando. Duarte Vale, who won his 13th straight match, got the clincher for UF, his second one in the NCAAs. Talk about a clutch gene. Next up is Baylor at 7 p.m. Thursday for a chance to reach the final four.

16. As usual, I get into the NBA during the playoffs — the fourth quarter of the playoff games. My Golden State bandwagon still has room for anyone who wants to get on board. So we have the conference finals this week and the PGA (my pick to win is Xander Schauffele, at 25-1, so go make some money) and softball regionals all going on this week. Is it a great time of the year or what?

17. The Tweet of the Week comes from Yahoo Sports stud columnist Pat Forde — “Maximum Security jockey Luis Saez was suspended 15 days for his Kentucky Derby infraction. John Beilein is an NBA coach. Didn’t expect either development this morning.” That pretty much sums it up. That’s why we love sports. There are no scripts.

18. Because I haven’t been driving until recently because of the knee surgery, I’ve missed my Sirius music channels. And yet, I still came up with this playlist:

• “All of Our Yesterdays” by Mac DeMarco.

• “I Wish I could Write You a Song” by John Paul White.

• “The Whole of the Moon” by Karine Polwart.

• “Raise Well” by Luke Sital-Singh.

• And for an old one, “Sweet Baby James” by James Taylor.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at


  1. ”And Mullen isn’t the kind of coach who is going to come out and say anything about a player leaving just so you can feel better about yourself.” And thank God for that, Pat. And as far as Florida ”closing the gap with Georgia,” well I’m pleased that Florida DID play with U.G.A. in Head Coach Mullen’s 1st year at U.F. And the U.G.A. players and fans, both, know it too! And most importantly, these current Florida Gator players know it! Because ‘IF’ UF’s linebackers could’ve guarded U.G.A.’s T.E., and the Gator D.B.’s guarded the U.G.A. wide out’s corner route better, then the 2018 game’s outcome in J’ville would’ve been much different.
    But this year’s HERE! So… ”Just win, baby”

      • Exactly, the fumble by Franks on his own 1 yard line when he had a chance to drive them down the field for the go ahead score, which would’ve taken them into the 4th quarter with the lead, was a real momentum killer. Sad thing is UGA had the ball on the 1 and 6 plays to get it in and still couldn’t. We may not be at their level of recruiting yet, but Mullen will out-coach Smart any day of the week and that will even the talent gap out a bit. Staying healthy is the key to that though.

  2. Mullen has proven to be a better game day coach than Smart, but we haven’t really closed the gap any on talent, based off recruiting. And until we win against them on the field, the ifs and buts are simply excuses for getting beat. The final score is all that really matters.

    • Sparky, show me a team with really motivated 4 star players, throw in some under-rated 3 stars and an exceptional coach with an equally exceptional staff — and I’ll show you a championship team. Just ask Clemson.

      But I take your point, bud.

      • Anyone who watched the last UGA game can see that even though there’s a huge gap in talent on paper, there really isn’t a huge gap on the field, and that has everything to do with coaching. With as depleted as the defense was, they should’ve dominated that game from the start like they did the year before. I truly believe had the 2 teams faced each other at the end of the season when the Gators were firing on all cylinders, that we would’ve beaten them. Too many people think they’re an unbeatable beast. I just don’t see it. Smart’s shortcomings as a game day coach are that program’s biggest crutch.

      • I hope you’re right 6, and I hope we never lose to those stinking dogs again. One thing that piling up the most talented players does, is it gives you better depth to overcome injuries like we blamed for losing to GA last year. Another thing is when you play Missouri the following week, and motivation is down, you dont get embarrassed on your home field. I will still take the most talented teams over a long stretch because there is more room for error.

        • Yup, I remember it well…..Clemson had 11 five stars on offense, 11 on defense, with nary a four or three star among ’em, except maybe a few four stars as back ups when they were ahead by 40 points, and the stinkin’ three stars rotated in and out of waterboy and fan tender when it got hot.

          But don’t confuse correlation with causation.
          (don’t get upset david, I’m just pullin’ your leg) 😎

  3. I doubt Mullen will ever close the talent gap with UGA as long as Smart is there. Smart and his staff are lights out recruiters. Very few Head coaches have shown that ability. Only 2 I can think of are Saban and Meyer. Swinney is getting there though.

    Mullen couldn’t beat Smart for in state recruits last year except for Elam and that was down to the wire even though he was a legacy for a recent All American. We had everything going our way last year. Defense played great, our record was good, FSU played horrible, Miami played horrible and went nuclear with Richt leaving. Yet we couldn’t clean up. We got Bogle because of the debacle but other than that, not sure any specific recruit was taken from FSU or Miami because of their on field failures(maybe the 2 OL). UGA, BAMA, OSU, PSU and Clemson just took more state top end recruits. I can name a ton of players we lost to out of state programs but pretty much nobody to FSU or Miami.

    If Mullen starts putting multiple 1st rounders in the NFL in the next few years, recruiting at UF may change otherwise this past year was probably as good as gets in recruiting even considering the class attrition. Mullen will have to survive/thrive on coaching and not recruiting.

    • He doesn’t have to! Just get the right players for his system and coach ’em up with the right game plan for each game!

      I bet you don’t remember the 1957 Milwaukee Braves, do you? More talent on that team per square foot of the baseball field than the law should allow, but………

      Now, I’ll cede you the point that assemblage of superior talent alone is a big factor. but it’s not the be all-end all.

    • You’ve raised several very valid points here David. Smart and his staff are lights-out recruiters that Mullen and his staff are unlikely to ever match in pure salesmanship.

      However, as you also mention, elite recruits look very closely at the number 1st and 2nd rounders a school puts into the NFL, as well as their annual CFP competitiveness. So, in the long run, the fact that CDM and his staff are better player developers than Smart and his staff will make up for the relative lack of flashy salesmanship.

      CDM will follow the Sweeney model to get the Gators to the top 5 every year. Once there, he’ll have to deal with the fact that UGA, Alabama and Clemson are likely to be there too. That’ll be a good problem for the Gators to have, I think!

      In the meantime, CDM must find and fire the clueless “staff members” that allowed Mr. Jones to embarrass the program with his juvenile behavior. Then, get on with preparing for the Canes game.

      GO GATORS!!!

  4. Looks like the Georgia message board from the 1990’s. My how things have changed. Actually, things seem to be reverting to the pre-Spurrier days when UGA owned UF. Get used to it folks. Smart will own Mullen in 2019 and 2020 and UF will be on to the next coach. Book it!