David Whitley takes over as Sun's sports columnist

David Whitley
Gainesville Sun

As trumpets of glory blew, Jim McElwain came to Gainesville seven years ago. UF President Bernie Machen took the stage to unveil the university's new hire.

“We have found a coach who we believe is exactly the right coach to lead us into the next era of Gator football,” said Machen.

Now six years later, it's time for a much less momentous introduction. It's more akin to the 1994 vice presidential debate, when Ross Perot's running mate made his opening statement.

"Who am I?" Adm. James Stockdale said. "Why am I here?"

He wasn't much of a candidate, but he was an ex-Navy flyer and former Vietnam War POW. By any definition, a great American.

My name is David Whitley, and I'm just a grateful American. Grateful to live in this country, and grateful to be the Sun's new sports columnist.

I'm replacing Pat Dooley, though no one could really replace Pat. The Gators won two basketball titles, three football titles and about 724 other NCAA titles during his tenure.

Some credit must go to people like Steve Spurrier and Billy Donovan. But Pat expertly chronicled everything Gainesville, continuing a tradition that goes back almost 70 years.

As Pat pointed out in his farewell column, the Sun has had only four sports columnists since 1952. Him, Mike Bianchi, Jack Hairston and Joe Halberstein.

Sure, England has had only one queen since 1952. But she never had to make regular trips to Starkville.

What qualifies me to assume this esteemed writing throne?

 Long story short — I was born in a log cabin and graduated from a Jacksonville high school without the brains to pursue a respectable, high-paying career.

That's how I ended up at UF orientation cluelessly scanning the various colleges that had set up tables in the big room.

"How many math and science credits does it take to get a Journalism degree?" I asked the representative.

"Just two each," he said.

Bingo!

Well, I was actually bounced from my first Reporting class because I couldn't type. I eventually got that straightened out and worked for papers in Fort Walton Beach, Tallahassee, San Antonio and Tampa.

Those jobs provided many interesting moments, like covering a bunch of Olympics and interviewing Bobby Bowden as he took a shower after a big win. I've spent the past few years on the Orlando Sentinel's Editorial Board.

On the plus side, the job did not require me to interview Ron DeSantis in the shower after a big speech. But covering politics and life-or-death issues can get a little ponderous.

I longed to return to press boxes and write about real life-or-death issues, like whether the Dolphins should trade for Deshaun Watson. So I padded my resume, applied for Mr. Dooley's old job and here we are.

(Note to new boss: I didn't really win three Pulitzers or the 1987 Iditarod dog sled race. Please forgive me).

That's basically my story. Does it qualify me for my new job?

As with McElwain at his introductory press conference, I can only promise to do my darndest to keep you informed, entertained and to beat Nick Saban.

Unlike McElwain, I haven't signed a $26.9 million deal and I don't (allegedly) go deep-sea fishing in the nude. I'm also not cocky enough to say I can win with my dog Claire-a-bell playing quarterback.

I don't even have a dog named Claire-a-bell. I do have one named Lucy, along with another mutt, five cats, two beautiful daughters and one lovely wife.

She was raised in Gainesville. Claim to fame: she bought a used Cutlass from Tom Petty's ex-English teacher at Gainesville High. She also wants FSU to go 0-11 every season.

Me?

I just root for the best story and try to call things as I see them. But I also have a few foundational beliefs.

I believe readers should never be bored.

I believe journalists should afflict the comforted and comfort the afflicted - if that's what the facts call for.

I believe O.J. did it.

I believe I'm lucky to have my job, and that I'll have a more fruitful time in Gainesville than McElwain did.

And whatever happens, I believe I'll never pose naked on top of a shark.

David Whitley