End of eras couldn’t have been better scripted

January 2, 2010

The universal truth about sports is that it doesn’t always go the way you want it to.

Most sports movies – even those sometimes based on a true story – always have that wonderful David vs. Goliath feeling. The Hollywood scripts feature adversity and triumph, but in the end the viewer gets what they want which is a happy ending.

Real life doesn’t go that way. Dolphins legend Dan Marino ended his career without a Super Bowl. Warrick Dunn and Derrick Brooks were quietly released from their teams with no final bow. 

Ever now and then, however, it does go the way you pictured it.

The end of the Tim Tebow and maybe the Urban Meyer era at Florida as well as the final act of the Bobby Bowden era at Florida State University went completely as planned.

 Tebow was brutally efficient in his dismantling of the Cincinnati Bearcats at the Sugar Bowl, erasing the frustration from the loss at Alabama. The stunning 482 passing yards passing that Tebow put up should help cement his legacy as one of the best players in college football history. The overall record is well known: 2 national titles, 1 Heisman Trophy, shattering a bunch of SEC records along the way.

Given the events of the past week it is not surprising that the Gators made sure to show their quarterback, their coach and the nation that the team was still among the best in the nation. And the Bearcats helped quiet the BCS critics by showing they did not deserve a shot at the national title.

Still it wasn’t unexpected that the Gators would be rebound from the Bama loss.

 But the Gator Bowl win by FSU was a bit of a shocker.

At first it looked like West Virginia would run the Seminoles out of the stadium, but in an amazing display both the defense – and freshman quarterback E.J. Manuel – turned in a spectacular performance  that probably threw the Mountaineers faithful for a loop. And it also should shut up the carping come from other ACC schools that were locked out of the Gator Bowl.

Despite the blather of some talking heads on both CBS and ESPN that the game proved Bowden needed another year – I think that the Seminoles played their best game of the season. Maybe it was the 300 former players who showed up. Maybe it was the huge contingent of FSU faithful that scooped every available ticket.  Who knows?

But it was a great way for a living legend to exit the stage. And for once, real life was better than a movie.


Something just doesn’t add up in the Urban Meyer saga

December 28, 2009

This is the part where unfortunately I confess that I am a professional cynic.

But watching the Urban Meyer saga unfold over the last 24 hours leaves me a bit bewildered and uncomfortable. Because I just get the feeling that the whole story hasn’t been told.

On the surface what we have is this: Gators coach Meyer decides on Saturday to step down from his job after the Sugar Bowl in order to solve ongoing health problems fueled by the 24-7 stressful lifestyle that comes with being one of the best coaches in college football. Then on Sunday morning, there is a dramatic turnaround after watching his players practice and Meyer agrees to become the coach who is also the coach in waiting by taking an indefinite leave of absence although he says in his “gut” that he will coach again in the fall of 2010.

Here’s what I am willing to accept at face value:

Meyer has bona fide health issues that he needs to address. He essentially ducked a question during the Sunday press conference on whether his doctors advised him to quit his job.

Meyer does indeed have a good bond with his players and many of them were probably very upset at his dramatic initial announcement.

But here’s the questions that I remain perplexed by:

Meyer apparently won’t be allowed to visit the University of Florida complex in the near term or have anything directly to do with the team yet will continue to get paid $4 million a year because he remains the head coach according to UF Athletic Director Jeremy Foley. Ok, so Meyer gets paid even though we don’t know when, or if, he will resume working. Is this to make sure he doesn’t go anyplace else? Is this to thwart the possible poaching of UF recruits in advance of National Signing Day in February?

There is no idea yet who will hire the defensive coordinator to replace Charlie Strong. So let me get this straight. Meyer can’t go to the UF facility yet somehow a top new coach will be hired to run the defense. How will that work? Does UF expect interim coach Steve Addazio to hire this person, even though they eventually will work for Meyer? If you were a top-flight coordinator wouldn’t you want a bit of an understanding of who the heck your boss actually is?

What do you tell potential UF recruits in the next month? Are you going to tell them flatly that Meyer will be their coach? Will Meyer call any of them personally? Or will it be put to Addazio and the still unknown defensive coordinator to try to lure players into a totally unsettled situation?

Why did Meyer drop his bombshell on Saturday to begin with? He was given the offer of a leave of absence before that time he acknowledged. Again my professional cynicism makes me wonder whether the news about Meyer’s health problems must have been leaking out and that announcement on Saturday was a preemptive strike. Otherwise why not wait until after the Sugar Bowl. Then there’s the unsettled business about the university essentially misleading everyone by saying that Meyer’s trip to the hospital on the night of the SEC Championship Game was due to “dehydration.” Meyer himself corrected the record in December by acknowledging it was in fact due to “chest pains.”

I am willing to admit I could be dead wrong and this story is just what it appears to be at this time.

But right now it just doesn’t add up.

Stunning news about Meyer means a seismic shift in college football

December 27, 2009

Florida head coach Urban Meyer will face a barrage of questions on Sunday about his stunning decision to step down from his job after the Sugar Bowl.

There will be questions about his health, what he will do in the future, whether he is gone from coaching for good, and how he will assist in finding his own replacement.

But the biggest question of course is….what happens next?

The news about Meyer – combined with Bobby Bowden’s departure – is a seismic shift in college football in both the state of Florida and the nation.

Meyer brought the Gators to unprecedented heights and made them the most dominant program in the state. The list of accolades is long, including 2 national titles, an amazing winning percentage and a 15-1 record against the Gators biggest rivals.

Keeping that intact won’t be as easy as some might think regardless of who is picked as a successor. Gainesville-bound recruits will pretty soon hearing whispers in their ears that they should think about going someplace else.

Meyer already had a bit of rebuilding job ahead of him in 2010 thanks to the departure of Gators legend Tim Tebow. And the Gators earlier this month lost defensive coordinator Charlie Strong to Louisville. So while there will be a lot of blather about how this is one of the most attractive jobs in the nation the truth is that the next coach for the Gators will have tremendous challenges when he walks through that door.

The biggest challenge will be the immediate pressure on the next UF coach to match the recent successes of the Gators. That could be a tall order given that Meyer is leaving while the Gators are at their peak. I don’t think next season would have been a down year for the team, but it’s hard to imagine the Gators would have been as good as they have been the last three years.

This change, in many ways, may be a Christmas gift for Lane Kiffin at Tennessee, Mark Richt at Georgia….and even Steve Spurrier at South Carolina. (Just as an aside – it’s interesting how Spurrier is not viewed right now as a top contender for the opening. Um, hey Gator Nation, he’s the one that made the job so attractive to Meyer in the first place….)

But this decision could result in more than just a realignment of the SEC.

For three decades the programs in the state of Florida – University of Miami, Florida State and UF – have dominated college football in a way that no other state can rival. To have 3 schools from the same state battle it out for national championships is truly unprecedented. The fact that the three schools have combined for 11 national titles in the last 26 years is astounding.

The end of the Bowden era, and now the end of the Meyer era, could wind up as the demarcation point of a new period in college football where the Big 3 Florida schools no longer dominate the national scene like they once did. Other schools have already begun poaching players from Florida high schools and this could just accelerate it. This could also be the opening that programs at the University of South Florida and University of Central Florida need.

Or maybe even worse to FSU and UF fans – this could mark the starting point of a new time of dominance for the U.

While Miami’s season was a disappointment, the team is still playing in a bowl and Jacory Harris is an extremely talented quarterback who will probably get a lot better. And there is hope that the defense – which was Miami’s biggest weakness – will become a dominant unit next season.

It’s too early to tell of course just how all this will play out, but it’s a gamechanger all the way around.

Gators shouldn’t let No. 1 ranking fool them

October 20, 2009

I’m probably not going to say anything Urban Meyer doesn’t say constantly.

But that No. 1 ranking bestowed on the Florida Gators in the BCS standings means next to nothing right now.

And I will go one step further: The Gators don’t really deserve it.

But for a couple of questionable calls – one of which the SEC now says should never have been called – the Gators would have already lost a game this season. And let’s not forget that Riley Cooper could have easily been flagged on that touchdown grab against LSU.

It could be Tim Tebow’s concussion, it could be Meyer’s decision to rein in the playbook following the injury to his star quarterback, or it could be defenses are finally catching up, but whatever it is the Gators do not look as dominant as they were last season.

The reason the Gators are winning right now has more to do with that stifling defense that has clamped down on explosive teams such as Arkansas. But the Gators don’t look like the best team in the country. It’s as simple as that. And that’s why the AP poll dropped them this week.

The Gators are probably still one of the better teams in the nation – and other than maybe Bama – it’s hard to envision who is going to beat them. (South Carolina may have the best shot, but it’s hard to imagine how the Gamecocks weak offense will be able to muster more than a touchdown.)

Still there a couple of underdogs left on the schedule that could give the Gators a big surprise if they aren’t careful.

Will the Gators win by 50 over FSU?

November 16, 2008
Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Sports Addict Gary Fineout

At the tail end of FSU’s loss to Boston College on Saturday night, Brent Musberger suggested to a TV audience that the Seminoles should burn their black jerseys.

He may be right.

The special black uniforms designed by Nike and that FSU says are a tribute to the unconquered Seminole Tribe couldn’t disguise the miserable performance in this crucial game. With the loss the Seminoles probably took themselves out of the running for the ACC Championship, although the team still has an outside chance if other teams ahead of them lose in the next two weeks.

It wasn’t surprising that FSU’s offense struggled against BC’s defense – which shut out Notre Dame the previous week – especially since FSU suspended five receivers a day before the game. But what’s been puzzling is that FSU’s defense has really struggled during the second half of the season, especially in losses to Georgia Tech and BC.

FSU’s reliance on blitzes and man-on-man coverage just couldn’t get the job done against BC as the Eagles big offensive line was able to outplay FSU defenders. Plus, the poor tackling enabled Eagles running back Montel Harris to have a monster game. Time after time Harris bounced, bulldozed and bruised his way down the field. Two weeks previously the Yellow Jackets use of the option attack constantly seemed to befuddle FSU defenders and contributed just as much to that loss as the fumble by Marcus Sims in the waning seconds.

This sudden breakdown by the defense doesn’t bode well for the most important game on the FSU schedule: The Nov. 28 showdown with Florida at Doak Campbell Stadium.

Earlier this season I thought if any team was capable of matching up against the Gators it was the Seminoles. They are familiar with Urban Meyer’s spread offense and they have enough speed to counter some of the tremendous players on that team. During the first half of the season, it was the FSU defense that kept the Seminoles in several of the game, even the loss to Wake Forest.

Not anymore.

If FSU can’t play man-to-man defense with the Boston College Eagles, what you do think the likes of Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow will do to them? The South Carolina Gamecocks on Saturday actually entered their game with the Gators as the third-ranked defense in the nation. The Gators absolutely shredded them, just like they have done to every other team since that 1-point loss to the Ole Miss Rebels earlier this season. Harvin rushed 8 times for 167 yards (a 20.9 yard average!) and The Gators handed Steve Spurrier his worst loss ever at the Swamp.

UF has now won six straight conference games by 28 or more points. Does anyone right now have any confidence the Gators won’t do that to FSU?

Another plus for UF: The Gators match up next week against The Citadel at home, while FSU has to travel to Maryland. That means the Seminoles will have just one week to prepare for their arch-rivals. If I were FSU head coach Bobby Bowden, I would be half-tempted to write off the long-shot ACC Championship and order offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher to come up with a vanilla game plan for the Terrapins. Bowden has to know that Meyer will probably won’t even play his starters for more than a half next week.

FSU should instead focus on what it’s going to take to avoid losing by 30 points or more to UF. Because whether the Seminoles wear black, or wear garnet and gold uniforms, they won’t be able to cloak what’s up on the scoreboard if the defense doesn’t improve.