We all know the movie. We all know the scene. Joe Pesci sitting on the porch bench, poring over legal pads trying hard as he can to win a case amidst a whirlwind of incredible obstacles. Marisa Tomei pacing back and forth, forcing her chunky heels into the wooden floor to make darn sure Vinny not only hears every impatient click, but feels the vibration of them all the way up his spine.
Except the movie isn’t My Cousin Vinny. It’s the 2017 Florida Gator football season. And it’s not Joe Pesci or Vincent Gambini as the flustered little guy who is a natural courtroom wiz underneath his simpleton exterior. It’s Jim McElwain. And it isn’t Marisa Tomei or Mona Lisa Vito stomping out her impatience for everyone to hear and wear on their last nerve. It’s the Florida football fans. And just like Tomei, they look outstanding in a backless orange & blue cat suit, but when they open their mouths, it can be as grating and obnoxious as Miss Vito reading Vinny the riot act.
So let’s have a screening of the My Cousin Vinny reboot, starring Jim McElwain and Gator Nation.
Mac: What’s the matter wichyou?
GN: I dunno.
Mac: You’re acting Iike you’re nervous of sumpin’.
GN: WeII, yeah. I am.
Mac: What are you nervous about? I’m the one that’s under the gun, here. And yet…it’s the home stretch of season starts tomorrow.
GN: You wanna know what I’m nervous about? I’II teII you what I’m nervous about. I am in the dark here with this football crap. I have no idea what’s goin’ on. AII’s I know is you’re screwin’ up and I can’t heIp.
Mac: You Ient me your IittIe advice on social media about who I should start at quarterback, didn’t ya?
GN: Oh, Mac! I’m watchin’ you go down in fIames, and you’re bringin’ me wichyou, and I can’t do anything about it.
GN: Well, I hate to bring it up – I know you got enough pressure on you already, but…we agreed to be an elite program again as soon as you got the offense fixed. MeanwhiIe, six games Iater, my niece, the daughter of my sister, is a Georgia fan and they’re undefeated. My impatient cIock is <stomp! stomp! stomp!> tickin’ Iike this, and the way this season is goin’, we ain’t never gettin’ elite again!
Mac: Gator fans, I don’t need this. I swear to Spurrier, I do not need this right now, K? I got a faction of fans that’s just aching to throw me in the unemployment line. An idiot who wants to run a 1920s offense. SIaughtered depth charts. Giant, Ioud whistles in the system. I ain’t sIept in five weeks. I got no quarterback. A coordinator probIem. I’m playing with only 55% of a normal college roster through no fault of my own – and it’s not the top 55%. I’m playing without 9 players on suspension, our only good quarterback, our 3 best receivers, our best running back, our third down running back, our wildcat quarterback, our second-best offensive lineman, our two biggest play-makers on offense, our biggest play maker at defensive end, another defensive end, both starting safeties, I’m missing so many linebackers that I had to start a walk-on Saturday night, and a IittIe win-loss record which, in the baIance, hoIds the Iives of over 70 innocent kids. Not to mention your <stomp! stomp! stomp!> impatient cIock, my career, your Iife, our university, the program-changing recruiting class in the wings, and Iet me see, WHAT ELSE can we piIe on? Is there any MORE unbelievable bad luck and dire consequences we can piIe onto the top of the outcome of this season?!…Is it POSSIBLE?!
GN: Maybe it was a bad time to bring it up.
Rinse, lather, repeat. The only thing differentiating the outcome of this game with the LSU game is the uniforms. Which is really too bad, because there was a lot of effort and improvement out of the players. The infuriating mental errors were reduced significantly. Rather than play catch up, the Gators not only led for nearly the entire game, they dominated it for three quarters. But for the second-straight week, the one constant was that we had an easily-winnable game (in point of fact, a game we could have easily won by blowout both weeks) scuttled on the rocks by one of, if not the worst play-caller in the history of college football.
There is no reason to review. Nothing to analyze. Again. The entire game was a how-to manual on losing football games through the offense. There were a few creative plays, but seldom were they used in creative situations. When we needed to be creative, we rolled out stodgy 19th century plays that were predictably stuffed. When we needed to just stick to bread and butter or just do the obvious wildcat or draw play, we tried to get fancy and cute, and were predictably stuffed.
Some coaching changes need to be made. Nussmeier simply cannot remain. I don’t care if Mac believes he is hamstrung by the quarterback. I don’t care if the Nussmeier offense is a very productive machine with a capable quarterback. The coordinator isn’t paid to sit on his butt and wait until a great quarterback comes along. He has to take what he’s got and mold the offense to the strengths of personnel. And Franks does have strengths to build on. As absurd as the avalanche of bad breaks and lost personnel has been, we were in position to SO EASILY blow out, let alone beat our last two opponents. And the play caller can’t just sit there and sabotage those chances with what is frankly moronic play calling. Not just bad – idiotic. Astonishingly brainless. When even the dim-wits in the network broadcast booth are calling out every single play before it is run – and correctly predicting each one – you know the defense knows what is coming. And even bad hitters can knock a ball out of the park against a Cy Young caliber pitcher if they know what pitch is coming and where it will be located.
If you can brush off the indignity, the disappointment, the rage, try to consider how many coaches in the country could be 4-3 (counting the automatic win the rest of the country got but we had taken away by hurricane) at this juncture given the personnel losses and the schedule. How many coaches can lose 45% of their roster and keep beating good SEC opponents each week? And yes, LSU and A&M are good. A&M just last week played Alabama closer than any other team in the last two years not named Clemson. And LSU just knocked off top-10 Auburn Saturday afternoon. They are athletic, they are talented, they are good SEC teams. And we had yet more bad luck by catching them when we did. Play either team earlier in the season and we win. But we played them while our situation was deteriorated and debilitated, and theirs were both bolstered and rehabilitated.
I mentioned last week that Jimbo Fisher has been in charge of the FSU program – certainly its offense – for 10 years, and all it took for his team to be floundering through an easy ACC schedule with a losing record is to lose ONE PLAYER. That’s 1.2% of his roster. Mac is playing without 45% of his.
So the macro question we should be asking right now is not how did we just lose to LSU and A&M in consecutive weeks, but how did we manage to only lose by 1 and 2 points, respectively? Because we had NO business being in those games in our current situation. You know it. I know it. The old folks know it. The yutes know it. Everyone was predicting that A&M would blow us out, but lost by just 2. The very fact that we were in the LSU game and would have gone to overtime if not for a botched PAT, and in fact dominated A&M before choking in the final minute, demonstrates that there is some incredibly good coaching going on in Gainesville right now.
Yes, you read that correctly. Read that again if you’d like. It is the truth.
But, look at how terribly coached we looked on special teams and offense? Oh yeah, I got that. Those are two assistant coaches who have no business drawing a paycheck from the University of Florida right now. And I fully expect them to be drawing nothing from UF except severance, either after the season or sooner. And if they are not, it will be at Mac’s own peril. I hope if staff changes are made that at least one is made before the Georgia game. Because despite whatever Mac’s long-range plan may be, this is a sport of optics, and we need to cleanse our lens.
Then again, he may know more that you and I do. He may know that he has earned over the last two years the cushion to do what he wants right now. He may have earned the buffer to let the season play out with this staff, take some lumps in the loss column and clean house after the year is over…or even retain them all for next year. Although the latter I believe is not only outside of his plan, but outside of what he would be allowed to do.
It would be unfathomable to imagine that he makes no staff changes between now and the end of the year. But if he doesn’t, at least I know his train of thought. Under that highly unlikely scenario, he would be thinking that if he hadn’t lost those 9 players to suspension and had the program tectonically turned upside down a matter of hours before the opener, if he hadn’t lost Luke Del Rio and Marcell Harris to season-ending injuries, and if he hadn’t lost the automatic win and crucial practice game to the hurricane, then he would be sitting at either 6-1 or 7-0, top-5 ranked in the country and getting two weeks of preparation to head into the Cocktail Party for one of those proverbial games of the century with Georgia. There’s no question in my mind about that, and certainly none in his.
And not a single person in Gator Nation would be talking about how bad the assistant coaches are.
But all that garbage DID happen. So he’s not sitting on top of the world, he’s in the Fire Swamp trying to avoid the Flame Spurts, Lightning Sand and R.O.U.S.’es. And to wrap up this week’s column, I have some words for all those toiling in the Pit of Despair:
Dose of Reality
Before closing, I would like to address the Florida faithful. Or to be more specific, the Florida unfaithful. Those of you who want to see Jim McElwain fired this year because the offense is struggling and we have lost some games. This may come as a jolt of cold water in your face, but it is time to face these facts:
Steve Spurrier isn’t walking through that door. Urban Meyer isn’t walking through that door. Charley Pell isn’t even walking through that door.
Please understand this: There will NEVER be another Steve Spurrier. There will NEVER be another Urban Meyer. Florida may be this magical place to which the best young coaches just gravitate uncontrollably because of all its beauty, wealth and abundance of advantages. But that doesn’t change the fact that legendary coaches do not abound in the college football landscape. In fact, they are the rarest commodity in the sport. Right now there’s only one in the entire college football universe: Nick Saban. And there’s another who used to be, but is now a shadow of his pre-esophageal spasm self. And they simply don’t come along often. Takes years, decades of time to find another. And in the mean time, you go with whoever is going to win you some conference and national titles whenever possible.
Don’t take my word for it. Look at the history of every top program in the game.
You know how many years Alabama fans had to wait between Bear Bryant and Nick Saban? A quarter of a century. In that time, they had but one good coach, Gene Stallings, who was so appreciated for his one national title that they forced him out of the program. And this is the most revered program in the sport. But it’s not in fact the most successful. That would be Michigan.
You know how many years Michigan had to wait between Fielding Yost and his 6 national championships and their next legendary coach Bo Schembechler? It was 43 years! And P.S., Schembechler never even won a single national title. After Yost, the Wolverines had three coaches win four national titles over the course of 30 years, then waited half a century for their next and only national title since then, won by Lloyd Carr, who was far from lionized but did finish as the 4th-winningest coach in program history in 13 years, with 5 conference titles. So Michigan’s benchmark is somewhere between 40 and 50 years between legendary coaches.
The next winningest program in the country is Notre Dame. They obviously had the very good fortune of having Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy just 11 years apart, and then another 11 years between Leahy and Ara Parseghian, but that was a different era. That was the tail end of a time when teams like Yale, Lafeyette and Colgate used to win national titles. You know it was a different world when national championships were won by toothpaste. The Domers had two coaches win a single national title each over the following 16 years, but neither met fan expectations, and one was even forced out of the job. So since Parseghian retired, the Irish have been looking for their next great coach for 43 years.
Ohio State is next on the list. They had just one legendary coach, Woody Hayes. Five national titles in 27 years. It was a quarter century before Jim Tressel came along and some success, even a national title, before leaving in disgrace of NCAA scandal. Enter Urban Meyer, who for all his success in Columbus is going to finish his sixth season with the Buckeyes only logging one national title. He certainly has not been the same head coach he was at Florida where he won 2 natties in 3 years and was a drunken team party away from winning 3 in 4. If Urban Meyer is their next legendary coach, then the Buckeyes waited 34 years between them. If not, and I think he’s not, then it’s 40 years and counting.
Oklahoma has been waiting 29 years since Barry Switzer rode off into the sunset of NCAA shame and scandal. They thought they had a new hero in 2000, but Bob Stoops and his one national title in 18 years falls far short of legendary status. Texas has been waiting 41 years since Darrell Royal retired. USC waited over a quarter of a century between John McCay and Pete Carroll, whose short 1-BCS national title “dynasty” was stripped of that one title and stripped of any credibility, when the NCAA exposed that it was all done by cheating. So really, it’s been 42 years and counting. It’s been 20 years since Tom Osborne left Nebraska. Penn State has only had one, and it’s been 31 years since Joe Paterno’s last championship. Clemson had to wait 19 years between their only national title-winning coaches, Danny Ford and Dabo Swinney, and 35 years between their lone championships. You get the picture.
Want to look closer to home in the SEC? We already looked at Alabama. Robert Leyland left Tennessee 65 years ago and they’re still waiting for legend #2 to show up. The two best coaches since then – Johnny Majors and Phil Fulmer – were both fired. Auburn only had one legendary coach – Shug Jordan – who has been gone for 42 years. And he only won a single national title in 25 years. Ole Miss also had just one in their history, Johnny Vaught, and they’ve been trying to find their next great coach for 44 years. Arkansas has been trying to find the next Frank Broyles for 41 years. LSU? They’ve never even had one. Neither has Georgia or Mississippi State. South Carolina? The winningest coach they’ve ever had was Steve Spurrier 2.0, with only one division title. And it’s not even close. That’s just sad.
So please understand that Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer are NOT the Florida standard for head coaches. They are the outliers. They are among the greatest head coaches in the history of the sport. And no, those don’t just appear out of the ether and line up to be the next coach at Florida or anywhere else. Especially if Florida becomes a place that fires their coach one year removed from winning division titles two years in a row. Florida already has a reputation for driving away even the beloved coaches. Spurrier and Meyer couldn’t run away from Gainesville fast enough when they decided they’d had it.
Fire Mac now, and to all prospective head coaches, Florida will be the most beautiful vampire at the dance.
So we need to take stock in what we have in Jim McElwain. I don’t care if you like him. I don’t care if you value dynamic offense over wins and championships. I don’t care if you have no patience. What I do care about is that everyone make at least an effort to be fair in assessing the complete resume of a head coach before condemning him based on one sub-par season record.
Because unlike the coach Mac replaced at Florida, we are not seeing his only head coaching resume written before our eyes. He had a track record coming into the job. A track record of a quick and meteoric turnaround at Colorado State, and prolific, balanced offenses at CSU and Alabama. And when he has had a good-to-great quarterback to work with at Florida (Will Grier and/or Del Rio), not only is he 13-1, 9-1 in the SEC, he has also fielded an offense that has ranged between good and unstoppable. And the drop from being a very good offense to being a very bad offense has always occurred the nanosecond Grier or Del Rio have exited and Harris, Appleby or Franks has entered.
So yes, it really is all because of the quarterback.
But wait, you say. Isn’t it Mac’s job to sign and develop quarterbacks? So shouldn’t he be fired if his quarterbacks can’t cut the mustard?
Again, all I ask is that assessment be fair. Ignoring even for a moment that the QB coach at Florida is not Mac, but Nussmeier. Just be fair. That means you can’t look at the results and pretend the journey to get there didn’t happen. And let’s look at Mac’s quarterback journey at Florida, shall we?
First he inherited only one good quarterback, though young and severely undisciplined. Will Grier would likely be the Heisman front-runner at UF this year had he played continuously since he started his career, but instead he got himself suspended for a whole year for trying to mask an intentionally-consumed elicit substance (I will just leave it at that), then leaves the program because his dad demands the Mac guarantee him the starting job when he comes back from suspension. Before this even happens, Mac proactively goes out and gets Luke Del Rio, who to remind everyone is 7-1 in starts or relief “saves”, but he gets knocked out for the season with injury, two years in a row. Then Mac signs Franks, a top-5 national recruit at the position, and he just doesn’t have it between the ears to play at an SEC level at SEC speed. He also signs Kyle Trask, who has it all between the ears and has all the physical tools to execute the play book – just lacks experience – and then HE goes and gets injured and is out for the year, so he’s not an option, either. Before that even happens, Mac already has another elite high school stud Jake Allen committed to Florida and recruiting his behind off for the Gators, and he gets his back broken (literally) before he even graduates high school, so he’s not ready to play yet, either. It’s so beyond absurdity, it’s like we’re cursed at quarterback. And the QB curse is a microcosm of all the Murphy’s Law carnage that has befallen this program and this coach since news broke of the 7, soon to be 9 players suspended from the team. After what those players were caught doing, it wasn’t just news that was broken.
Just a week prior to that news hitting the program like a magnitude 8 earthquake, Mac was talking confidently about kicking Michigan around the field and kicking down the door in Atlanta this year. He wasn’t just whistling Dixie. He had reason to be confident. And basically all those reasons have blown up like a flock of ducks landing in a mine field in front of us. Next year, we will have the best and most game-ready freshman quarterback to don the orange and blue since Rex Grossman. He will bring with him one of the best running backs, receiver groups and pair of tight ends to ever sign in one class with Florida. And that’s just the beginning for this recruiting class. And the 2019 class is already ranked #1 in the nation and has been for quite some time because it’s approaching half a class I size already. And the 2018 Florida season won’t start with 9 players ripping the team and depth chart apart. It won’t start with a dangerous road game against a top-10 team. As a collar bone injury is not career-threatening, it will be the first season that Mac has had at Florida where he is not one injury or one urine test away from having zero capable quarterbacks. All these true freshman and other youngsters who are currently manning most of the spots on offense and defense will be miles ahead in experience and confidence next year. And the schedule is significantly easier – especially in the first half of the season, when we are breaking in our new quarterback – than it is this year.
So, yeah. I am supporting Mac to see this season through. And frankly I don’t even understand any mindset that doesn’t.