A few thoughts to jump start your Wednesday morning.
SPRING REVIEW: QUARTERBACKS
Kurt Roper certainly solidified his reputation as a quarterbacks coach in Florida’s recently concluded spring practice. There was noticeable improvement from day one to the Orange and Blue game by all three of Florida’s quarterbacks and while Jeff Driskel emerged from the spring as the #1 at the position, who’s the #2 isn’t exactly the slam dunk some thought it would be after the first couple of days of practice. Skyler Mornhinweg’s performance at the spring game was a bit of an eye-opener since he was decisive, knew were he was going with the ball and got it there accurately and on time. If Mornhinweg can continue to improve over the summer and play well in August, it would make a decision about giving freshman Will Grier a redshirt season to add some muscle to his skinny frame a whole lot easier. Of course, Treon Harris will join the team for Summer B and that could further complicate things about the pecking order. But for now, think of it as (1) Driskel, (2) Mornhinweg and (3) Grier. Trending: Up.
YOUNG TEAM GROWING UP
The toughest thing for a young team – no matter the sport – is figuring out how to win away from home. When a team dominated by underclassmen starts winning on the road that’s usually a sign of good things to come in the future. The future certainly looks bright for Florida’s baseball team (24-13) which just concluded an eight-game road trip with a 7-1 win over Florida Gulf Coast Tuesday night in Fort Myers on a combined four-hitter by four Florida pitchers and a 15-hit attack. Ryan Harris, Kirby Snead, Justin Shafer and Shaun Anderson didn’t walk a batter. Taylor Gushue went 3-4 and Richie Martin went 3-5 as the Gators finished off the lengthy road trip with a 5-3 record while playing half of those games against top five opponents. Give credit to Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan who sends one of the nation’s younger teams onto the field every game. The Gators return to SEC action this weekend when Georgia comes to town for a three-game set.
SEND IN THE CLOWNS, TENNESSEE VERSION
There was a time when the University of Tennessee ran a rather tight ship, emphasis on the word was. That was then. This is now. If they were to make a movie or television reality show about the Tennessee athletic department we would have to call it “Send in the Clowns.” The latest caper in Knoxville is the sudden and shocking departure of head basketball coach Cuonzo Martin, who stunned Vol fans Tuesday when he said yes to California of the Pac-12 and no to Tennessee. At the very moment of the announcement, there was seismic activity in Knoxville but it wasn’t an earthquake it was the simultaneous rolling over in the grave by football coaching legend Bob Neyland and basketball coaching legend Ray Mears.
Martin’s departure is just the latest goof of some magnitude by the Tennessee athletic department although it’s the first of any size by former FSU athletic director Dave “Spanky” Hart. Mike Hamilton was in charge back when Phil (Phattus Maximus) Fulmer was ousted after the 2008 season, setting off a script adapted from a Keystone Kops talkie back in the roaring twenties before we had talkies. Tennessee must have interviewed 15 potential coaches, got rejected by at least six and then settled on Lane Kiffin, who arrived in Knoxville with his foot permanently lodged in his mouth. After making certain he had insulted every single coach and every tradition held sacred in the Southeastern Conference, Kiffin bolted for Southern Cal, where he got fired midway through his fourth season on the job.
Of course, if you thought the attempt to hire Kiffin was a regular knee-slapper, it was tame by comparison to the coaching search that landed Derek Dooley, who got the job because his daddy (Vince) is famous and because he spent a few years working for Nick Saban. Derek proved that just because you hang around competent people and have a famous last name doesn’t mean any of that rubs off on you.
When Dooley got canned, it was Spanky’s turn to hire and he had about as much success as Hamilton. No matter how much Tennessee fans tell you they’re thrilled with Butch Jones as the head football coach, don’t believe it for a second. Like Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley before him, Butch wasn’t exactly the blue ribbon winner at the cattle show.
In between the football hires of Kiffin and Dooley, Cousin Brucie (Bruce Pearl) ran afoul of the NCAA. With the NCAA you can try to get a serial axe murderer eligible as long as you don’t lie about it. Bruce lied and it wasn’t even about a 7-footer with character issues. That cost him his job and forced AD Mike Hamilton out after turning Tennessee athletics into the sports version of the Titanic.
Now that brings us to Tuesday and Cuonzo Martin, a good guy who took over a team in the NCAA jailhouse from Cousin Brucie. All he did was live through 30,000 Tennessee fans signing a petition to have him fired so they could bring back Bruce and get the Vols within one rotten call by the zebras of making the Elite Eight a couple of weeks ago. For that, Spanky rewarded the 11th highest paid coach in the SEC with a $50,000 raise that would have bumped his salary to $1.35 million. Now $1.35 million doesn’t go nearly as far as it used to. It’s a lot of money for sure, but not when you’re talking the Monopoly money they hand out to coaches regularly and especially when you consider that there were eight coaches ahead of him on the SEC pay scale pecking order who didn’t make the NCAA Tournament this year. Now, Spanky Hart says he was willing to rewrite the contract and raise Cuonzo to $1.8 million but that still would have put him in the lower half of the league.
Take this into consideration: They’re paying Butch Jones, who went 5-7 last year and will be lucky to go 6-6 this year, nearly $5 million. Those are big bucks for not a lot of productivity. Cuonzo Martin was a bad call away from the Elite Eight for a little more than 25% of the money UT pays Jones. Cuonzo deserved better from Tennessee and when he didn’t get it he left. Tennessee got exactly what it deserved.
NOW THIS IS A SHOCK: THE NCAA DOES SOMETHING SMART
The NCAA legislative council has approved schools to give athletes unlimited food and snacks. That is actually a very big deal. Since 1973, when the NCAA ruled that athletes could no longer get that monthly allowance to pay for incidentals, there has been this perpetual war against athletes and coaches all allegedly to make the student-athlete more like every other student on campus. In reality, it’s been about the have nots of college sports dictating their terms to those who can afford such luxuries as athletic dorms and training tables. It has always made me shake my head that a coach can get fired for the actions of players but can’t have an athletic dorm with nightly bed checks, etc. It’s also been a head scratcher that players eat their pre-game meal for a 7 p.m. game sometime around 3 p.m. Typically a football game lasts nearly four hours and by the time players have showered, dressed, handled media obligations and tended to injuries, it’s after midnight. Typically, athletes will get a boxed chicken dinner and a couple of bottles of Gatorade. That’s not enough. Well, that can change thanks to the new recommendation and it’s about time.
QUESTION FOR TODAY
The question for today comes from Kenny Bowman: Who has played better than you expected this spring and who has underperformed? Please give your assessment of Grier and whether you expect him to get meaningful snaps next year.
I have to admit, I was blown away by how well Skyler Mornhinweg played in the spring game. I expected an average to below average performance but instead he was razor sharp. The ball came out of his hands quickly and accurately and he threw a ball that the receivers really had no problems catching. As for underperformers, I was disappointed with the play of Max Garcia at center. I thought he should have had a better spring because center is a better position for him than either guard or tackle. Now, I understand that making the calls at the line and then snapping the ball accurately is all new stuff since he played tackle at Maryland and guard mostly at Florida last year, but I expected him to have a great spring as the leader of the offensive line. I’m hoping that his underwhelming spring was more about adjusting to a new position.
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MUSIC FOR TODAY
From the first time I heard her sing her own music, I never grew weary of listening to Laura Nyro. Whether it was one of her original compositions or her own unique take on someone else’s music, her very unique sound made it worth listening to. When she died much too early in 1997 at the age of 50, we lost one of the brilliant musical minds of the 20th century. This is Laura’s remake of the old Delfonics’ song, “La La Means I Love You.”