A few thoughts to jump start your Christmas Eve:
It’s Christmas Eve. Did you get all or at least most of your shopping done early or are you one of those last second types who believes that real men or real women fight the crowds on Christmas Eve and still come away with everything they were asking for? Most of my shopping is done, but here is my Gator wish list. I can’t shop for it, but I can indeed hope it comes true.
1. Some well-heeled booster with the right religious connections will feel the need to donate the funds and the phone number of an experienced exorcist. Forget any preconceived notions about religion or exorcism. Sure, you read the book and saw the movie. You know all about demon possession. Well, there was an injury demon loose in the Florida football and basketball locker rooms this year. How else can you explain all the injuries that turned 2013 into a nightmare for Will Muschamp and shortened Billy Donovan’s bench by two or three players for much of November? Even if you don’t believe in exorcisms or don’t know enough about them to have an opinion one way or the other, it couldn’t hurt.
2. A charismatic star who can be the face of Florida football needs to emerge. All the great Florida teams have always had that guy whose presence stirred the Gator universe. It’s been four years since the Gators had a real star with a magnetic personality who inspired the masses. We had Tim Tebow and we know what he did at Florida. FSU has one right now in Jameis Winston and we see what it’s done for the hated Seminoles. Florida desperately needs a star to emerge. The masses feel downtrodden. They need a hero in the worst way.
3. The right assistant coaches for Will Muschamp. Muschamp is going through what most young head coaches go through – it takes awhile to find the right mix of recruiters, strategists and on-the-field coaches. Most young head coaches do the experimenting to get the staff right at training wheels jobs like Kent State or San Jose State, which are far from the klieg lights and media hordes of the Southeastern Conference. Screw up your offensive coordinator at Bowling Green and two radio stations, the campus newspaper and the sports editor of the Sentinel-Tribune will notice. Do that in the SEC and you’ve got six- figure a year boosters leading the charge to have your head on a platter and your butt on the fastest Greyhound out of town. Muschamp has been doing his on the job training the last three years and mistakes have been made with the staff. If Muschamp is going to be the long-term solution at Florida, then he’s got to make all the right hires this year.
4. An offensive coordinator who is a master of something other than the two-inch pass would be a pleasant way to start the new year. Gator fans listened to John Lennon. They gave Pease a chance. Well, that didn’t work out so well, now did it? Pease is gone and in his place needs to be a coordinator who believes throwing deep is a ball that travels more than 10 yards in the air vertically, not horizontally. It would be so nice to have some throws to stretch the field and an occasional play call that catches everybody — including the other team and not just the folks in the stands and on TV — by complete surprise. The new coordinator doesn’t have to be a certifiable card carrying member of Mensa, but it would be really great if he’s got a high IQ offense that the other guys have problems figuring out.
5. It would be nice if the new offensive line coach – he hasn’t been hired yet, but at some point we know he’s on the way – has mastered the art of persuasion. He can’t control injuries so he’s got to go with whatever healthy bodies he has to work with. That might require getting into the heads of his troops because he’s got to persuade them that they can forget that silly notion that it’s illegal to impede the progress of a fast pass rusher coming off the edge. And while he’s about it, perhaps he can persuade the O-linemen that they don’t have to move until the ball is snapped and that real men don’t hold.
6. A sound body and a quick mind for Jeff Driskel would be a comfort to Gator fans everywhere. We know that Driskel has a powerful arm and can run like a deer. We know he has the kind of skill set that should translate into big offensive numbers. What we don’t know is that he can stay healthy an entire season. There was the high ankle sprain his freshman year. He missed the Jacksonville State game in 2012 and then went down with a broken leg in the Tennessee game in 2013. So a healed, healthy body that stays healthy would be a very nice Christmas gift. We also don’t know if Driskel can finally put that annoying habit of holding the ball way too long in the past. It’s all in his head. Northing physical to it. Somewhere in his head there has to be a clock going One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Three Mississippi and before the clock hits Four Mississippi the ball is out of his hands and on its way accurately to a wide receiver.
7. The return of Coca-Cola to all the sports venues at the University of Florida needs to happen yesterday. I’m a Southerner. Southerners drink Coca-Cola. You don’t ever hear anyone in the South say, “Let’s stop and get a Pepsi.” This is one of the ways you know if someone is from the South. A Southerner will say, “Hey, time to get a Coke.” Even if he doesn’t get a Coke, he’s gonna say Coke. It’s a Southern thing and if you weren’t born here, you probably don’t understand. Now, I know that Pepsi was invented in New Bern, North Carolina, which is also in the South, but if it were truly the South’s very own drink people wouldn’t say, “Hey, time to get a Coke” even when they want a big orange. The Florida sports venues deserve Coca-Cola. Besides being Southern it’s just better.
8. One last chance for Tim Tebow. Either someone needs to give Tim a real chance to play quarterback in a system designed around his particular skills or Tim needs an epiphany moment when he realizes that million dollar a year jobs are hard to come by and that might mean playing tight end or H-back. I know that Tim aspires to do great things outside of football, but most of his dreams require money. If he asks for it, I’m sure a lot of folks will gladly write checks, but Tim could jump start that process by landing a job that pays a million or so bucks running over safeties and linebackers in the NFL after catching passes. I still think he can play quarterback if the system is right, but if no one is going to give him that chance, I hope he has that moment when he decides tight end is not a bad gig.
9. A punched ticket to the Basketball Hall of Fame for Billy Donovan. What he has done at Florida is beyond remarkable. Billy Donovan has not only made Florida basketball relevant, but a consistent player on the national stage. He’s got three Final Fours, two national championships won in back-to-back fashion, three straight Elite Eights and an SEC-record 15 straight 20-win seasons at a FOOTBALL school which makes it all the more impressive. And, he’s done it with a measure of class and without a hint of an NCAA scandal. No Final Fours vacated. No World Wide Wes hanging around the locker room. Billy DESERVES the Hall of Fame and the Hall of Fame will be lucky to have him join the fraternity.
And while we’re making our list and checking it twice, another national championship this year would be very nice.
10. More athletes like the Oh-Fours, Stefi Sorensen, Hudson Randall, Amanda Castillo, Ahmad Black and Dallas Baker. You could ask them a question and get an answer that came from the heart, not something that has been scripted beforehand. They never once embarrassed the University of Florida with something they said but you always could depend on an honest answer. To their credit, none of them ever ducked a question either with some silly non-sensical or robotic scripted answer.
11. (Non-Gator wish) The answer to what Billie Joe McAlister was throwing off the Tallahatchee Bridge. I heard the song “Ode to Billie Joe” again yesterday for maybe the 150 thousandth time. I still don’t know what Billie Joe threw off the Tallahatchee Bridge nor do I know why he jumped into the muddy waters below. It’s been 46 years. Time for someone to confess.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I was already a Kenny Loggins fan from his Loggins and Messina days when he debuted with his first solo album “Celebrate Me Home” in 1976. “Celebrate He Home is the title track to the album, a great song about going home for Christmas. I hope all of you will be home for Christmas and all your loved ones will be with you.