Thoughts of the day: January 4, 2014

A few thoughts to jump start your Saturday morning:


A couple of days ago it seemed highly unlikely that Duke offensive line coach John Latina would be in the mix at Florida considering his close ties to Duke head coach David Cutcliffe and reports that Will Muschamp had his sights set on Texas O-line coach Stacy Searels. A friend who owns the Football Rumor Mill site, who knows both Muschamp and Searels quite well, said Friday night that it appears Latina will be the guy, following Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to Florida. Latina is the assistant head coach at Duke and was the offensive coordinator at Ole Miss when Eli Manning was the quarterback and Roper was the quarterbacks coach. Latina is a Virginia Tech grad (1981) who has an excellent resume. He’s worked for Bill Snyder at Kansas State, Tommy West at Clemson, Cutcliffe at both Ole Miss and Duke and Charlie Weis at Notre Dame. If there is a negative, it is that Latina was fired by Weis so he could hire Frank Verducci. Verducci, if you recall, was Florida’s O-line coach in 2011, and was fired after one season.


Marcus Roberson’s announcement on Twitter that he’s leaving Florida to head to the NFL a year early should surprise no one. The Gators have also lost Loucheiz Purifoy and Dominique Easley early to the NFL this year, and while there has not been an official announcement, Ronald Powell seemed to indicate on Twitter that he’s leaving, too. Sharrif Floyd, Jordan Reed, Jelani Jenkins left early after the 2012 season. With Roberson and Purifoy gone, the Gators will be searching for a starting corner. Vernon Hargreaves III has a lock on one spot. Of the corners on the roster, Nick Washington, who took a redshirt due to injury in 2013, could emerge in the spring. The Gators also have four corners committed – Duke Dawson, J.C. Jackson, Quincy Wilson and Chris Lammons – plus they are still in the mix for Adoree’ Jackson. The Gators will be young on the corners, but there will be no lack of talent.


Late Friday night, Sports Illustrated reported that former Florida defensive coordinator and Louisville head coach Charlie Strong and Texas had agreed to a multi-year contract that pays in excess of $5 million a year. Strong is a superb hire for the Longhorns. He is a class act all the way and one of the best closers in the business on the recruiting trail.  Strong is the kind of coach who can unite a dysfunctional fan base such as the one that Texas has. Strong first came to Florida as a graduate assistant under Charlie Pell. He also worked at Florida under Galen Hall, Steve Spurrier, Ron Zook and Urban Meyer. He was Florida’s defensive coordinator under Zook and Meyer. Former Gator assistants Vance Bedford and Kenny Carter are expected to leave Louisville for Texas with Strong. Bedford is a former Texas defensive back who was the defensive coordinator for Louisville’s #1 ranked defense and Carter has served as the running backs coach.


Following his Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops once again dissed the Southeastern Conference, claiming the league isn’t so overwhelming. He might have a case about 2013 since there really isn’t a dominant team or teams as in past years, but Auburn is playing in the national championship game and a win could give the SEC its eighth straight national champ. I understand that Stoops is just trying to stand up for his league and appeal to potential recruits that Oklahoma is as good as the teams in the SEC, but the Big 12 hasn’t won a national championship since Texas did it in 2005, and only two Big 12 teams (Oklahoma 2008; Texas 2009) have made it to the championship game in the years since. Stoops should be very proud of his team’s win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, but until the Big 12 starts playing for and winning national championships saying the SEC isn’t overwhelming sounds like a coach with a serious case of envy. Prediction: Bob Stoops will seriously consider an offer to become the head football coach of the Cleveland Browns of the NFL.


Was it a case of Alabama taking Oklahoma too lightly or was this an Alabama team that looked better than it really was because this was a down year overall by the SEC? Nick Saban says Alabama lost its focus after beating LSU back on November 9, which seems plausible considering the way the Crimson Tide played in its last four games, which produced uninspiring wins over Mississippi State and Chattanooga and losses to Auburn and Oklahoma. Factor in Alabama’s offensive line gave up more sacks to Oklahoma (7) than it did in the previous 12 games (6). You could also make a strong case that it has been a down year overall for the SEC with Alabama losing two games, Texas A&M losing four, Georgia losing five and Florida experiencing its first losing season in 34 years. There were lots of good offenses in the league, but it could be argued that there wasn’t a single dominant defense, particularly after seeing Alabama give up nearly 300 rushing yards to Auburn and four touchdown passes to Oklahoma.


LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson has declared for the draft. There is a good chance he will be joined by bookend tackle Ego Ferguson, who could announce on Monday … In addition to Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina will lose wide receiver Bruce Ellington, a move that also hurts the South Carolina basketball team where he is a point guard; defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles and cornerback Victor Hampton … Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans has declared and it’s probably just a matter of a day or two before Johnny Manziel follows suit … Also from the SEC: Wide receiver Chris Boyd (Vanderbilt); offensive tackle Antonio Richardson (Tennessee).


Miami’s site reported that Al Golden was offered the Penn State job, which is news to Penn State according to PennLive’s David Jones, who has been all over this story. Golden will be speaking to Penn State officials today per Joe Schad of ESPN, however … Sunday, Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin will interview for the job … The other reported top candidate for the job, Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak, met with Titans’ brass Friday to discuss his long term future but no decisions were announced.


Phil Everly died. If you’re young, you probably have no clue who I’m talking about but if you grew up in the 1950s and1960s, then you probably loved hearing the Everly Brothers (Don and Phi) with their great harmony singing songs such as “Bye Bye Love” and “Wake Up Little Susie.” My favorite was “All I Have to Do Is Dream.” Rest in peace Phil and thanks for the songs that will live on now that you’re gone.


SEC: 6-2; Pac-12: 6-3; ACC: 4-6; Big 12: 3-3; Conference USA: 3-3; Mountain West: 3-3; Independents: 2-1; American Athletic: 2-2; Big 10: 2-5; Sun Belt: 1-0; MAC: 0-4

Still to play: Today: Vanderbilt (SEC)-Houston (American Athletic) in the BBVA Compass Bowl; Sunday: Arkansas State (Sun Belt)-Ball State (MAC) in the GoDaddy Bowl; Monday: Florida State (ACC)-Auburn (SEC) in the national championship game.


I’ve been a Robert Cray fan since he played SunFest in West Palm Beach in consecutive years in the early 1990s. Officially he’s a blues singer but I’ve always thought his music was more fusion of blues and soul, particularly that stretch when he toured with the Memphis Horns. This is “Smoking Gun” from his “Strong Persuader” CD, which won a Grammy Award.  As a side note, Cray is the bass player for Otis Day and the Knights in “Animal House.”

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.