Thoughts of the day: January 9, 2014

A few thoughts to jump start your Thursday morning:


There might be a coach out there who is better with Xs and Os and maybe some who are better recruiters, but there is no better college basketball coach than Billy Donovan. When it comes to investing into the lives of his players and getting them to understand that at some point they have to be responsible and accountable members of the real world, I don’t know of a better coach in any sport. After the win over South Carolina Wednesday night, Donovan announced that Damontre Harris is back with the team. He won’t play this year and there are plenty of hoops to be jumped through before he will be allowed to play next year, but the way Donovan handled this entire situation shows what a good heart that Billy has. He could have said no, be gone forever when Harris contacted Donovan, wanting to come back to UF after leaving in December. Donovan could have done what a lot of other coaches might have done and let Harris play immediately. Donovan said no to that too. He has a plan for Damontre Harris, that if Harris will follow it will make him a better basketball player and a responsible, accountable adult. There isn’t any coach in any sport I would rather have than Billy Donovan. He is simply the best.


When he was spending his last day in Gainesville before leaving to prep for the 2007 NBA Draft, I spent several hours with Joakim Noah. There were plenty of funny stories about the Oh Fours and a lot of laughter that afternoon, but I’ll never forget how Noah’s entire demeanor changed when the subject changed to his relationship with Billy Donovan. There are no two people on the planet more opposite than Donovan and Noah, yet they share a genuine love that goes well beyond coach-player. When I asked Noah what he was going to miss most about Donovan, I thought I was going to get this long, cerebral answer, but instead Noah came back with, “Laying down on the sofa in Coach Donovan’s office and talking for an hour while he sits at the desk. We did that a lot. I could talk to him about anything and tell him everything and I always knew that Coach Donovan would listen. I always knew he wanted what’s best for me.” That statement goes a long way toward explaining why Donovan is the best coach in all of college basketball.


A whole lot of folks sent me texts, emails and instant messages disputing my very early preseason prediction that Florida will finish fourth next year in the SEC East. My prediction is – at this time – that Florida will finish 8-4 next year and that the Gators will finish behind South Carolina, Missouri and Georgia in the East. I think that’s pretty realistic based on the schedule and based on the fact we aren’t going to know until spring football about the health of Jeff Driskel and some of Florida’s other wounded warriors from 2013. Now, throw in the fact that the Gators are breaking in a new offensive coordinator and line coach. While everyone hopes for a smooth transition, there are no guarantees. For now, I think fourth is reasonable. After the spring that could change because we’ll not only know more about the Gators but plenty more about the other teams in the East.


Louisville will introduce Bobby Petrino as its new head coach at 10:30 this morning. This will be the fifth introductory press conference for Petrino since 2003 and second in the last two years. Maybe it will be his last one for awhile but that remains to be seen. If you’ve followed his career then it seems there has never been a job for which Bobby Petrino wouldn’t interview. If he’s willing to stay with Louisville, he’s got a chance to build the program into an ACC powerhouse. There isn’t a school in the conference with Louisville’s facilities and money is never an object. Charlie Strong left behind a full cupboard when it comes to talent so basically all Petrino has to do is plug in a quarterback who can remember to throw to the guys wearing the same colored shirt he wears and the Cardinals will score a ton of points.


Charlie has already gotten a taste of the entitlement felt by some of those billionaire boosters at Texas. Red McCombs, who used to own the San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Vikings, shot off his mouth earlier in the week and said that Strong “would make a great position coach, maybe even a coordinator.” Maybe? I guess Red never saw Florida win those two national championships with crushing defenses that Strong coordinated, and I guess he never saw what Strong did after inheriting a Louisville program that had been run through the ringer by Steve Kragthorpe. The last two years the Cards went 23-3 and won the 2012 Sugar Bowl. Charlie handled it with a measure of class, which is what you would expect. As the billionaire boosters are about to find out, they’ll never see Charlie Strong sweat. They need to get used to him being around because he’s going to win and win big.


The Scranton Times-Tribune and other news outlets in Pennsylvania are reporting that James Franklin of Vanderbilt has been offered the Penn State job and is expected to either accept or reject the offer Thursday. Franklin is a native of Pennsylvania and one of college football’s hottest properties right now. If the Penn State folks – particularly those who worship at the grave of Joe Paterno – will let him build the program the way he knows how, then Penn State will emerge from the NCAA sanctions ready to rejoin the ranks of college football’s perennial powers. Of course, there is always the chance that Franklin will say no and decide to stay at Vanderbilt, where there is far less pressure to win and where he’s building his own legacy. At Vandy he is the first James Franklin. No matter how well he does at Penn State about the best he will ever do is be known as the “next Joe Paterno.”


If Franklin goes to Penn State, it will be interesting to see which direction Vanderbilt goes in. There are already some folks who are speculating that this will be the job that lures Kirby Smart out of his safe Alabama cocoon where he is Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator, and he would certainly be a great hire, but the trend these days seems to be on the other side of the ball. A couple of names that are being talked up are former Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson or Ball State head coach Pete Lembo. Both run exciting offenses and have a reputation as academics-first types. If I were the Vandy AD, my first stop would be Clemson. I don’t know if Chad Morris would turn down an offer to be an SEC head coach.


Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier lasted two years under Nick Saban. On the same day it was reported that Michigan coach Brady Hoke had fired offensive coordinator Al Borges, it was reported that Nussmeier is the handy dandy replacement coordinator. At Alabama, Nussmeier was making $700,000 but reports are that Michigan will pay at least a million a year. So, who becomes the new OC at Alabama? I’d keep a close eye on former Tennessee and Southern Cal head coach Lane Kiffin. Saban had Kiffin in for an alleged consulting session a couple of weeks ago. Is it possible that Saban already knew of Nussmeier’s imminent departure and the “consulting session” was really a job interview? I know a lot of people don’t like Lane, but the man does know how to coach up a quarterback and call plays. Plus he is a lights out recruiter, which will make him the perfect fit on the Alabama staff. If I were a gambling man, I’d put my money on Kiffin as Bama’s next OC. And, if Kiffin lands at Bama, I would expect that Saban will find room for Ed Orgeron on his staff as well. Coach O at Bama? Stranger things have happened.


During my family’s three-year exile to Mississippi, the woman who cooked, cleaned our house and ironed our clothes used to bring her records with her when she came to work so she could listen on our stereo. Willistine introduced me to James Brown, Sam Cooke, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and best of all, Jackie Wilson. What a tragic story his life was and it’s a shame that the people he trusted the most stole his money. But, wow! Could he ever sing. “Lonely Teardrops” and “Higher and Higher” are rhythm and blues classics, but the song I have always loved best by Jackie Wilson was “I Get the Sweetest Feeling.”

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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.


  1. Donovan: No doubt the best.
    Jackie Wilson: No doubt, the best. Perhaps your forgot To Be Loved, and Night. The guy was simply the best ever. The problem was the generaation he grew up in. Go Gators

  2. Franz…
    Fantastic story about Joakin. This is the kind of stuff that only comes from those who ARE connected to Florida Basketball. This doesn’t come out of some paper down in Orlando, eh? Thank you…
    You might be right about Florida coming in 4th next year in the East. We all hope that you are wrong but Gator fans need to be realistic and try their best to swallow that fact. And if we do better than that, fantastic.

    What part of Mississippi did you live in? Being the Music Affectionado that you are, I am sure that you have been to Clarksdale, Mississippi. The “Home Of The Blues.”
    Located right on Hwy 61, which is the “Blues Highway”… it is the birthplace of what we know today as the inspiration of Rock, Country, R&B and so many other genres.
    The boyhood home of Muddy Waters is there on the Stovall Plantation.
    Then, there is Hopson Plantation, the home of Pinetop Perkins and the location of the TRUE Bluesmobile used in the movie. If it is running, you can actually drive it around the plantation!

    And then, the small town of Tutwiler… just 14 miles outside of Clarksdale.which is where W.C. Handy discovered the Blues in 1903. Just two miles away is the burial site of one of the greatest black harp players…Sonnyboy Williams.
    Lastly, many do not realize that numerous Rock and Blues artists travel to Clarksdale to pay their homage to Clarksdale. It is said that Robert Plant travels there every few years just to, “soak up the feeling” that the Blues brings.