College Football

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Gators in Gainesville

It’s an orchestrated effort outside of the Gators’ practice field every night. Practice usually ends around six o’clock with the players filing out and walking from the field to the stadium, along side the O’Connell Center. Maybe about a quarter mile walk. Along the first half of that quarter mile, there are numerous autograph and picture seeking fans, all waiting to get a glimpse of the Gators and of Tim Tebow.

It’s a little bit confusing when you first walk up because there are all these people standing around, but they’re about 50 yards away from the gate of the practice field. I walked over there to find a female student athletic department assistant named Amy armed with a radio holding the fans at bay.

“You have to stay behind this pole,” she said as people were trying to surge forward.

Remember when the University issued a plea to students to stop asking Tim Tebow for his autograph on campus? Amy was there to keep these folks in line until practice got out. They were holding jerseys, footballs, sheets of paper, orange and blue posters, whatever, looking for an autograph. Matt Kingston, my photographer and I were given strict instructions to stay behind the pole. “You can take video,” she confirmed with somebody inside the practice field, “but you have to stay back here. And no interviews. That’s by Gate 1.”

“There are a lot of rules here,” I joked with Matt just as the players came pouring out of the gate.

Ryan Stamper and Brandon James both stopped to say hi, recognizing a familiar face from Jacksonville. Both have had big roles in the Gators success in the past two years. Tebow stayed on the practice field for at least an extra 20 minutes working on throws of different trajectory and velocity as well as distance.

Having covered an NFL team along with major college football concurrently for the last 15 years, the contrast in the media covering the two is dramatic. The NFL media is older, more cynical, wisecracking and judgmental. The college media is much younger, much more a bunch of fans and much much more deferential to the people they’re talking to.

Especially the coach.

The dozen or so media outlets covering Florida football during the week follow Urban Meyer around like lap dogs. The questions are all softballs, technical stuff that can’t go into a story but rather would qualify as “insider” info that they can use to impress their friends on campus. Half of them are asking questions trying to impress Meyer with their knowledge of his team. It’s a lay-up for Meyer every day. I guess that’s why when I asked him a question about motivating his team this week he was a bit startled.

First it was an unfamiliar voice and I’m pretty sure I asked him an actual question something like, “Is it a challenge to motivate this team in this stretch with them knowing they’re going to that game in December and who their opponent is going to be?” He literally did a double take and then very directly answered, “not this week. Not with who we’re playing.”

It was a mild reference to Steve Spurrier but without much emotion.

“Is it because of this particular team, the leadership this year, the guys on this team?” I followed up with. “We have good leadership on this team,” Meyer said without adding anything.

By the way, I’m sure Tim stopped to sign some autographs. In fact, my friends Joe and Liz were able to get Tim to stop for a photo for their Christmas card:

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Gators/Dogs: End of an Era?

Georgia looked cool in the black pants and black helmets. “I saw that in warm-ups,” Tim Tebow said after the game, “and I said, ‘who cares.'” The Bulldogs have tried to change their luck in a variety of ways, but it looks like the only thing that will work is the eligibility of Tebow to run out.

Florida’s 41-17 win is their 17th in the last 20 years and completes a two-decade run of domination started when Steve Spurrier became the head coach of the Gators. Through three coaches at both schools, Ray Goff, Jim Donnan and Mark Richt at Georgia, Spurrier, Ron Zook and Urban Meyer at Florida, the outcome has been the same: Florida has been the favorite and it’s been an upset if Georgia wins.

While I believe that’s over, it does bear inspection.

Spurrier disliked Georgia from his days as a player and focused on that game more than any other. “It’s played in the Gator Bowl, it’s in Florida and we drive and they fly,” he said about the Florida/Georgia game at his introductory press conference in 1990. While he changed the way college football is played, he especially enjoyed running the score up on the Bulldogs. The time out/flea-flicker in Athens is one of the most despicable, un-sportsmanlike things I’ve ever seen.

“Aw Sammy, they’ll get over it,” Spurrier told me after that game.

Zook was given the boot, but beat Georgia when he wasn’t supposed to. Urban Meyer has taken this game seriously, and of course, he has Tim Tebow. Tebow is the perfect quarterback for Meyer’s spread offense, but more importantly, he puts so much pressure on the defense as a guy who can run that he opens things up for everybody else.

“I love winning this game,” Tim said afterwards. “It’s been a great experience to win on that field.”

With eighteen carries for 85 yards, Tebow kept an already reeling Georgia defense off balance. Combine that with his two early touchdown passes and he’s a one man wrecking crew.

Save for about 2 minutes after they scored a touchdown to make it 14-10, I never got the feeling that Georgia thought they could win the game. As long as 15 was in the game in Orange and Blue, the Bulldogs knew he’d do something to beat them. But that’s now over. Tim’s not coming back and defenses are starting to figure out the spread offense. Gator fans are going to need to get used to competitive games again against teams like Tennessee, LSU and yes, Georgia.

Georgia needs to get their act together and be competitive in this game again. And being competitive in this game also means contending for the SEC East title. They have a big time player in AJ Green but need a consistent quarterback and somebody to be a big play guy on defense. There’s a lot of rumbling in the ‘Dog Nation about Richt being loyal to a fault, so look for some staff changes in the off-season.

Florida’s win combined with South Carolina’s loss to Tennessee puts them in the SEC Title game in Atlanta. But they still have four games left in the regular season, all of which they’ll be a favorite in. Here’s where the challenge is: if the goal is always to “get to Atlanta” as Meyer says, once that’s accomplished can you shift focus to actually thinking about the National Championship?

It’ll be an interesting coaching challenge for all of those guys in Gainesville.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Florida/Georgia Celebration!

I first heard of the Florida/Georgia game when covering the Gator Bowl. I asked a vendor in 1978, “Is this the only game played in this stadium?” “Oh no,” she replied, “Florida/Georgia.”

Simple as that.

She looked at me like I was crazy for not knowing about “Florida/Georgia.” Growing up in Baltimore and going to school in Washington, Florida/Georgia didn’t have any meaning to me. Little did I know that it would become the signature sporting event defining my career to most of my friends and family who aren’t, as the saying goes, “from around here.”

My friend Keith wanted to experience the game in it’s fullest one year. Instead of staying with me he wanted to be a part of it. I asked if he was sure, perhaps he wanted to stay with me in Mandarin, again. But he said no, “I want to be in the thick of it.”

So be it.

I got him rooms at the Hyatt and left him to his own devices until Saturday morning. “How’d it go,” I asked around 10. “If I hear ‘how ’bout them dogs’ or ‘Go Gators’ one more time, I’m going to get into a fight.” I laughed and said, “How late did it go?” “I finally fell asleep at 4:30 when the guy in the next room stopped playing the recording of ‘Go Georgia Bulldogs!’

The game has a long tradition and it’s tied to Jacksonville. The wins and the losses on both sides are part of the lore of college football nationwide. Whether it’s Buck Belue to Lindsay Scott or a Don Gaffney led Gator drive for the winning score, everybody remembers something about this game and it belongs to them.

“I was there,” is a popular refrain when talking about this match up.

And generally that’s true. Most people are inside the stadium. It’s famous for it’s size and everybody knows that the size of the stadium now housing an NFL franchise was mandated to accommodate this one game of the year. More than 80,000 seats and still not enough. That’s why the game was under attack, or perhaps more specifically, Jacksonville’s hosting the game was under attack. The tentative agreement to extend the contract here was important to Gators and Bulldogs alike.

The game belongs here.

Atlanta can create it’s own traditions.

The history of the contest is as much about the trip here, the fans participation, the uniqueness of the 50-50 seating split and the tailgating as it is about the happenings on the field. If there are more than 80,000 inside the stadium, there might be 40,000 more who are around the stadium, knowing they won’t be getting tickets but wanting to be part of the festivities.

We know the late Bill Kastelz dubbed it “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” in a time of less political correctness. It remains that to this day, whether we call it that or not. And there’s a debate about which is more celebrated, the game on the field or the one off it.

I had a news director once tell me on Friday prior to the game he needed four press credentials for Saturday. “Good luck,” I said. “Why,” he asked perplexed. “It’s like looking for credentials the night before the finale of one of the big political conventions,” I responded. Indignant he snorted, “That’s ridiculous, it’s just a blanking football game. I don’t understand.” “You’re right,” I said, “you don’t understand.”

As the host of the game, Those of us here in Jacksonville should celebrate the culture of the game that has a place in college football history. Not just among Georgians or Floridians and not just among southern football or SEC fans. But a place in history among the great sporting events in this country.

It’s a “must see” among sports fans who want to experience college football, in all it’s glory. And as the host who invites people to their home for a party, we have a responsibility to our guests each year.

A responsibility of safety is paramount. The game has it’s share of tragedies that need never to be repeated. We have a responsibility of courtesy. Inviting people to our town for the weekend means friendliness, even among tough circumstances.

Last year’s parking crunch provided it’s share of challenges, but watching the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office operate in a tough situation was just what many of us hoped for. When I arrived a couple hours before game time only to be told that my parking lot was already full, the JSO officer just looked at me and said, “Park it right here, I’ll take care of it.”

So I did. And so he did.

Leaving it on a street corner, only to come back after the game with the officer still on duty, and cones around my car and 15 others lined up behind it in a makeshift lot. Necessity is the Mother of Invention.

And we have a responsibility of entertainment, as any good host does, a responsibility to see that our guests have a good time.

Nobody condones over-indulgence when it comes to this game but the weekend, and for some already in RV city last Tuesday, is truly a celebration of college football and our connection as a city to the game. This Florida/Georgia Hall of fame is housed in our arena for people coming to concerts, basketball game, car shows or whatever to see just how much a part of the fiber of our culture it is.

And we should celebrate it.

Our current efforts with safety zones, pedestrian walking areas, free concerts and events throughout the city are a step in the right direction. Why not create a festival, one that doesn’t impede traffic to the game, and celebrate what we have, what we enjoy as part of not just college football tradition but as part of who we are.

Congratulations to this year’s honoree’s and inductees into the Hall. It’s a high honor because you will forever be remembered as part of the lore of one of the greatest spectacles in all of sports.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Bobby Bowden Stays

I’ve been around Bobby Bowden since 1978. I’ve seen him skinny and not-so-skinny. Happy and sad, after wins and losses. I’ve been with him after “Wide Right” (I and II) and “Wide Left.” Big wins, and big losses. “Echo of the whistle” and all the rest. He’s consistent, kind, thoughtful and honest. He’s everything you’d want in a friend, a coach, a confidant and a leader.

And I’ve seen him backed into a corner. And while he’s not mean, there’s no question that look in his eye changes. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly and if you’re on the attack, he’s willing to defend.


Last year I was in Tallahassee on the day Bowden found out his team had let him down. Cheated on an on-line exam and a lot of the guys were going to be ineligible. He walked by me, got in his golf cart after practice and barely acknowledged me. But the next time I saw him, he came right up to me and apologized for walking past me in Tallahassee saying, “I had just found out about that thing,” while grabbing me by the back of the neck and pulling me close.

I know that sounds hokey, but I like that. I like genuine affection and people who aren’t afraid to show it. So yes, I like Bobby Bowden. A lot. So my advice to those who think he should quite, the game has passed him by, and ask him to step down: Get off his back.

I’ve said for a while that I don’t think Bowden has the energy to discipline a large group of young men, especially those with the personalities necessary to be a successful college football team. And while he’s loyal to his staff, he might be loyal to a fault. That’s where part of his problem is in Tallahassee this year.

The rift on his staff between Jimbo Fischer and Chuck Amato also apparently includes Mickey Andrews, Rick Trickett and Lawrence Dawsey. Fischer might be the “coach in waiting” but apparently Bowden wasn’t consulted about that at all. He was way in when it came to hiring Fisher as the offensive coordinator but apparently nobody asked Bowden about naming Fisher the “coach in waiting.” The whole $5 million guarantee before 2011 was the administration’s idea without Bowden’s input.

So it’s no wonder that there’s a rift on the staff.

Apparently there will be a deal for Fisher to be the Head Coach with all of the authority without the title. That might happen as early as the end of this season with Fisher running recruiting, practice schedules and the coaching staff. Bowden would remain the Head Coach. That doesn’t sound like it would work, unless of course, Bowden bought into the idea.

He said on Tuesday that he’d like to go out on top and that “I’ve been hearing it since I turned 65.” After hearing that, it’s pretty clear that Bowden wants to get the Seminoles on the right track before he steps down. And at 2-4, they’re not going in the right direction right now. So expect Bobby to be in charge for another couple of years.

And yes, I do think he’s in charge.

There’s a rumor that Bowden tells friends that he doesn’t want to retire because he’s afraid he’ll die. That is what happened to Bear Bryant, but it’s hard to compare the two men in any way except football wins. Their lifestyles have been very different.

Bowden, all by himself, makes FSU relevant, even at 2-4. And he’ll stay that way until he quits.

When he’s ready.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Florida/Georgia Ideas

I couldn’t be happier that the Florida/Georgia game has been renewed through 2016. I really thought it might be going away after nearly 80 years in Jacksonville.

The drumbeat from the Georgia fans and boosters was loud as they talked about moving the game. Where? There were several options. With big stadiums in both Athens and Gainesville, talk of a home and home, like 93 and 94 when the Gator Bowl was being renovated, was rampant. There was talk that the Georgia Dome was interested in having the game on a rotating basis. Perhaps Jacksonville and Atlanta could host. Or even all four cities on a rotating basis. There was even talk of a home and home series being augmented by the game in Jacksonville every third year.

But instead, it’s just staying here. And that’s good news.

Clearly boosters in South Georgia, including UGA’s second biggest contributor, Sea Island’s Bill Jones, were interested in the game staying in Jacksonville. It’s good for their business. And although they haven’t taken advantage of it in recent years, it’s good for Georgia’s recruiting. Sure, they’ve been getting beat down by the Gators in recent years, but they owned the series in the ’70’s and ’80’s under Vince Dooley.

Moving the game to accommodate ‘Dog fans in middle and north Georgia (particularly Atlanta) was a bad idea. A six-year extension is longer than what the contract has been lately and I hope it doesn’t make the city complacent when it comes to “owning” the game. We don’t “own” the game, but we should.

It should be a much bigger deal than it is.

I’ve talked with Mayor John Peyton about creating a more festival like atmosphere surrounding the game, especially near the stadium. If the stadium holds 84,000 for Fla/Ga, more than 100,000 people show up for the weekend, many without tickets. With that kind of built in audience, why not close Bay Street like they did during the Super Bowl and bring in some vendors, some free concerts and invite people downtown?

It’s a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned.

RV City is open all week and it’s a fun place to go but unless you’re staying there, you’re out of place. Extend that feeling all through downtown. The Landing is out of control that week so why not incorporate it into what fans might want to experience? While I’m no condoning any kind of public drunkenness, relaxing the open container law and getting control over what’s going downtown in a somewhat organized fashion is a better idea than just letting it expand all over the place without a plan.

I even talked with Bill Longenecker on the radio the other day and we hatched a beaches “Flag Football” tournament to include the beaches in Fla/Ga. The ideas are easy. Getting the city to execute some of them seems to be the hard part.

We should be celebrating our heritage as a college football destination instead of making apologies for hosting the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.

And by the way, why not do the same thing in the spring around the Gate River Run?

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Tim Tebow: Stay Or Go?

I think he’ll stay.

What he should do is up to him. Outside of his parents, everybody else should stay out of it. One thing I’m sure of: Tim Tebow will do the right thing.

Speculation as to whether Tim would spend four years at the University of Florida started the day he announced he was going to be a Gator. And the rumors have been rampant since then. “His Dad has a plan,” or “Tim promised he’d stay four years,” got going right away. Honestly, I don’t think the Tebow’s know at this point.

“We haven’t talked about it,” his father, Bob, told me on Thursday. “Right now we have a game to play (the BCS title game against Oklahoma) but we’ll sit down next week.”

I believe that.

The only time Tim talks about it is when the media asks, and then he doesn’t say much. “I can’t imagine going there (to the Florida campus) and telling them I’m not coming back,” Tebow admitted after the game on Thursday. “I love Florida, I love being a Gator.” All that aside, it’ll be a very thorough process, figuring out what will be best for Tim, not only in his career but in his life.

“I promise Tim will be very well informed,” Urban Meyer said in his press conference on Friday when asked about the decision making process when it comes to professional football. “I’ll put him on the phone with people I trust so he’ll know where he stands,” Meyer allowed.

He included Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio among those he’ll get an opinion from. “I have great respect for him and he’s opened up his program to us, so I’ll get Tim on the phone with him.”

Everybody who reports on the NFL has an opinion about Tebow’s ability or where he’ll be drafted. Better footwork, stronger arm, better decision making, whatever. All of those things have been said about Tim’s quarterbacking skills. Some parts of those might even be true. But historically, Tebow has accomplished everything asked of him.

If some team didn’t like his arm or footwork or whatever, all they’d have to do is ask, and he’d fix it, right away. Better footwork, stronger arm? No problem. Decision-making? He’ll spend hours in the film room. One thing that can’t be quantified is his leadership. He did it in high school and again in college, dragging his team, and the fans along with him to an emotional peak. Not everybody can do that.

So where will he be drafted?

Most list him as a late second, early third rounder. That would be the bargain of the century, and if that’s what the Tebow’s hear, he’s definitely coming back for his senior year. There’s only one reason Tim would come out early and that’s money. No doubt his salary will go to his father’s ministry but it’d be silly to come out as a third round pick with limited up front money available. If that’s the case, he’ll stick around and try to win another National Championship and another Heisman.


Florida loses nobody on defense and four starters on offense. “I’m not as worried as I was two years ago,” Meyer admitted when he was asked about guys turning pro. “We’re better and have built a program.” The only irreplaceable guy is Percy Harvin and of course, Tim Tebow.

When I talked with Bob Tebow in Thursday, we were semi-joking about Tim’s “star power” when it comes to selling tickets. If the Jaguars drafted him would they sell more tickets? Absolutely. Even not as the starter.

I was also talking the Suns owner Peter Bragan Jr. on Thursday and he wondered if Tim might want to play baseball for the summer. “He can wear a Suns uniform all season,” Pedro noted. “Hitting a baseball is Tim’s best athletic talent,” his Dad noted with a smile when I told him about the Suns offer.

Think that would sell tickets?

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Tim Tebow: The Legend Grows

I voted for Tim Tebow for the Heisman. In fact the final count followed my ballot: Tebow, Darren McFadden and Colt Brennan. It was a wide-open year but I thought Tim’s historic numbers put him at the top of the list.

He’s not going to play in the National Championship game and the Gators lost three times but in a year where there was no clear-cut favorite, the award’s focus shifted to individual achievement and that made Tebow the easy choice.

More often than not these days, his name and the word “legend” are used in the same sentence as he racks up one accolade after another. A National Championship ring, historic numbers at the position and now the Heisman Trophy.

His work ethic is also considered legendary, as well as his attitude and personality. All that stuff he said at the ceremony? That’s really him. Not rehearsed, not made up, he’s really that way. He’s very team oriented, he’s not all about “me.”

He’s normal.

And I know that makes a lot of people either angry or uncomfortable or apathetic. He says, “Yes sir” and “no ma’am” and please and thank you and all of the other things that any regular person would do.

I’ve always thought it was funny when people got accolades for doing the regular things that seem everyday. But that’s where we’ve gotten. Our expectations are lower, especially when it comes to athletes. Putting sentences together, being respectful of the people around you, showing up when you say you’ll be there, aren’t they all part of everyday life? But regrettably we see that kind of behavior and accept it, writing it off to “celebrity” status or perhaps “money.”

Tebow clearly has strong faith, thanking God at every opportunity. I know that drives some people crazy but there’s no denying it’s genuine. His father is a missionary and he was raised with strong faith.

I remember Muhammad Ali thanking Elijah Muhammad and Herbert Muhammad each time Howard Cosell would interview him after a match. He was about the first high profile athlete to do that and people were taken aback at first but it just became part of the landscape.

Maybe people who are uncomfortable with their own faith are the ones who are uncomfortable with Tim or any other athlete professing theirs. He has a pretty high profile and I’m sure he believes its part of his duty to use that stage to profess his faith.

He’s been on all of the morning talk shows and did very well, promoting his team, the university, and his friendship with Danny Wuerffel and Wuerffel’s charity in New Orleans.

He’s an academic All-America on top of all of it.

So the legend grows and you have to wonder where does he go from here? Win another Heisman? Maybe two more? There’s constant speculation that he’ll leave Florida after his junior year.

He wouldn’t be the perfect NFL quarterback right now, but if he continues to improve, and there’s no reason he won’t, he could be the top selection in the ’09 draft. If that’s the case, he’ll probably come out unless his family says stay in school.

There will be money there if he stays healthy and the endorsements would be massive. If he can play, what owner wouldn’t want him as the face of their team?

One thing’s for sure; Tim’s life will never be the same. No matter where he goes, he’ll always be, Tim Tebow, Heisman Trophy Winner.

Pretty good title to have behind your name.
Even if “Legend” is already there.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

For A Year, It’s Ga/Fla

When Knowshown Moreno scored the Bulldogs first touchdown, his teammates flooded the end zone as directed by Head Coach Mark Richt. “Classless,” is how one Florida Gator described it. In a game that’s about showmanship and one-upmanship, it was right along with just about everything that’s gone on in the Florida/Georgia rivalry.

No Gator fans seemed to be hanging their heads when Steve Spurrier decided to “hang half a hundred on ‘em,” in Athens when reminded that nobody had ever scored fifty points as the opponent between the hedges. That time out at the end of the game and the flea-flicker pitch back evokes giggles from the Gator faithful every time it’s brought up.

So Georgia had a chance of it’s own to spit in the Gators eyes, and they took it. Then they backed it up. Although The Gators tied the game quickly and the game was competitive from the get-go, Florida was a bit surprised that the Bulldogs could hang with them.

The Gators are so used to running the score up and blowing people out that close games are foreign to their makeup. They beat Kentucky in a quasi-close game, downing an emotionally spent Wildcat team still trying to catch their breath after beating LSU the week before.

Florida should have known that the Georgia was gunning for them all along. They thought they could have easily won the game last year but made too many silly mistakes. The ‘Dogs had the week off leading up to the game, something that can’t be discounted. Usually it’s Florida with the bye week before coming to Jacksonville but this time the roles were reversed, with the outcome different as well.

For all of the emotion in the game, Georgia played the way they’re capable of while they exposed Florida’s defense as young and out of sync.

I’ve got a lot of respect for what Urban Meyer has accomplished in his time as a head coach and his disciplinary program at Florida is close to what I’d expect as an alumni. (I’d have suspended Tony Joiner.) But to watch him on the sidelines interacting with his players is a bit much to take. When a player is called for a penalty, Meyer dresses them down right there.

Keestan Moore’s mishandling of the ball brought Meyer’s full wrath down on him. I’ll be surprised if he plays again this year he’s so far under the doghouse. But what’s Urban supposed to expect when he rarely gives Moore carries in favor of Tim Tebow? Moore’s first fumble was just the result of a perfect hit.

Tebow’s shoulder injury is a direct result of overuse when it comes to the quarterback in the SEC. You can have all of the Bowling Green and Utah opponents pile on the QB you want. When you get to the SEC, it’s a whole different story. They pound on you with big, fast guys and eventually it takes it toll. Meyer doesn’t have to look any farther than the mirror when he wants to find out who’s responsible for the Gators current quandary.

“It’s OK, we’ll pound them the next couple of years,” a couple of Gators fans said leaving the game. Oh really? Yes, Florida is young and is expected to be better but don’t forget, the opponents are getting older and better as well. Matthew Stafford will be a junior with two years of starting behind him. He’s very talented and picked his spots against the Florida defense to gouge them for long gains and touchdowns.

That’s why this game is so great anyway. The unexpected happens and there’s a lot of grumbling for an entire year. Florida’s recent dominance has skewed the game a bit, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the game went back to a more even result over each ten-year period.

Spurrier changed the college game completely with his passing game and made beating Georgia his big priority each year, taking evil pleasure in beating the Bulldogs.

People close to Richt say he’s just sick and tired of losing to Florida and now has a good grasp on the magnitude of the rivalry. Meyer is getting a taste of that this year.

How can it be a rivalry anyway when one team dominates?

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Gators Swamp Buckeyes

It was supposed to be a coronation. It seems like the entire state of Ohio had transplanted itself to Arizona to witness Ohio State’s crowning as the National Champion. Florida was only the cannon fodder for the game.

The Buckeyes were supposed to be having a rematch with Michigan according to everybody who was supposedly in the know. The Gators got into the game on their strength of schedule and how they played in the SEC title game against Arkansas.

But Ohio State was the story.

Heisman Trophy winner at Quarterback, they were on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the caption: “The Best: Period.” I thought that was unbelievably arrogant, and clearly the Buckeye nation took that to heart acting in Arizona as if their football team had been transformed into some kind of deity.

“Florida ninety-nine, O-hi-o zip,” Kenneth Tookes of First Coast High and the Gators told me on Friday during media day. Kyle Jackson of Fletcher High said the same thing, laughing it up on camera. “Can you play with these guys?” I asked Jackson off camera. “We’ll be alright if we do our thing. They can’t run with us. They’re like LSU but not as good.”

That was the first hint that the Gators knew something was up. I watched the Ohio State/Michigan game with three friends and came away unimpressed. None of the three are from the South so when I said, “Florida or any other top SEC school would beat either one of those teams,” they thought it was just regional prejudice.

But I really believed it.

I even said “Michigan would be 7-4 if they played in the SEC,” on the air and got plenty of hate mail because of it.

I did flinch when Ted Ginn Jr. took the opening kick back for a touchdown but figured if the Gators could answer right away, they’d get their feet under them. Florida’s opening drive resulted in a touchdown and I told my colleague Tom, “This is the team that gave up 39 points to Michigan. They won’t stop Florida all night.” Tom, a big Gator fan, just smiled. You know that nervous smile that says, “I hope you’re right!”

My seat was in the corner of the end zone looking down on the field like watching coaching tape. I was amazed that Ohio State kept trying to run a zone against Florida’s five wide formations. There was no way they could cover that and if Chris Leak were on, Florida’s skill guys would run wild.

Turns out, Leak was much more than on, he was sharp and made great decisions, taking what the defense was giving and just grinding the ball down field and demoralizing Ohio State. You could see it in their body language. The Buckeyes had rolled through their schedule undefeated and did it the same way every week. But now that what had worked during the regular season wasn’t working; they didn’t have anywhere to go.

They were stunned and in didn’t have a Plan B.

Florida, on the other hand, was just rolling. It seemed that they could do no wrong and their speed was dominating. Troy Smith couldn’t believe that guys like Ray McDonald and Jarvis Moss could run him down in the backfield. Nobody in the Big 10 can do that.

The difference is, everybody in the SEC can.

So Florida’s speed advantage wasn’t just at the skill positions, it was all over the field. Defensive linemen were faster than the offensive guys trying to block them, faster than the backs trying to elude them. You did have the sense that the Buckeyes would eventually get something going, but it never materialized. Their fans sat in a stunned silence.

“We were embarrassed,” one told me on the plane. “This will take a while to get over.”

A lot will be made of Urban Meyer winning the National Championship in just his second year but perhaps more should be made of the Gators return to national prominence, probably a year early.

“I’m happy about the National Championship,” Tom told me after the game, “but I’d rather beat Tennessee, Georgia and FSU every year.”

And that’s how it is.

The competition at home is just as, if not fiercer than on the road. Which is why Gators are smiling today.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Five Days in Glendale

I’ve been in Arizona for the past four days covering the run-up to the National Championship game between Florida and Ohio State. With the game set for Monday night, the fans have started flowing into the “Valley of the Sun” this weekend.

I’ve been to Phoenix a few times, but this is the first when the distinct difference between the suburbs has been so delineated. I’m actually staying in a place called Paradise Valley. Not Phoenix, not Scottsdale, not Tempe and not Glendale. And don’t mess that up or the locals will get on you.

Scottsdale is kind of “upscale” but a strip mall with cactus in front of it is still a strip mall. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice, but there really aren’t any landmarks to outline your trip or to use for reference. It’s all by roads and luckily they’re laid out North/South and East/West.

Our live location is at the stadium where they’ll play the game in Glendale. They’re very proud of what’s going on in Glendale, especially with all of the new construction. “We have a very active city manager,” one of the smiling “Glendale Ambassadors” told me. “He’s constantly selling Glendale and the City Council has faith in him and goes along with it.”

They built the Glendale arena for the Phoenix Coyotes of the NHL and they’ve now completed a $680 million football stadium to house an active and extensive bowl game schedule as well as the Arizona Cardinals. It’s a palace, no question with a retractable roof and a retractable field. They move the field out side into this big concrete pad in order for it to get some sun and they’ll put the water on it. The roof goes back in 20 minutes; it takes the field 1 hour and 15 minutes to roll out side.

It’s an engineering marvel, and it’s in the middle of nowhere.

It sits like a spaceship in the middle of the desert and they’re using it to attract businesses, restaurants, hotels and the like out to Glendale. There’s a huge “lifestyle” center next to the stadium with movie theaters, restaurants and shops. Where the people come from, I’m not sure, but they drive in like bees to a hive. It’s kind of like that scene in “Close Encounters.” The ship is there and the people just flock to it.

One thing they have is plenty of land. As far as you can see, they can expand. It’s just a matter of getting water to where ever they are.

I’m staying at the Camelback Inn, and old destination spa that’s on 125 acres hard against one of the “mountains” in the Paradise Valley/Scottsdale area. All the buildings are adobe style; one story and the rooms are called “casitas.” Each room has a sundeck and feels very remote from anything else.

President Eisenhower, Bing Crosby, Arthur Godfrey and other stars of that era used the Camelback Inn as a base in the Southwest. There’s plenty of golf around and the higher you go into the hills the more spectacular the homes.

The Camelback has a running route mapped out through the neighborhoods next door and up into the hills. For a flatlander like me, it was tough to negotiate those hills during a 40 minute run! Perhaps you can call it a run, it was more like a plodding march. I came up behind a couple walking up one of the hills and said, “I might not pass you.” They laughed, but I was serious!

I can also tell you that as warm as it gets during the day have no bearing on how cold it gets at night. It’s’ been in the 70’s during the day and easily in the mid to low 30’s at night. I can see where you’d like it here and a lot of people from the mid-west are picking Arizona over Florida for retirement.

The Phoenix area has the largest Ohio State Alumni club in the country. Most Gator fans I’ve seen say they’re outnumbered, for now. The Buckeyes have been here for 4 of the last 6 years and know the drill. In fact, most of the concession stands are over run with Ohio State gear, with some Orange and Blue sprinkled in.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Florida/Georgia Issues

I spent part of last week in Gainesville and part in Athens putting together a show for the annual Florida/Georgia game in Jacksonville. Both are great college towns and both seemed to be content that the match up between these two SEC teams won’t be coming to their stadiums anytime soon. Georgia fans do feel like it’s a bit of a road game, while Florida fans see it as a chance to see the Gators close to home.

In the Vince Dooley era, it was much different and had a more contentious feel because Georgia won 15 of 20 games while he was the head coach. Gator fans grumbled that it should be a home and home series. I haven’t heard that much from the Bulldog faithful, but after now 15 of 17 wins by Florida, I’m sure it’s getting a bit tiresome.

At the same time, moving the game to Athens probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome of any of those games as evidenced by the 52-17 the Gators enjoyed there in 1995.

Dooley treated the annual Georgia/Florida game as a home contest, telling me “we just considered Jacksonville South Georgia and treated it that way.” Dooley and the ‘Dogs also recruited pretty heavily in South Georgia and in Jacksonville at the time so it helped to say you’d play close to home every year.

Steve Spurrier started his building of the Florida football team by concentrating on beating Georgia, a pivotal game on the SEC schedule and a starting point for the Gators to take some pride in the program. Florida won 11 of 12 games under Spurrier against Georgia, never letting the ‘Dogs get in the way of a run at the SEC title.

Urban Meyer is now 2-0 against Georgia, but neither game has been convincing or impressive. Last year Florida hung on for a 14-10 win and this year the defense proved to be the difference in the 21-14 victory.

I haven’t heard much about the “spread offense” that is good and even Meyer said after the Georgia game that he “hasn’t felt this way about an offense in six years as a head coach.”

Of course he feels that way. Soon he’ll figure out that he’s asking Chris Leak to do things that aren’t playing to his strengths and that defensive players in the SEC are just bigger, faster, stronger and better football players than at the two outposts he was stationed at before Gainesville. And Time Tebow isn’t going to be a magical fix for the spread either. He’s going to be a good college quarterback but not a dominating one in that offense in that conference.

Talk about Alex Smith all you want. Good player in the right situation on the right team in the right conference against the right opponents. He might not have made it through four years in that offense in the SEC considering the pounding he’d be taking every week.

This year’s Florida/Georgia contest was all about defense and most of it about the Gators defensive squad. They forced five turnovers in the game by Georgia and completely shut down the ‘Dogs offense and freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford in the first half. Head Coach mark Richt said he didn’t give Stafford a good enough plan, but the dropped passes and missed blocks didn’t help either. Stafford looked like a freshman at times, but he also made some excellent plays, only to be let down by his teammates.

As a coach you hope young players make enough positive plays in order to offset their mistakes. Stafford is moving in that direction. Georgia’s defeat was as much at their own hands as it was at the Gators’.

“That’s right,” Stafford told me post-game on Saturday night. “You can’t make mistakes like that and expect to win. And when you get chances, you have to take advantage of them. We didn’t do either.”

(By the way, Stafford is incredibly poised for a guy who just turned 18).

Georgia is going to be all right in the long run, but they’re taking their lumps right now. Florida has some high expectations, but getting out of the SEC should be their first priority. “We still have the SEC East to look at,” Meyer said after the game when asked about moving up in the polls (USC lost).

Vandy and South Carolina are up next with Spurrier coming to The Swamp on November 11th. Success there puts them in the title game the first weekend of December in Atlanta. If they want to get to the next level, Meyer is going to have to tweak his offense. This is the second week in a row the offense hasn’t scored in the second half.

And if they have National Championship hopes, he better have a couple of tricks up his sleeve.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Gators, Present and Future

Tebow vs. the Russian Army?


Tebow vs. a nuclear blast?


Don’t get me wrong, I like Tim Tebow. Nice kid, works hard, studies hard, respects the game and the people around him but to listen to Gator fans, he can walk on water. In their only loss of the season, Florida had their share of mistakes to go around, but it seems that Chris Leak is taking all of the heat. It goes with the position I suppose, but Leak is a solid guy and a solid player. He’s blamed for three turnovers at the end of the Auburn game, where only one, the bad pass, should be counted against him. But either way, Leak has done a magnificent job of not complaining, of putting up with Urban Meyer’s tepid support and even fans booing when he comes in the game in relief of Tebow’s stints. Sure, Tebow can run the ball and might in the future become a complete quarterback, but right now, Chris Leak gives Florida the best chance to win, week in and week out.

Admittedly, Tebow is a strong runner. When he takes the ball and heads toward the line of scrimmage, it gives the Gators an advantage of an extra man blocking and a very strong and determined guy running the football. I’m pretty convinced Chris Leak could do much of the same given the same blocking and the same opportunity (except for perhaps the real tough short yardage gains.) But something different happens to the offensive line when 15 is in the game. The block a little harder and longer. Perfect in certain situations, not perfect when trying to mix things up through out an entire game.

So lay off Chris Leak. They’ve done him a disservice in Gainesville by not publicly saying he’s the man from the moment a new coaching staff stepped on campus. Meyer and company have done a lot of good things for the Florida program, but their treatment of Leak hasn’t been one of them. Tebow might be the future and part of the present, but the BMOC should be Chris Leak. Leak vs. anybody in the SEC? I’ll take Leak.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Gators Open

It was a big celebration in Gainesville on opening day with the return of the 1996 National Championship team and its coach Steve Spurrier. The air was full of anticipation as the Gators are ranked in the top 10 and thoughts of and SEC title and a run for the National Championship are on the minds of the Gator Nation.

And then they started the game.

Southern Mississippi always has some good athletes, just not enough of them to compete against the elite conference teams. But the Golden Eagles got to work right away, picking off an early Chris Leak pass and taking a 7-0 lead.

Not good.

Florida’s first half was a little tentative and not sharp, but eventually they wore down Southern Miss for a 34-7 win. Even Tim Tebow got in the game and scored a touchdown. But the team seemed tight and stilted, not able to fully display how much talent they have.

It could be that it’s just early in the year or it could be a reflection of the coach. Urban Meyer is a very buttoned up guy, sometimes so buttoned up that it seems he can’t move. And that carries over to his team.

Meyer is confident in his ideas and convictions, sure that what he thinks is right and how much of his “spread” offense will work in the SEC. I still think it looks like a square peg in a round hole when the Gator offense takes the field. Maybe that’ll change over time with different personnel and a different style of quarterback. But Chris Leak is a very solid player and a very coachable guy. If Meyer isn’t willing to take advantage of that, there’s a flaw in his thinking, not in how the players can play.

He did make some adjustments last year, hopefully he’ll have time to do the same this season. Deshawn Wynn’s injury doesn’t help much and even though they’re a heavy favorite, I wouldn’t bet the ranch on the Gators this week. Plus after seeing what Tennessee did to a previously ranked top-10 team, I wouldn’t be looking too far ahead either.

Florida’s got their work cut out for them this year. It’ll also reveal what kind of coach, and guy he is before too long.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Gators In Indy

Having seen Florida play a couple of times during the regular season, when they showed up in Jacksonville for the first and second round I wondered, “what’d they do with the Gators?” They played OK during the regular season, starting with seventeen straight wins but going 7-6 in the next thirteen games to become an afterthought when it came to the post season.

But along the way, the Gators became a team, defined by that philosophy, especially with their potential stars rejecting individual accolades. They played better and closer in the SEC tournament and became a big media darling in the tournament. Beating South Alabama was a given, and getting past UW-Milwaukee was a test of resolve based on the Panthers senior-laden team. All of the sudden, they were a team to be reckoned with and Georgetown and Villanova posed no threat to the Gators’ run to the Final Four.

Now they’re the favorite.

Seriously, when was the last time a team starting four sophomores and a junior was a favorite in the Final Four?

I’ve been here in Indianapolis for a couple of days and have been impressed with the Gators demeanor since arriving on Thursday afternoon. “People say we’re a youthful team,” Joakim Noah noted when asked about team play. “But we’ve been through a lot together. We’re not young as a team any more. We might be young in years, but not as a team.”

As I’ve said before, he’s the most improved athlete in one year I’ve seen in my entire reporting career. But he also is one of the most settled “young” athletes I’ve been around. He’s rejected his rock star status in favor of creating a “team” concept. He accepts his duties to work with the media and be a team leader, but says all of the attention “doesn’t help us win basketball games.”

His answers are polite and thoughtful and set the tone for the rest of the team. In fact, this team is fun to cover. They make it easy with their genuine answers and willingness to be a part of the process. A lot of credit for that goes to Noah who doesn’t separate himself from his teammates and never utters the word “me.” The rest of the credit goes to Billy Donovan for creating an atmosphere where Noah and the rest of the team can flourish.

Nobody’s talking about Florida here except as the team that George Mason has to beat to continue their Cinderella run. The Gators are the villains, not an unfamiliar role for them, but with all of the attention on Mason, Florida’s not the central focus they could be. In fact, if Mason weren’t here, the Gators would be the Cinderella story.

But I think the carriage will turn into a pumpkin before midnight tonight for the Patriots. Florida’s play against Villanova, especially on defense showed they can defend the three-point line without giving up a lot of easy drives to the basket.

One thing’s for sure; they won’t be awed by the situation.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Tebow’s Choice

More than anything I was glad that decision day finally came for Tim Tebow of Nease High School. Both he and his parents looked frazzled at the announcement in St. John’s County on Tuesday. Tebow picked Florida and the auditorium erupted with applause.

I couldn’t help but think what the reaction would have been if he had said “Southern Cal.” Would there have been groans and catcalls? Probably not but the reaction in Florida for a Florida kid to go to Florida was very positive.

There were about a half-dozen people there with Alabama hats on, and apparently Mike Shula made a big impression on Tebow and his father and that’s how the Crimson Tide stayed in the hunt for so long. And Pete Carroll was equally impressive according to Tebow’s father Bob.

“It was a tough decision, but it was his decision,” Bob told me after the announcement was made. “I finally told him in the parking lot, ‘It’s your decision and you’re going to have to make it.”

It must have been tough, especially on a kid like Tebow who never really has had to say “no” to anybody. “I didn’t have a wrong choice,” Tim said after some of the commotion settled down. “They were all great men with great programs, I just decided on Florida because that’s where I was most comfortable. They’re going to do some great things there.”

Nease football coach Craig Howard thought it would be Gators all along, noting that Tebow’s room has been adorned with Orange and Blue since he was a kid. “He’s the most competitive player I’ve ever been around,” Howard said from the stage at Nease. “You can see his arm and his legs, but you can’t see his heart. That’s what separates him.”

Is all of the hoopla wrong for a high school senior announcing where he’s going to attend college? Probably. But it’s the way things are done. I like to call it the “ESPNification” of sports. Kids Tebow’s age have never known a world without fulltime sports cable television, so it seems normal to him and his peers. ESPN has raised the level of exposure so to compete everybody has to go along.

I can tell you whether ESPN was there or not, if Tim was making an announcement during our news at Channel 4, we’d have been there live. He was Mr. Football in the state of Florida and led his team to the state championship. Those credentials are enough to warrant big coverage.

I hope he makes it, he’s nice, grounded and doesn’t seem too affected by all of the attention. At least his Dad got it right when he said, “I told him you’ve got to go prove yourself again to your teammates, your coaches. It’s a joyous day, but it’s only a beginning.”

Amen to that.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Florida State Found

I just wrote a commentary called “Finding Florida State,” a little play on the “Finding Forrester” movie that concentrated on self-discovery. To put it nicely, Bobby Bowden’s self-discovery involved a little bit of the “evil eye” all week long.

In the twenty-five years I’ve known him, I’ve never seen Bowden as angry as he was last week. I know it was a little out of line, and it was particularly pointed because he thought the attacks against Florida State were personal toward his son, Jeff, the team’s offensive coordinator. But Bobby was mad, and he didn’t mind showing it this time around. He was surly with the media, and terse with his players. He was looking for that “something” that would make the difference between his team thinking they were just another team and thinking they were Florida State.

There weren’t a lot of niceties in Tallahassee during the week.

Apparently it worked.

When the Seminoles came out of the locker room, they looked like a different team. They looked like Florida State, not just another ACC team. The ‘Noles have built their reputation on a national scale, recruiting players from all over the country and garnering fans from Florida to California. Perhaps they were having a crisis of confidence, or maybe they just were too beat up and not good enough to compete in that three week stretch where they lost to N.C. State, Clemson and Florida.

They were losing offensive linemen to injury it seemed every series and they looked like they were feeling sorry for themselves. But they were transformed against the Hokies; even offensive play calling seemed to be hitting on all cylinders. Jeff Bowden was supposed to be run out of town but when he opened the game throwing the ball all over the place with a freshman quarterback, he looked like the “Riverboat Gambler” his father was when he was calling the plays in the ‘80’s.

Drew Weatherford showed poise, toughness and a strong arm all night throwing to receivers that were getting open. Where were those patterns three weeks ago? Perhaps they were there all the time, but Weatherford either didn’t have time to find them or the receivers were not running very precise routes. Virginia Tech has a fast, strong and physical defensive backfield, but the Seminoles didn’t seem to care about how good the Hokies were according to the stats. They just went out and played, and that looked like the difference.

Watching that game, I kept wondering, ‘how could not one of those FSU players be named to the All-conference first team? However; you look at it, whether Virginia Tech underestimated Florida State or the Seminoles got their act back together, the credit has to go to Bowden and the ‘Noles. They were a two-touchdown underdog! Two touchdowns?

One thing Frank Beamer said during the week really made sense. “They might be down, but they have good players and when you have good players you can get real good real fast.”

And that’s exactly what happened.

Leon Washington, Lorenzo Booker and the defense went back to playing like they were capable of. No tricks, no fancy stuff, just better blocking and tackling.

Now everybody likes Penn State to beat FSU in the Orange Bowl. Didn’t Penn State have all kinds of problems just a year ago? They’re better, but when you’re the best team in the Big Ten, how good are you, really? Hasn’t anybody learned? Don’t count Bobby Bowden and his team out until he says so.

And he hasn’t brought it up yet.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Finding Florida State

It’s Bobby’s fault.

No, it’s Jeff’s fault.

Wait a minute, it’s Mickey’s fault.

Actually let’s blame it on Chris Rix or even Jared Jones.

That’s the game that’s going on in Tallahassee: Who’s to blame? Perhaps the blaming should stop (it won’t) and the hand wringing could take a small break for a quick analysis of what’s going on with the FSU football team.

Start at the top if you like, with Bobby Bowden. He didn’t all of the sudden forget how to coach, or motivate or lead. He didn’t get stupid overnight. Bowden is still one of the best coaches in college football, seemingly ageless. Perhaps a little less patience with the media, but still a solid coach, leader and recruiter. Talk football with Bowden for about two minutes and it’s obvious he’s very involved, very much part of what’s going on when it comes to game planning, strategy the Seminoles mind-set.

If there’s one area that’s I’ve criticized in the past, it’s whether Bowden has the energy left to discipline a large group of young guys, particularly guys with the personality to play college football. Outside of that, Bowden has no downside, except that he’s created a situation where he’s nearly impossible to replace.

Bowden can call his own shots at FSU, stay or leave, coach or retire when he chooses and have a large hand in who his successor will be. Bowden isn’t the type who’s inclined to walk away when the going gets tough and will only leave with his legacy intact.

Bobby has come under a lot of criticism for putting his son Jeff in charge of the offense as the coordinator. The plays look fine and the sequences of plays aren’t the problem. The problem is execution and that’s where a coordinator takes the heat.

FSU likes to throw the ball downfield, and they’re still doing that. They like to try and hit the big running play, and that’s been hit or miss. Which brings the focus on the offensive line. The Seminoles will start their sixth different compliment of offensive linemen, having lost three starters since the beginning of the year. No team can be successful with that kind of change unless their skill players continue to be able to pull a rabbit out of a hat.

FSU has had a continuous flow of surprises at top positions, particularly at quarterback. The latest was Wyatt Sexton’s bout with Lyme disease that put him out of the lineup for the year. Drew Weatherford won the job, beating out Xavier Lee, and believe it or not could actually set all kinds of records this year for first-year quarterbacks in the league, eclipsing Phillip Rivers’ marks set at N.C. State.

Weatherford has taken a lot of heat, like Jeff Bowden, but as he said this week, when the plays work, they’re great, when they don’t, they’re not. It goes with the territory.

They could lose to Virginia Tech and possibly get beat in whatever bowl game they play in, finish the year 7-6 and out of the top 25. But they won’t panic and they won’t throw up their hands and walk away. They’ll get back to work; they’ll recruit harder, play better and return to the national picture with Bowden at the controls.

And that’s when he’ll walk away.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Urban Crisis

“Do you think we’ll still be running this offense five years from now?” one Gator fan asked me last week.
“If Urban Meyer is still your coach,” I answered.
The fan just rolled his eyes and walked away.

“Have you gotten on the ‘bash Urban’ bandwagon?” one Georgia fan asked me this week.

The point being, the honeymoon is over and there are a lot of football fans, Gators and others, wondering what’s going on in Gainesville. First, I don’t think Meyer had any idea what he was getting into when he accepted the job at Florida and joined the Southeastern conference. He complained this summer about going to too many Gator club meetings.

Wrong move.

He needs to embrace that, and rally the troops every summer. Some of my daughter’s (a UF grad) friends ran into Meyer backstage at a Jimmy Buffet concert this summer. “Hey Coach,” they ran up to him excitedly after recognizing him backstage. “We’re Gators!” they exclaimed. “Nice to meet you,” Meyer demurred. “No, we’re Gators!” they repeated, expecting some kind of communal response.


Just another sign that, at least in the beginning, Meyer didn’t get it.

It’s been funny to watch Meyer on the sidelines (same thing applies to Les Miles at LSU). Neither of them had any idea of the difference between where they were and where they are now, in the SEC. It’s LOUD in the SEC. You can’t wear those little earpieces or even just one-sided headsets. You need the big double cups to get by. You want to talk to somebody; you’ve got to get right in their ear.

It can be as loud as you want in Bowling Green and Salt Lake. Sorry, it’s not the SEC.

And that might apply to Urban Meyer’s attempt to run his spread offense at Florida. Either he’s trying to put round pegs in square holes, or the quality of athlete in the SEC isn’t going to allow that offense to work, or both.

It’s clear he’s got good players at Florida, left behind by Ron Zook and some recruited at the last second by Meyer himself. But Chris Leak is completely out of position as an option quarterback. But how do you bench one of your best players just because you’ve changed the offense? A good coach wouldn’t. He’d adapt his system to the personnel, and I was impressed that Meyer and his staff installed some more traditional formations and plays in the week off before the Georgia game.

But it’s just not enough, as evidenced by the South Carolina game.

I also think that running that offense at Bowling Green and at Utah might have been a bit easier because the best players in those regions play offense. In the SEC, there are plenty of good players to go around, on offense and defense. So some top-flight athletes end up on the defensive side of the ball, with the speed and smarts to stop the “spread.” Add top-flight coaches to the mix, and the “spread” might never have a chance in the conference. And it doesn’t have a downfield that Gator fans love.

The jury is still out, but they’re not going to deliberate long, that’s for sure.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Urban Challenge

After they beat Kentucky, I went on the air and talked about how the Gators were now Urban Meyer’s team. Not the remnants of the Steve Spurrier era, not a bunch of Ron Zook’s recruits but rather actually Urban Meyer’s team. The offense had the looks of confidence needed to run that spread option and the defense had a swagger that’s needed to win big games against SEC opponents.

Against Alabama, that all changed.


Perhaps they’re still Urban Meyer’s team but now the question is, “Is that a good thing?” If there’s been a little voice crawling around a lot of Gators’ fans heads, it’s been asking if the “spread option” is right for the SEC and the quality of player involved. As an assistant, Meyer developed this offense that took advantage of defenses that didn’t have speed on the edge and forced defenders to make decisions and exploited them.

It also was developed in a time before speed became the dominant factor on offense, before coaches figured out that you could throw the ball effectively with a good quarterback and a couple of receivers who could run and catch. It also was very effective at Bowling Green with the players plugged in to make it work and at Utah where even Meyer said he was lucky to have a “special player” like Alex Smith to run the offense.

Salt Lake isn’t Gainesville and Utah isn’t Florida and Wyoming isn’t Alabama. Or Auburn. Or Georgia. Or Tennessee. Or FSU.

If there’s another voice running around in Gators fans heads it’s asking if the offense suits the players on hand. One of the most impressive things about Don Shula’s career as a head coach is his ability to adapt to the personnel on the roster. When the Dolphins won in the early ‘70’s Bob Griese would throw the ball less than 15 times a game. Why should he? They had Csonka, Kiick and Morris to get the job done on the ground.

In the ‘90’s Dan Marino would throw the ball 15 times in the first quarter because the players on the field suited that kind of game and the game itself changed. So Shula changed with it, fitting his offense to the players available.

Not the other way around.

You can see how Meyer’s offense is supposed to work when Josh Portis steps in at quarterback and runs the ball. But he can’t throw it like Chris Leak, so he’s pretty predictable when he’s in the game. It’s a dilemma Meyer will have to solve, and soon. How is it that you’re Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback might not be the best QB on the team in the offense you want to run?

One loss isn’t a time to panic, but the Crimson Tide did expose a lot of Florida’s weaknesses in a short period of time. Don’t think everybody else isn’t paying attention.

Like Georgia. Like Auburn. Like LSU. Like FSU.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Meyer(ed) In Gainseville

It was electrifying. From the inaugural “Gator Walk” to the first run out of the tunnel through the alumni players, the hype was huge. The largest crowd to ever see a football game in the state, 90, 707 were in attendance to get the “Urban” experience. But when it finally started, when they actually kicked it off, it was as if a pin was inserted in the balloon of hype and deflated. It took Florida and Urban Meyer’s spread offense 12 minutes into the first quarter to make their initial first down.

“It wasn’t what I expected,” numerous Gator fans said to me as they walked the concourse at Florida Field. “It’ll take a few weeks to get the kinks worked out,” others offered in passing. Meyer wasn’t as gracious after the game. The new Florida Head Coach was very critical of his own team’s play, saying Chris Leak and the rest of the offense have a lot of work to do. Meyer admitted that he’s normally a negative person, so perhaps it’s not as bad as he originally thought but it’s certainly not the panacea Gator fans were looking for.

Leak completed 26-of-34 passes for 320 yards and three touchdowns, broke Steve Spurrier’s school record for consecutive completions (17) and led the No. 10 Gators to a 32-14 victory over Wyoming. But Meyer wanted more from his junior quarterback.

“In case you’re wondering what the offense should look like, that wasn’t it,” Meyer said, sounding a little like the Ol’ Ball Coach. “We have got a lot of work to do. Chris Leak and the offense have a long way to go.”

I suppose that’s to be expected when a new, complicated offense is installed at any major football program. It had it’s glaring errors, from muffed snaps to blitzes that came free and demolished Leak in the backfield. But you could see that, over time, this king of offense presents all kinds of problems for defenses. Perhaps Wyoming was more aware of what an Urban Meyer offense could do based on the two years he was a conference foe at Utah. But the pressure the offense puts on the defense, particularly at the edges, creates all kinds of problems that aren’t easily solved.

The opening game also showcased freshman quarterback Josh Portis, giving Gator fans a glimpse of the future with a running threat handling the ball on every play. Leak is the Gators QB, but under Meyer, his lack of speed is a liability. That’s why you’ll see Portis in every game.

“Chad Jackson is the best receiver around here in a long time,” one observer of Gator football noted in the third quarter. “He’ll be the best NFL receiver to come out of here since (Carlos) Alvarez.” That certainly looks to be the case. Jackson made three touchdown catches and ran for a fourth to be the main scoring threat for Florida. But his third catch was something special, an over the wrong shoulder one-handed grab that left most in the press box at a loss for words. Which is hard to do. “We just have great chemistry together,” Leak explained when asked how he found Jackson so often.

The Gator defense was quick on the line, quicker than they’ve been in a few years. The defensive backs are the best collecting that’s ever been at Florida according to the coaching staff. Even if they did drop a couple of sure interceptions.

The special teams were any thing but special, resembling the out of whack units they were last season. Coaching can fix that, if they’ll focus on it.

Perhaps Wyoming was the perfect opponent for the opener this year. Good, but not too good. Enough to give Gators fans pause in their rush to the national championship. Enough to give Gator players a reason to go back to work and enough to give the coaches plenty of fodder to get the players back to work. Louisiana Tech won’t be quite as big of a challenge but it’s good that they’re on the schedule. Tennessee is in town in town weeks, and that’s when it really counts.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Meyer’s Florida

At 40-years old it’s no surprise that Urban Meyer was the most sought after football coach in America. He has the right pedigree, having been an assistant at Ohio State and Notre Dame (among others) and a successful head coach at Bowling Green and Utah. But he also has the media savvy, the self deprecating humor and a presence that successful leaders need.

Meyer strode to the podium on Tuesday after being introduced as the new Florida football coach and took his time gathering his papers and his thoughts. He spoke clearly and directly, addressing the assembled media and the boosters in attendance. He didn’t flinch, he didn’t stumble. He deflected the hard questions and hit the easy ones out of the park.

The only surprise was his revelation regarding his admiration of Steve Spurrier. “If Florida was on TV, I was there watching,” the new Gator Head Coach explained. “I was a fan, and I know you’re not supposed to be, but I like how they took the field, how they played the game, how they left the field. They had a swagger if you want to call it that. Hopefully you saw some of that at the University of Utah.”

Wow was that just what the Gator nation wanted to hear! A return to running up the score, big numbers on offense and a swagger that fans were used to. It’s only funny because Spurrier himself the week before while accepting the South Carolina job said he learned “humility” while he was away from the college game, and vowed to have a little less swagger as the coach of the Gamecocks.

But Meyer is the right guy for the job.

Winning, and winning in the fashion that will satisfy the culture of Florida fans is a whole different story. But even though he was the flavor of the month in coaching circles, Meyer is the right kind of personality for the football program and the right kind of football coach for the community.

I happened to stand right behind where his wife and their three children were sitting at the press conference. His wife in an orange and white striped Gator blouse and his kids decked out in brand new orange and blue. Meyer apparently never thought twice about having a chance to work in Florida. “Why don’t you put your name into the hat at some of those schools in Florida,” Meyer’s wife apparently told him each time he was thinking about changing jobs.

Remember, this is a career that was at Ohio State, Notre Dame, Illinois State, Colorado State, Bowling Green and Utah. Not a lot of balmy days in any of those locations. “Yeah, right,” Meyer told his wife, “I don’t know anybody down there. I can’t just throw my name in the hat!”

Win enough games and you can. And knowing the President of the University doesn’t hurt either. Meyer asked Lou Holtz and Bob Stoops about taking the job at Florida, but perhaps the most influential person he talked to was Billy Donovan, the Gators basketball coach. “Coach Donovan spent hours on the phone with me,” the new football coach explained, “And he couldn’t say enough about the Gainesville community and how great a place it is to raise a family. That’s what I was looking for.” Good thing, since Meyer is exactly what the Gators were looking for as well.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

. . . From Utah?

Do you smell that?

It’s that “I-can’t-put-my-finger-on-it-but-something’s-not-right-with-this” smell surrounding the hiring of Urban Meyer as the Florida Gators Head Football Coach. Yes, it seems they out-bid Notre Dame for the hot, flavor of the month coach, but there’s something unseemly about it.


Or perhaps that’s just how it’s going to go from now on when it comes to hiring a head football coach at any major program. I don’t know anything about Urban Meyer except that he’s won everywhere he’s coached. He’s young enough to build a legacy at the University of Florida if he wins there and decides to stay and that he had an out in his Utah contract that would have allowed him to go to Notre Dame, Michigan or Ohio State without penalty. Florida wasn’t in that grouping, but when it came time to choose where he’d coach next, he picked the Gators.

Or did he just pick the money?

Somebody who puts three schools in his contract that he can leave for has a deep affinity for those schools that goes beyond just money and reputation. So when his self proclaimed “dream job” at Notre Dame was opened for him by firing Tyrone Willingham, it seemed like a slam dunk he’d be coaching the Irish next year. But after less than 48 hours of deliberations, Meyer picked Florida. “I heard people say it was your dream job. It still is,” Meyer said. “It just so happens I have three children at a (young) age and a situation that was well into effect before that one was even on the radar.”

So if Notre Dame had called, what decision would he have made?
“I don’t know,” Meyer said bluntly.

“He has a presence,” Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley said about Meyer. “When he walks into a room, people notice.”

Short term, winning at Florida will be easier. The Gators are already loaded with talent and even with the recruits who have said they’ll look around again who were committed to Florida (Zook told me they had “everybody”), next year’s freshman class only deepens the talent pool.

Meyer has the offensive philosophy Gator fans like. His Utah team beat UNLV last month by opening the game in the rain with a reverse-pass kickoff return for a touchdown. But Gator fans want a little more than just a guy who has won, throws the ball around and has some tricks up his sleeve. They want their coach to appreciate their suffering. They want a coach who hates Auburn, Georgia and Florida State as much as they do. That’s why Steve Spurrier was an instant hit in Gainesville. He was one of them from the start. He never hesitated to stick it to Florida opponents on and off the field. He had an open disdain for the schools who had kept the Gators out of the SEC Championship for their first 59 years in the conference. He wouldn’t even say “Florida State” rather referring to them only as “FSU” and “that school up the road in Tallahassee.” And he made them pay for it.

Meyer has to jump into that right away. If they’re paying him $14 million over 7 years, the expectations will be high. But Florida fans will be looking for the emotional attachment he develops with the school, the fans, the boosters and the rivalries. Meyer could be considered University President Bernie Machen’s boy. He hired him in Utah, and now he’s brought him to Gainesville. Even though Meyer admitted he’d been talking to Florida since the regular season ended, he knew Notre Dame’s job was open for three days prior to accepting the Gators’ top spot.

Maybe it says something about where Notre Dame is in the college football pecking order. While the Golden Dome has a certain cache’ among 40-somethings and up, it’s just another school to a younger generation. Players who will be freshmen this year were born in 1986. The Irish last won the National Championship in ’88. So in the game of coaching musical chairs, ND is left without a seat and the Gators get their man.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

At Spurrier’s Request

On the day Ron Zook was fired, it was obvious somebody needed to hear that the Florida head football coaching job was going to be open. Perhaps it was Steve Spurrier, perhaps it was Bernie Machen, the school’s president, perhaps it was the recruits or perhaps it was some big boosters. The timing seemed odd, but if the decision had been made to replace him (perhaps based on some of the team’s off-field shenanigans) if he had won out, beating Georgia and FSU in the process, it would have been very difficult to make a move on Zook at that point.

Once the announcement was made, the Gator Nation was clamoring for Steve Spurrier to return, and he didn’t disqualify himself as a candidate. In fact, he left the door open, and most of his friends and confidants thought he was going back to Gainesville. Then he took himself out of the running.

So what happened?

Perhaps Steve just thought about it and figured it didn’t have enough upside to it. Or maybe he really was in the “been there, done that” mentality. But more likely is something set Spurrier off in the wrong direction, so he just decided “no” was the right answer. Recently, Steve has said he was surprised when Machen didn’t remember meeting him. When asked, the UF president said he’d never met Spurrier, “but I’ve seen a picture of him once,” in an attempt at humor.

Knowing Steve the little that I do, he wouldn’t have liked that, at all. In fact, Spurrier and Machen had met at a basketball game, and their wives sat next to each other. “Maybe he wants to hire somebody he knows,” Spurrier said late last week, “’cause he doesn’t know who I am.” That’s Spurrier talk for “I’m not workin’ for that guy.”

Some people think that Steve didn’t want to go through the process, and I don’t blame him. But the process is part of the NCAA regulations these days, and it’s also the politically correct thing to do to cover your own back when questioned about who you interviewed, etc.. So if there was going to be a process, Jeremy Foley just needed to tell Steve to go through the motions and in mid-December when the I’s were dotted and the T’s were crossed, the job would be his. Maybe he never got around to having that talk with the “ole ball coach.”

But I think it was really a combination of things. There isn’t a tremendous upside for Spurrier to return to Florida. He’s a legend there already and save for winning another National Championship, his image could only be tarnished without reaching that ultimate goal. Spurrier will be 60 years old before next season starts, so his shelf-life at Florida was five years, max. That might not be long enough to get the job done the way he’d like to. He’s got other things he likes to do, and it’s not all golf either.

When Foley said “If coach isn’t into it a thousand percent, then he knows he’s not right for the job,” that was very telling. If there was even a small doubt in Steve’s mind, it wouldn’t have worked. That’s why if he takes a job coaching, it’ll be in the NFL. There’s no emotion attachment there, and this time around, he’ll know it. It amazed him that the professional players sometimes came to play and other times didn’t. He didn’t have the kind of control he wanted in Washington, which perhaps another owner would be willing to cede to him. Miami would seem like a good fit, because they’re going to need a head coach, except they’re a bad team all around right now. And they don’t have a quarterback that fits the Spurrier mold. But he might end up there with a general manager who can put some of the pieces in place for him to be successful. And besides, five years is just about the right time to coach in the NFL anyway.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Georgia’s Win

Thirteen of the last 14 years Florida fans have walked away from the stadium in Jacksonville as winners. “That’s all of your adult life,” I told one of my friends who was glum after Georgia won 31-24. I like it when Florida wins because a lot of my friends (and my daughter who’s a UF grad) are happy. But I also like it when Georgia wins because the ‘Dogs fans hang around and have fun in town. Florida fans always hang around win or lose, so it’s a big festive atmosphere for the whole weekend.

I would have liked it if the Gators had won on Saturday just because Head Coach Ron Zook deserves a solid send off. Getting fired is part of the job, but Florida hasn’t handled this thing very well over the last week. Still, Zook’s players couldn’t muster enough to beat Mississippi State, why would anybody expect them to all of the sudden become something different against Georgia. Emotion plays a big part in this game, but it can only carry you so far. For the Gators, it carried them to a close game, but Georgia was the better team and showed it in crunch time for the first time in the last three years.

David Green gets his first win against Florida and so does Head Coach Mark Richt. Richt walked into his post game press conference and said, “You know this is the first time I’ve walked down the hall in this place and didn’t have to figure out what I was going to say.”

Florida had too many penalties (10 for 77 yards), and Georgia took advantage of the Gator miscues. Plus, just as Florida was gaining the momentum in the 4th quarter, but Green hit Reggie Brown for 51-yards to move the ball into Gator territory and quiet those at the game in Orange and Blue. Gator players said after the game that emotion wasn’t a problem and they were disappointed that they couldn’t pull out this win for Zook.

Ciatrick Fason has turned out to be the real deal for Florida. His 17 carries for 139 yards kept the Gators in the game (he also caught five passes out of the backfield). But how he gained his yards was even more impressive. He constantly looks like he’s stopped, and somehow escapes to rip off big chunks of yardage. More and more it seems he will turn pro after this season. If he continues to develop at this rate, his value jumps out of the middle rounds and into the top two or three.

Florida now has games against Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Florida State remaining on their schedule. They have better athletes than Vandy, but South Carolina can do some damage if they don’t pay attention, and the FSU game is usually unpredictable. (Especially this year with the Seminoles as unpredictable as they’ve ever been.) As Jeremy Foley has said a couple of times, Florida still isn’t bowl eligible, but Peach Bowl and Outback Bowl officials were at today’s game scouting the Gators.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Zook Cooked

From the day he was hired, there was a thinly veiled threat hanging over Ron Zook’s head at Florida. It was always there, even at the press conference announcing his hiring. When Athletic Director Jeremy Foley made his initial remarks that day, the first questions didn’t have anything to do with Zook. They were all about why he didn’t hire Bob Stoops or Mike Shanahan. Foley said something to the effect that “this is the right guy, and he’ll prove it.” Not an overwhelming endorsement, but a vote of confidence; with that veiled threat.

And the threat constantly whispered to Zook, “You weren’t the first choice, you have to prove yourself. And if you don’t you’re out of here.” The threat never went away, even after big wins, and it magnified after losses. When he won, he didn’t win big enough. When he lost, it was the coach’s fault, not the player’s. “He can really recruit,” was the way Gator fans praised their coach. When he won, like against LSU and Georgia last year, it was because the players stepped up.

So Ron Zook was always in a lose-lose situation. He had to win, and win big to feed the monster that Gator fans have become. He also had the bad fortune of following Steve Spurrier at Florida’s helm. “I’m not the ball coach,” Zook said as he addressed the ‘I’m not Spurrier’ situation at his opening press conference. “I’m my own man.”

When Zook was hired, Frank Frangie had me on his show to talk about how Zook would fair as the Gators new head coach. “Gator fans need style points,” I told Frank that day. “They want to win games 47-3, not 24-21. Georgia fans are perfectly happy to win 10-9, but Florida fans won’t stand for it. They’re a little spoiled and want things just so.” Frank called me that night to say he thought I was a little harsh (Frank is a Florida grad and a long time friend of Zook) but he has since changed his mind. “You’re right,” he told me Sunday night. “It’s not the record, but how you win the games that Gator fans are interested in.”

It’s pretty obvious that Zook lost the confidence of even his most loyal fans after the loss to Mississippi State, but it’s not one loss that gets you fired. It’s cumulative. He wasn’t winning big enough; he wasn’t rubbing the opponents’ nose in it. Those 59 years of being the SEC’s doormat left Gator fans wanting revenge, vigilante style. Once the big boosters say they’re not contributing any more money until there’s a new head coach, soon there will be a new head coach.

Zook’s actions in the whole fraternity incident certainly played a role in his demise as well. If you’re a nut and winning, it can be written off to being “competitive.” If you’re a nut and losing, then well, you’re just a nut. Be assured, this wasn’t just a Jeremy Foley decision either. The administration from the President on down was involved. Florida views themselves as a sort of “Ivy League School of the South” these days, and there’s a certain amount of decorum they’re expecting.

Gator fans will have to ask themselves a pretty hard question very soon: What will make them happy? Everybody says “That guy from Utah” (Urban Meyer) but do the Gator faithful really want a guy from Utah as their head coach? Of course they say “That guy from Utah” right after they mumble something about Spurrier.


That’s what’s missing!

Spurrier’s not the head coach!

And he’s available!

So like the bat light over the big city, the Gator light is out over Gainesville, seeing if Spurrier will answer the call. He’s been out three years, it didn’t work in the NFL in Washington, he still has his place in Crescent Beach, and, well, he’s Spurrier! When it comes to picking their head coach, Gators are pretty myopic. It’s almost Crimson Tide-esque with anybody and Bear Bryant.

Maybe Urban Meyer is the right guy. They scored 63 points against UNLV and opened the game with a kickoff return reverse pitch for a touchdown. Either way, whoever the next coach at Florida is will be inheriting a very good and young team.

Steve, are you listening?

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Spurrier Quits

On the day he was named Head Coach of the Washington Redskins two years ago, Steve Spurrier was coy with the press, saying he didn’t expect to work as hard as some of the other coaches (he named Jim Haslett as one) and he didn’t expect any surprises in the NFL. “Football is football,” Spurrier said that day, “we’ll pitch it around and see what happens.”

Two years later, the Redskins franchise is in disarray, Spurrier has resigned and Dan Snyder will look for his fifth head coach since buying the team. Not all of the Redskins problems can be blamed on Spurrier, but many can be traced to a single personality trait that he possesses: he tries his best all of the time until the battle seems lost.

Spurrier has been successful at everything in life, save for professional football. And the one thing in pro football that differs from college football and just about everything else is that the players aren’t always playing at the top of their game. Sometimes they’re on, sometimes, as the saying goes, not so much. That never got into Spurrier’s head, and consequently he kept running into the same wall, banging his head and bouncing back to the same spot.

There’s lots of talk about discipline problems on the Redskins, and Spurrier admitted in a meeting with Dan Snyder on Sunday as much. Again, Spurrier’s refusal to put an emphasis on small details that he considers a grown man’s domain got him in trouble. He suspended a couple of players at the end of the season, but it was too late. NFL players are young guys with lots of money and tons of time. If left to their own devices the “wanderers” on a team will do just that, wander. The discipline isn’t for guys who know what it’s all about (players like Kyle Brady, Maurice Williams, and Fred Taylor to name a few) but rather about those who need to be kicked in line, and there are plenty of them in the league. If they’re running off, they have a negative effect on the whole product. The Redskins seemed to be full of “free spirits” and guys with plenty to say, but there wasn’t enough self policing on the team to be successful.

Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell wrote earlier this year, “Four groups are running the Redskins; Spurrier, Vinny Cerrato (the GM), Dan Snyder and the last guy who walked by Snyder who said something Snyder thought was smart.” Snyder can’t quite make up his mind what he wants to do with his team. He paid $800 million for the club so he doesn’t think he should surrender running it to somebody else, no matter how much that person might know about football.

There are a select few coaches who will be able to work under Snyder’s reign, but none will get the overall control so many of them want. Spurrier, on the other hand, had the opposite problem. He didn’t want to work with a lot of the things that most coaches want; he just wanted to coach football. He knew taking the job in Washington that they didn’t have the players necessary to run the kind of offense he likes, but figured he could fix that in short order.

Looking back on his success at Duke and at Florida, Spurrier’s system worked with just a few good players running the offense. Whether it was Dave Brown, Shane Matthews, Danny Wuerffel or Rex Grossman, his quarterback was one of the best, if not the best player on the field. In the NFL, the separation between the talents of different positions is very small. And on defense, they’re fast and they’re also good.

Perhaps it would have been a different situation in a different situation. A more talented quarterback, wide receivers who had more speed, a running back who was suited to running and catching the ball and a defense already in place would have been a much better fit for Spurrier. He’s quirky, but he’s also a smart guy who could have success as a coach in the NFL, but I don’t think he’ll try it again. At 58 years old, Spurrier is not interested in coaching forever. Perhaps he’ll be back in the college game in the near future, but not for too long.

I’ll admit I was rooting for Spurrier to be successful. There are too many guys in and around the NFL with their noses up in the air about how great the league is and how nobody can re-invent the wheel when it comes to success. A lot of those guys will come out of the woodwork to rip Spurrier (just read Merrill Hodge’s column on but that’s the nature of the league and the hangers-on that surround it. It’s full of self-importance and those people don’t take well to interlopers.

There is a certain amount of truth to the notion that certain things win in the league and other things don’t. Given another shot, even Spurrier would do things differently. But I don’t think he’s too interested.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

They’re Zook’s Gators

“And we’re a pretty good football team too,” is what I heard from the podium Saturday night after Florida beat Georgia for the 13th time in 14 years. The speaker was Gators Head Coach Ron Zook, and that quote made my ears perk up. It’s the first time I’d heard Zook say he thought his team was pretty good, or had a chance to get there.

“I don’t know if it’s the first time I’ve said it publicly,” Zook answered when I pressed him on it, “but it’s not the first time I’ve thought it, I can tell you that.”

The post-Georgia press conference was pretty impressive on Zook’s part. There weren’t a bunch of quick answers or quick responses where it seemed Ron wanted to say the last thing in the sentence before the first thing was finished. And it wasn’t measured or vengeful. It was just Zook. It was the first time I’d seen him in public comfortable in his own skin. Comfortable in his own accomplishments, with the confidence that he’d shown to every coach who employed him before Jeremy Foley named him the head of the Gator Nation. And he’s the undisputed head of the Gator Nation. Despite websites calling for his ouster and newspaper columnists wondering in print if he’s the right guy for the job, Zook has proved his worth both in Gainesville and on a national scale. He can recruit and he can coach. No matter what happens the rest of the year, he’s taken a young team and taught them how to win. For once, Gators can really mean it when they say, “Wait ‘till next year!”

Forty-four different players in orange and blue this year have seen their first action as Gator football players. They’ve played 33 freshmen, including at quarterback, where Chris Leak has made a believer out of just about everybody. He’s smart, sees the field, is just mobile enough and makes good throws. The game winning drive against Georgia was the perfect spot for a freshman to make a mistake and send the game into overtime. Instead, Leak delivered perfect passes, including the big one to Ben Troupe that put them in field goal range.

Having won at Baton Rouge and Fayetteville, and beaten Georgia in a half-hostile environment, it won’t matter where these young players go in the future, it won’t bother them. And credit Zook for that. He’s solid when it comes to game preparation, and motivation, but probably doesn’t get enough credit when it comes to the psychology of coaching. You might have seen the television shot of him walking by and saying something to Matt Leach when Florida was marching down the field at the end of the game against Georgia. What could he possibly say in that situation that might help a guy, especially one who struggled in the past, make that kick? “I’d give a thousand dollars to do what you’re about to do,” was the one line he delivered. That’s not Head Coach-speak. That’s a guy to a guy, and the perfect bump to a not-so-sure kicker. A Head Coach sometimes has to be a CEO, and other times he has to be your best friend. Zook seems to have figured out how to use the “velvet hammer” when necessary.

Winning the rest of their games is important for Florida in the SEC race. Not just the obvious SEC games, but a win against FSU would go a long way in allowing the AD’s to vote the Gators as the East Division representative in case of a three way tie including Georgia and Tennessee. How strange is that? The Gators have to root for Georgia against Auburn, while Tennessee has to root for Florida to beat both Vandy and South Carolina.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -


Now, there are eleven. Eleven being the operative word in that sentence. Eleven is a nice number, a good number for players on either side of a football. It’s about the right number on a soccer pitch for guys in the same color jersey, but it’s not the right number for teams in a conference. Especially a football conference. That’s why eleven teams in the ACC is a bogus number, a temporary number of teams until they figure out who is the best fit as the twelfth team. Twelve is the right number. It balances the schedule, it allows rivalries to develop and it enables the conference to have a championship football game at the end of the season. That’s millions and millions of dollars, and in this case, again, money talks.

So who is the twelfth team? Louisville, East Carolina, USF, UCF? If the league is just interested in adding numbers, any one of those schools will do. If they’re interested in keeping the travel budgets down, any of those will do as well. But if the ACC is trying preserve their reputation as the “Tiffany” conference, they might want a bigger name, a marquee school, stolen from another conference. Florida? Georgia? Kentucky? All of those upgrade the conference in just about every way. The ACC will have 12 teams, it’s just a matter of time.

Is there any intrigue involved in these conference switches? Not really. The driving force is money, and when it comes to conferences and money, bigger is better. The Big East was created as a basketball conference to begin with, an outgrowth of the old ECAC. Miami’s rise to prominence in football, and Virginia Tech’s commitment to upgrade their program made the conference a bigger football player, but those two couldn’t drag the Big East up among the elite. So the ‘Canes decided to listen to other offers, and needed somebody to come along. Boston College and Syracuse were their first choices, but they couldn’t work all of the details out. So Virginia Tech got the call, and happily, the Hokies went along. Miami was driving the bus on this deal though, working out a way to move from the Big East to the ACC. The ‘Canes thought, and rightfully so, they were losing some of their clout by staying in the Big East. Football’s their game, and the Big East wasn’t all of a sudden going to become this powerhouse football conference, without convincing Notre Dame to be a football member as well.

It’s a baby step toward what eventually will be a football “super conference” where teams will play by the same rules. There’s no reason Florida should be playing Vanderbilt or Florida State should be continually banging Wake Forest year after year. Schools interested in playing big time football should be playing each other, and Miami’s move is a precursor to that. It might be 15 years or so down the road but that’s where it’s headed. And eventually, they’ll all get into the same conference, and have a playoff at the end of the year to determine a national champion on the field. Instead of a vote.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Coaches Foibles

It’s been a strange week for coaches and their image. Alabama football coach Mike Price goes to a charity golf tournament in Pensacola, has a few drinks, ends up in a strip bar and a woman charges $1000 of room service to his credit card the next morning in a Holiday Inn. Larry Eustachy declares himself an alcoholic after pictures were published of him kissing and being kissed by coeds on the cheek at a frat party following games his Iowa State Hawkeyes played this past season.

Price was fired on Saturday by Alabama before coaching one game for the Tide. In fact, he hadn’t even signed his 7-year $10 million contract. Price had lead the team through spring drills and thought he was the man to lead Alabama back to national prominence. He said all the right things when being introduced as Dennis Franchione’s successor. “I want to be the second best coach in Alabama history,” referring to Bear Bryant’s legacy.

There was a clause in his contract that allowed the school to get rid of him for bringing “disrepute” on him and the university. They exercised that clause in firing him. Price’s situation could involve some legal issues, although just the act of going to a strip club and having a woman charge room service to your credit card shouldn’t put you in jail. Should they cost you your job? Perhaps if it’s part of a pattern of behavior, but for all of the human failings made public these days, you would think a second chance would be in order for Price and others. Could he still lead? Certainly. Could he be an example that you can make a mistake, pay a price (both monetarily and emotionally) and return? Of course. But Alabama had had their share of scandal (Mike DuBose) recently and wasn’t willing to have any blemish on their new coach’s record. Price hadn’t won any games for the Tide either, meaning he didn’t have any leverage among boosters. Nobody was actually “casting the first stone” at Price, except the ‘Bama administration. Strip club business no doubt will be down in the Panhandle among those wearing crimson and white. Price knew better, but made an error in judgment. He should have paid a price, but in this case, the punishment didn’t fit the crime.

He also could have been a victim of Larry Eustachy’s public battle with Iowa State’s administration. Eustachy was suspended and the Athletic Director wants him fired. Eustachy is fighting for his job, and thinks his confession of guilt should give him a second chance. The problem is, university administrations have never been places where controversy is tolerated, unless of course, it means raising more money. They want problems swept under the rug, they want them to go away, not become part of the school’s landscape. Just get rid of the problem.

It all comes back to money. They don’t want to offend any large donors to the point where the money dries up. So fire the coach and move on. Eustachy’s declaration that he’s an alcoholic is either a true attempt to get his life in order or, from a cynical viewpoint, a desperate and elaborate attempt to keep his job. Any 47-year old man knows a fraternity or sorority party is not where they should be. Anybody with a million dollar salary paid by a state university really knows that’s not where they should end up. The only thing they’re going to find there is trouble. An admission of personal foibles doesn’t always keep the critics at bay. If Eustachy’s actions are a one time thing and not part of a pattern, he should be allowed to get his life in order.

But getting a second chance in life doesn’t always mean keeping your job. If we’ve learned one thing it’s that your boss is your boss. If they want you gone, you’re gone. Even when it’s not fair.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Ohio State Wins Title

A bunch of people asked me on Saturday, “Hey, who won that game last night?” Some of them just had a passing interest in what was going on (since neither Florida nor Florida State were playing) and others just went to bed before the game went into overtime. Either way, as sports fans, they missed a riveting, if not a well-played game. This game to determine a national champion had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows for both teams, collectively and individually. As a team, Miami felt the ecstasy of winning and the despair of losing within ten minutes of each other. Their kicker did what all kickers hope to do: kick the game winning/tying field goal on the last play of the game. Their star running back was beginning to dominate the game when in the flash of an eye; his season was over, his career in jeopardy. Ohio State had the same emotions as a team; going from thinking they had lost to knowing they had won, one right after the other. Their quarterback couldn’t do much in regulation, yet completed a 4th-and-14 pass to keep his team’s hope alive.

With the flurry of action at the end of regulation and in overtime, the focus on the interference call in the end zone and Willis McGahee’s injury, one play might get lost in the memory of this game, but it’s the play this game will be remembered for years from now. The Buckeyes were about to score a touchdown to go up 21-7 when Miami’s Sean Taylor intercepted the ball in the end zone and headed the other way. Instead of a two-touchdown lead, the game was about to be tied and thrown into a frenzy. As Taylor was headed down the sideline, Ohio State’s freshman running back Maurice Clarett caught him from behind, made the tackle and stole the ball all at the same time! The physical ability to make the play and the mental presence to execute it and change the outcome right on the spot is a rare combination for any athlete, let alone a true freshman playing in the national championship game. Clarett spent the week bashing the athletic department in Columbus for their lack of understanding, so his motivation was in question as the game approached. Even though Miami did a good job keeping him in check, that one play, and his subsequent touchdown run in overtime raised his profile equal to his hype.

It wasn’t a clean, well-played game, but rather the kind of game Ohio State hopes to be in every week. It was tough, it went down to the wire, it had all kinds of strategy and turnovers and it turned into a test of wills.

“They couldn’t match our talent,” Hurricane tight end Kellen Winslow said after the game, “But sometimes it takes more than that. I guess we learned that tonight.”

Many sports fans also learned a lesson: don’t go to bed too early.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Florida vs. FSU

It was just a two second shot on the television, nothing you’d notice if you looked away from the screen. With the victory in hand and his performance the difference, FSU quarterback Chris Rix, standing on his own sideline, turned and embraced teammate Alonzo Jackson. He whispered something in his ear, smiled and the two teammates shared a laugh.

Jackson, the ‘Noles emotional leader on defense, is the player who, after the Notre Dame game, was very vocal in the locker room about replacing Rix at quarterback with Adrian McPherson. So vocal in fact, that when the media was waiting at the locker room door, Jackson’s voice could be clearly heard, blaming Rix for the loss.

“Some people should worry about themselves and not everybody else,” was Rix’s only replay.

Funny how winning can make everything right in sports. Rix played nearly the perfect game. He threw the ball away when he needed to. He avoided the rush when it was in his face. He ran the ball at the right times. And he fired the ball in the end zone when his team needed it the most. Except for a short time in the third quarter that included a silly shovel pass across the line of scrimmage, Rix looked like a poised, polished and complete quarterback. Something similar to the player he was projected to be coming out of high school.

A raging immaturity and a “I can do it alone” attitude contributed to his downfall. Head Coach Bobby Bowden knew that Rix had lost the confidence and the ear of his teammates after the Notre Dame game and had no choice but to replace him. “He handled his demotion very well,” said Bowden when he opened the competition for the quarterback job after McPherson’s sub-par performance against N.C. State. Of course, Bowden was never faced with making a decision at quarterback. He dismissed McPherson from the team on Monday after it was apparent McPherson had committed a felony. Rix promised he’d be more ready than every, and he was.

Florida State appeared bigger, faster, and tougher than Florida at every position on the field. The surrounding “distractions” during the week had a galvanizing effect on the team, allowing them to circle the wagons and play perhaps their best game of the year (in a win). The Seminoles can now sit back and look at a season where they had a lot of coulda’s and shoulda’s but still with the satisfaction of an ACC Championship, a win over Florida, and a berth in a BCS bowl. Are those things enough to keep Bobby Bowden as the Seminoles Head Coach? Or enough to convince him he’s accomplished enough?

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Florida/Georgia 2002

Confident of victory coming in, the Bulldog faithful showed up in Jacksonville in full force. This year’s Georgia/Florida game had the feel of one of the great ’80’s rivalries where just about anything could happen. But again this year, the favored team struggled and Florida put a new shine on their season with a 20-13 win.

If nothing else, the win takes the heat off Ron Zook, for now, as Gator fans went home happy with the win, and with the effort. “Oh boy don’t you have that right,” Zook told me after the game when I asked if it wasn’t especially gratifying to win a game in such scrappy fashion. The players agreed. “We didn’t have our best stuff, but we kept fighting and pushing and things worked out in the end,” Max Starks said in his post game comments.

Each Florida player was wearing a sticker on their warm-up suit that just said “Hammer.” Starks said it was started by an assistant coach who asked who was willing to bring their lunch pail to work each day and take a “blue-collar” mental approach to practice and games. “We all signed this sledge hammer,” Starks continued, “and promised to do what we could to get better every day. It worked.”

Shannon Snell predicted early in the week that the Gators would beat Georgia, and said the Dogs would lose another SEC game as well. “I stand by my prediction,” Snell said in the hallway after the game. “We did our part, now somebody else has to do theirs.” Of course, another loss by Georgia gives Florida the inside track in the SEC East, providing they win their final two conference games against Vanderbilt and South Carolina.

Neither team was particulary impressive, but Florida’s defense was the difference. Twice, Georgia had the ball on turnovers inside the Gators’ twenty yard line, and came away with only three points. “That just goes to show you how every play can make a difference,” Georgia Offensive Lineman John Stinchcomb sighed when answering post-game questions. The Bulldogs had a 2nd and goal from the 1 but an illegal procedure penalty pushed them back to the 6 and they had to settle for a field goal. “This one will hurt,” Stinchcomb continued, “but starting Monday, we have to look at the rest of the season.”

The Gators’ defense was physical, fast and swarming, not allowing the Georgia offense to hit a big play. Terrence Edwards had a chance at a big play in the ‘Dogs final drive, but dropped a wide open post pattern that could have gone for six. “We ran that play earlier in the game, and it was open, but Greene couldn’t get the ball to him, ” Mark Richt explained. “In that series, we ran it against a safety who hadn’t seen it before and it was open. If he catches it, he very well could have scored but I don’t want to say one play made the difference in the game.”

Richt is right. Georgia had plenty of opportunities but couldn’t find a rhythm, never converting a third down opportunity for the entire game. “That’s the money down,” Gator Defensive Back Guss Scott explained, “and we really got it done on third down tonight.” This win should buoy Florida and propel them to easy wins over Vandy and the Gamecocks. (FSU is a whole different animal, especially in Tallahassee.) The question is, what does it do to Georgia? It could easily devastate them, losing to their hated rival with their first significant SEC title in 20 years just out of reach.

The game seemed to come off without a hitch, thanks to the city of Jacksonville’s efforts. Downtown was packed, and a bit crazy, but seemed to be without major incident. “There are always going to be problems with a night game, ” Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley told me at halftime. “But there are problems with night games in Gainesville and Athens as well. The good thing here is most of these people are staying here tonight instead of having to drive four hours home.”

The stadium looked great, security was efficient without being overbearing and tailgating was just what it should be: big, loud and fun. Even though it wasn’t a particularly well played game, it was entertaining, both on and off the field. In other words, it was just what a great college football game should be.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

The Golden Age (Is Over)

Could Saturday’s loss to Ole Miss signal the end of the “Golden Age” of Florida football? And not just the University of Florida but at Florida State as well? This season it appears there’s Miami and then there’s everybody else. Florida and FSU, perennial contenders for the state championship and therefore the national championship, appear a step or two behind the Hurricanes.

Mississippi was a gimmie for the Gators every time they played them. Louisville would have been a blip on the radar screen for the Seminoles. But times have changed. Eli Manning can choose Ole Miss and think he’s going to have enough players around him to be successful. Louisville is emerging, like Central Florida, South Florida, Marshall and others, siphoning off talent that would have been headed to the big schools looking for a chance, just a chance to play.

FSU has been able to reload for the last 10 years, adding the missing pieces to an already strong core. Every year they contend for the National Championship, and have gotten the benefit of the doubt in the polls, allowing them to play for the title it seems almost every year. But the ‘Noles have come to earth with the rest of the teams in Division I. Bobby Bowden’s heyday seems to be behind him. You might have your pick of the best players across the country, but the second best isn’t coming to your school anymore to sit on the bench or have a chance to play in the future. If the top quarterback is going to Tallahassee, the next guy, maybe Dave Ragone, is going somewhere, like Louisville, where he can play. Florida’s dominance in the SEC has ended. Every team the Gators have played this year in the conference thinks they can beat Florida. Tennessee gave it away, Kentucky gave Florida a run at home, and Ole Miss finished the job. The mystique is gone.

The 85-scholarship rule is in effect and is causing the top teams to have the same depth problems they have everywhere else. School presidents and athletic directors were looking for a way to limit the expenses in major college football, and along with it they’ve brought parity to the game, much like the NFL.

Florida benefited from the Spurrier aura in recruiting, and in game-day play, but even Steve couldn’t fight the coming restrictions on what players he’d be able to get and keep. Early departures have kept teams from being dominant, and have allowed freshman to have an immediate impact. The Gators don’t have the same swagger they’ve had in the past, but they don’t have the same talent either.

Miami is the current exception. They promoted from within for a head coach to keep some continuity and they’ve been able to create their own culture on their football team. Big time High School players from the Miami area, and there are plenty of them, want to stay home and play for the ‘Canes. Any kid in the state of Florida who is attracted to the bright lights and big city atmosphere is thinking about Miami. The Hurricanes are plucking the top quarterbacks from around the country to direct the offense, and don’t look to slow down anytime soon.

Recruiting against the three teams in the state used to be very difficult. You couldn’t say much about the other schools that would deter a player from going there. But now, the whispers about Bobby Bowden’s effectiveness and impending retirement seem to carry more weight. Without Spurrier running the offense, there’s more validity to negative recruiting against the Gators. There’s no reason the Gators and Seminoles won’t be top-flight competitors, but the Golden Age is over.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Sweetness and Swagger

Full of hubris and humility, swagger and sweetness, Steve Spurrier owned the room yesterday in his first remarks as Head Coach of the Washington Redskins. If you wanted to like him going in, you loved him when you left. If you didn’t care for his style beforehand, you were gagging halfway through. It was classic Spurrier.

In other words, he was completely himself. Addressed the Redskins owner as “Mr. Snyder” although the owner is 19 years his junior, pled his case to the veteran players right there from the podium saying “soldiers don’t practice with live bullets” and convinced Bruce Smith to return right on the spot. He was disarming to his critics, and even slipped in a few jabs at FSU and Tennessee.

“These are not FSU colors,” Spurrier intoned in a mock announcement when asked about the burgundy and gold team colors of the Redskins. “This is burgundy and gold, and that’s not their colors.”

He really got a laugh when he deflected a question about his non-stop tweaking of his opponents. “I think that’s blown way up,” is how he started. “You tell a little cornball joke about the Citrus Bowl being the winter home of the Vols and everybody gets mad.”

He jumped right into it, drawing Redskins fans closer and closer by becoming one of them. “We’ve got the best fans and the biggest stadium,” Spurrier said in his opening remarks, “and I hope it’s the loudest one in the league.”


And he hadn’t even been there 10 minutes.

Gator fans loved Spurrier because they believed he was one of them. And he was, and always will be. But they’ll now have to share him with Redskins fans, because he’s genuine when he talks about “we” and “us.”

Growing up in east Tennessee, Steve admitted he was a Redskins fan growing up. Until 1966 (coincidentally the year he won the Heisman Trophy) the Redskins were the team of the South. They were on televisions throughout the region every Sunday. Geographically they were the most Southern team in the league, before the Falcons, Dolphins, Bucs, Titans, Jaguars, Saints and others. He followed the Redskins as a kid, and now he’s their Head Coach. He’ll take the blame for losing and share the praise when they win. He said all the right things. He was ready he was prepared. He knew when to say “I don’t know” and he called on one of the most hallowed names in Redskins history, Joe Gibbs. “When my time is over here, I hope to leave like Joe Gibbs. Not many coaches get to go out on their own terms.” You could just hear Redskins fans fainting all over the District. You want to be like Gibbs? The three Super Bowl winning Gibbs? How much more perfect can you be?

Those who question whether Spurrier can adapt his style to professional football need only to have seen yesterday’s performance. Steve’s not some dumb, football only coach. He’ll figure out a way to win and perhaps more importantly, he’ll figure out a way to get along with “Mr. Snyder.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

More Zook

It was only uncomfortable a couple of times in the large meeting room yesterday under the stadium where the University of Florida makes their big athletic program announcements. New Head Football Coach Ron Zook was at the end of answering questions and was rambling on, telling a story about how he was hired in Pittsburgh. He was clearly enjoying himself, but Florida officials were fidgeting in the corner, the Sports Information Staff scrambling to try and let Zook and the assembled media know that this meeting was about over.

It was pretty typical Zook though, not orthodox, not some coach speak answer but in this case a guy telling a bunch of other guys a story. He was not polished yesterday, but got his message across. It was pretty good insight into how he’ll be as a coach: excitable, upbeat, passionate, and prepared. He’ll go through some growing pains, learning how to be a head coach. He might say the wrong thing a couple of times, and might step on some toes, but he’ll get it figured out.

As Athletic Director Jeremy Foley outlined his odyssey searching for a new coach, Zook stood in the corner, head down, arms folded, listening to how two coaches in front of him turned down the job. It seemed to reinforce Zook’s determination to show the doubters that he can be the next leader of the Gator Nation.

Eleven times during his remarks, Zook said, “I’m not Steve Spurrier.” Fans are hoping not to echo that sentiment eleven times next year after each game saying “he’s not Steve Spurrier.” He won over a lot of doubting Gators yesterday, and the team seemed genuinely and pleasantly surprised exiting their first full meeting with the new coach. He said all the right things and now, with all that ceremony out of the way, comes the hard part.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -


Finding the right coach to lead the Gator Nation was a tough enough job to begin with. Having to do the searching in public made the process a whole lot harder. What if Jeremy Foley had just kept everything to himself and then popped up yesterday and said “It’s Ron Zook.” Gator fans would have said, “What about Bob Stoops, what about Mike Shanahan?” But having been publicly turned down by both of those guys, Foley had to go to Plan B or Plan C and reach a little farther down that “short list” of replacements he keeps on his desk.

The initial reaction has been lukewarm which seems a little unfair to both Zook and Foley. Jeremy’s track record for hiring coaches is nearly flawless. Zook has no track record as a head coach, and perhaps that’s what bothers many Gator fans. Or is he not “high profile” enough? Or they didn’t like his defensive scheme when he was the coordinator at Florida the last time around. Either way, Zook will always have to be the guy who replaced Spurrier, and he’ll have to be the guy who’s not Spurrier as well.

Would fans rather have Tyrone Willingham? How about Mike Belotti? After Stoops and then Shanahan, anybody would be a wild card pick. Foley went for the card he knew, instead of searching around and ending up with the unknown. I knew Zook fairly well when he was here in the ‘90’s and nobody will bring more passion and emotion to the job. He’s a terrific recruiter. And just observing him from afar since he went to the NFL, he seems more settled, more technically adept, more ready to be a head coach. I don’t know how he’ll do, but nobody was really sure about Spurrier in 1990 either. Honest. They wondered whether he was serious enough for the job. Zook isn’t going to have much of a honeymoon, maybe just a kiss on the cheek. And his new partners are going to expect results.


Zook will be introduced in Gainesville today, and we’ll have his comments on the Internet on

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Replacing Spurrier

Finding a football coach for the University of Florida isn’t a hard job. Finding the right coach is a very difficult task. There are a lot of factors Athletic Director Jeremy Foley is dealing with, not the least of which is the next coach will have to follow Steve Spurrier. Spurrier was so successful at Florida and is so beloved by the Gators as one of their own, that the next coach will never reach that level.


It doesn’t matter what he does, he’ll never be Spurrier.

So Foley has to hire somebody who is something in their own right, not somebody who comes in and tries to match what Steve has done either on the field or in personality. Bob Stoops was the perfect choice, the right fit, but after saying he’d take the job, something made him change his mind. He doesn’t have any ties to Florida except he worked for Spurrier there.

Mike Shanahan would be fine except he didn’t like the college game the first time around when he was an assistant for Charley Pell. The recruiting, the alumni, the classes all got in the way of what he liked best: coaching football.

So now who?

Steve has such a strong personality that none of his current assistants seem ready to take the job. Outside the program there are former Gator assistants and players all over the place guys like Ron Zook, Mike Mularkey and Chan Gailey, and there are plenty of young, energetic coaches with no ties to the University who could create excitement and win at Florida. But they’ll all always have one major flaw: they’re not Steve Spurrier.

This situation is in flux to say the least, and we’ll give you the latest insight on the Internet.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Spurrier Departs

When he decided to leave, he just left. After fifteen years as a college Head Coach and twelve at the University of Florida, Steve Spurrier just decided he’d had enough. And true to form when he made up his mind to leave, he left. He didn’t hedge, he didn’t negotiate, he just left. He didn’t quit, but rather made it very clear he’s moving on.

Before we go any further, I should say I really like Steve Spurrier and always have. I’ve liked everything about him as a football coach (except for that flea-flicker against Georgia in Athens at the end of the game) and as a person since the day I met him (1984). I’d be pleased to see my son play for him, and that’s the highest compliment I can pay.

Spurrier leaving shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. In fact, the shock should be that he stayed this long. He’s always looking for that next mountain to climb, that next big challenge. If you’re a football coach, one of the thirty-two jobs in the NFL is the biggest challenge there is.

Meeting success at just about everything he’s every tried, Spurrier was successful at Florida in more than just winning football games. He changed everything about the perception of the University from the inside and out. He sold tickets; he sold merchandise, his style of play put the Gators at the top of the standings and in prime time on television. Florida fans stopped cheering, “Wait ’till next year,” and took great pride in the Orange and Blue.

Spurrier never gave any quarter nor did he ask for it. “If he can’t play, we’ll give the other guy a chance,” is a now famous line from the years of success, sometimes through experimentation, as the Head Ball Coach figured out a way to win.

Shane Matthews was a fifth string player before being named player of the year in the SEC. Danny Wuerffel was sent to the bench in favor of Terry Dean one rainy day in Jacksonville. Noah Brindise alternated plays with Doug Johnson as the “Evil Genius” looked for an edge. What other coach would have made those moves?

Tennessee fans hated Spurrier. Same with FSU. But both secretly admitted they’d love him if he were their Head Ball Coach.

Why now? First, Steve is not a guy who’s going to be coaching when he’s 70 years old. Although a youthful 56, Spurrier’s back problems kept him off the golf course and out of a physical training routine more than he liked in 2001. Perhaps he realized that if he was going to make a move, time was running out. He’s got things to do with his life, and coaching forever isn’t one of them.

Second, coaching isn’t a forever job anymore anyway. The player/coach relationship has changed. The expectation of winning, and winning now is greater than ever before. He’ll coach in the NFL for five, six, perhaps seven years and then he’s getting out. But he’ll be great at it.

Some have suggested he won’t be able to translate his success in college to the professional ranks. That’s baloney. In fact, his success in college was based on a professional approach. A keen eye for who can play and who can’t, a very critical analysis of the opposition, and an even more critical assessment of his own team’s strengths and weaknesses are what brought wins in bunches to Gainesville.

He did it all with flair, and a bit of showmanship. He came up with “Free Shoes University.” He once said you can’t spell Citrus without “UT.” He had a theme every week, especially for the big games. He usually saved some kind of prediction for the upcoming season for the Jacksonville Gator Club at the end of his summer tour. He squeezed Miami’s National Championship out of the lead story by quitting the day after they beat Nebraska! Maybe that’s coincidence based on the one-week window he had in his contract every year, but a Gator through and through, he got in a parting shot at an instate rival.

Spurrier is a private guy who has always kept his own counsel. His late father, Rev. Graham Spurrier once told me he’s always been that way. From when he was a kid. Made up his mind and never backed away. Always competitive, played hard ’till dark and then some when his parents finally made him come inside. As a football coach, Steve has always deflected personal praise saying it was his job to “coach ’em up.” Maybe they’ll put his jersey next to Wuerffel’s on the wall in the end zone now that he’s not there to veto the idea.

Where’s he going? Who knows? Year after year when his name was linked to an NFL job, Steve would brush it off saying, “it would be hard for me to do that. I’m just trying to keep the job I have.”

He won’t coach a cold weather team, Washington being as far north as he’ll go. Carolina’s a good fit with his ties to the state. Tampa Bay’s a natural as an instate team with all the Gators, Seminoles and ‘Canes on the team, but he’s turned them down once before. Jacksonville is the best choice, but Wayne Weaver says he’s giving Tom Coughlin an extension and it’s being reported that Weaver isn’t keen on working with Spurrier. That sounds ridiculous to me, and whiffing on a chance at Spurrier is a day any owner will regret. San Diego seems far away unless he’s ready for a total change.

Steve will want a final say in personnel matters, but will want a real football evaluator working for him. Like a General Manager responsible for the cap and the money and helping find players who reports to the Head Coach.

Wherever he goes, they’ll win, they’ll have fun, and it’ll never be dull. Kind of like the last twelve years in Gainesville. To use an old saying, Gator fans shouldn’t be sad he’s leaving, but rather should be happy that it happened at all.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -


So who thought the BCS was a good idea from the beginning anyway? From the minds of, as my friend Cole Pepper says, “money grubbing fat cats” comes an idea that’s flawed from the start and has gotten worse as it’s gone along.

Yes, I hate the BCS.

It hasn’t achieved any goal, and what was the goal anyway? To determine a “true” national champion for college football? That’s a noble idea that has an easy answer: have a playoff. Not something a bunch of writers and coaches have a say in, but a playoff where teams meet each other on the playing field.

The old system had some order, and when there was a question, they just split the National Championship, giving two teams the right to say they were the best. Under the new system, one team calls themselves the National Champion while two or three sit and brood about not getting a chance to at least play for the title. If the traditional Bowl alignments were in place this year, Illinois and Oregon would meet in the Rose Bowl, LSU and Maryland in the Sugar, Nebraska and Florida in the Fiesta and Colorado would have a chance to beat somebody in the Orange Bowl. Maybe Tennessee. Play those games and then come up with a National Champion. Or even better, play those games and then pick the top two teams to play one more for all of the marbles.

(On a complete tangent, how good of a representation is it of a team after they have more than a month off and then have to play in the biggest game of their season? Are they really the same team that went 11-0?)

No offense to Nebraska. They followed the rules and are in the Rose Bowl. Good for them. They didn’t make the rules; they’re just playing by them. Much like Florida State last year, Bobby Bowden said the Seminoles were in the National Championship game because that’s how the polls worked. Sure, Miami should have played Oklahoma, but the BCS brain trust had the ‘Noles in the game and Miami out in the cold.

This year both Colorado and Oregon have a legitimate gripe. The Ducks lost one game early and Colorado beat Nebraska and won the conference championship. Sure next year, they’ll change the rule and say unless you win your conference championship, you’re not eligible. But that’s a year too late. And the worst thing is the guys who invented this thing keep going around telling everybody that they knew this was a possibility and that it’s working, like we’re complete idiots.

Here’s the easy fix: a 16 team playoff that involves the conference champions and at-large teams, the bowls are a part of it, everybody makes money and a real national champion is crowned. There are a lot of reasons that won’t happen, not the least of which is how the money would have to be shared across the board. Do you think Roy Kramer wants the SEC to share all of that loot with Appalachian State? That’s how it works in basketball, and the football guys don’t want any part of that.

The conference commitments and the network contracts run through 2006, meaning they’ll tamper with the rules over the next couple of years, but this is the system we’re stuck with. The Bowls can’t really be happy with this system. All of the attention is on one game with the rest as just window dressing. A little controversy spices things up, a lot of controversy means something’s wrong.

Admit it, and fix it.


Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris -

Florida/Florida State

I don’t know if Rex Grossman will win the Heisman Trophy, but he was the best player on the field Saturday night in Gainesville. The Florida quarterback did not throw for 300 yards, but directed the Gators offense with the precision to break the will of Florida State and did the things necessary to give his team a win.

FSU’s game plan was executed perfectly on defense, making Florida go through long drives to score points. The Gators, and especially Grossman, were willing to take whatever was there, move the ball downfield, and go for the end zone when they were close. That’s the sign of a mature team, a mature coach and a mature quarterback.

While FSU’s defensive plan was on the mark, the offense couldn’t hold up their end. Quarterback Chris Rix couldn’t match Grossman’s accuracy and field generalship, missing receivers on key plays and failing to convert for first downs. That left the Seminole defense on the field too long, and let the Gators dictate the game. Not to say that Rix won’t be good; he’s big, strong, fast and is learning, but he was not Grossman’s equal, and it was the difference in the game.

There were some things open for the FSU quarterback, but he didn’t take them, especially the 12-15 yard patterns. The Seminole wide receivers are young, and it showed in their performance. Missing Anquan Boldin for the entire season has hurt FSU on offense, not only with his physical talent at wide receiver, but as a player who was on the field last year, and could provide some leadership for a very young Seminole football team.

As for Grossman’s Heisman chances, no Sophomore has ever won the Heisman, although a few have finished second, the most notable, Herschel Walker and the most recent, Marshall Faulk. The voters are biased against a Gator Quarterback, unless he can’t be denied, a la Danny Wuerffel. “The system,” is what they credit for any Gator Quarterback success, rather than his particular talent. If Florida had gone undefeated and won the National Championship, and Grossman had performed this way, he might have taken the hardware home. But with the loss on national cable television and Eric Crouch and Ken Dorsey headed to undefeated seasons, Grossman’s chances seem diminished. Still, the voting is done before the first Saturday in December, so voters will have to make up their minds early.

Maryland’s dramatic win against N.C. State gives the Terps the ACC title outright, the first team to win the title alone since FSU joined the conference. It puts the Terps in the BCS as the ACC Champion, headed to either the Sugar or the Orange Bowl. Florida State most likely will be invited to the Gator Bowl, no matter what happens against Georgia Tech. Gator Bowl officials are concerned about fans’ willingness to fly after the attacks of September 11th and are looking for a team who’s fans can arrive by car. It will not have the economic impact of a long week of visiting fans, but the Seminoles seem like the logical ACC choice.