Florida football hits the doldrums early
I haven't been writing much around here of late. I'm sure you've noticed — and, perhaps, grumbled to yourself, or chosen other options to get your Florida Gators news.
But here's my explanation: There's nothing going on.
Here's Jim McElwain's press conference from Tuesday, likely his last one before spring practice begins on March 16.
It is more than half an hour long. Here is the "news" from it:
- Brandon Powell's going to "primarily" be playing wide receiver, instead of running back.
- Antonio Morrison is out for spring practice, as literally anyone who heard his shrieks of pain during Florida's bowl game could have guessed.
- Trip Thurman is "not going to do anything" in spring practice while resting a shoulder injury, as Florida tries to get him an "eight-month cycle" of rest.
- Florida will practice at the lacrosse fields while its indoor facility is being built, while still scrimmaging in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
- Jake McGee has a foot injury of some sort (?), and won't take part in "live action," doing only drills.
- McElwain's plan to deal with Florida's lack of offensive line depth: "Cry."
- McElwain is hinting heavily that Florida will not have a traditional spring game.
- McElwain praised the energy in the media room, saying that he "didn't feel like he was in Winn-Dixie, walking through the frozen fish aisle."
Is any of this really, truly news? Thurman being out for the spring qualifies, yes, and Powell shifting to the wide receiver position where he had a fair amount of success late in 2014 is new, but more like a logical reaction to Florida recruiting two running backs to add to a backfield with Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane. McGee and Morrison not being full-go after serious injuries was predictable. Florida practicing at the lacrosse fields and not having a spring game are just the logical reactions to not having the usual field available and a lack of offensive line depth. McElwain tweaking the media is going to be a recurring theme.
This lack of true news is going to allow non-news to flourish, alas, and it's only going to get worse with Florida's practices being closed. I do expect a fair bit of information to leak about spring practice, and most specifically about the Will Grier-Treon Harris quarterback derby, but I doubt that McElwain will name a starter at QB before the fall, for a variety of reasons, and Florida's only going to have two players new to the program — early enrollees Daniel Imatorbhebhe and Kalif Jackson — practicing this spring. There's just not a lot to glean from these spring practices, except for the differences between McElwain's staff and Will Muschamp's staff, and keeping them closed to outside media is going to limit what we learn about that.
And so this moment is much more like the doldrums of summer — the long wait for a new football season — than Gators diehards are used to, and that's going to rankle them. There will be a much longer period than usual to sit and stew and speculate, and that's going to both foster optimism and let pessimism fester, rather than tempering expectations with understanding and rationalism.
And given how this fan base handled two seasons well below expectations over the last two years, I'm really looking forward to an offseason of wild theories.
Amanda Butler gets extension
When news of Amanda Butler's extension — which will keep her in Gainesville through 2019 — broke on Wednesday, it was met with a combination of puzzlement and derision. That's to be expected when a coach gets a contract extension after a 13-17 season.
But I don't have much of a problem with Butler being Florida's coach — and if she's going to be Florida's coach, she may as well be able to sell to recruits that she'll be in Gainesville for their whole careers.
Frankly, we don't know whether Butler is going to make Florida a power in women's college basketball, but we do have a lot of evidence that it's going to be very, very hard to do. Florida hasn't finished better than a tie for fourth in the SEC under Butler and hasn't made a Sweet Sixteen since her arrival in 2008-09.
But Florida has one NCAA Tournament victory in each of the Gators' three appearances under Butler; a quarter of the Gators' NCAA Tournament wins ever have come under her. And Florida's best finish ever in the SEC is a tie for second, accomplished twice under Carol Ross — the only head coach in program history with a winning SEC record, the only one with more wins than Butler, the only one since 1985 with a better winning percentage than the Gators' current head woman.
There's not much history here.
Ross was close to the ideal coach for Florida, but she resigned in 2002 after Florida got clobbered by 38 in an NCAA Tournament loss to BYU, with the feeling being that she had maximized what she could do, and that it was time for new blood. So Jeremy Foley hired Carolyn Peck from the Orlando Miracle, only three years after she'd won a national championship with Purdue.
Five years later, with Peck having as many winning seasons as nine-win ones (two each), Foley was announcing her resignation in February and announcing Butler's hiring in April.
"Best of all, Amanda is a Gator," Foley "said" in that release, and it's inarguable that Butler's status as an alumna has helped her weather an up-and-down tenure as the Gators' head coach, one that seems to have as many steps back as leaps forward. The fan base for Florida women's basketball is small, but it's dedicated, and it remembers Butler the fiery point guard fondly; those memories help when the team on the floor isn't creating new ones.
The appeal — the beloved daughter returns! — that made Butler an attractive candidate for the job likely means Foley and Lynda Tealer, his lieutenant when it comes to women's sports, will risk sinking too much into Butler in the hopes that she eventually authors the perfect narrative. Butler's job isn't getting any easier, even with Tennessee taking steps back from its dizzying heights under Pat Summitt as Holly Warlick reboots the program, because Kentucky and, especially, South Carolina have risen in recent years, making the SEC even more rugged than it already was.
But it's not as if Foley could fire Butler today and have a better candidate to replace her signed and sealed tomorrow. It's tempting to say that he could have done in 2007 what South Carolina did in 2008, by tabbing Dawn Staley to replace Peck, but Foley had just gone down the road of hiring a big-name coach, and that road terminated in ugly failure, and Butler came slightly cheaper than Staley did. No plausible candidate I'm aware of possesses credentials and a connection to Florida that would make for a definitive upgrade on Butler, and Foley isn't going to poach, say, Geno Auriemma, or Staley, or another big-time program's established star, because that's generally not how women's basketball works.
If Butler's team flames out in 2015-16, when it will have five seniors to the 2014-15 edition's one, then it will be painfully obvious that she will need to go, and Foley will probably have no issue eating the salary remaining on her contract. Already, it seems, changes are being made: Swish Appeal's Mike Robinson reported late Thursday that assistants Angela Crosby and David Lowery won't be retained.
But if Florida makes the NCAA Tournament, though, as is very much possible, an extension will show foresight, and may prove to have been helpful in allowing Butler to recruit without whispers about her future lingering in prospects' ears.
This is a calculated risk by Foley, like the one he took by extending Will Muschamp in 2012, and it bears repeating that Foley looked like a genius for locking up a coach who went 11-2 and made a BCS bowl before he did that (and bumped up his stock) before he looked like an idiot for extending the coach that led Florida to its worst stretch of football in decades. And, given the dramatic disparities in cost between extending Muschamp and extending Butler, Foley's risk here is much, much smaller.
Butler's got what she needs to win, at least right now. We'll see if she does.