A tumultuous offseason for Florida Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley, one in which he had to hire new head coaches in his two top revenue-producing sports of football and basketball, did not carry over to the Southeastern Conference spring meetings this week where Foley and his new coaches were some of the least news-making people in attendance at the annual event.
Though the meetings will go on for two more days with new Florida president Kent Fuchs set to be in attendance, OnlyGators.com has decided to wrap up the first two days of the proceedings and provide a detailed look at five of the biggest topics actually discussed by the Gators’ representatives in Destin, Florida.
Positive injury news for a change?
Redshirt senior offensive lineman Trip Thurman, who started 10 games at left guard in 2014 and is projected as Florida’s starting center in 2015, missed all of spring practice after undergoing shoulder surgery. McElwain, who was initially pessimistic about Thurman’s ability to be prepared for the start of fall practice – or perhaps being able to play at all this season – believes the player is recovering quicker than expected and may be able to practice with the team at the beginning of August.
“He’s back lifting, doing all that stuff. Greatly needed for us at this standpoint,” McElwain said, according to The Gainesville Sun. “Really felt that the spring off for his shoulders [was needed]. … He’s kind of a one-hit-away guy. Taking what we can off has allowed him to get it strengthened and we’ll do the same thing this summer.”
With just seven scholarship offensive linemen returning, the Gators will be relying heavily on their freshman class to learn quickly and fill in the gaps.
McElwain also noted that redshirt junior defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. (shoulder) and junior linebacker Jarrad Davis (knee), both of whom also had offseason surgery, are still expected to be able to begin fall practice with their teammates.
The one somewhat negative injury update is on senior LB Antonio Morrison, who suffered a still-undisclosed but nevertheless severe knee injury during the 2015 Birmingham Bowl. Per the Orlando Sentinel, McElwain does not expect Morrison to be ready to return at the start of the 2015 campaign. “He’ll continue to work on that,” he said.
No (public) distaste for Will Muschamp
Despite Muschamp taking McElwain’s public comments – about roster depth issues and being able to win with his little dog playing quarterback for Florida – way too seriously with a snarky response during his first media availability as acting Auburn defensive coordinator, the new Florida head coach has decided not to continue the back-and-forth.
Asked directly about Muschamp and what he left for McElwain to take over with the Gators, the new head man in charge had nothing but complimentary things to say about his predecessor and even noted that the two have spoken on occasion.
“I just know what a great coach he is. I’ve known him a little bit through people. We’ve had conversations. He was very helpful in this job,” McElwain said, via AL.com.
“I’ve got nothing but great respect for him. You won’t hear me saying anything about that stuff. I just know the sheer numbers that are there [on UF’s roster]. The fact is we had six offensive linemen. That’s not his fault. I never said it was. Sometimes, it’s the hand you’re dealt. If you’ve ever been in a poker room, sometimes, you get a hand every now and then you ain’t going to win, and you have to make the best out of it. That’s what we’re doing right now.
“He did an outstanding job of creating a culture. I know that he did a really good job with discipline. In this career we’re in, sometimes things just go one way or the other. I’ve got nothing but great respect for the guy.”
There is no question that Muschamp succeeded in turning around the shaky culture that his own predecessor, Urban Meyer, left at Florida. That said, Muschamp’s roster management was a legitimate issue and after four years on the job, he left the Gators in worse shape than any of the program’s recent crop of coaches.
Quickly making inroads
White recorded his first signature win after just about a week on the job as he retained four-star guard signee KeVaughn Allen (Little Rock, AR) despite the player reportedly wavering and leaning toward asking out of his National Letter of Intent follow the departure of Billy Donovan.
“We were really fortunate because he’s a really talented young man. He’s a great kid. He’s got a high ceiling. He fits the way we want to play. We’re really eager to get him to campus,” said White, per the Sun.
“It really took a pretty productive initial meeting, I want to say it was probably 48 hours after I got the job. His parents were really receptive, he was receptive. It was a tough situation for him and the other three signees.
While locking up Allen and two of the three other Gators signees was important, so was forging a relationship with Florida’s returning players, especially redshirt senior forward Dorian Finney-Smith, the Gators’ best player from a year ago who chose not to leave with eligibility remaining in order to play one more season under Donovan.
“Dorian and I have had extensive conversations. He’s a great young man and I think he’s very open. He understands there was a setback, but what’s he to do? He’s going to deal with the situation at hand,” White told the Sentinel.
“He’s got a chance to have a really strong senior year. I think he’s excited about getting to know us better and taking advantage of workouts and finishing [his college career] as strong as possible.”
More facilities talk … now including softball
Though the University Athletic Association and the school itself are building Florida a brand new indoor practice facility, renovating the Office of Student Life, improving the student-athlete dorm rooms and likely making some adjustments to the locker rooms and weight room, McElwain still believes the Gators have “got a ways to go” to catch up with their SEC rivals.
“[Are we going to be] at the top with the Taj Mahal with what’s going on out there? No. But at the same time, we’re making movements,” he said, according to Florida Today. “We’ve got great support administratively as far as knowing we’re just a little bit behind.”
Florida athletics, of course, is also making improvements to the basketball practice facility this offseason and will be funding a $60 million renovation to the Stephen C. O’Connell Center following the 2015-16 campaign.
Despite all of that, and Foley noting in March that the Gators would take on a significant amount of debt in order to fund all of the projects, Florida’s athletic director said the school has one more important project coming very soon.
“I don’t know if you’ve been to their facility lately, it’s too small,” said Foley, per the Sun, of the top-ranked and defending national champion Gators softball team, which is participating in the 2015 Women’s College World Series starting this week.
“We’ve got people hanging from trees, press box too small, we’ve got national coverage all over the place, dugouts are too small. It’s time to do something with [Pressly Softball Stadium]. That’s on the drawing board. It’s a balancing act for all of us, but by the same token, you have a facility that’s too small. You have a facility that’s 20-plus years old. They’re the No. 1 seed in the nation, trying to win back-to-back national championships because of Tim Walton, the recruiting base and the education. It’s all part of the formula.”
Outgoing SEC commissioner Mike Slive said Wednesday that the league is – finally – looking at increasing fines for teams that rush the field or court after games. The practice, which is outlawed in the conference with violations resulting in fines, still continues due in large part to the fines not being substantial enough to convince schools to enforce them.
Though Florida is one of five (out of 14) SEC schools never to have violated the rule since it went into effect on Dec. 1, 2004 – the other four are Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi State and Texas A&M (which has only been in the league two years) – Foley nevertheless had a stance on the issue.
“The SEC, I think, for a long time has tried to take a leadership role there,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “If we end up increasing the fines and putting a better message out there to your fans that we need to win and be excited and we don’t need to do that because it’s not safe when people rush the field. It’s not. It’s always concerned me that it’s going happen sometime and somebody’s going to get significantly hurt, killed even, and then the whole world will figure out what they’re going to do and they’ll change it but one person will have paid a significant price.
“The league has always tried to be proactive there. When the game’s over, we need to be talking about the players. We need to be talking about whoever won the game, who played well. We don’t want to be talking about rushing fields and courts.”
The Gators line Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with police officers and security at the end of every football game, whether the score is close or not. The program does the same in the O’Dome at the end of potential Florida upsets, which are few and far between considering how highly-ranked the program has been over the last few years. (Also, the rowdies of UF’s students are suspended off the court with no direct access to the floor.)
Other programs are not as proactive with multiple field rushings and court stormings occurring last season alone. Not only are the fines hardly prohibitive for major college athletic programs – $5,000 for a first offense, $25,000 for a second offense and $50,000 for subsequent offenses – but some schools even allow boosters or fans (via crowdsourcing) to pay for what is already a small price to pay for the program itself.
OnlyGators.com’s suggestion – for a while now – has been to simply multiply the fines by a factor of 10 – $50,000 for a first offense, $250,000 for a second occurrence and $500,000 for any additional rules violations. Until the costs of these violations outweigh what programs would have to outlay financially in order to properly staff the sidelines at the end of games, schools will not consistently take that precaution.
Slive apparently agrees, noting Wednesday that $50,000 was “in the range” of what the SEC is considering as a new first-offense fine. “As far as I’m concerned, that’s real money. It’s designed to be a deterrent. … When we [made the rule], $5,000 had a little ring to it. Five thousand dollars now, given where we are, is not much of a deterrent.”