Perhaps you noticed that Georgia dispatched its two traditional divisional rivals this season by the fairly unheard of combined score of 83-7. That, combined with Jim McElwain’s early departure from the Florida job and Booch’s toasty bottom, has some observers dancing with visions of “there’s a new sheriff in town, bitch” sugarplums in their heads.
Doug Gillett got the ball rolling with this somewhat tongue in cheek tweet as the Gators were being demolished. Seth Emerson took a more serious approach with this piece. I get the point to both, but there’s a little danger of getting out over our skis with this kind of stuff this early. For one thing, Butch Jones is still gainfully employed by the University of Tennessee. For another, there was a lot more going on at Florida with Jim McElwain than Saturday’s ass whooping covers. (More on UF in a minute.)
With that in mind, though, there is something to be said for what both suggest. The reality is that the East has been without a dominant program for several years. If in fact it turns out that Georgia is filling the void, that puts an enormous amount of pressure on the other traditional powers in the East to keep up.
The problem for both schools is that, as we’ve seen over the past few years in reaction to Alabama’s dominance, the SEC doesn’t do keeping up well. All three schools have tried hiring roots from the Saban coaching tree — Florida twice — but only one school has seen their choice blossom. Part of the blame for the lack of success at Florida and Tennessee may be due to a culture clash with importing the Process. For example, see if some of what Andy Staples wrote doesn’t ring a bell:
On a day when everything should have been sunshine and lollipops, one of the first major cracks in the relationship between McElwain and Florida’s administration formed. McElwain’s Florida team had just whipped Iowa 30–3 in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 2, and Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi served up an easy question about how much positivity the win might inject into the program. The answer started off fine…
“We’ve got a lot of really good recruits that are excited to be Gators, and that’s a good thing,” McElwain said. “We had a heck of a year. Two straight SEC East championships, new facilities.”
Then came the statement that, had it been uttered on a sitcom in the ’80s, would have been followed by a record scratch…
“We’ll look for the commitment that we get from the administration moving forward, see where that’s at,” McElwain said.
When McElwain said this, Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin—who had been on the job about two months at the time—was already working on a contract extension for the coach that would be announced a few months later. This is how some people high in the Florida athletic department viewed McElwain’s sentiment. Here’s a guy who has heard the word “Yes” more than Steve Spurrier, Ron Zook, Urban Meyer and Will Muschamp combined, who is about to get more money despite a second year with an offense ranked in the 100s, and he’s questioning the administration’s commitment?
That may sound overly pushy, but consider the context in which McElwain delivered it.
McElwain was surprised when he got to Florida that the Gators lagged so far behind in facilities. They didn’t have an indoor practice facility. (They got one two years ago.) Unlike most of their peers, their day-to-day locker room facilities are under an end zone in the stadium rather than in a separate football operations building. Stricklin has created a master plan to build such a facility, but that will take time and money and the construction of a new baseball stadium—because the new football building will have to go where the reigning College World Series champs currently play.
This shouldn’t matter that much. Florida’s weight room and locker room are perfectly nice, but everyone else spent the money they weren’t allowed to give to the players and Florida saved it.
Yeah, that do sound familiar.
I once posted that every athletic director wants to win; the question is whether the AD is willing to devote the necessary resources to that. There’s a third factor I should have thrown in: the AD’s hiring luck. Jeremy Foley’s reputation was overrated when it came to his football hires. He inherited Spurrier (and notably made it difficult for Spurrier to return to UF when he wanted to) and had Meyer forced on him by the school president. That leaves an unimpressive legacy of Zook, Muschamp and McElwain.
Similarly, Foley’s right hand man, Greg McGarity, inherited Mark Richt. The similarity appears to end there, as Smart is making McGarity look… well, smart. But Smart’s hire is as much about luck and timing as anything else. Smart was a Georgia man who carefully cultivated a following at his home school throughout his time in Tuscaloosa and, depending whom you hear from, was a choice strongly urged upon McGarity when it came time to dispatch Richt.
It’s been to our benefit, so that’s not a complaint on my part. But it’s also a reminder that a great football coach is a two-sided blade for any athletic director. It certainly reduces the pressure from the donors and the fan base, but it just as certainly increases the leverage the coach has over the athletic department. McGarity got a break in that regard as Richt was famously low key about using his leverage, but B-M is living in Jimmy Sexton’s world now.
I tried to make that point with a couple of posts last week, but I’m not sure if I got it across well. It’s not really about the money. Sure, Sexton’s going to be pressing for an adjustment to Kirby’s salary and that’ll come. Just as quickly, though, that’s an expense that will be recouped and then some as contributions and ticket prices rise.
No, where the real battle over leverage will come is in how much authority McGarity will be asked to cede to Kirby. Saban has near carte blanche to run ‘Bama as he sees fit and while I’m not sure that Kirby will wrest away that level of control this early in his career, you can bet he won’t walk away empty handed from the next round of negotiations.
There are plenty of hints we’ve already seen from Smart’s direction about things he’d like to change. It’ll be up to McGarity to decide what he can live with changing and what he can’t. Just remember that Foley stood his ground at UF, lost Spurrier and Meyer and fired the two others he hired.
Meanwhile in Athens, the question is how far each party plays the leverage card. If McGarity’s not careful, he could find himself being the one Kirby’d. There would be some irony for you.