Dante, Jimbo, Mac and the Runaway Train

Posted at 1:54 pm on 06/25/2015 by Buddy Martin

By Buddy Martin May 09, 2015

The last eight days have been absolutely packed with breaking news from the world of sports.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL – Stop the Sports World, I want to get off. Or at least hit rewind. After a whirlwind of sports news and events here on Mother’s Day Week, my head is spinning. And it appears this otherwise erstwhile golf tournament which I hold in high esteem and always enjoy covering might wind up a footnote.

I will henceforth dub it as That Crazy Sports Week.

It’s been like a runaway train. We’ve had almost a season of news crammed into eight days. And so it’s going to take me a moment to gather my notes from the two interesting interviews I had this week with Jimbo Fisher of Florida State and Jim McElwain of Florida. Please hit the pause button for now.

Grand as The Players Championship can be, it wasn’t even the biggest story to hit Jacksonville over the weekend. While the golf world pulled for a struggling Tiger Woods to make the cut (he did) and rooted for new cover boy Jordan Spieth to climb another ring higher on the stardom ladder (he didn’t – he missed the cut), the biggest story was a football injury.

Of all the rookie draft choices, I picked Dante Fowler as the one likely to have the biggest impact on his team because he can contribute immediately. It seems I had no sooner gotten the words “good work ethic, never takes a play off, smart football player” out of my mouth to Jacksonville sports anchor Sam Kouvaris than the news spread around The Players media center that Dante Fowler was injured on his first day ever with the Jaguars.

Maybe a minor ding to the promising Florida Gator pass rusher chosen as the third overall player in the NFL Draft?

Hardly. As it turned out, when Fowler got off the ground, grabbing his knee after getting tangled up with Jaguars rookie offensive lineman Watts Dantzler, it was revealed he has a torn ACL and will miss the entire 2015 season.

This is beyond terrible news for the Jags and coach Gus Bradley. Following what had been labled as a stellar draft, Bradley lost a key component to his defense in a program that could be slowly sinking into the St. John’s River if his 7-25 record as coach is not reversed soon.

And you want worse news? Fowler had not signed his four-year, $23.5 million deal yet!

*     *     *

In the same media center, the place was buzzing about Florida’s new basketball coach. In some ways losing Billy Donovan was like a death in the family. But to continue the metaphor, before the body was cold, Jeremy Foley put away his Kleenex and announced Donovan’s replacement four days later.

My first reaction? Who in the heck is Michael White? Admitting ignorance, I Facebooked that I was going to withhold judgment until I knew more, but “I doubt the Gator Nation is turning cartwheels.” And the fact that he was following a legend (see Ron Zook/Steve Spurrier) wasn’t going to make it any easier.

An hour later I received a phone call from the most prominent alumnus of Louisiana Tech, who telephoned to inform me that Mike White might be every bit the find that Jeremy Foley claims.

Terry Bradshaw was effusive in his praise of White, with whom he has interacted on numerous occasions:

You’re going to love this guy. He's the real deal. We knew we wouldn't be able to keep Michael (at LaTech). The players respect him … he can recruit … he is beyond charming -- he is genuine."

White also happens to be part of basketball royalty – the son of Duke AD Kevin White. “You know that if Coach K picked up the phone and called Jeremy to recommend Kevin’s son,” said a friend in the media center, “he’d take the call.”

Having grown up in Dunedin, Mike White is familiar with the Florida turf and reportedly is a relentless recruiter who makes a big impression.

Then I went to work on the numbers: Tough first season, but in the last three posted an 83-24 record and three conference regular season championships. Reportedly turned down offers at Tennessee and Missouri – among other reasons, he wanted a six-year deal and they only offered five. There is already a new man in Columbia, MO.

So while I can’t really make that judgment yet, let’s just say I’m warming up to the idea.

*     *     *

It’s spring and all football coaches are undefeated. Which allows them to fly in on carpets of optimism and distribute gifts to the natives – hungry alumni in search of crumbs.  Both the coaches at FSU and Florida stopped by the neighborhood during That Crazy Sports Week.

Fisher and McElwain have never officially met yet but will play each other Nov. 28 in Gainesville.

McElwain has shown us that he’s a poker player who is doing his best to avoid the “tell.” He reportedly concluded his recent speaking tour with rah-rah speeches – actually started one of them with the famed “Orange/Blue” cheer led by a staff member – and was very upbeat about some of the incoming players despite a thin roster.

Since media members are not allowed inside for the dinner and are only given a few moments with the coach for his comments, there were only modest snippets of news.

However as my guest on my radio show, McElwain claimed he was “really excited about these guys … we’ve got a long ways to go – I get it … at the same time, when you’re playing and you get dealt a certain hand, you’ve got to play it.”

Mac went on to say that while he’s pleased with incoming recruits, they would find themselves pushed into action a little quicker than most players would “in a program like this.” Especially offensive linemen.

I asked Mac since he turned the Colorado State program around so quickly why he couldn’t do with the Gators what he’d done with the Rams in short order.

“Every place has a history and life of its own,” said McElwain. “There are no two same places. And yet, the base principals, foundation and fundamentals of being successful – you’ve just got to adapt those to where you are.”

Non-committal about his quarterback situation, McElwain would only say of Treon Harris and Will Grier: “We have two guys who have really immersed themselves in trying to play the position. They’re hungry, they’re open, and they really want to learn what it takes to be successful. The biggest thing for us is how these guys affect the people around them in a positive way all summer before we get into training camp. For the most part, they threw it to the right colored jersey – and that helps you be successful.”

I also got an update on his dog Clairibell, made famous in his initial press conference when Mac said he could put her at quarterback and win. This was taken out of context of by Will Muschamp in his new job at Auburn. He suggested Mac had said he could play his dog at quarterback over other candidates for the job.

He said he could coach a dog and win,” Muschamp said. “Heck, does he like the dog better than his players?”

Really? I just saw it as a moment of levity by McElwain, who has a great affection for the family pet.

“There’s something about a dog’s unconditional love,” said McElwain. “Because when you walk through the door that dog is excited to see you. Sometimes in this profession there are fans who are not real excited to see you.”

I remarked that for a dog that had yet to take a snap yet at Florida, perhaps Clairibell was being overhyped. He laughed and replied: “That’s good stuff.”

*     *     *

Don’t make the mistake of suggesting that there’s going to be a falloff at Florida State or that Jimbo Fisher didn’t get fired up about the players' showing in the Seminoles’ spring game.

Yes, it’s true that incoming quarterback and heir apparent Sean McGuire didn’t resemble Jameis Winston in the spring game – we’re talking on the field here – and his coach told him to stop trying to be like the guy who just left as the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. “Stop trying to be like Jameis,” Fisher told McGuire. “You can’t be Jameis! Just be Sean McGuire!”

Most of all what Jimbo appreciated was the concentration and the drive of the players overall. Fisher said he saw “hunger” in their eyes and whenever the coaches pushed them, “they weren’t looking around – they were going.

“It’s one of the teams I’m most excited to coach since I’ve been at Florida State,” Fisher told me. “This is an extremely young team but VERY talented! It’s fun to watch them develop as football players but I’m excited to see where they can go. What I saw in spring – I can begin to see how it’s going to piece together and what it looks like.”

What FSU just accomplished after winning the national championship -- to come back and win 29 in a row before losing to Oregon in the Rose Bowl -- probably hasn’t been fully realized or appreciated yet because of the season ended on a losing note.

“It’s all part of the growing process and we didn’t finish it off. We had one bad quarter and we let it get away from us. But that’s football. I’m excited about our team and the future looks incredibly good.”

Ca-ching! That’s the sound of the cash register ringing as tickets are selling – something the Florida State program has done more efficiently and consistently than their rivals in Gainesville lately, where attendance has fallen off.

*   *    *

And that’s not all that happened in That Crazy Sports Week.

Then there is the Tom Brady Cheated allegation/revelation, the fruits of a $4 million NFL investigation. They could have saved the money and asked anybody on the street. Sorry, under-inflating footballs is not a felony, although Brady should be fined and forced to sit a couple of games.

And if I failed to mention it, the Saturday-to-Saturday sports week also included an impressive Kentucky Derby win by American Pharoah, a not-so-impressive win by Floyd Mayweather and Alex Rodriguez passing Willie May’s home run record that almost nobody wanted him to break – including the front office of the New York Yankees.

On Thursday night, Rodriguez hit his 661st career home run, putting him fourth in career home runs ahead of Willie Mays, who turned 84 just a day earlier. This is the equivalent of Fodor’s Travel guide ranking Disney World ahead of the Statue of Liberty for historic places to visit.

Did I fail to mention that ESPN decided to fire Bill Simmons after his contract ends later this year?

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