The State of Football in the (Not So) Sunshine State

November 8, 2019
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The State of Football in the (Not So) Sunshine State

Or

Check Your Ego at the Door

Pastor Raymond Elko (Retired)

Fort Myers, Fl

The year is 1976 and Bobby Bowden is selected as Head Coach of the Florida State Seminoles. Florida State had reinstituted football in Tallahassee in 1947 after over 40 seasons, primarily because in 1905 they became a Women’s College, and finished no higher than 11th in the Nation until Bowden arrived.

During his 20+ year tenure he compiled over 300 wins and won 2 National Championships. Jimbo Fisher took over for Bowden and also won a National Championship in his 8 year stint, despite cultural and academic issues within the program. That’s roughly about 30 years of relevance for Florida State.

In 1980 Howard Schnellenberger arrived in Coral Gables, Fl and began turning around a dismal Miami football program who had been mostly an exercise in futility in the College Football arena since the 1920’s. For roughly 20 years the Hurricanes enjoyed success and won 5 National Championships, Until the last years of Larry Coker’s regime and Miami’s move to the ACC. That’s about 20 years of relevance for “The U”.

And, lastly, after nearly 90 years of ineptitude, Steve Spurrier arrived in Gainesville to take over the Gators. In his 12 years as the Head Ball Coach, Spurrier won a National Championship and moved on. After a 3 year short stint of mediocrity, Ron Zook was replaced by Urban Meyer, who won 2 National Championships and, due to “health” related issues, left after 6 seasons. That’s only about 17 seasons of relevance.

So, why bring up all this historical data? 

Because, when it comes to elite programs, there are none left in the state of Florida. I know that sounds blasphemous to some, but it’s true. No school in the Sunshine State has ever played a “consistent” role on the National College Football scene. There are storied programs, Notre Dame, Alabama, Michigan, and Ohio State for example. But no Florida Universities have shown a consistency to win and sustain excellence over the long haul.

They’ve been “Johnny Come Lately’s” and have won for a period of time but not over long periods of time. In fact, over the last 5 or 6 years, with the exception of a disastrous 2015 season, Central Florida has posted far better results in the Won/Loss column than any of the “Big Three” Power 5 Conference Schools.  

The Florida schools are more or less the “nouveau riche”. In other words, people who have only recently acquired wealth and really don’t know what to do with it. Winning has not been sustained from generation to generation. The State of Florida is a hotbed of college recruits. But lately, more and more are matriculating in colleges and universities out-of-state. Alabama, Georgia, LSU, and even Ohio State are filling their rosters with high caliber recruits from Florida.

And why? Because Florida Power 5 schools are slowly devolving into what they were before those one or two pivotal coaches showed up to elevate their football programs. And that slow decent down means only one thing. They’re returning to their roots of mediocrity.

Want proof of this? One only has to look no further than the most recent Miami – Florida State game. This heated in-state rivalry once got plenty of attention… back in the 90’s. It was must see T.V. because these two programs were often fighting it out for National Prominence. But, to illustrate how far these programs have fallen one only has to look at where ESPN’s College GameDay set up on this particular Saturday. They felt that being in Memphis, Tn for the Memphis – SMU game would garner more attention than the pillow fight that was being showcased in Tallahassee. 

But the Gators aren’t in this category, are they? Look, they were just ranked #6 in the Nation and played a close game against Georgia!!! Sorry. The aberration won’t last. Mullen is not a recruiter, the Gators have no viable option at quarterback on the roster, and the O-Line is in shambles. Florida has shown no propensity to know what it’s doing when it comes to coaching hires as 3 of the last 4 (Zook, Muschamp, and McIlwain) have been unceremoniously run out of town after only 3 or 4 seasons. 

But, for fans of these mediocre and struggling programs. There is a silver lining. There are plenty of bowl games every year in the State of Florida. And I’m sure that the Citrus, Gator, Outback and other bowls would love to have you.  

Sincerely

Pastor Raymond Elko (Retired)

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