The newest spring professional football league, the Alliance of American Football (AAF), announced it’s intentions last month to begin play in February of 2019. However, they wanted to wait on naming franchise cities and coaches.
Well, on Saturday morning, they made a splash and it involves not only the city of Orlando being named with a team, but arguably the most famous, successful and outrageous Gators personality of them all, as the head coach.
The “Head Ball Coach” is back:
It's OFFICIAL: The legendary Head Ball Coach, @SteveSpurrierUF has joined The Alliance as head coach in Orlando. All the details at https://t.co/FPPxtbeBjO #JoinTheAlliance #AllianceORL pic.twitter.com/1Q4eQRq1is
— AAF (@TheAAF) April 7, 2018
Steve Spurrier will return to his professional football coaching roots, as he was once the highly successful coach of the United States Football League’s Tampa Bay Bandits in the mid-1980’s.
Spurrier later went on to coach at Duke, leading them to the 1989 ACC title before returning to his alma matter, where he had won the Heisman Trophy, and became the most flamboyant (and annoying to opponents) personality in southern coaching. Spurrier won SEC championship six times and eventually the 1996 National Championship while in Gainesville.
Back to the AAF, their CEO and co-founder Charlie Ebersol (the son of legendary Emmy award winning TV producer Dick Ebersol) made the announcement live on CBS TV Saturday morning. He was joined by one of the league’s former professional “player consultants,” in former Steelers great WR Hines Ward, and then a short time later, Spurrier joined them on set in New York.
The AAF also released this statement from Spurrier:
“What first captured my attention was Charlie and Bill’s commitment to putting top-flight, professional football on the field and creating a true alliance between fans, players and the game. The Alliance offers a unique opportunity to get back into coaching, this time for a spring season, and work closely with hungry, talented athletes looking to begin, revive or extend their professional careers.
The fact I can do this in Orlando makes it that much sweeter. I’m fired up and ready to go.” — Steve Spurrier, Orlando Alliance head coach”
The “Bill” is Bill Polian, the former Colts GM, who when the AAF held it’s initial press conference in New York, was essentially designated as the lead football personality, without being named as commissioner.
Here’s a clip from the “CBS This Morning” Saturday show with Spurrier talking about why he wants to return to the sidelines:
What was it that drew you back into football? ?
"The new rules I really liked. Two and a half hour games, 30 seconds in between plays and the fans want to see that… In life, we all need a challenge." — @SteveSpurrierUF https://t.co/ifaKuSs0Ix pic.twitter.com/67XYgV0h8h
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) April 7, 2018
Spurrier does have recent pro football experience too, albeit a bad one. He was the failed head coach of the Washington Redskins in 2002-03. Spurrier was just 12-20 in two years in Washington before resigning.
The AAF will continue to name franchises this spring and summer, as they plan to play with eight teams in 2019.
They have an exclusive television deal with CBS to show their inaugural game next February, weekly “games of the week” on CBS Sports Network, and then it’s championship game back on CBS in April of 2019.
Orlando is no stranger to spring football having had the Renegades of the USFL that were actually coached by ESPN College Football analyst Lee Corso. And then, the one year failed experiment that was the XFL in 2001, which had former Gators coach Galen Hall coaching the “Orlando Rage” team.
Florida and Tennessee Try To Become Relevant- And Watchable
Chances are you have read a few pieces about the good ol’ days of the Florida-Tennessee football rivalry this week. Those stories are not very different from 2017, or 2016, or 2015, or 2014…
… or 2013, or 2012, or 2011, or 2010.
The last time a Florida-Tennessee game truly captured the imagination of national college football fans was in 2009. That year’s Gators-Vols game was memorable not because of the quality of play on the field, either. The two teams slogged through a very ugly contest. What made that game sizzle on a national level was the infantile, clown-show behavior of then-Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin, who — in a preview of his USC tenure and its own bizarre incidents, detailed here — seemed to be interested in pranking his opponent more than defeating it. Kiffin reveled in playing Tim Tebow — and Urban Meyer’s last great Florida team — close. He coached not to win, but to cover the spread. He was more concerned about Florida being restrained than about Tennessee succeeding.
No wonder Kiffin bailed on the Vols after only one season, taking his mischief to Los Angeles and enduring more seasons of failure.
Yes, that was the last time Tennessee-Florida gained national headlines.
The last time a Tennessee-Florida game was nationally significant (the 2009 Vols were never a threat to do anything in the SEC) was in 2008. The Vols had lost to UCLA in the weeks prior to their reunion with the Gators, but at the time, Rick Neuheisel was the Bruins’ coach. That season-opening loss stung for UT, but there was a belief that UCLA had a chance to be good. The Bruins didn’t become good as that year evolved, but in early September, the mystery of the 2008 season was still abundant as the Vols and Gators prepared to meet.
That mystery remained until kickoff. Florida behind eventual Heisman winner, Tim Tebow, pulled away for a 59-20 win.
The rivalry has failed to improve in the 10 years since that blowout.
Peyton Manning, Al Wilson, Deon Grant, Tee Martin, Peerless Price, Casey Clausen, Travis Stephens.
Danny Wuerffel, Ike Hilliard, Reidel Anthony, Jacquez Green, Tony George, Jabar Gaffney, Rex Grossman.
Tidal waves of delicious memories are associated with those names, the people we remember from the golden age of Vols-Gators. From 1992 through 2001, the first 10 years of the SEC Championship Game, no school other than Tennessee or Florida won the SEC East. Georgia didn’t break through until 2002. UT-UF was always consequential in those years, and from 1995-2001, the game often had national championship implications.
From 1995-1998, either Tennessee or Florida made the national championship game or, at the very least, had a chance to gain a share of the title in the season-ending poll. (UT might have split with Michigan had it been able to upset Nebraska in the 1998 Orange Bowl.) In 2001, the Tennessee-Florida winner was going to enter the SEC Championship Game with a chance to play for a spot in the BCS title game at the Rose Bowl. Tennessee defeated Florida but then got upset by a coach named Nick Saban over at LSU.
If some of the Tennessee-Florida games from 2002 through 2008 still contained a measure of national significance, none matched the stakes presented in 2001, and none matched the heavyweight feel provided by Vols-Gators from 1995 through 2001.
These 17 years after Rex Grossman’s tying 2-point pass fell incomplete in the back of the end zone in The Swamp, Tennessee and Florida are less relevant than ever on the national scene. Saturday’s reunion in Knoxville feels more like a “who might not make a bowl” battle than a contest to see which team might challenge Georgia in the East.
Neither team is in UGA’s zip code right now.
Beyond trying to regain relevance, however, Florida and Tennessee face a shared problem which is hard for fans of both programs to ignore: Not only are these teams not particularly good at the moment; they aren’t even easy on the eyes.
Remember last year’s festival of errors? Remember Butch Jones not giving John Kelly the ball inside the 10? Remember Florida trying to gain some semblance of consistency with its passing game? The 2017 edition of Vols-Gators wasn’t as bad as the 2014 contest in Knoxville which made TV viewers want to gouge their eyes with a fork, but it was still hard to take.
“At least give me a show if you’re going to be bad,” some people might say. At least be entertaining if you’re not going to be elite.
Vols-Gators hasn’t even lived up to that modest level of hope and pleading in a number of its recent iterations.
Yes, maybe Jeremy Pruitt and Dan Mullen will, in the course of time, lift these programs back to where they feel they belong. Yet, it seems clear that these are not quick fixes and not programs which are ready to compete with Georgia. Merely competing with South Carolina this year isn’t a given, though we will soon see.
How far have Tennessee and Florida fallen since 2001 and the glory days of a once-golden rivalry?
Far enough that making substantial improvements in 2018 would not even create championship aspirations — it would merely relieve fears that a total collapse is imminent.
2019 SEC schedule released- doesn’t do Gators any favors
The Southeastern Conference is the front runner of all the major conferences, when it comes to being proactive and staying relevant at all times with the fans and the media. And they demonstrated it, yet again, on Tuesday afternoon, while in the middle of the current SEC football schedule.
— Southeastern Conference (@SEC) September 18, 2018
And most Gator fans will be concerned, if not discouraged, to see that the SEC has put Gators game with Auburn at the Swamp on October 5th and then, the next two weeks, have Florida at LSU and at South Carolina. Talk about a “murderers row” lineup of games?!
Florida does open conference play at Lexington, KY, against the Wildcats. And the Gators faithful are still smarting after the Wildcats stopped UF’s 31 game winning streak with an impressive win two weeks ago at the Swamp.
Florida will host Tennessee in it’s now traditional late September matchup slot.
No one can dispute that SEC also puts other programs through difficult stretches too. Yet, in Florida will come off their bye (as they have traditionally been given) to play the top team right now in the East.
We already knew that the Gators in state rival book ends of playing Miami in the opening game Labor Day weekend in Orlando, and then playing host to FSU on this year’s docket.
Now, four games in a row with Auburn, LSU, South Carolina and Georgia?
Won’t be easy for coach Dan Mullen’s second season.
Kentucky ends dubious streak outplaying Gators Saturday night
In November of 1986: Ronald Reagan was in the White House, “Top Gun” with Tom Cruise had been #1 in the movie theaters and Kentucky found a way to beat Florida 10-3 that season.
Since that time, a streak spanning 31 consecutive losses had created humiliation for the Wildcats, when taking on the Gators.
Well, the wait is over after a tremendous performance Saturday night in the Swamp, Kentucky has ended their drought with a 27-16 win.
Quarterback Terry Wilson threw for two touchdowns and ran for another as Kentucky built a 21-10 fourth-quarter lead. And in the end, the Gators did not have enough rally in them.
Despite quarterback Felipe Franks getting them in the end zone with a 99-yard drive and 3:34 remaining, Florida could get no closer as the Cats put it away late.
Running back Benny Snell hammered Florida for 175 yards on 27 carries. And, time and again, he picked up key first downs to keep drives alive.
The loss is particularly stinging because it was not only an SEC game but the home opener with first year head coach Dan Mullen.
A week ago, Franks was brilliant against lesser competition in Charleston Southern with five first-half touchdown passes. Saturday night he was below 50% completion percentage at 17 of 38 for 232 yards 2 touchdowns and one interception.
Franks pulled the Gators within five points at 21-16, when he capped a 99 yard drive by hitting Freddie Swain from four yards out and 3:34 remaining. The Wildcats held on the important two point conversion when Franks threw incomplete out of the back of the end zone.
The Gators got the ball back one last time with under :30 remaining, but on the final play of the game, Franks was sacked and Kentucky eventually ran the fumble into the end zone for a TD to end the scoring.
Kentucky’s victory snaps the longest losing streak of one team against another in FBS football.
The Gators have to get over the humbling defeat at home and get ready to play Colorado State next week.
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