GLENN GUILBEAU COLUMN
BATON ROUGE — Jeremy Foley saved his best act for last.
Fourteen years ago, the Florida athletic director sold journeyman assistant coach Ron Zook - his last squad as Saints defensive coordinator in 2001 was average at best - as Florida’s replacement for Steve Spurrier. Zook, who was previously demoted by Spurrier as a Florida assistant, never was better than 8-5 in three seasons.
This week, Foley, who will be retiring on Nov. 1, duped and Zooked second-year Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey into a rookie mistake as Sankey on Thursday postponed indefinitely a league game between LSU and Florida set for 11 a.m. Saturday in Gainesville, Florida, because of the approach of Category 4 Hurricane Matthew to east and central Florida.
Foley and Florida coach Jim McElwain, who is Foley’s latest questionable football coaching hire after the fired Will Muschamp and Zook before him, expertly milked the clock on Tuesday and Wednesday like a good football coach, forcing Sankey’s hand on Thursday.
“We’ve been tracking this storm since Tuesday and been in constant contact with the SEC since Tuesday,” Foley said at a victory press conference on Thursday afternoon. And you've been taking a knee with your quarterback since Tuesday to get to Thursday.
“This decision seems like it’s taken a long, long time,” Foley mused.
“I commend Commissioner Sankey on this decision,” he said.
“Greg is as good as they come,” he said.
For you in this instance. Sankey has shown great potential, is a good speaker and really likes good music, but he was a bad commissioner this week.
“The developments of the hurricane in the last 24 hours, the projected magnitude of its impact and the unknown aftermath of this storm have resulted in this decision to seek another date to play the LSU-Florida game,” Sankey said Thursday.
Sankey knew everything he needed to know with the Matthew update from the National Weather Service at 4 p.m. Wednesday that projected a path close enough to Gainesville, which is just 75 miles from the coast. Over the following 24 hours, little changed as far as its impact on Gainesville and the vulnerability of the LSU-Florida game.
On Wednesday afternoon is when Sankey should have been a strong commissioner and made the decision to move the game to Baton Rouge or a neutral site like Mobile, Alabama, after working on such contingency plans that day. At that point there would have been enough time to move the game to Baton Rouge or another site. But Sankey fumbled, bumbled and stumbled and embarrassed the SEC office perhaps like never before — excluding various and numerous NCAA investigations over the decades.
“Certainly, LSU reached out, said they’d host on Sunday,” Foley said. “Impossible to accommodate that request. Trying to put a road trip together of 150 people in a day and a half, not knowing conditions of the roads (for equipment trucks), not knowing the conditions of the airports, again not in the best interest of safety.”
Impossible? That is BS.
Foley didn’t mention that LSU offered to provide a charter flight and hotel rooms as it did for South Carolina last year when the Gamecocks moved their game with LSU from Columbia, South Carolina, to Baton Rouge because of historic flooding in South Carolina. Foley did start twisting in the wind, though.
“Not in the best interest of, um, people that would be involved in that trip,” he said. He was searching.
Then Foley, like a skilled defense attorney who knows his client is guilty, tried to segue to the big picture. “To me, it (a trip to Baton Rouge) pales in comparison with far more significant, more serious things,” he said.
Really, Jeremy? You just didn’t want to lose because your coach didn’t want to lose, and you took advantage of a serious situation to get out of a game.
He is also factually wrong. Was he sleeping last October? The decision to move South Carolina’s home game to Baton Rouge last year was made on a Wednesday. They did it, defeating all of the factors Foley pointed out above. Wednesday is to Saturday what Thursday is to Sunday, Mr. Foley. You could’ve done it Thursday by playing on Sunday or even Monday. The South Carolina situation was apparent earlier in the week last year, true, but it still could've been done this week had Sankey pulled the trigger on Wednesday. He hesitated, waited and lost.
The decision should have been made on Wednesday, but it is clear Florida didn’t want to play if it could get out of it. McElwain, who will be much of Foley’s slipping legacy, has a defensive line depleted by injuries, and his original starting quarterback is still gimpy with a knee sprain. So he definitely didn’t want to move the game and decrease his chances of winning by more at the stadium of a suddenly inspired LSU team with a new coach and a new offense with a new offensive coordinator. Florida, meanwhile, could barely beat Vanderbilt last week. Vanderbilt pushed Florida around. So, McElwain didn’t want to go to LSU. But it shouldn’t be his decision or Foley’s.
The arrogance of that statement by Florida Wednesday was unbelievable. "The game will not be moved out of Gainesville," it said. It may as well have said, "or we're taking our football and going home."
And Florida officials put out that statement after that foreboding 4 p.m. National Weather Service report Wednesday afternoon, knowing full well that Gainesville may not be able to host the game. It was a great delay tactic by Foley and McElwain because by Thursday it was too late for the SEC to move the game.
"They were very confident on Wednesday that we could play the game (Gainesville)," LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said Thursday night at a press conference. "They thought they may have to move the time a little later. "And then today, it all fell apart. Today from the very beginning it just fell apart."
Yes, because the fix was already in.
At Foley's press conference Thursday, he either lied or illustrated that he and the SEC office may need to order the Weather Channel or at least watch it.
"As late as yesterday afternoon when we spoke to the league, we thought there would be a very, very good chance that we could play on Saturday," he said. "Maybe adjust the game time, but we really thought we were going to be able to play."
Really? Must have missed that National Weather Service report at 4 p.m.
Then Foley said this, illustrating that the toughest part of telling a lie is keeping your story straight: "In fact, when I went home last night, that's what I thought (that they would play Saturday)."
As of Wednesday night, few with brains and telling the truth thought a game was possible in Gainesville on Saturday. News reports were detailing states of emergency. Oh, and Florida closed classes on Friday. But you can come back to the game Saturday, Foley was saying.
On Thursday, Foley said he never even explored neutral sites. Unbelievable arrogance.
But don’t blame Foley and McElwain completely. They're slick and they're sly. Blame Sankey. He let them do it.
In the end, Florida won because it was able to finesse a loss into a postponement. Florida will not lose this weekend. So, in a way, it wins. And now Sankey is looking at an incomplete schedule that could render one or both division titles tainted if LSU and/or Florida lose on a technicality involving fewer games played.
There is a chance the game could be moved to Nov. 19 as both LSU and Florida have non-conference games against South Alabama and Presbyterian, respectively, that day. Both teams could buy their way out of both games and play.
Florida and the SEC office, in all fairness, should help LSU pay the $1.5 million to pay off South Alabama. Or perhaps it could come out of Foley's retirement.
Sankey either got bullied or hoodwinked or he just dropped the ball, but he needs to do everything in his power to make sure LSU and Florida make up this game.
If not, there could be more embarrassment on the horizon if LSU or Florida win out or close to it and lose the division on a technicality.
Coverage of LSU and commentary by Glenn Guilbeau supported by Hebert’s Town & Country Automobile Dealer in Shreveport located at 1155 East Bert Kouns Loop. Research your next Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep or Ram at http://hebertstandc.com/.)