DESTIN, Fla. — The Tennessee-Florida football rivalry is about to take a sharp turn. You don’t have to be aware of too much history to appreciate how sharp.
It wasn’t that long ago when Florida coach Steve Spurrier was dominating the Vols and needling UT coach Phillip Fulmer in the process. For example, try spelling Citrus Bowl without a “U” and a “T.”
And it was only a couple of years back that UT coach Lane Kiffin practiced his comedic skills at the expense of Florida coach Urban Meyer. Remember that Nu’Keese Richardson zinger? Kiffin got more laughs out of him than receptions.
But putdown humor is now passé. While the rivalry isn’t all buddy-buddy, the rivals at least have a couple of buddies in charge.
UT second-year coach Derek Dooley and Florida first-year coach Will Muschamp became friends as assistants on Nick Saban’s staff at LSU. The friendship has remained intact despite their different career paths.
“He’s a really good friend,” Dooley said at the SEC spring meetings. “Assistants become really close, especially on Nick’s staff.
“When I was at Louisiana Tech, we spoke nearly every week and every other week last season. We still speak. We just have to be more guarded.”
Dooley has had to manage friendships before in the face of rivalries. He did so last year when the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry pitted him against Saban, his friend and mentor.
Despite Dooley’s shared history with Muschamp and Saban’s profound influence on both, the UT coach doesn’t know exactly what to expect from his friendly rival.
“I’ve never seen him as a head coach,” Dooley said. “I haven’t gone against him in practice or a game in four or five years.
“Philosophically, I know what he stands for. I’m not sure that will make it any easier to prepare for (Florida).”
You probably don’t need Dooley’s input to characterize a Muschamp defense. Not if you caught his sideline act at Auburn or Texas when he invariably was the most animated person not in uniform.
So you would expect a Muschamp defense to be aggressive, energized and prone to chest bumps. Although Muschamp has made his reputation on defense, his offensive philosophy isn’t a mystery.
“I’d love to be 50-50 (running and passing),” he said. “But you’ve got to do a good job of evaluating your talent. We will tailor our offense based on those guys.”
Those guys include quarterback John Brantley, who never advanced beyond the survival level in Meyer’s spread offense last season. But the pro-style offense implemented by new Florida coordinator Charlie Weis doesn’t come with proven wide receivers and running backs attached. No system can right all the wrongs evident in Florida’s offense last season.
This isn’t the Florida you remember under Spurrier or the first five years under Meyer. This could be Ron Zook revisited.
And it could be time for another sharp turn in the rivalry, which has gone Florida’s way since 2004. Aside from Kentucky, Florida is the most likely opportunity for UT to win on the road this season.
No matter who wins in September, there’s more apt to be a follow-up phone call than a punch line.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.