2015 was a miserable year for all of UCF athletics. From top to bottom there were few bright spots. Football of course got all of the negative press and attention. But both men and women's basketball suffered another losing season and baseball remained mediocre. Plus there was the whole O'Leary as athletic director nightmare scenario that seemed like a possibility. So it appeared that 2015 was going to set UCF athletics back years. But then came the announcement that UCF was searching for a new athletic director and that George would not be a candidate. After weeks of interviews, it came out that the choice was between UCF alum and fan favorite Chris Kingston or the little known young Buffalo Athletic Director by the name of Danny White. Well it appears by naming Danny White as athletic Director, UCF has finally found its voice. Has finally found an aggressive, hungry AD that can build the athletic program. It may be a small sample size, but in a year Danny White has made UCF athletics healthier than it has ever been. He has fixed all the problems that ailed the department.
His hiring of Scott Frost of course got national headlines. Frost was the most prized coordinator, but no knee thought he would even consider UCF. Yet Danny White somehow convinced Frost to come to Orlando. It has been a decision that has paid enormous dividends. Of course there were the initial naysayers that said that Frost was inexperienced and wouldn't be successful. And the group that said that Frost was not a CEO type and would alienate the fanbase. So White took a risk. Now UCF football is headed to a bowl game following a winless season. As I have mentioned before, Frost has changed a dying culture at UCF. Not only is the team much improved on the field, but off of it as well. Football is so I orient for a college and White fixed UCF's in the matter of a season.
But Danny White's biggest contribution came when he fired not only Donnie Jones, but also Joi Williams. Both basketball coaches were stealing money from the university. Their teams were underachieving both on the court and in the classroom. Both seemed so far over their heads that they had no idea how to get back above water. The basketball programs became a joke, not just in the court, but off it as well. The men's team had been sanctioned in the Donnie Jones era which meant the loss of scholarships and vacating wins. So any real athletic director would have fired Donnie, right? Well Todd Stanbury did the opposite. Stansbury extended both Jones and Williams who continued the mediocrity for a few more years. Then enter Danny White, the man that played basketball under Mike Brey. White fired both Jones and Williams and replaced them with upgrades. Williams was replaced with Albany head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson. Jones was replaced with basketball legend Johnny Dawkins. And you see this is what separates White from Stansbury. Todd would rather cover up the problem or pretend it didn't exist, whereas Danny fixes it immediately, Though the season is still early, both coaches have been tremendous upgrades. Hell, UCF's men's team already received a top 25 vote.
Then there was Terry Rooney the oft criticized head baseball coach. Rooney had proclaimed that he would take the UCF Knights to Omaha aka the College World Series. Of course he never did and the UCF fans wanted blood. But as the season ended, something strange occurred: Rooney resigned as head coach and moved to Alabama. This left UCF with a sudden hole to fill. Now an awful Athletic Director like Todd Stansbury would have panicked and made a rash decision. But not Danny White. Danny took his time until he found his guy: Wright State head coach and Miami baseball hero Greg Lovelady. It's fair to say that every single head coach position at UCF has been upgraded. These are the type of coaches that UCF fans have been clamoring for a long time and White finally pulled the trigger and brought these coaches in. Danny is not ruled by fear like Todd was. Dr.White is willing to take action to better the athletic department.
But Danny White's impact is not just about his hiring and firings. White has also been a marketing and fundraising machine. One of his biggest strengths according to Buffalo sources was that Danny could raise funds with the best of the best. He has not disappointed. UCF has seen a increase in funds since White arrived in Orlando. Enough to be able to pay for not only the likes of Frost, Dawkins, and Lovelady, but also build a new scoreboard for the football stadium, and embark on a ambitious remodel of the baseball stadium. Sure plans had been in place before, but Stansbury never could raise the funds for either. White has went to old UCF boosters who were demoralized by George O'Leary and got them to recommit to the university. Danny White did. UCF even now utilizes Epcot as a recruiting tool and that is because of White's ability to think outside the box.
Todd Stansbury and his lackey Zack Lassitter set UCF marketing back many years. In fact the word incompetent can not begin to describe Lassitter's marketing strategy. They never took the athletic department on tours around the state, never updated the online athletic department page, and never were that strong of a social media presence. So good luck with that Georgia Tech. Again Danny a White changed all of that. One of the first things he did was overhaul the UCF athletics page into a sleek, easy to use design. White was also the one who allowed for the UCF football team web series "Rise and Conquer", to be created. The series offers a unique look into the program. You know a lot has been made of UCF new uniforms. Many associated this with Frost's pull with Phil Knight, however did you know that Danny White had signed a new deal with Nike when he arrived? White has just as much to do with the new uniforms as Frost does.
I do not know if there is an award for the country's best Athletic Director, but if here is then Danny White better be on it. In a single year he cleaned out all the muck and negativity that had infested the athletic department. White has rebuilt UCF in his own image: a hungry and aggressive program that is no longer satisfied with the sleeping giant moniker. If Danny White can do this all in a single year, imagine what he's going to do as he continues in his role. UCF's future is in such good hands and I can't remember a time, if ever, we have been able to say that.
ESPN is famous for giving out their courage award at their Espy awards. The most iconic of which is of course Jim Valvano who gave the greatest speech that you will hear. Then there are the likes of Stuart Scott and Steve Gleeson, two great men that have shown courage in the most terrifying of circumstances. In fact I went back and recently watched the Valvano speech again. That got me to thinking: who should be the 2016 ESPN Courage award winner? What individual stands out? Is it Kapernick for his stance? Is it the Nebraska football team for the way they have handled the death of Sam Foltz? That's when it struck me: no individual truly stands out this year. There is however a city. A city that was almost torn apart by a madman, but came together and United. A city that has shown the world how to react when terror makes it way to your doorstep. That is why I would like to humbly submit the city if Orlando as the ESPN courage award winner.
It was June 12 when the news broke. I had just finished a Law and Order marathon, a Sunday morning tradition and decided to put in the news. It took a moment for it to set in, the shock of it all. There on the news was Orlando, the city where I went to school and fell in love with, A city where most of my closest friends are from. So of course I had to see what had happened. What I saw next shocked me to my core. The news said that there was a mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando. The first thought was to Knight Library, my old stomping ground and home to numerous UCF night owls. But as more information came out, the aching pit in my stomach continued to ache. The attack was at Pulse Night Club,a predominantly gay night club. I just sat there and watched as the news came out that 49 people were dead and that 53 people were injured in this heinous attack. And for what? Just because they wanted to go out and have a good time. But this is not just about what happened that night, rather it is about a community.
"How can I help?" That's the common phrase used after a tragedy. But the people of Orlando took it to a whole different level. Of course we all saw the stories about the long line of blood donors from the Orlando area. How complete strangers came out in droves to do whatever they could to help. Hell even a Chick-Fil-A, yes the same Chick-Fil-A that has made controversial comments before, opened and provided food to all the blood donors that Sunday. And that is implamatic of what Orlando United is all about. That this attack that was meant to try and destroy this community, to try and rip it apart, actually brought the community together. White, black, conservative, liberal, etc. It did not matter. Everyone wanted to try and help everyone wanted to show that this city was stronger and would carry on. That is true courage. That in the face of something horrific that people came together instead of turning on each other.
Then there were the smaller events that did not get the press coverage they should have. There was Orlando City Soccer club that throughout the season left 49 open seats in their stadium. 49 seats for all of the victims in the attack. They even stopped their next game following the Pulse shooting in the 49th minute. A way to honor the victims. Then there is UCF, my alma mater. You know I have never been prouder to be an alum of that university than after the Pulse attacks. There were thousands of faculty, staff, professors, administrators out in the campus giving blood or volunteering to try and comfort the victims families. Johnny Dawkins and Scott Frost, who had no connection to the community prior to this year, brought both of their teams to donate blood. One of the best pictures that came out of the services following what happened at Pulse was at UCF. There the student union was filled to capacity as 49 flowers were laid on the school emblem within the union. But when you pan around, you can see the students locked arm and arm with one another. It did not matter if they were complete strangers, friends, or people they hated. The students came together as one community to show they would not be divided.
Orlando United is so much more than a saying on t-shirt. It is not about anger or vitriol, but rather it is showing that nothing can break this city. That you will be embraced no matter who you are or what you believe in. Right now America is at one of its most divided points in its modern history. There are riots and protests and where you are shouted down for a different opinion. The country could sure use looking towards Orlando for guidance. Here was a city that could have broken, could have become vitriolic and inspired hate. Instead the city and the people have taken the motto "love not hate" to heart. And in this day and age isn't that what courage is all about? After all that was something that Arthur Ashe preached. So please ESPN give Orlando the courage award at the ESPYS.
Before we begin let us look at where UCF was projected to finish this season, shall we? According to Sbnation and Athlon sports, UCF was predicted to finish last in the conference. 1-2 wins were predicted in the conference. 3-4 wins was the maximum that UCF was supposed to win overall. Not even the strongest of UCF supporters had predicted a bowl game. Hell, I wouldn't do a prediction for the season because I thought that this team was going to be in full rebuild mode. Yet here we are several months later. UCF sits in 3rd in the AAC East at 4-2 and 6-4 overall. Oh and UCF is going to a bowl game following a winless season. There has not been a bigger turnaround in college football this season than what Scott Frost has done in Orlando. The way he has not only had his team produce in the field, but also how he rebuilt a program off of it. Oh and he's done all of this in only 10 games. This is why Scott Frost is far and away the Coach of the Year in college football.
Let us remove the big time head coaches: so this eliminates the likes of Sabin and Harbaugh. Chris Peterson is the leading candidate at a Power 5 school so we will keep him in the discussion. Neal Brown and PJ Fleck are the obvious candidates out of the other G5 coaches. So the question becomes what separates Frost from these other 3 coaches? After all the other coaches have better records than Frost. Well the answer is simple: expectations. Heading into the year, Washington was expected to be a top 15 team and challenge Stanford in the Pac12 North. Central Michigan was expected to challenge Northern Illinois for the Mac championship. So in essence Washington and Western Michigan were supposed to be good. Both Troy and UCF had lowered expectations, however Troy wasn't coming off a 0-12 season. So the fact that both of these programs have exceeded expectations by a wide margin is impressive with Frost having the edge due to UCF's previous season compared to now.
Fine fine you aren't convinced by the expectation argument. Well how about the fact that Frost had to overhaul the offense, defense, and every position in between. Oh and had to do it in 6 months. You see these other coaches have been at their respective schools for multiple years. They have had time to implement their system, get comfortable with the players strengths and weaknesses. Frost was coming in blind and bringing the complex Oregon with him. He had to take a program that spent years running a basic version of a Pro Style offense and get the players used to the spread option. An offense that was one of the slowest in the country in terms of pace now had to become one of the fastest. Oh and let's not forget that the defense which had typically run a stoic and passive 4-3 had to adapt to a hyper aggressive of the 3-4. Oh and Frost had to figure out which position suited the players strengths the best. It's logical to think that UCF would be awful with all the changes and be in total shut it down, rebuild mode by now. Yet here UCF is at 6-4, going to a bowl and having the #15 defense in the nation according to S&P while being #56 overall according to S&P(UCF was predicted to finish 100 in S&P this year). Oh and did I mention that UCF has a top 10 redzone offense and defense this year? In fact a stat just came out 2 weeks ago that read that UCF had the biggest point differential increase on both ends of the ball in the country this year. No other team had that sort of leap. The stats don't lie: the most improved team in the country this year is UCF.
Still not convinced? Well how about the fact that f the potential nominees I listed for coach of the year that UCF's freshmen have had the biggest impact out of Washington, Western Michigan, and Troy. UCF has been freshmen led in several key skill positions whereas UW, WMU, and Troy have all been led by upperclassmen. Oh and these same freshmen were all recruited just 6 weeks prior to the signing period by Frost. Hamilton, Killins, Milton, Hill, Snelson all have had flashes of brilliance this season. Other coaches would have been too scared to have played all of these freshmen, but not Frost. It adds to his brilliance that Frost is willing to gamble and succeed with these freshmen whereas the others have had the luxury of upperclassmen. Yet UCF and Frost keep winning. But it's not just the freshmen success that adds to Frost's campaign it is the career resurgence of many of the UCF players that also adds to his credentials. By now everyone is familiar with the Shaquem Griffin story(as you should be) and how Frost revived Shaquem p's love of football by moving him to linebacker. But what about the other players that has not been talked about? Well Dontravious Wilson, Mark Rucker, Taylor Oldham and Pittman are all putting up career numbers under Frost. He has taken these players that were mocked last season and showed that with great coaching that those players can put up tremendous numbers. That is an testament to Frost.
I don't think people realize how bad UCF was last year. Sure 0-12 leaps out on paper, but my guess is people don't realize how truly bad it was. Of course there is the stats: UCF was ranked dead last in every major category( in both normal and advanced metrics) last year. But people outside of UCF don't know how cancerous George O'Leary had become. How George refused to adapt and change. It cost UCF, not only on the field, but in recruiting. George had pissed off several prominent Broward and Dade high school coaches with his uninformed opinions, which is why UCF had to recruit the likes of New York and not south Florida. He had also made the locker room filled with fear and not fun. A place where players were dominated by the coaches and treated more like indentured servants than players. Players names on the back of uniforms? Ha that was a funny joke. Yes, UCF did win the Fiesta Bowl, but that masked a lot of problems behind the scenes of the O'Leary tenure.
So that was what Frost was walking into. It also makes the turnaround more impressive. Yes on the field is great, but Frost and his staff have already healed old wounds. Consider this: UCF had more south Florida recruits in Frost's first class than in O'Leary's last two. The player's have their names on the jerseys and new uniforms weekly. No longer are the players afraid to make mistakes, no longer afraid in general. UCF is finally fun and cool. That is thanks to Frost. He has remade this program in his own image. Has completely overhauled what UCF is and turned that notion on its head. He's done this all in a year. Completely rebuilt and remade UCF. The other candidates had atleast 2-3 years to do that, Frost has done it in 1 year. That alone should get him coach of the year.
As Jeff Sharon pointed out, Frost is the second coach ever to take a team that was winless the year before to a bowl game the following season. What Scott has done is impressive and exceeded every expectation this season. Hell UCF still has a shot at winning the East division of the AAC. Scott Frost was supposed to struggle as UCF rebuilt. Yet there have been no struggles. Frost and UCF have proved that you can make all the preseason predictions you want, but in the end only the final result matters. Scott Frost is the coach of the year.