Pardon me while I take a break from what has been a football season of extreme highs (Seminoles), incredible lows (Jaguars) and major disappointments (Gators) and talk about college basketball for a minute or two.
I’ve never been one to tell people they have any kind of obligation to support athletic teams and I’m not going to start now, but I will encourage you to check out our city’s two major college teams, the JU Dolphins and the UNF Ospreys. Neither school is going to win the NCAA championship. Odds are neither will make the NCAA tournament field. But both are well coached, play incredibly hard and offer an exciting brand of basketball. Tickets are inexpensive and the atmosphere is family oriented. (Okay, the student body section at UNF occasionally gets carried away with its chants.)
Each team is led by a coach who oozes energy with every pore of their small bodies from the opening tipoff to the game-ending horn. If one stood on the other shoulders they wouldn’t be much higher than the goal post. If you combine their weight they’d make a smallish NFL offensive tackle.
They both coach nonstop during games, seldom sitting and constantly screaming instructions to their players and bending the ears of the game officials. They love players who think pass first on the offensive end and collect skin burns on the defensive end. But from a personal standpoint they are polar opposites.
JU’s Cliff Warren, 45, is black, dresses like he just stepped out of the shop of a fine tailor and barely speaks above a whisper except when he’s stomping and hollering during games. He’s a private person of few words, polite and reserved. You get the impression his idea of a wild night on the town is taking his family to get ice cream.
UNF’s Matthew Driscoll, 48, is white, has difficulty keeping his wrinkled shirt tucked in his pants and talks loud, fast and nonstop. He’s never met a stranger and has a story for every occasion and every crowd. I can picture him skydiving or bull fighting – anything but sitting still and quiet.
And they face difficult tasks for different reasons.
Warren, in his 10th season, is JU’s all-time winningest coach (114-132) but coaching at a small private school with a limited budget and little fan support in a football-crazed city is not a job for the weak. Playing in the 12,000-seat city arena should be a plus, but crowds that usually are less than 2,000 strong are not good for image or recruiting.
Driscoll, in his fifth season, is trying to build a program almost from scratch. UNF gained major status the year Driscoll was hired. It benefits from being a major state university with a decent budget and a fine on-campus arena, but few schools have tougher academic standards.
But both coaches put entertaining teams on the floor. Do yourself a favor and check them out for yourself.
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