Drayton looking forward to coaching backs

Published: Sunday, February 21, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 22, 2010 at 12:22 a.m.

During Urban Meyer’s search for a new running backs coach in January, a name leaked out that left many in the Gator Nation somewhat bewildered.

Stan Drayton.

The reaction was: Stan Drayton? It can’t be. No way. Not with the way he left two years earlier.

Even Drayton admits he was surprised when Meyer called him last month to ask if he was interested in getting his old job back.

“You know what? Yeah,” Drayton said. “I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t surprised. But we’re both grown men, both us, me and Urban.”

Meyer’s call to Drayton (and subsequent hiring of Drayton) was so startling because of the way they parted a little more than two years ago.

After the 2007 season, Meyer, unhappy with the production of Florida’s tailback position, encouraged Drayton to start looking for another job. Drayton looked, and he found one — at SEC Eastern Division rival Tennessee. Meyer wasn’t happy about it, and he let Drayton know.

The relationship became further strained shortly after Drayton arrived in Knoxville and promptly told everyone how happy he was to have an opportunity to coach in a more traditional offense that featured the tailback.

It looked, sounded and smelled like a bridge in flames.

But, obviously, that bridge has been rebuilt.

“A lot of what happened was really blown out of proportion,” Drayton said. “The respect that we had for each other was never compromised. Regardless of what you heard or read, that was never compromised.

“It was not hard for me to come back to a place like the University of Florida, to answer that question.”

It apparently wasn’t hard either for Meyer to make the decision to bring him back. When Meyer goes to hire assistants, he targets guys he knows, guys he had a connection with, guys who fit the Meyer model (good recruiter, good family man, good at building relationships with players and their families).

Meyer knows Drayton about as well as anyone out there. He hired Drayton away from Mississippi State when he was putting his first Florida staff together in 2005, and Drayton coached hard and recruited successfully for Meyer for three years before the break-up occurred. In fact, two of the tailbacks on the UF roster (Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Moody) were recruited by Drayton. A third (Mike Gillislee) worked with Drayton at UF’s summer camp.

So, it all makes sense in a way.

As for the purported messy divorce two years ago, Drayton says that’s old news because there has been reconciliation.

“Things happen for a reason, OK,” Drayton said. “The only thing I’m going to tell you, and I’ll leave it at that, is there was a phenomenal learning experience for me.

“I’m very happy to be back here because I’m still in line with what my priorities are. In regard to what happened and what was said, I’m not going to invest time in that.

“Coach Meyer and I, we’re in great shape. We understand each other. We respect each other and we’re going to move forward. That’s what we’re going to do.”

Drayton is ready to move forward with a dual title (running backs coach and recruiting coordinator) and a Florida tailback position that looks much different than the one he left two years ago.

In 2007, the Gator tailbacks were not a major factor in an offense dominated by Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin. The No. 1 tailback was the hard-working Kestahn Moore, who had great heart but a limited skill set and speed.

Now, the fast and talented Florida tailbacks may be the centerpiece of the offense.

When asked about his concern for for how the running backs were being used two years ago, Drayton said, “Hey, all you have to do is watch Florida play last year. Those guys were a very, very integral part of the success of this offense. There’s no longer any concern with that at all.”

Drayton seems excited about the talent he’ll be coaching.

“They’re extremely explosive,” he said. “That’s the word I’ll use. There’s a world-class sprinter (Jeff Demps) in that group. I have a man in Moody who has started to grow hair on his chest a little bit and stay behind his pads. We have a young man, Gillislee, who brings that combination of power and a lot of explosion.

“It’s a group that anytime the ball is in their hands, they can hit a home run.”

If it sounds like Drayton is happy to be back, it’s because he is.

“It was a great learning experience for me being two years away from the University of Florida,” he said. “I realize the grass is really, really green around here.”

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