From hurricanes to 'Canes, call it quits

Published: Saturday, January 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 1, 2005 at 12:20 a.m.
Blame it on the interim head coach. Blame it on a splintered staff. Blame it on the quarterback. Blame it on the Zooker if you must, even if he wasn't there.
Just accept it.
Accept that Florida is what it is. And hope that it's about to change.
The Peach Bowl could have been a glorious moment for this team, as glorious as a Peach Bowl can be. A win would have made this the most popular 8-4 Gator team ever.
Instead, it was another reminder that Florida has a long way to go to get back to being one of the elite teams in college football. Against a Miami team that couldn't even win a one-game playoff at home to make the BCS, the Gators did what they have done best for the past three years - find a way to screw things up.
In hindsight, maybe it wasn't such a good idea to push Ron Zook out the door before the bowl game. Florida should have kept him - just to coach special teams.
It was on special teams that this game was lost, that incredibly inept first half putting the Gators in a hole. A blocked field goal for a touchdown, a punt return for a touchdown, a missed field goal.
It didn't help that Chris Leak, obviously rattled early by the Miami pass rush, had trouble pulling the trigger in the pocket, scrambled way too much and was off with his accuracy. Or that Leak wasn't only the name of the quarterback but also a way to describe the play of the offensive line.
Leak recovered to try to pull his team back in the game with an impressive throw for a touchdown on a play where he had his helmet knocked off. But overall, it wasn't his best game by a long shot.
It wasn't anybody's best game, whether they wore helmets or headsets.
No matter how you look at it, it's over. This season that was filled with angst and anger, with highlights and lowlights, is finally over. It started with a hurricane and ended with the Hurricanes.
Now comes the difficult part for the new coach. Urban Meyer has been handed a similar situation that met Steve Spurrier when he took this job on New Year's Eve, 1989. Because on New Year's Eve 2004, Florida's football program was again facing a climb up the ladder to respectability.
It doesn't matter how close they were to being something special this season or any of the previous two. All that counts is the 15 losses in three seasons.
Any swagger that this program used to have has drowned in a sea of mental errors, penalties and mistakes.
What Meyer will have to do is get a winning attitude back for this football team. Sure, there have been big wins in the past 38 games, but in the end 15 losses will fill a player with doubt.
Especially one like Friday night.
When you take advantage of a blocked punt by giving the other team seven points.
Because, somehow, Florida managed to find itself trailing 7-0 at the end of the first quarter despite the fact that Miami had yet to record a first down. It wasn't until the last play of the quarter that the total of first downs (all by Florida) finally exceeded the number of blocked kicks.
But it was early in the second quarter when Miami had to know it owned Florida. Florida was deep in Hurricane territory but faced a third down. Receiver Chad Jackson took a short pass, made a nifty move around a defender and with eight yards still to cover to get the first down slid to the ground.
He slid.
On the checklist for the new coach, you could almost hear "Get tougher" being marked in red pen.
Along with "Get smarter."
Against Miami, it was more of the same for a team that spent this season trying to sabotage its own drives and nurture those of their opponents. All of the penalties on this team this season have to be fixed.
This team needs to understand there is more to discipline than just making curfew. And that there is more to playing the game than saying you want to.
This certainly wasn't the way Charlie Strong wanted his debut as a head coach to go. Most of the other 14 losses the last three years were gut-wrenching. This was embarrassing.
This was - this is - Florida football right now.
You can reach sports columnist Pat Dooley by e-mail at or by calling 374-5053. You can hear The Pat Dooley Hour each weekday from 11 a.m. to noon on The Star 99.5-FM.

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