UF's new boss: Vitamin Addazio

Steve Addazio applauds a positive play in the first quarter against Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl.

Published: Sunday, January 3, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 2, 2010 at 10:34 p.m.

NEW ORLEANS - At the team breakfast before every game, the Florida Gators top off their meal with a healthy dose of Vitamin Addazio.

Offensive coordinator Steve Addazio's fiery, inspirational speeches to the team have become a game-day tradition at Florida, and have earned him that nickname.

"When he gets up and talks in front of the team, you are ready to run through a wall," All-America quarterback Tim Tebow said. "Not many coaches have that ability."

Urban Meyer gave this responsibility to Addazio for two reasons: He's good at it, and Meyer feels comfortable with the man delivering the message.

"I trust him with this team," Meyer said.

That trust takes on a whole new meaning now, because this team, this UF program, is now in Addazio's hands.

It was placed there after the Gators' Sugar Bowl victory over Cincinnati on Friday night, when Addazio became the interim head coach and the ailing Meyer headed into an indefinite leave of absence.

Even though there is no certainty when (or if) Meyer will return, everyone involved at UF seems comfortable with Addazio being in charge for now.

"He knows how to lead a team and get a team going," junior center Maurkice Pouncey said.

There really is not much of a transition going on because Addazio and the staff will continue to run Meyer's program the same way Meyer ran it. And the new boss is a lot like the old boss, apparently.

"I think of all the coaches that I've ever worked with, we're the most alike," Meyer said. "I have a strong relationship with him. We think alike. He understands the right stuff. I know our players have great respect for him."

Like Meyer, the 50-year-old Addazio is a relentless worker who has great passion for the game and for developing close relationships with players and their families. He's also known as a strong recruiter, maybe the best on the UF staff.

"We're both driven, but different personalities," Addazio said. "At the end of the day, we share a lot of the same interests. Family is most important, love of players, drive to want to get it the best it can be, intensity, energy, juice. Those are real common traits."

Addazio is very popular with the players, who gave him a lengthy ovation when Meyer announced to them a week ago that Addazio would be taking over while he's gone.

"It was one of the loudest ovations that I have been part of in my entire life," Tebow said. "The players clapped for three or four minutes and didn't stop. You could see Coach Addazio getting emotional while we were doing that because it meant so much to him."

Said Pouncey: "We love Coach Addazio to death."

While Addazio shares a lot of the same personality traits with Meyer, there is one he does not. Addazio might be consumed with his job, but he also knows how to get away from it and relax.

This past summer, Addazio and his family - wife Kathy, daughters Nicole and Jessica and son Louie - took a trip to Italy.

"I went to Italy and got away," he said. "I like to do that. That might be the difference" between him and Meyer.

"You're constantly going, but I got away, and that was important. I'm glad I did. I realized I needed to do that. I realized the last few years how important that piece of time is. You treasure it.

"As you get older and watch your kids grow up, it's like, 'Wow, this thing is going by really, really fast.' You blink twice, and what happened. Like Urban, I didn't want to let that happen. That ain't happening."

Addazio grew up in an Italian family in Farmington, Conn., and still embraces his Italian heritage.

"I grew up where family is so important," he said. "What do families do? Stick together. When I was a kid growing up, I didn't want to go out in high school. I wanted to stay home and hang out with my family. That was the center of my life.

"I'm proud to be Italian. The traditions, I still carry them forward."

On Christmas Eve, Addazio carries on the Italian tradition of preparing the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a menu that consists solely of fish dishes and pasta.

"I do the seven fishes. I cook them. These guys on staff, Urban, they tease me, 'Oh, here he goes.' But I'm proud of all that.

"Going to Italy was really a special moment for me this summer, that I could bring my family there and share some of our heritage. My father would have been really proud to have my kids go to Italy. That stuff is really important to me and my wife. It was the greatest trip I've ever taken."

Football also has taken Addazio on quite a trip over the past 30 years or so.

He was a four-year starter at Central Connecticut State, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees in physical education. He started all four years as a defensive and offensive lineman.

After graduation, he worked briefly on Wall Street before deciding to make a career out of coaching.

His first coaching job was at Western Connecticut State, where he was the offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator from 1985-87.

His first head coaching job followed at Cheshire High School in Connecticut, where he spent seven seasons and won three consecutive state championships. Through one stretch, his team won 34 games in a row.

In 1995, he returned to college coaching at Syracuse, where he was the assistant offensive line and tight ends coach.

It was while he was at Syracuse that his path first crossed with Meyer, who was an assistant at Notre Dame at the time. The two met on a recruiting trip to Central Bucks West High School in Pennsylvania. The two showed up around 6 a.m. to evaluate an offensive lineman.

"We were both laughing about that just the other day," Addazio said. "The only two idiots to get up as early as we did to watch their early workouts were Urban Meyer and Steve Addazio. We went out that night and had a bite to eat together and really established a bond."

A few years later, in 1999, Addazio was hired as the offensive line coach at Notre Dame, and he and Meyer, the Irish wide receivers coach, quickly became close friends.

"We had such similar coaching styles," Addazio said. "We bonded really well there, and I had a great deal of respect for him, and I know the feeling was mutual. We became good friends.

"You're attracted to guys who in your mind see it the way you see it. We laughed, had a lot of fun and spent a lot of time together - then he had a chance to move on."

Meyer left South Bend in 2001 to become the head coach at Bowling Green.

Following two seasons at Bowling Green and two more as the head coach at Utah, Meyer became the Florida head coach in December of 2004. One of the first assistants he hired was Addazio, who had spent the previous three years at Indiana.

Meyer and Addazio have been together ever since.

Now, Meyer is stepping away for a while, and Addazio is taking over his role at Florida.

"Continuity is the issue here," Addazio said. "That's my role. My role is to come in here and keep a great program on a great course and keep continuity.

"I feel great that they trusted me with this role. It's not about me. It's not. It sounds corny, but that's how I feel about it. I'm really not interested in the other stuff. I'm just interested in making sure our players are good, our coaches are good, Coach Meyer is good.

"[I'm] honored. We're talking about the greatest program in college football. Honored and proud, and I want to do a great job for Florida, for Gator Nation, our players and our staff. They deserve that."

Meyer and the players have given Addazio their endorsement.

The team has so much respect for him," Tebow said. "We're so excited he got this opportunity, this position, and everybody is behind him. He'll handle the pressure and everybody's behind him 100 percent."

Meyer said he feels comfortable leaving Addazio in charge.

"Steve Addazio is one of the finest coaches in America," Meyer said. "I think he'll do a great job."

For however long it takes.

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