UF avoids mass exodus through coaching transition


Published: Wednesday, December 29, 2010 at 3:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 29, 2010 at 3:47 p.m.

TAMPA - During his time at Florida, Urban Meyer has often talked about sudden change, a play or moment in a game that can instantly and significantly impact momentum.

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Florida head coach Urban Meyer arrivers at practice for the Outback Bowl Monday, Dec. 27, 2010 in Tampa, Fla. Florida takes on Penn State on New Year's Day. Meyer is retiring at the end of the game. (AP Photo)

The Florida Gators had one of those sudden changes a few weeks ago, one that happened off the field - and impacted a lot of young lives.

In a matter of only days, the Gators found out Meyer was resigning and that Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was their new head coach.

Now that's sudden change.

It was a momentum shifter that no one saw coming, and it triggered a lot of different emotions among the players. Most were shocked. Some were saddened. Some felt betrayed. There were whispers among some of the freshmen that they were going to transfer.

There was a potential meltdown in the making.

But with the passage of time, there has come acceptance. As the Gators prepare to play in Saturday's Outback Bowl, the turmoil and uncertainty seem to have subsided.

The Gators have settled down and settled back in during what has seemed like a fairly normal game week.

"(When the coaching change was made) I just told the young players to keep their head up. If you work hard, everything is going to pay off," senior linebacker A.J. Jones said. "It doesn't matter what coach comes in here. You have to go out there and prove yourself.

"I think they're focused on the goal at hand now. They want to go out the right way this year and get ready for next year and start building this program back up."

The last two weeks could have been rough for everyone. But Meyer said it's turned out to be a positive time because the transition has been so seamless, the circumstances so right.

"The guy (Muschamp) we hired is fantastic," Meyer said. "I think that eased a lot of the anxiety. Our players are fine now.

"When something happens, everybody is saying, 'I'm going to do this, I'm going to do this.' You don't do anything. You're at Florida. Then you hire a coach with great intensity and energy. I think it's been fantastic. I've really enjoyed the last two weeks. I've enjoyed practice, I've enjoyed being around the players.

"I don't know if there's ever a good time (for a coaching change), but this kind of worked out very well. I really admire the new coach. I think he's going to do a great job."

The players haven't had a chance to really get to know their new coach yet, but they seem eager and willing to move forward with him. The transfer talk among some of the young players has ceased, apparently.

"Anyone who has asked me, any of the freshmen, I tell them, 'Give it a chance,' " senior defensive end Duke Lemmens said. "It's the University of Florida, they're going to hire somebody good. (UF) did a great job (hiring Muschamp). From everything I've seen or heard, it's a great thing. The university sells itself.

"Coming out of high school, the chances of having the same coach at the end of your college career that you started out with aren't very good. Hopefully, you picked the university for reasons other than coaches. That's what I try to tell the younger guys. I've definitely seen a change in their attitude."

Lemmens said he weathered a similar sudden change after his freshman year at Florida, when his position coach, and the assistant who had personally recruited him (GregMattison), left to take a job with the Baltimore Ravens.

"I remember that. I was real upset about it and crazy thoughts were going through my head," Lemmens said. "But Coach Mac (Dan McCarney) came in and he became one of my best friends. These things have a way of working themselves out."

One of Florida's best young players, redshirt freshman linebacker Jelani Jenkins, said he and his teammates have taken a positive approach to the sudden change.

"It's sad to see Coach Meyer go. He is a great coach," Jenkins said. "I'm just trying to look at everything positive and take one day at a time. I don't know what's going to happen next. I don't know exactly who my coaches are going to be. I'm trying to look at it like, 'I'm still playing football.' I'm looking at things and being positive. I think the other players are doing the same.

"Sometimes, things happen like this. You can't really explain it, you kind of have to roll with it."

By all appearances, that's what the Gators are doing.

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