Dooley: Gator brand takes hit
Published: Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 7:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 7:32 p.m.
The right eye is blackened slightly and one of the snarling teeth is chipped. There is a large bruise near one of the ears and a cut on the snout.
This is figuratively, of course, not literally so nobody needs to panic. Panic is the last thing the Gator brand needs right now. Because the logo has been stained, beaten, battered and pushed around over this past summer, a summer we declare over because Florida had its football media day Thursday.
Football season is here and just in the nick of time. The first seven months of 2013 have hardly been good for the program's image, even though a lot of it was not the fault of anyone at UF.
It started with fans no-showing in New Orleans and many members of the team following suit on the field unless there was a personal foul penalty to be had. That Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville would be, as it turned out, the least of the problems.
In the past few months, Florida has come across nationally as a school that welcomes thugs, racists and dummies. We all know better and we also know the actions of a few unfortunately outweigh the actions of the many.
You think ESPN is going to report on which UF players are members of the SEC's Good Works Team or which ones made the dean's list? Naw, its first 15 minutes Thursday morning were about Riley Cooper and Aaron Hernandez.
Forget that they were long gone from UF when they became famous for the wrong reasons. They're Gators. And when you add in the punchline of the summer that was Antonio Morrison, man, the Gator head is taking a beating.
Of course, the collateral damage falls on a group of players who are just trying to find out if their summer workouts will pay off during two-a-days.
After his speech Thursday at the Touchdown Terrace at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, I asked coach Will Muschamp about an offseason that should have made him proud. Seriously, shouldn't people be patting him on the back because only Morrison and a walk-on punter had problems with the law?
He just shrugged and gave me that, “I can only control what I can control” answer.
Earlier, Muschamp talked about trying to “continue to try to change and alter behavior” and “our guys understand there are going to be consequences.”
Which is why I would be shocked if Muschamp cut back Morrison's two-game suspension. I wrote this before, but he wasn't suspended for being arrested, he was suspended for being out that late when he already had an incident on his record.
“It's killing him not being in camp right now,” Muschamp said.
I am one who believes Muschamp has a handle on discipline. People have pointed to the number of players arrested but I believe he has cleaned house. That's not going to stop the occasional knucklehead, but it certainly was a different summer.
“It's proof that his message got across,” said center Jon Harrison. “I respect him for not being a pushover.”
Said fullback Trey Burton, “He's recruiting good guys. It's not going to happen in the future.”
Still, it became the Summer of the Surreal. First, the tragedy in Massachusetts that made the nation question everything from Hernandez's recruitment to his punishment at Florida. Because we all saw this coming, right?
Then Morrison, who made a bad mistake, then made a viral video. All of a sudden, the only thing you could think of when you thought of Florida players wasn't them reaching to catch a football but reaching behind them for the cuffs to be applied.
Cooper, just dummy. Will Hill, suspended for four games for marijuana use, just dummy.
The sad thing is that every one of them is a reflection on the University of Florida, whether it's fair or not. Once a Gator, always a Gator, even if they take your brick down.
The brand is in rope-a-dope mode. The logo is crying, “No mas.”
“It's frustrating,” Harrison said. “But you have to handle only what you can handle.”
And that is why today, Will Muschamp is one of the happiest people in the world. The Summer of the Surreal is behind him. It's time to go to work.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.
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