COLUMBIA, Mo. — Just when you think you’ve seen everything, stranger things happen to the Florida Gators.
Season-ending injuries, player suspensions, hurricanes, canceled games, accusations of death threats.
And now this: the head coach and the school deciding to part company with four games still remaining in the season.
This seems to be the new normal at Florida, where bad things happen, changes are made and everybody manages to move on.
“Really, my whole four years have been really strange,” senior wide receiver Brandon Powell said. “I’ve been through, what, nine quarterbacks now in four years, two head coaches? I don’t think it can get any stranger than that.”
Actually, Powell is now playing for his fourth coach in four years. That would be newly appointed interim head coach Randy Shannon, who replaced Jim McElwain, who replaced D.J. Durkin, who replaced Will Muschamp.
With stranger things happening so often around the program, the players now seem numb to it, especially the older players like Powell, who have seen it all.
Maybe that’s why the players’ reaction to McElwain’s sudden departure on Sunday seemed more sedate than sad. It wasn’t exactly an emotional farewell when McElwain said goodbye to the players after practice Monday.
The players seem to be coping just fine with the change at the top.
“In life, things happen,” senior cornerback Duke Dawson said. “It’s something that you’ll need to be able to handle later in life, situations like this.
“It is what is. This is life, so we have to continue to play. The season is still going on, so we have to keep continuing to play. I’m not an emotional guy. It’s football.”
The Gators aren’t heartbroken. They’re just broken at 3-4, and they hope to fix themselves over the final month of the season.
The coaching change, following by a change at quarterback, might be the start on the road to recovery. At least that’s the hope.
“It’s my senior year and we’ve got four games left,” Powell said. “Four wins, that would be nice to finish the season undefeated (over the last month). So as a senior, I’m going to do everything I can to motivate this team to finish out the season strong.”
The players seem to have bought into their new coach. Already popular among the players, Shannon has brought a new perspective and a new energy to the team. He’s shaken things up a bit, changing some of the practice routine and naming a new starting quarterback — replacing the struggling Feleipe Franks with the dual-threat Malik Zaire.
“Coach Shannon is definitely respected by all the players and he brings a little swagger to the team, so it’s a good replacement for now,” senior punter Johnny Townsend said.
Said Powell: “I love Coach Shannon. I’m just excited to play for him right now.”
Shannon’s message to the players this week has been pretty simple: keep your focus on this game, practice hard, then go out and have fun Saturday and represent your school in a first-class manner.
“It’s going to be a big challenge for us,” Shannon said. “We’re going up to Missouri to have a positive attitude and have a great day and have a lot of fun at it.
“The approach is just going out there and represent the University of Florida, go out there and play at a high level, compete at a high level and have the mindset that the only thing that matters is playing Missouri this week.
“We’ve got to go out there as a whole team and unit and coaching staff and have fun with these guys. Be very enthusiastic, be very positive and whatever happens in the game early, we’ve got to weather the storm. And at the end of the day, that’s the only thing that matters, what happened at the end of the game.”
The Gators appeared very loose and confident in practice this week. No one seemed to have their head down over the latest stranger things that have appeared over the past week.
The plan now is to go out and compete and have fun doing it.
“You always need to have fun,” Dawson said. “We’re college students, so I mean we’re still, what, 17, 18 or 23. Of course we need to have fun. We’re going to have fun. It’s the way of life. Like Coach Shannon always tells us and used to tell our defense, ‘Don’t let anybody steal your joy. Always be happy. Find peace.’ And that’s what we do.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.