The Florida Gators (7-6) capped their lackluster 2011 season with a rousing victory against the Ohio State Buckeyes (6-7) in the 2012 Gator Bowl at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, FL on Monday. After the contest, head coach Will Muschamp and some Florida players were made available to the media to discuss some of the notable occurrences before, during and after the game.
MUSCHAMP’s TWO POST-GAME STATEMENTS
Accepting the trophy on stage after the team sang the school alma mater and fight song, Muschamp delivered the following statement to his players, their families and the fans remaining in the crowd after the game:
“I can’t talk real well right now. I’m proud of these players, fighting through a tough situation, a tough transition, but they hung with us all the time. I appreciate the Gator Nation. We’re building a program, not a team, and it takes time, and I appreciate your patience. I’m going to tell you what. We’re going to have a better football team next year because of these young men you got right here. And you’ve got an outstanding staff. Go Gators.”
He began his post-game press conference in a similar fashion:
“[This was about] sending the seniors out the right way. We got a lot of good kids in that locker room. We got some guys that have had a very frustrating year. The realization of this whole thing, if you really want to see big picture, is in the last two years at the University of Florida we’re 15-11. That’s unacceptable. That’s what we are. We’re one game’s difference from last year. We’re 7-6; we were 8-5 last year. Sometimes I think you got to put your realistic glasses on of where you are and what you are as a program right at this point. And it’s not where we’re going to be very long, I can assure you of that. We’re moving in the right direction.
“I’m very pleased with the attitude and the effort and the drive of our young men. They kept fighting in the game and kept playing; they did it the entire season. I don’t think you could turn the tape on and watch a team that wasn’t giving effort, wasn’t trying to play with the right kind of toughness. It wasn’t always what we wanted at times. It was frustrating at times, and I appreciate the backing of our administration in what we’re trying to do. I’ve said it before and I mean this sincerely: We’re not building a team, we’re building a program. That takes a foundation to start, it really does. You stay the course with what you’re trying to do and what you believe in and the hardcore values of what you want. It isn’t always what you want. You get criticized and those sort of things, and that’s part of the deal. That’s part of being the head coach at the University of Florida, and I fully accept that.
“[I’m] excited for our football team. We need to get better and that starts with me. For our entire organization, 7-6 is not acceptable at the University of Florida. We’re looking forward to getting started on January 9. When we start school, we’re going to have a good team meeting that day and get these guys ready to go. That’s when our season starts for next year. It’s good momentum. There are a lot of guys out there knowing their opportunity to come a place like Florida, get an outstanding education, play for a great staff and be a part of a winning tradition..”
HIRING PROCESS WILL NOW BEGIN
Muschamp has maintained for weeks that he would not hire either an offensive coordinator or a strength and conditioning coach until after the bowl game, and he has now lived up to that promise. However, with the game in the rear view mirror, fans will undoubtedly be pining for him to make those decisions soon. As of press time, Muschamp admitted he is closer to one hire than the other. “I’m very close on the strength [coach], I just got to finalize some things and get with Jeremy [Foley],” he said. “And then after that, with the offensive coordinator, I’ve got no timetable. Just kind of working through that to make the best decision for Florida.”
It is expected that Muschamp will hire Jeff Dillman, the head of physical conditioning at the IMG Performance Institute to replace Mickey Marotti, who departed UF to become an assistant athletic director in charge of strength and conditioning at Ohio State. OGGOA reported on Dec. 21 that he was a top candidate, and a report surfaced on Dec. 27 that he has already been chosen for the position.
As for offensive coordinator, a number of candidates remain possible for that job. One of them – current running backs coach Brian White, held the interim job for the Gator Bowl and did quite well with his game plan and play calling. “Brian’s an outstanding football coach,” Muschamp said. “He’s certainly under consideration. At the end of the day, we’re going to hire the best football coach for the University of Florida as we move forward.”
ANSWERING QUESTIONS ABOUT THE GAME
» Muschamp took some time to discuss a number of occurrences in the game that fans were undoubtedly curious about watching at home or in the stands in Jacksonville.
» On why the special teams played so well Monday: “D.J. Durkin does the best job in the country on special teams. Week-in and week-out, [he creates] momentum changers and puts our guys in situations to be successful.”
» On if there was hesitation on his part to kick the field goal inside the one: “Yes, there was. The big thing I talked to Brian on the headset. I said, ‘If we’re inside the one, we’re going for it. If we’re not, we need to make it a two touchdown game.’ Yes, we talked about it on the headsets.”
» Muschamp said White wanted to take a knee at the end of the first half, but he overruled him and decided to throw the ball up and take a shot. Due to some different handling of the clock by the officials – which Muschamp said was his fault for not talking to his team about before the game – there was a delay of game as there had been earlier. At that point, the decision was made to take the knee and run out the clock.
BRANTLEY, SENIORS ABLE TO GO OUT THE RIGHT WAY
As Muschamp noted, with redshirt senior John Brantley as the primary starter, Florida has gone 15-11 over the last two seasons. That is certainly not what the legacy dreamed about growing up hoping to one day be the quarterback of the Gators. Nevertheless, Muschamp is extremely proud of his signal caller for being a very unique type of person both on and off the field.
“A lot of guys in our society nowadays, when things don’t go their way, the easiest thing to do is point a finger rather than look in the mirror. A lot of times it’s very difficult in our society nowadays to take the high road in a lot of situations. And I’ll tell you, John’s done that,” he said. “It’s not always fair being the quarterback. [...] You got all eyes on you. You get way too much credit when things go right, and you get way too much blame when things go wrong. From that standpoint, John handles it. He doesn’t complain. He doesn’t point fingers. He handles it, takes the criticism and moves to the next day.
“From that standpoint, and having been around other situations where it wasn’t that way, it’s refreshing to have a young guy in our society who is willing to do that. I certainly think he’ll have an opportunity to play on Sunday. I think someone will give him that opportunity. It’s not always John’s fault or the quarterback’s fault. We have to play better in other areas and put our guys in position to be successful.”
Brantley said the team’s performance meant a lot to him and the seniors on a personal level. “We had our ups and downs. The last couple of years hasn’t been the best, but I just stuck with my teammates and coaches and we made the best out of it,” he said. “Just to get a good win against a good team like Ohio State, that almost makes the season kind of worth it just to go out with a hot note and for these young guys to go into the offseason.”
When all is said and done, Brantley is not worried about how he will be remembered by Florida fans but rather the way in which they think about the entire senior class that sacrificed so much for the Gators. “[I care that] my teammates and these seniors, that we went out on a positive note. These young guys who have years to come here at Florida, that they keep building of this win. They’ve got a bright future ahead of them,” he said. “Those guys, they’ve been loyal to us and loyal to the program. I’m definitely going to miss playing on Saturdays, that’s for sure.”
DEBOSE’s KICK RETURN A SHOT IN THE ARM
Miscues and frustrations dominated the first part of the Gator Bowl, but a relatively straightforward kickoff return for a touchdown by redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose gave Florida a spring in their step that helped propel them throughout the remainder of the contest.
“It meant a lot to me. I just try to do anything that I can do to help the team. I just had an opportunity today to help the team a lot. It feels great. There’s no feeling like it,” Debose said of the return. “It just takes a lot of practice and believing in your blockers and believing in your coach. Our coach really pushes it into us how important special teams is. I take pride in being a specialist and going hard for the team.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Muschamp on avoiding a losing season (to ESPN): “It’ll never be about me. It’s about our program and our football players, and I’m very proud of them. I certainly didn’t want them to be saddled with [a losing season].”
» The Gators were quite injured heading into Monday’s game and the team – especially the offensive line – was in dire need of a MASH unit at the end of the contest. In addition to a pair of starters being out, two more offensive linemen were dinged up in the contest. Junior Xavier Nixon and redshirt freshman Chaz Green (ankle) each left with injuries, though Muschamp said they will both be fine. Additionally, freshman linebacker Chris Johnson (ribs) and sophomore safety Jaylen Watkins (undisclosed) should be good to go as well.
» Muschamp on if sophomore defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd will move back inside permanently: “He’s going to play both. He’ll continue to play both and we’ll continue to try the best combination of guys. This year the best combination was him at end. I can’t answer that for next year yet.”
» Muschamp on the performance of junior LB Jon Bostic: “Jon’s played very well all year. He’s played really wellall year. He’s been very consistent. We put an awful ot on the mike linebacker as far as making calls and getting us in-ad-out of calls. [...] Jon had a great command of what we were trying to do, but it wasn’t just today, he’s done it all year. He’s been very consistent all year, he and Jelani [Jenkins] both.”
» Muschamp on if the team having fun after the game made up for the close calls this season: “Close counts in horseshoes and hand grenades and that’s really about it. You don’t come close in football. The team gets tired of me telling them we’re close. They’re tired of hearing that. [The win was] a sign of our team fighting through it. I told them in the locker room, I said, ‘I don’t want anyone to forget this season. I don’t want for anybody to forget the frustration, the tough times, the guys who weren’t committed to our program and didn’t want to do it the right way, didn’t want to do it our way. And as we move forward understand the type of commitment it’s going to take to be successful and to do the type of things you have to do to be successful.’ It’s hard to win. Those are easy words to talk about, but they’re hard to do.”
» Muschamp on if he saw improvement in the team on Monday: “We didn’t get the results we always wanted, but I’m kind of a process-oriented guy and how things are going. I’m looking at attitude and character and guys buying in and athleticism and playmaking ability, and I also take into consideration some of the things you got to as a coach – youth. No one wants to talk about those things. Anybody can state the problems. It’s my job to solve the problems. Ned in the third grade reader can tell you what the issue is. Find out how you solve the problem. The point being, I think we’ve made tremendous strides in some areas. [...] Patience is not a good word around here but sometimes you’ve got to exercise that especially putting the state of the last two years back-to-back [in focus].”