For as much as the Florida Gators accomplished on the field in 2011 (check out Saturday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of news off of it as well. From former players ending their accomplished careers to coaches and current players being part of some of the biggest news stories this year, Florida was spread all over the sports landscape in 2011. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 11 Off the Field Stories of the Year.
11 » LEGAL ISSUES/EMBARRASSMENTS HANG OVER PROGRAM
Like 2009 and 2010, Florida could not escape its share of unfortunate arrests and embarrassing incidents in 2011. It started simply enough early in February when a pair of Gators swimmers – Lily Ramirez and Daniela Victoria – were arrested and indefinitely suspended from the team after being accused of shoplifting from Nordstrom at the Orlando Mall. Next up was Florida senior outfielder Bryson Smith, who was picked up on March 13 for driving under the influence. Oakland Raiders wide receiver Louis Murphy was arrested in Gainesville, FL three weeks later and charged with a trio of misdemeanors for failing to obey a police officer, possession of a drug (Viagra) without a valid prescription and resisting arrest without violence. The month of April was a tough one for the basketball team. Forwards Erik Murphy and Cody Larson were arrested in St. Augustine, FL and charged with third-degree felony burglary charges after allegedly breaking into a car, and team manager Josh Adel was also arrested for principal to burglary for allegedly serving as a lookout. Charges against the players were eventually reduced and each settled their respective case, while Adel had all charges against him dropped. Additionally, former Florida F Dan Wener was charged with a DUI even though he blew below the legal limit (0.08) on the Breathalyzer twice. The State Attorney’s Office eventually dropped his charges due to insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction.
Unfortunately the year of brushes with the law was just getting started for the Gators. It surfaced on April 24 via a news report that both linebacker Chris Martin and defensive end Kendric Johnson were cited with misdemeanors for possessing approximately two grams of marijuana each in their respective vehicles on separate occasions. Former Florida WR Reche Caldwell was arrested one month later for possession of marijuana and driving with a suspended license. Gators runner Andries Dumisane Hlaselo had the darkest arrest of the year, being picked up in June after being accused of rape and sexual assault. He was immediately dismissed from the team. The Florida football team had the remainder of the year’s arrests. Sophomore safety Matt Elam was cited for underage drinking for the second time in as many years in July, and an August report noted that freshman defensive back De’Ante Saunders was cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana in May. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finely was arrested on Sept. 13 on a first-degree misdemeanor for driving a scooter with a suspended license as well as a third-degree felony for resisting arrest without violence, and freshman cornerback Marcus Roberson was served with a written arrest for underage drinking just one day later. Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley had the last brush with the law of 2011 as he was accused of attacking a former Alabama player early in October but was cleared of the charges one month later. All-in-all, for every positive thing accomplished by the Gators in 2011, there always seemed to be something negative about the program just around the corner.
10 » SIX BECOME A PART OF THE GATOR NATION IN THE SKY; THREE SUFFER SERIOUS MEDICAL ISSUES DURING THE YEAR
It would be difficult to recount everything that Gator Nation has gone through in 2011 without remembering those close to the University of Florida who left us for a better place or suffered through serious medical issues in the past year. Young and old, these Gators departed too soon or had plenty to deal with as the year went on. Jimmy Carnes (76), a former Gators track and field coach, passed away in March after losing a four-year battle with prostate cancer. Former linebacker/safety and three-time Super Bowl winner Godfrey Myles (42) suffered a massive heart attack in June and, while in the hospital on life support, had a stroke that took his life. Former punter and 12-year NFL veteran Don Chandler (76) also lost a long battle with cancer in August. Mike Heimerdinger (58), who was diagnosed with cancer early in the year, passed away in October. He was a former graduate assistant and wide receivers coach at Florida and won consecutive SEC titles with the team from 1984-85. Ending the year on a sad note, beloved Gainesville, FL businessman and former Gators long snapper Harold Monk III (42) died suddenly in December. OGGOA once again sends our deepest condolences to the families and friends of these men.
Florida freshman linebacker Neiron Ball was the first of three members of the Gators family to suffer serious health issues during the year. He was rushed to the hospital in February after a blood vessel in his brain ruptured as part of a congenital vascular condition. The doctors were able to stop the bleeding and Ball was released from the hospital four days later, but he was forced to miss the entire season for recovery purposes. In the middle of the year, Miami Heat guard/forward Mike Miller was lucky enough to have his wife give birth to a daughter named Jaylen. Unfortunately for the family, she was forced to spend two weeks in a pediatric intensive care unit after doctors found that she had five holes in her heart upon being born. The Millers eventually brought Jaylen home with them in a bit of a coincidence considering they actually donated $1 million to a pediatric intensive care unit at children’s hospital in his home town in 2007. Later that month, former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, which he is currently still recovering from and will continue to do so over the next few months.
9 » 10 FOOTBALL PLAYERS TRANSFER IN EIGHT MONTHS
There is bound to be attrition with any major coaching change, and that is exactly what happened to head coach Will Muschamp and the Gators football team this season. A total of 10 players decided at some point this year to try their hand at playing elsewhere. The first two defections were wide receivers redshirt freshman Chris Dunkley and freshman Javares McRoy, who both left the team in April. Dunkley was suspended from team activities during the spring for academic reasons and wanted to leave the program, while McRoy realized he made a wrong decision committing to Florida and instead wanted to play with his brother at Texas Tech. One month later, freshman running back Mike Blakely also decided to leave the program. He enrolled early and had shoulder surgery in the spring but realized he should not have committed because he wanted to play in a spread offense. Redshirt freshman transfer Chris Martin was the next to go. After being arrested on Jan. 29 for misdemeanor possession of marijuana (and having a number of other off-the-field issues), he decided to transfer out of Gainesville in June before ever officially suiting up for the Gators. Just one week later, redshirt freshman tight end Michael McFarland also chose to try his luck elsewhere. Muschamp said the decision was mutual, and McFarland also never stepped on the field for Florida.
The Gators began the season without further defections, but redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finley decided to pursue another opportunity on Oct. 12 after appearing in 14 games over two seasons. Another duo transferred just two weeks later as former high school teammates and sophomores TE Gerald Christian and WR Robert Clark decided to head elsewhere over concerns about playing time and future opportunities. Florida announced three days after its final regular season game that redshirt freshmen safety Joshua Shaw and DE Lynden Trail would also be leaving the team. Shaw said he wanted to be closer to his family, while Trail said he loved the Gators but realized he would not be playing anytime soon. Additionally, redshirt junior offensive lineman David Young, who played in 12 games, told the team he would choose to graduate and not return for 2012. The lacrosse team was also hit with a transfer shocker as midfielder Janine Hillier, their fourth-leading scorer from a year ago, left the program in order to head to Stony Brook where her sister is an assistant coach.
8 » FLORIDA ATHLETIC PROGRAM WINS 200TH SEC TITLE
It may have occurred with an on-field victory as the men’s golf team won the 2011 SEC Championship on April 17, but the milestone is a huge off-the-field accomplishment for the Gators athletic program, which this year won its 200th league title. The SEC started awarding league titles in 1933, and Florida currently leads the conference in total league championships won. “The 200th SEC title is a testament to the dedication and drive shown by Gator student-athletes and coaches over these many seasons. Every title is celebrated because winning a championship in any of the league’s sports is a truly an accomplishment because of the strength of the SEC,” UF Athletic Director Jeremy Foley said. The Gators have double-digit SEC titles in seven sports (both swimming and diving programs, women’s tennis, volleyball, men’s golf, baseball and soccer) and have won five or more in every sport except three.
7 » HEISMAN STATUES UNVEILED; GATOR GREATS IN HALLS OF FAME
At halftime of the Gators’ 2011 Orange & Blue Debut, UF officially unveiled a trio of statues to commemorate the school’s three Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks – Steve Spurrier (1966), Danny Wuerffel (1996) and Tim Tebow (2007). The statues, each of which is 15 percent larger than life-sized and features the players in different stances, cost approximately $550,000 to construct – all funded by private donations. Spurrier sent in a pre-recorded message for the occasion because South Carolina’s spring game was the same day, but Wuerffel and Tebow stood at midfield as the statues were unveiled and expressed their appreciation to the fans, administrators and donors that paid for the project. Former Florida WR Carlos Alvarez also received a special honor this year when the National Football Foundation announced that he would be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Alvarez was one of 16 inductees honored in a Dec. 2011 dinner, but he will not be officially inducted until July 2012. He will be the third former Gators player to be inducted since 2006 and the ninth in school history. Seven letterwinners were inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame in April with LB Mike Peterson, punter Judd Davis and basketball’s Bob Emrick leading the way. Peterson spoke with OGGOA in an exclusive interview about his career and how honored he was to be included honored by his alma mater.
6 » GATORS SELECTED IN NFL, NBA, MLB DRAFTS
It is a far cry from last year’s amazing accomplishment of having nine players selected in the 2010 NFL Draft, but the Gators did quite well this year when you look at how many players were picked in the drafts for all three major professional leagues. Four former Florida players – center Mike Pouncey (Round 1, Pick 15 to the Miami Dolphins), tackle Marcus Gilbert (Round 2, Pick 63 to the Pittsburgh Steelers), safety Ahmad Black (Round 5, Pick 151 to the Tamp Bay Buccaneers) and guard Maurice Hurt (Round 7, Pick 217 to the Washington Redskins) were all picked in the 2011 NFL Draft but were unable to sign with their respective teams until the NFL lockout was lifted in July. At that time, eight additional former Gators were signed as undrafted free agents though only punter Chas Henry (Philadelphia Eagles) and DE Justin Trattou (New York Giants) made it out of training camp, onto practice squads and eventually onto the active rosters of their respective teams. Pouncey and Henry have started every game this year, while Gilbert and Hurt have each started the majority of games this season.
The Florida basketball program had two players picked in the second round of the 2011 NBA Draft with forwards Chandler Parsons (Pick 38) and Vernon Macklin (Pick 52) headed to the Houston Rockets and Detroit Pistons, respectively. Like the football players, neither was able to report or sign with their team right away due to the NBA lockout but each has since agreed to a deal and made the roster. Parsons spent part of the fall playing overseas for Cholet Basket in France, while Macklin stayed in the United States and worked out. Gators F Alex Tyus, who also graduated last season, signed in June with Maccabi Ashdod of the Israel Loto League. Joining all the football and basketball players was a school record 11 Florida baseball players picked in the 2011 MLB Draft. Though three wound up returning to the team, junior LHP Nick Maronde (Round 4, Pick 104), junior LHP Anthony DeSclafani (Round 6, Pick 199), junior LHP Alex Panteliodis (Round 9, Pick 282), junior RHP Tommy Toledo (Round 11, Pick 341), senior infielder Josh Adams (Round 13, Pick 403), junior catcher Ben McMahan (Round 23, Pick 701), senior RHP Matt Campbell (Round 24, Pick 751) and senior outfielder Bryson Smith (Round 34, Pick 1,045) chose to sign with the teams that drafted them. The Gators roster is so loaded, however, that Florida baseball was given a preseason No. 1 ranking heading into the 2012 season.
5 » FRED TAYLOR, JASON WILLIAMS, CHANNING CROWDER RETIRE
With so many former Gators finding success in the professional ranks, each of their respective careers inevitably has to come to an end, and that is exactly what happened for three former Florida players this year. Point guard Jason Williams announced his retirement on April 18 after playing in the NBA for 12 years. Williams, the No. 7 overall pick in the first round of the 1998 NBA Draft, spent his entire career with five teams and finished with totals of 8,266 points, 4,611 assists, 1,810 rebounds and 933 steals. He averaged 10.5 points, 5.9 assists and 2.3 rebounds for his career while shooting 39.8 percent from the field, 32.7 percent from three-point range and 81.3 percent from the free throw line. Williams had previously retired for one season but returned to the court last year before finally calling it quits. He also won a NBA title during the 2005-06 season with the Miami Heat. After being cut by the Miami Dolphins in August, LB Channing Crowder announced live on the air that he would be retiring from the NFL. At just 27-years-old, Crowder amassed 469 tackles, 2.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and one interception in 82 career games after being selected with the No. 70 overall pick in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft. He made his mark in Miami as a locker room and on-field leader but chose to hang up his cleats mostly because his son was about to be born and he did not want to be far away playing in another state. There are some who believe Crowder will attempt a return to the field in 2012.
Not taking anything away from Williams or Crowder, the retirement of running back Fred Taylor after a 13-year NFL career was undoubtedly the most important one of the year. Taylor, who signed a one-day contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars (the team that picked him with the No. 9 overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft), is the team’s all-time leader in rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns. His final stat sheet includes 11,695 rushing yards, 66 rushing touchdowns, 2,384 receiving yards and eight receiving scores. Taylor is also one of just 30 NFL players who have run for more than 10,000 yards in a career and one of three to average at least 4.5 yards per carry over eight seasons (Jim Brown, Barry Sanders). A member of the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame and University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame, Taylor will be inducted into Jacksonville’s hall in the near future and will likely get consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame when the time comes.
4 » CHARLIE WEIS HIRED, LEAVES 11 MONTHS LATER
Just 364 days ago (from the day this is published), ESPN’s Chris Mortensen had Gator Nation in a stir when he reported that then-Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Charlie Weis had been contacted by Muschamp and offered the same job with Florida. The Gators still had their bowl game to play the next day and were concentrating on sending Meyer out in style with a victory, but hours after Florida’s game ended on Jan. 1, a second report surfaced that Weis would officially be hired that Monday. Before the Gators had the chance to make the official announcement, Weis told the Kansas City Star that the chance to coach at UF and spent so much additional time with his son was “almost a dream” for a number of reasons. That dream became a reality one day later when Muschamp announced his decision to hire Weis, calling him a “perfect fit for what I was looking for in an offensive coordinator.” Weis brought both college and professional experience with him on his resume and many believed he was the perfect person to almost be the head coach of the offense while Muschamp concentrated on running the team and especially the defense. The hire immediately paid dividends as Weis convinced then-redshirt junior QB John Brantley to return for his senior season, explaining that his pro-style offense and opportunity to be his personal QB coach would help him improve.
Fast forward 10 months to just days before Florida’s final game of the 2011 regular season against Florida State when Weis told the media that he planned to serve as the Gators offensive coordinator “for a long time.” It was undoubtedly a surprise to everyone when, just over two weeks later, Weis was plucked from Florida to be Kansas’ next head coach in a whirlwind 24-hour period that went from inquisition to contract offer to acceptance. Muschamp said that he understood and supported Weis’s decision, and Weis himself said that it was “one of those unique situations” that he could not turn down but neither opinion changes how much of a shock it was to Gator Nation to see Weis leave less than a year after being hired.
3 » JANORIS JENKINS RETURNS, DISMISSED THREE MONTHS LATER
Arguably the Gators best player in 2010, junior cornerback Janoris Jenkins was expected to declare for the 2011 NFL Draft shortly after the team’s bowl game. Instead Jenkins, who played the season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder and had surgery to correct the injury prior to the 2011 Outback Bowl, announced that he would return for his senior season. “After careful consideration, I’ve made the decision to return to school for my senior year. I spent some time with my family and Coach Muschamp and came to the conclusion it was in my best interest to return to school,” he said in a school release. “Coach Muschamp was very supportive throughout the whole process, regardless of my decision, but he wanted to make sure I had all of the facts. I’m looking forward to working towards my degree, completing my rehab and getting back on the field with my teammates.” Florida fans were ecstatic about the announcement and overjoyed that the team’s shutdown defender would give the Gators a level of consistency with so much change going on around him.
As it turns out though, Jenkins never suited up for Florida again. Two weeks after his announcement, he was cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana when police caught him rolling a joint in a nightclub bathroom. It was his second legal incident in less than two years (Jenkins was arrested in May 2009 on misdemeanor charges of affray and resisting arrest without violence). He was punished internally but allowed to remain on the team. However, Muschamp’s hand was forced as Jenkins was arrested again on April 23 (less than 90 days later) when police caught him smoking a marijuana “cigar” in his car in a parking lot at 12:35 a.m. Three days following his third arrest in less than two years, Jenkins was dismissed from the team by Muschamp, who claimed that it was a mutual decision between the two parties. Jenkins made it clear the next day that it was the coach’s decision. “I was dismissed as soon as I walked in the room. He washed his hands of me,” he said. He wound up transferring to North Alabama and having a nice senior season as a cornerback and kick returner. In fact, if he can convince teams that his legal issues are behind him, Jenkins may even be picked in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, which would have otherwise been a sure thing if he never got in trouble and remained at UF for his senior season.
2 » FLORIDA SWEEPS SEC ALL-SPORTS AWARDS; MEN WIN CAPITAL ONE CUP
There were up and downs for Florida throughout the entire year, but the Gators received a pair of major honors in May and June that gave fans plenty to cheer about in 2011. Any doubt that UF had the dominant athletic program in the SEC during the 2010-11 school year was put to rest on May 22 when the university was named the unanimous SEC All-Sports champion for the third-straight season. Florida swept all three titles – overall, men’s and women’s – by staggering numbers and literally dominated the competition, continuing to be the only school to sweep all three titles in a single season. The Gators in 2011 accomplished that for the 11th time in school history, fourth time in the last five years and third-in-a-row (2006-07, 2008-09, 2009-10). Florida learned one month later that the men’s athletic program was the winner of the first-ever Capital One Cup, awarded annually to each of the top men’s and women’s Division I college athletic programs. The Gators (93 points) won by an 11-point margin over Virginia (82) and finished 23 points above the next SEC team, Auburn (70). Though Florida did not place in the top 10 in any fall sports, the Gators found much greater success in the winter and spring with the performances of indoor track & field (first), baseball (second), outdoor track & field (third), swimming & diving (fifth), tennis (ninth) and basketball (10th) earning the school the honor. The women’s team wound up finishing No. 4 in their respective category but was first among SEC schools. Recognized regionally and nationally for its excellence, the Gators had plenty to be proud of this year.
1 » URBAN MEYER LEAVES WITH A WIN, TAKES ON-AIR GIG WITH ESPN, SEVERS TIES WITH FLORIDA, AGREES TO COACH OHIO STATE
Just one year ago, the resignation of Meyer and hiring of Muschamp captured the No. 1 spot on the Top 10 for 2010, so it should not come as much of a surprise that Meyer’s moves in 2011 landed him back here 12 months later. Announcing that he would leave Florida for the second time on Dec. 8, 2010, Meyer exited on a positive note as UF defeated Penn State 37-24 in the 2011 Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 (check out Saturday’s post). However, just 30 days removed from his last game with the Orange and Blue, Meyer agreed to begin a new form of employment by signing to work as an on-air college football analyst with ESPN for the 2011 season and beyond.
He explained that the job would not cut into his decision to spend more time with his family because it would only keep him away from home for sport periods of time each week. As part of Meyer’s separation from the Gators, Foley said that he would retain an office inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and would continue to work with Florida in some capacity. As it turns out, ESPN and Florida quickly realized that situation would create a conflict of interest (including a perceived bias as well as potential NCAA recruiting violations), and Meyer was forced to sever ties with the school on Feb. 2. Despite Foley’s efforts to ensure that Meyer remained a part of the program even though his tenure as a coach had ended, Meyer’s decision to take another job essentially forced his hand. While Meyer excelled in his role with ESPN, rumors persisted all year that he would eventually take over the Ohio State Buckeyes job vacated when head coach Jim Tressel was forced to resign while under immense pressure from numerous NCAA violations. He scoffed at most of these comments and reports but was forced to address the situation in late November after numerous reports had him heading to Columbus, OH sooner than later. He again denied rumors on Nov. 23, saying that he had neither been offered the job or nor reached any deal with Ohio State just before Thanksgiving.
However, Meyer wound up accepting that very job just five days later, and was officially announced as the Buckeyes’ next head coach after signing a six-year, $24 million contract. Though Foley wished Meyer the best of luck at his new job, most Gators fans were enraged that he agreed to coach another team just 10 months after coaching his last game for Florida amidst concerns about his health and time with his family. OGGOA took an in-depth look at Meyer’s move to Ohio State in a 3,400-word post that included sections about his health and family issues as well as a number of other issues like the Gators fan base, media scrutiny, state he left the program in and the timing of the move. Though he may have only been employed by Florida for one month in 2011, Meyer’s actions were once again the most notable and memorable ones that occurred this year.
Photo Credits (in order): Associated Press, Unknown, ESPN, Cleveland Plain-Dealer