Donovan adds Pelphrey, Roberts to Gators staff

A familiar face and an old friend will be joining Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan in Gainesville, FL next season. On Tuesday, the University of Florida announced that a pair of former head coaches – John Pelphrey and Norm Roberts – have been hired as assistants for the basketball team.

“Having John back will be a great addition to our program,’’ Donovan said in a school release. “Obviously, he has a level of familiarity with me and with the University of Florida makes this a great fit. John’s a great coach, he’s a great friend and has a love for Florida, and we’re excited to bring him back. Being from New York, I’ve known Norm for a long [time]. He’s an outstanding coach, he’s a great recruiter, has high character and integrity and I’m thrilled to have him on our staff here at Florida.”

An assistant at Florida for six seasons (1996-2002), Pelphrey will be reunited with his close friend and mentor. He played under Donovan (an assistant at the time) and head coach Rick Pitino with the Kentucky Wildcats and served as an assistant on Donovan’s first coaching staff for two seasons with the Marshall Thundering Herd (1994-96). He joined Donovan when he was hired by UF, helping lead the Gators to four-straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

Pelphrey left in 2002 for a head coaching gig with the South Alabama Jaguars, where he led the team for five seasons. He won the Sun Belt Championship, was named the Sun Belt Coach of the Year and brought his squad to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2006. USA would end up falling to Florida in the first round.

Noticing his success at a smaller school, Arkansas hired him to lead their program in 2007. Pelphrey brought the Razorbacks their first NCAA Tournament victory since 1999 in his first season but failed to replicate his success over the following three. He was fired by Arkansas on March 13 even though he had a top-tier recruiting class on its way in.

Roberts, who does not have any direct coaching connection to Donovan, is – like his new boss – a native New Yorker. He most recently served as head coach of the St. John’s Red Storm from 2004-10 but was fired on March 19, 2010, after leading the team to an unimpressive 81-101 record in six seasons.

Donovan is in the middle of reshaping his coaching staff as he has now lost all three of his 2010-11 assistants in one offseason. Long-time cohort Larry Shyatt accepted the top job at Wyoming, assistant Rob Lanier is returning to coach at Texas, and assistant Richard Pitino will join his father’s staff at Louisville.

OGGOA learned on April 3 that Florida Atlantic assistant Matt McCall is a top candidate to fill a role on Donovan’s revamped coaching staff. Another option is former Florida player Brett Nelson, who coached under Pelphrey at Arkansas last season.

Photo Credit: Unknown, Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Report: Pelphrey to return as Gators assistant

UPDATED STORY: Donovan adds Pelphrey, Roberts to Gators staff

Former Arkansas Razorbacks head coach John Pelphrey will rejoin the Florida Gators basketball team as an assistant coach, a source told Jeff Goodman of FOX Sports Tuesday. An assistant at Florida for six seasons (1996-2002), Pelphrey will be reunited with Gators head coach Billy Donovan, his close friend and mentor.

Pelphrey played under Donovan (an assistant at the time) and head coach Rick Pitino with the Kentucky Wildcats and served as an assistant on Donovan’s first coaching staff for two seasons with the Marshall Thundering Herd (1994-96). He joined Donovan when he was hired by the University of Florida, helping lead the Gators to four-straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

Pelphrey left UF in 2002 for a head coaching gig with the South Alabama Jaguars, where he led the team for five seasons. He won the Sun Belt Championship, was named the Sun Belt Coach of the Year and brought his squad to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2006. USA would end up falling to Florida in the first round.

Noticing his success at a smaller school, Arkansas hired him to lead their program in 2007. Pelphrey brought the Razorbacks their first NCAA Tournament victory since 1999 in his first season but failed to replicate his success over the following three. He was fired by Arkansas on March 13 even though he had a top-tier recruiting class on its way in.

Donovan is in the middle of reshaping his coaching staff after losing long-time assistant Larry Shyatt to a head coaching job with Wyoming. He may also see Rob Lanier head out the door to be an assistant at Texas, and Richard Pitino could join his father at Louisville, which suddenly has an opening.

OGGOA learned on April 3 that Florida Atlantic assistant Matt McCall is a top candidate to fill a role on Donovan’s revamped coaching staff.

Photo Credit: Carrie Pratt/St. Petersburg Times

Former Gators F Dan Werner arrested for DUI

Former Florida Gators forward Dan Werner, back in Gainesville, FL after a season of playing professional basketball for Virtus Bologna of Italian Serie A, was arrested and booked on charges of driving under the influence at 2:50 a.m. Tuesday.

According to the police report, Werner was pulled over in a Silver Kia with a tail light out and its high beams on. He told the officer he was driving for his intoxicated girlfriend but failed field sobriety tests when administered. Werner also submitted to a breath test and blew below the legal limit (0.08) but was arrested anyway.

The Gainesville Sun reports that Werner admitted to playing beer pong and “drinking at least two drinks containing whiskey” at some point during the evening.

OGGOA will continue updating this story as it develops.

FOUR BITS: Weis on Brantley, Sweeting wins

1 » Florida Gators offensive coordinator Charlie Weis was a guest Monday on ESPN‘s First Take. He spoke about a number of topics (see video) but also discussed recruiting redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley out of high school. “I’m a drop-back, pro-style offense guy. John really fit that bill. He was your prototypical drop-back quarterback. He could sling it; he could make every throw. He was very, very productive [in high school],” he said. “I thought he would have been a great fit for us. He had a lot of family ties at the University of Florida that kept him at Florida. I’m glad he made that choice because right now we get a chance to work together.”

2 » After dropping the series opener 5-7, No. 4 Gators baseball (26-7, 9-3 SEC) achieved back-to-back victories over the weekend to take a three-game road series against the Mississippi State Bulldogs (21-11, 5-7 SEC). Outscored 5-7 on Friday, Florida rebounded with consecutive 18-0 and 3-1 victories on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (5-1) picked up his first loss of the season in the first game after giving up six earned runs in only 2.1 innings. Sophomore left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (5-1) and sophomore LHP reliever Steven Rodriguez (2-1) picked up victories in the final two contests. Standout performers included sophomore catcher Mike Zunino (6/12, GS, 6 RBI, 6 R, 2 BB), senior second baseman Josh Adams (5/14, 2 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB) and sophomore first baseman Austin Maddox (5/14, 2 RBI, 2 R).

3 » No. 10/11 Gators softball (33-7, 10-6 SEC) ended a six-game losing streak with a three-game sweep of the Arkansas Razorbacks (10-32, 1-18 SEC) at home over the weekend. Florida outscored Arkansas 20-1 in the dominant fashion they finished opponents off the majority of the season. Freshman RHP Hannah Rogers (19-5) tossed three complete games, scattering 12 hits while striking out 23 batters. Unlike recent outings, Rogers had plenty of run support from her teammates with a trio of seniors – 1B Megan Bush (3/9, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 R), 2B Aja Paculba (5/9, 5 RBI, R, 2 BB) and left fielder Kelsey Bruder (4/9, 3 RBI, 4 R, BB) – leading the way.

4 » Former Gators tennis player Ryan Sweeting won his first ATP title over the weekend, defeating the field in the 2011 U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championships in Houston, TX. He jumped more than 20 spots in the ATP rankings to No. 71 in the world after winning the final match 6-4, 7-6.

FOUR BITS: tennis wins SEC, Bush breaks record

1 » No. 2 Florida Gators women’s tennis (21-1, 10-0 SEC) captured at least a share of the 2011 Southeastern Conference Championship for their efforts during the regular season on Sunday by defeating the No. 14 Tennessee Volunteers (16-5, 8-1 SEC) 4-0 at home. The SEC title is the program’s 25th in 32 years and is the University of Florida’s 199th all-time. Florida still has South Carolina to contend with on Saturday before entering the 2011 SEC Tournament beginning April 21.

2 » Senior first baseman Megan Bush of the No. 10/11 Gators softball team set the SEC’s career home run record over the weekend. First tying and then surpassing former Florida outfielder Francesca Enea, Bush smacked her 61st homer on Saturday and her record-breaking 62nd on Sunday. She has now hit 18 on the season and has been a source of consistent offense all season for the Gators.

3 » Competing in the 2011 Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, Florida redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin and senior forward Alex Tyus both impressed NBA scouts with their respective performances. Macklin finished the event as the third leading scorer with 57 points and seventh-place rebounder with 24 boards in three games. Tyus posted 41 points over the weekend, was third in rebounding (27) with 16 offensive boards and blocked six shots.

4 » The Philadelphia Inquirer took an in-depth look at new Temple Owls head coach Steve Addazio over the weekend, publishing a feature story about his coaching methods, personality and life journey that landed him in Philadelphia, PA.

Extra BIT » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah’s father, former tennis player now musician Yannick Noah, was the subject of death threats and racist slurs from neo-Nazis in central France last week. Read more on the story in translated form from the French newspaper France Soir.

Update: Murphy, Larson arrested in St. Augustine

This post was updated on 4/11 at 11 a.m.

Three members of the Florida Gators basketball team were arrested for burglary Sunday morning in St. Augustine, FL and released on $5,000 bond.

Forwards sophomore Erik Murphy and freshman Cody Larson face third-degree felony burglary charges after allegedly breaking into a car near Scarlett O’Hara’s Bar and Restaurant at approximately 2 a.m. Team manager Joshua Adel was also arrested for principal to burglary because police say he served as a lookout.

No items were reported missing from the vehicle.

According to the police report, Murphy and Larson were looking for a lost wallet when they were kicked out of the establishment by bouncers. Minutes later, the bouncers noticed the duo were breaking into a co-worker’s car across the street, chased them away and notified the police.

The police apprehended Adel, who called Murphy and convinced him to turn himself in. While both men were in the back of the police cruiser, Larson called multiple times and, according to the Orlando Sentinel, discussed on speaker phone how they were going to get out of trouble. A device in the vehicle recorded the conversation, which ended with the duo convincing Larson to come back to the scene and turn himself in.

The three men cooperated once in custody.

“It seems like they just did something stupid and got caught,” Sgt. Jason Etheredge of the St. Augustine Police Department told the Sentinel.

Larson, who will be listed as a redshirt freshman after sitting out his first season with the Gators, committed to Florida and head coach Billy Donovan one year ago while dealing with legal issues in his home state of South Dakota. He received a suspended 120-day jail sentence and is currently on two years of probation for a drug charge he incurred during his senior year of high school.

“I’m aware of Cody and Erik’s situation and very disappointed with the news,’’ Donovan said on Monday. “The two are currently suspended from basketball-related activities. I’m not going to comment further until I have more information and get a chance to meet with both student-athletes.”

The story was first reported by Channel 4 News in Jacksonville.

OGGOA will continue updating this story as more information is made available.

Wrapping up the 2011 Orange & Blue Debut

With the Florida Gators spring game – the 2011 Orange & Blue Debut – now in the books, plenty will be written about what occurred during the game and how it will play a role in what happens the remainder of the season. However, what happens during spring practice and the spring game – outside of player evaluation – often has little to do in determining how a season will unfold in the long run. There are nevertheless some hot topics of conversation coming out of the game which you can read below.

EVALUATING THE SPRING ABOUT IDENTIFYING PLAYMAKERS

Head coach Will Muschamp and his coaching staff have a lot of work to do in order to get the Gators ready for the regular season beginning in September. The initial step to doing so, he said on Saturday, was using the spring to identify those players he can trust to make an impact for him on every unit, something he believes the team accomplished over the previous five weeks.

“The first thing you look [at] is the installation of schemes and see how far along [the team is] and identify playmakers. That dictates what you do. That’s really our philosophy as a coaching staff: Let’s evaluate our players, let’s see what they can do and put them in situations where they can be most successful,” he said. “We’ve done that. We’ve identified, on both sides of the ball, the guys we can rely on as far as offense, defense and special teams. You work through that scheme-wise and then you start implementing things you feel like can work in those situations. We’ve identified our playmakers.”

While a few of those playmakers were showcased on the defensive side of the ball Saturday, there was not much electricity when it came to the offensive output. Muschamp said the goal is to list the top 22 players overall (11 starters on each side) and expand from there. “We need that list to grow as far as guys we know we can count on and rely on in the fall in our league,” he said.

Now that the spring session is over, the coaches will concentrate on recruiting and planning ahead for the summer and fall. In the meantime, Muschamp told his players that it is up to them to show leadership, keep up with their physical fitness and stay out of trouble. “This is a critical time for us. We’ve had a five-week offseason program. We’ve had spring ball. Now the coaches will be on the road recruiting,” he said. “By NCAA rules, we’re very limited as much we can spend with the football team, and our leadership needs to take over. I challenged some guys in our locker room. It’s time for them to step up. It doesn’t need to be a senior. We don’t have many seniors. They need to understand it’s their football team, it’s not mine. We will only be as good as we are next year with the work ethic that takes place.”

BRANTLEY SHINED IN PRACTICE, STRUGGLED IN DEBUT

The only glimpse fans have had of redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley since last season is Saturday’s dismal performance where he only completed four passes and played just a half of football in a scrimmage. However, according to Muschamp, Brantley has been lights-out in practice and is the team’s starting quarterback going forward.

“I thought he had a really good spring. If we started the season today, John Brantley would be our starter. He’s experienced. He’s got talent. John’s had a very good spring,” he said. “He’s close to 70 percent completion percentage for the spring; we tally every throw. I’m very pleased with how he’s managing our football team. He’s picked up our offense; he does a great job at the line of scrimmage. We put a lot on the quarterback as far as running pass checks, protections, run game… I’m pleased with Johnny.”

Critics will be quick to jump on Brantley for throwing incompletions and having a few balls batted down (as was his tendency in 2010), but the Gators entered the game with only one running back, not a single fullback and a banged up offensive line that was neither experienced playing together nor able to handle the stout defensive front they encountered. “We went into scrimmage planning on just playing [Brantley] in the first half regardless. We didn’t change our plan there as far as what we wanted to do,” Muschamp said. “[I’ve been] pleased with his performance all spring. [He’s] been consistent, but he’s also got to have better people around him to help him. That starts with our offensive line.”

Brantley did not discuss his performance in particular but tried to show leadership by propping up the offensive line that let rushers through to all of the quarterbacks all day long. “They were running both ways. I respect the heck out of them for doing that. They played their hearts out,” he said. “It didn’t really limit us play calling or anything like that, it’s just tough for those guys to go back-and-forth, up-and-down the field all afternoon.”

He also discussed how offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has changed the team and him in particular. “We have a great offensive scheme here. Everybody’s getting real comfortable with it,” he said. “We’re going to keep building off it, work together with the receivers over summer, get in sync with everything, and we’ll be good for camp. I feel pretty comfortable [with the system]. There’s a lot more to learn, and Coach Weis and all the coaches will get us ready for all that. For right now, what we learned in the spring is a good basis of what we’re going to be doing in the fall. He’s always been telling me to be more of a leader I don’t have to be more vocal, just be able to lead the team by what my actions are. He wants me to be able to run this team, and he’s helped me out a lot with that this spring.”

A TALE OF TWO LINES

Florida had nearly 20 players sidelined and sitting out for the Orange & Blue Debut including a number of major playmakers and much of the starting offensive line. Muschamp, who has maintained from the beginning that football in the Southeastern Conference starts with the play of the men in the trenches, understands the injuries but is anxious for the players to get healthy as soon as possible.

“There’s been some spotty work up front with that because of injuries. Because we were thin to begin with [and] you take the laundry list [of players] out of that then it’s even worse,” he said. “There’s two units that have to be as tight-knit as any on the team and that’s the offensive line and the secondary. When you have a lot of moving parts on either one of those positions, then it creates problems for the rest of your team. The SEC is a line of scrimmage league and we’re only as good as we are upfront. […] We’ve had a lot of moving parts up front, which is good for our football team in that we’re building depth and we’ve had to cross-train guys at different positions. That will help us in the long run, but in the short run it has been a little frustrating.”

While the offensive line has been a point of concern, the defensive line – especially the play of sophomore defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley – has been a bright spot all spring and was once again on Saturday. “They’re good football players and they need to stay grounded with where they are. They’re disruptive players inside,” said Muschamp of the duo. “Dominique is extremely quick with his first step. He’s got great initial quickness, punch and power, good change of direction. Sharrif is a really good football player, starting to feel blocks inside. Instead of just playing the game, they need to start learning the game. They need to understand situations; they need to understand stances; they need to understand steps. Those are the things they need to do a great job in [learning] in the offseason.”

Floyd confirmed to ESPN that what he and Easley were able to do to the offensive line caused Brantley some problems. “I wouldn’t call John Brantley’s play today a struggle. I would call it, ‘Not enough room,’” he said. “Me and Dominique Easley collapsed the pocket, and that’s one of our main goals. We forced offensive linemen into his face, and he had to roll out.”

DUNBAR, WIDE RECEIVERS STEPPING UP

No pass catcher was raved about more on Saturday than sophomore wide receiver Quinton Dunbar, who only finished with two receptions for 21 yards but opened eyes during practice over the last five weeks. “You can’t take away from what Quinton Dunbar has done vertically down the field through the entire body of work of spring,” Muschamp said after the game. “Dunbar has made more big plays than anybody else.”

In fact, Brantley nearly hit Dunbar for a long pass on the first play of the game that he promptly dropped. “I wish I would have had that back. Cody Riggs made a good play on it and I came back, tried to make a play, and he knocked it out of my hands,” Dunbar told the Orlando Sentinel after the game. “I feel that I had a solid spring. I came out, worked hard, competed everyday and I felt great. I’m hoping to stretch the field, and I’m also hoping to just be a receiver in general.”

Muschamp had handed out superlatives to the other receivers, calling redshirt junior Frankie Hammond, Jr. the “most consistent,” redshirt junior Omarius Hines the most versatile (F position in the backfield, X receiver on the line), redshirt senior Deonte Thompson the most experienced, redshirt sophomore Andre Debose a threat anywhere on the field because of his speed and sophomore Solomon Patton the best out of the backfield on the reverse.

Photo Credit: Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun

Muschamp evalutes players, team after game

With the Florida Gators first year of spring practice under head coach Will Muschamp coming to a conclusion with the lackluster 2011 Orange & Blue Debut he spoke with the media after Saturday’s activities and gave an injury update, provided some insight on individual players and noted how the team is performing.

INJURY UPDATES

In addition to the long list of players who have been injured throughout spring practice, a few notable names were absent from the game on Saturday. Sophomore athlete Trey Burton, who twisted his ankle at the end of practice last week, “probably could have scrimmaged today had it been a game,” Muschamp said, but instead sat out as a precaution. Freshman wide receiver Javares McRoy, not previously listed on the injury report, had what Muschamp called a “medical procedure with his lung” a week or so ago. He said the situation is not serious, career-threatening or life-threatening but would not go into further detail. Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley appeared to hurt himself at the end of the game and looked like he was grabbing his ankle, but Muschamp waved it off. “Easley is fine. Easley got tired,” he said.

PLAYER THOUGHTS

Muschamp wrapped up the spring with thoughts on some of the team’s standout performers both over the last five weeks and on Saturday in particular.

Sophomore buck linebacker Ronald Powell: “Ronald’s a power player on the edge; he’s a very powerful young man, plays with great effort, plays with great toughness, plays the way we want to play at Florida. I’m very pleased with his effort up until this point.”

Redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey: “He’s a good football player. He’s special with the ball in his hands. He’s got tremendous vision. Matt Elam’s a very good open-field tackler; Matt drew wind today on him. That’ll tell you what kind of vision he’s got and how quick he is. We need to get him in space. Also looking forward to his combination with Jeff Demps and getting Jeff back in the fold with football. Chris is a playmaker.”

The other defensive tackles: “We have two very disruptive players in Sharrif [Floyd] and Dominique. Omar Hunter has done a good job. We’re looking forward to getting Jaye Howard back off surgery he had in the spring.”

Redshirt freshman QB Tyler Murphy: “Charlie [Weis] does a nice job of calling things that fit a person’s personality. Tyler’s very good in the pocket movement-creating plays. He’s accurate with the ball in the underneath throws. I think that’s what you saw today. He was accurate with the ball and did a nice job with the pocket movements.”

Freshman QB Jeff Driskel: “Jeff has got all the tools and is going to be a really good football player for the Gators. It’s just going to take some time. Right now he should be going to the prom. He’s going to be a really, really good football player, I think we just need to give him some time to be a good football player right now. He should be a senior in high school.”

Freshman tight end A.C. Leonard: “As he ended the offseason program, he really started to mature and grow up. I’m very proud of where he is right now. He’s doing a nice job academically. He’s a guy that can really help us in the fall as he continues to mature. Another guy that this time of the year is very important for.”

Secondary players: “Matt Elam’s had a great spring. Jeremy Brown’s been very consistent [as has] Cody Riggs. Those would be the three that jump out at me. Really proud of Jaylen Watkins playing two positions – safety and corner – and has shown coverage skills on the edge and also the ability to play the deep part of the field. He has good coverage skills for a safety.” Muschamp also pointed out freshman Josh Evans (“He’s more vocal. He’s a better leader.”), Josh Shaw (“He’s come along and made some plays today.”) and De’Ante Saunders (“He’s a guy that’s going to be a really good player for Florida.”).

QUOTES

Muschamp on the statues:Steve Spurrier, Tim Tebow and Danny Wuerffel – three great Gators. To honor them the way Jeremy [Foley] and our administration decided to do was a pretty special deal.”

Muschamp on a special guest:Mike Peterson spoke to our football team yesterday; what a phenomenal person. What great passion and emotion he played with and still plays with.”

Muschamp on redshirt senior QB John Brantley’s early incompletions: “We had the first deep ball coming out of the gate there on the first play – that ball should have been caught. Wish Quinton [Dunbar] would have caught that ball. Quinton has made those plays all spring. Very proud of Quinton.”

Muschamp on Brantley being the starter and his competition: “He’s ahead, he’s just…you need to look at the whole body of work. He’s done a nice job. Quarterback to me is no different than any other position in that we’ll have competition in the fall. We need to go compete, and we need to understand that no position is going to be given to anybody on this football team. It is your job to go compete on a championship level every day at the University of Florida.”

Muschamp on what he took away from the spring game: “It’s an opportunity to get better. It’s an opportunity to coach. It’s an opportunity for our team to improve. We’ll watch the film and we’ll see improvements today. That’s the way I approach it.”

Muschamp on his expectations for the spring game: “I don’t really go in for an expectation level of what I think is going to happen. I go out, I want to see the guys compete; I want to see them play fast, and I want to see them play physical. I just want to see great competition and see guys getting after each other, and I think we did for the most part.”

Muschamp on if he is impressed with the talent on the team: “We’ve got some good players at certain positions. We’re not as old as we’d like to be, but that’s what we’ve got. We’re not as deep at some positions as we’d like to be, but that’s what we’ve got. We’re not going to make excuses for anything whether it’s injury or youth. It’s our job to perform at a championship level, and that’s what I expect to do.”

Muschamp on the overall attitude at practice: “Our kids have really bought into what we want to accomplish and what we want to do. I’ve been very pleased with their progress as far as that’s concerned.”

Brantley on the spring: “All around we made a lot of progress this spring. We’re going to be OK.”

Brantley on the Orange & Blue Debut: “It’s just another practice. It’s just another opportunity for us to go out there and get better. We’ve had a good spring. We’ve progressed very well. Today was another day and we’re just going to keep building off that.”

Brantley on Murphy and Driskel: “I think they played great. They work really hard. They definitely got this offense down just like everyone else has. They’ve had a great spring, and they’ve progressed since day one. Tyler can throw that ball on the run pretty good. They both have a lot of mobility.”

Brantley on Rainey: “He’s definitely matured here the last two years. He’s had a huge impact being a leader. He’s had one of the best springs out of everybody. I hope he builds off it, and I think he will. He’s going to be a great player.”

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