FOUR BITS: Meyer, Merklein, Harvin, Miami

1 » Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer sat down for a question-and-answer session with CBSSports.com’s Jeremy Fowler (believe it or not) that was published on Friday. In the piece, he mentions the Florida Gators on a few occasions, the highlights of which are below. Check out the other topics by clicking here.

On why ‘no question’ he would still be at Florida if health issues never surfaced
“I realized not too long after [around February 2011]. I called Jeremy [Foley] and said, ‘I made a mistake.’ Once I felt like everything was under control, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what did I do?’ I just told Jeremy as a friend in conversation. The talk was more about one day getting back into it. He was very supportive. Then I started at ESPN and had a ball with that, but is that enough? Is that what I was called to do? I planned to take more than a year [off] though.”

On regrets for the way his Florida tenure ended
“I didn’t at first. I thought we did a good job. We did our best. I look back now, the way it ended was certainly a regret. Does that mean it haunts me? Not at all. I’ve always felt our job is to do a good job and do it the right way, do it ethically and for the best interest of the student-athlete — check, check, check. I’ll always be associated with the school, and my great friends are there and all that. Absolutely none with that. It just wasn’t a normal way to move on. There would have been if I would have stayed out. I was worried about survival for a little bit.”

2 » Florida brought back a huge name in Gators tennis on Friday when the school announced that Mark Merklein has returned to the program as an assistant coach with the men’s team. Merklein, a two-time national champion (doubles in 1993, singles in 1994) and the 1994 SEC Player of the Year, earned four All-American nominations and three All-SEC nods while at Florida and was inducted into the UF Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005. Considered by many to be the best men’s tennis player in school history, Merklein wound up competing as a professional for 12 years and even serving as a volunteer assistant for the Gators from 1998-2002 while he was on the tour. He was the head coach of the USTA Player Development Center for six seasons (2006-11) before being hired by Michigan as an assistant coach for the past two years (2012-13). “When I left I even said to everyone, including Mr. [Jeremy] Foley, that it was a goal of mine to one day come back and coach and win national championships,” Merklein said in a school release. “I’ve said it so much now, it’s time to actually do it and put the work in. I’m excited to do that alongside [head coach Bryan Shelton].”

3 » Wide receiver Percy Harvin has only been employed by the Seattle Seahawks for a few weeks now, but he is already turning heads at the team’s facility. According to The Seattle Times, Harvin’s teammates and coaches have already begun taking notice, and second-year quarterback Russell Wilson is ecstatic about the potential of Seattle’s offense this season. “His talent level is unbelievable, off the charts,” said Wilson of Harvin. “He brings an explosive mentality to the game, which a lot of our guys already have. But to have him is truly tremendous. He’s a guy that’s been one of the best football players in the National Football League for the past several years.” Harvin also told the paper that he expect to play some running back on occasion and will likely be back for kickoff returns.

4 » ESPN’s decision to kick-off Florida second football game of the season, on the road against the Miami Hurricanes, at noon has caused quite a stir amongst fans over the past 24 hours. The Gators and Hurricanes will square off on Sept. 7 in Miami Gardens, FL at Sun Life Stadium in a game which everyone involved assumed would be played at night, likely at 8 p.m. Instead, Florida-Miami will take place under the extreme heat of the South Florida sun with kickoff just after noon, earlier than any UF-UM game has been played since at least 1987. The Miami Herald’s Manny Navarro did some digging to learn why ESPN chose that time slot.

According to the network, ABC will be airing a NASCAR race at 8 p.m. while ESPN is broadcasting Notre Dame-Michigan. The 3:30 p.m. slot on ABC will be used for regional games (those in Florida will see Oregon at Virginia). Hurricanes AD Blake James apparently tweeted that Miami “requested and lobbied” for the 8 p.m. slot, while ESPN spokesman Mike Humes pointed out that the network values its noon window. “We average probably around three million viewers for that time slot. So it wasn’t like, ‘Let’s put the worst game on at noon.’ The noon window does really well with fans,” he said. “We view this as a great matchup. Scheduling games is like putting together different puzzles with different time zones and commitments, and this was the best window.”

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FOURth of July BITS: Noah, Bullard, Delić

1 » As first reported by L’Equipe in France, Chicago Bulls and former Florida Gators center Joakim Noah is officially out of the 2012 London Olympics because his severely sprained left ankle (which he injured back on March 4) is not yet recovered. The injury, which occurred during Game 3 of the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs, was supposed to keep Noah out 1-2 months but is apparently still affecting him two full months later. “I’m absolutely not ready, not ready to return, not ready to jump,” Noah told L’Equipe (originally in French). “And even less to play. I need more time and work. I’m not in form for someone who wants to compete in the Olympics. And given the problems that I have with my ankles, not going to the Games seemed to be the most reasonable decision.” L’Equipe also reports that Noah originally forfeited his spot on the team on June 23 but that head coach Patrick Beesley initially refused his decision and wanted to give him two additional weeks to rehab and recover.

2 » Tuesday came and went and nothing further was learned about the status of five-star incoming defensive end Jonathan Bullard (Shelby, NC) in regards to the NCAA Clearinghouse and the University of Florida. The deadline to enroll in Summer B classes was 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, which means that if Bullard was not cleared by that time then he will not be able to become a student – or officially join the football team – until the fall. According to The Gainesville Sun, Bullard is expected to be eventually cleared by both parties and should be able to start practicing with the team on Aug. 22, when the fall semester starts. He would miss Summer B practices and the first two weeks of preseason camp, according to the paper. Bullard is expected to see the field for the Gators this season and may very well earn major playing time at defensive end. Missing so much practice as a freshman may put him severely behind the proverbial eight ball and could impact how Florida lines up the front four early in the season.

3 » New Gators head men’s tennis coach Bryan Shelton hired Amer Delić as his new assistant, Florida announced on Monday. A former Illinois standout who won the NCAA Singles Championship in 2003, Derlic is Bosnian in descent and has previously represented his country in the Davis Cup. He posted a 33-56 career singles record and 21-34 career doubles record, participated in eight Grand Slam events (never lasting past the third round) and won eight total singles titles over his career in Challengers (six) and Futures (two) events. “When I came down to Gainesville and sat down for an interview with [Coach Shelton], discussing the opportunities and possibilities with this team and with the support from the University of Florida and the athletic department, I knew that this was the right fit for me,” Delic said in a statement. “Especially growing up in Jacksonville, I absolutely know what it means to be a part of the Gator Nation.”

4 » Happy Fourth of July everyone!

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

…from the Declaration of Independence

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Florida Gators hire Emily Bastel as women’s golf coach, Bryan Shelton as men’s tennis coach

Less than two weeks after the resignations of a pair of head coaches, the Florida Gators announced on Friday that new leaders have been hired for the women’s golf and men’s tennis programs. Florida promoted assistant Emily Bastel to head up the women’s golf team and brought in Georgia Tech head women’s tennis coach Bryan Shelton to take over the men’s tennis squad.

Though both will be new to UF, Bastel and Shelton have drastically different levels of experience and success in the coaching profession.

Former Gators head women’s golf coach Jan Dowling surprised Florida administrators last month by resigning for personal reasons. Luckily for athletic director Jeremy Foley and senior associate director Mike Spiegler, the top candidate to be her replacement was a young up-and-comer positioned right under their noses.

Bastel was hired 10 months ago to be Dowling’s assistant and immediately submitted her resume when learning of her boss’ departure.

“I was just blown away,” Foley said remembering how he felt after interviewing Bastel for the position. “We had a diamond in our midst and didn’t even know it.”

Spiegler added: “When she left the room, we all sort of looked at each other and said, you know, ‘Wow.’ It was that impressive. She may be on the quiet side, but she’s confident and has an idea about the direction we’re headed and will continue to go.”

Also working to her benefit was the fact that “every member of the UF team called, texted or e-mailed to lobby on Bastel’s behalf,” according to GatorZone.com.

Before joining Florida last season, she served as an assistant at Michigan State (2002-03) and Duke (2009-10). Bastel replaced Dowling (who left for UF in 2009) as an assistant at Duke after spending three years on the LPGA Tour (2005-08).

Shelton’s path to the Gators came through Florida head women’s tennis coach Roland Thornqvist who, according to the Gators, submitted a “short list of candidates” to Foley but pushed heavily for Shelton to get a shot.

“He’s the best in the country – on the men’s or women’s side,” he reportedly said.

Unlike Bastel, Shelton has plenty of head coaching experience and immense success. He has spent the last 13 years at Georgia Tech coaching the women’s team and even lead them to the university’s first and only NCAA Championship in 2007.

He began his career playing for GT, won ACC singles and doubles titles while a part of the team and is even a member of the Georgia Tech Athletic Hall of Fame. Shelton then turned pro and played on the circuit for seven years before going into coaching.

Under Shelton’s tutelage, GT won a national title, two ITA National Indoor Team Championships, four-straight ACC regular season titles and four ACC Tournaments. He also coached two ACC Players of the Year, an NCAA Singles Champion and two ITA National Players of the Year. Shelton was named USTA/ITA National Coach of the Year in 2007 and ACC Coach of the Year four times (2002, 2005, 2007-08).

Foley is confident Shelton’s impressive coaching career will translate to the men’s game and thinks he is the man to lead the Gators back to the promised land.

“I don’t tell coaches how many games or championships they have to win, but men’s tennis needs to be in the hunt every single year,” said Foley, according to GatorZone.com. “Does that mean the Final Four every year? No. But when the season starts, you need to be one of the teams that has a chance to get there.”

Now Shelton is a member of the orange and blue and the man charged with rekindling the success UF once had at the start of now former coach Andy Jackson‘s tenure.

“I think that Florida and Florida tennis speaks for itself,” he said. “In my mind, this is the best job in the country. [...] I’m talking about resources. I’m talking about academics. I’m talking about the opportunity to grow and develop a program to the highest level; the opportunity to win championships and be successful year in and year out.

“This place is a gold mine.”

Photo Credits: Duke University/Georgia Tech University

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