Top 11 for 2011: Off the Field Stories of the Year

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.

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Urban Meyer hired to coach Ohio State Buckeyes

Just 10 months after coaching his final game with the Florida Gators, Urban Meyer has agreed to don a whistle once again after deciding to become the next head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes beginning in 2012, sources confirmed to ESPN Monday.

Meyer, who has spent the 2011 college football season as an analyst for ESPN, has also been traveling around the country making appearances at events, viewing his daughters’ volleyball games and spending time at home in Gainesville, FL with his wife and son.

A two-time national champion at Florida, Meyer was named Coach of the Decade by Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News in 2009. He led the Gators to a 65-15 record with three 13-1 seasons while at the helm, was 36-13 in Southeastern Conference play and won five of the six bowl games Florida played in during his tenure.

Prior to signing with UF, Meyer won Coach of the Year after leading Utah to a BCS bowl in 2004 and going 22-2 in two seasons. He also went 17-6 from 2001-02 at Bowling Green.

Meyer initially resigned from his post with the Gators on Dec. 26, 2009 due to a health scare but changed his mind – choosing to take a leave of absence instead – and returned to the team on March 17, 2010 for the following season.

Florida went 8-5 during his final year at the helm, and Meyer resigned once again on Dec. 8, 2010 citing his health and decision to spend more time with his family. His final game with the Gators was a 37-24 victory over Penn State in the 2011 Outback Bowl.

An offensive coach at Ohio State from 1986-97, Meyer is a native of Ashtabula, OH who played and graduated from Cincinnati before receiving a master’s degree in sports administration from OSU.

He will take the reins of the Buckeyes from Luke Fickell, who was promoted from co-defensive coordinator to head coach after Jim Tressel was fired in the offseason. Fickell is expected to be retained on the staff at a to-be-announced position.

Tressel was head coach of Ohio State from 2001-10, winning one national championship (2002) and six Big Ten titles (2002, 2005-09) while at the helm.

He resigned in the spring of 2011 after the school learned that he withheld information and lied to NCAA investigators in order to keep players on the field. Tressel had already been suspended by OSU for failing to notify the school of NCAA violations.

The NCAA has yet to fully sanction the Buckeyes but is expected to do so in the offseason. Meyer accepted the Ohio State job aware that punishments are pending.

Photo Credit: ESPN

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Urban Meyer to Ohio State? The timeline.

Updated Nov. 21 at 1 p.m.

Rumors have been circulating seemingly since the day he stepped down from his post with the Florida Gators that Urban Meyer would return to being a college football head coach sooner than later. When Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel resigned on May 30, it appeared as if Meyer’s next destination was a certainty.

Throughout the last six months, Meyer has spent his time working as a college football analyst for ESPN, doing speaking engagements across the country, making appearances and spending time with his family. He has also – on numerous occasions – denied any specific intent on returning to coaching in 2012 though he has admitted more than once that he does miss carrying a whistle.

Over the last few days, however, the murmurs regarding Meyer’s future and Ohio State’s coaching situation have gotten louder. It appears inevitable to many that he will be donning the scarlet and grey sooner than later.

Here’s a look at a timeline of how things have shaken out since Tuesday:

» The New York Times published a story Tuesday noting that Meyer had met with Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne one week ago in Miami, FL to discuss his school’s coaching position. Meyer, according to the story, declined the opportunity but “expressed his desire to return to coaching.”

» Two days later, BuckeyeGrove.com writer Kyle Rowland tweeted the following: “Same plane that came from Gainesville to OSU airport was in Miami when Urban Meyer met with Univ. of Ariz. That meeting took place in Miami.”

» CBS Sports’ NFL insider Mike Freeman then referenced a report he read on Scout.com Thursday, tweeting that “Urban Meyer has agreed to coach OSU for 7 years, $35 million. If true, whoa.”

» After that began to circulate, Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples attempted to set the record straight with a tweet of his own: “Spoke to someone who would know tonight and was told any report of a deal between Urban Meyer and Ohio State is untrue.”

» However, Buckeyes blog Eleven Warriors quickly took to Twitter to divulge what they had uncovered: “We are 99.7% sure Urban Meyer has agreed to a deal to become the next coach of Ohio State. Solid sources. Plural.”

» Shortly after, The Gainesville Sun’s Pat Dooley texted Meyer directly and asked him specifically about the rumor that he had accepted the OSU job. “No truth to it,” Meyer replied via text.

» Meyer’s wife Shelley also made a statement after being contacted by WCJB TV20 and asked if her husband had agreed to coach Ohio State. “No, he did not,” she told the station.

» SPORTSbyBROOKS then posted a full story about the Meyer situation Friday evening, reporting that a “deal between Meyer and Ohio State was consummated in principle earlier this week in Columbus but not signed.”

Brooks goes on to cite specifics of the agreement including a “generous compensation package” and a promise from the school to provide him with the ability to hire the “highest-paid assistant coaching staff in college football history.”

» Saturday morning, Associated Press writer Larry Lage asked Meyer about the deal. He declined comment. He also questioned ESPN analyst Chris Spielman (rumored by Brooks to be a future Meyer assistant) about the situation, and Spielman said there was no deal between Meyer and OSU.

» While doing color commentary for the Michigan-Nebraska game at noon, Meyer addressed the rumors on the air (video): “I know it’s that time of year. I’ve not been offered any job, and I’ve certainly not accepted any job,” he said.

» Minutes later, ESPN.com released its version of Brooks’s story, noting that “Ohio State has been in contact with Urban Meyer about becoming the school’s coach” but “no contract is in place and no announcement likely would be made until after the regular season.”

» UPDATE: Dooley had an extensive conversation with Meyer over the weekend about the rumors that he might return to coaching. Meyer denied reports of interviews with both Arizona and Ohio State but did say he would consider an offer from the latter institution. “I’m in a good place right now mentally and physically. So if something happens with Ohio State, I’ll have a decision to make,” Meyer said. “If there is a decision to be made concerning Ohio State, there will be a lot that will go into it. But right now, there is no decision to be made.”

He also noted that the three reasons he resigned from Florida will have to be taken into consideration before making any move. “The concerns are still there,” Meyer added. “No. 1 – my health. No. 2 – my family. No. 3 – the state of college football. I’ve done some research into the second one. I’ve found that it is possible to have balance between your job and your family, that there are coaches out there who are doing it.”

It is not surprising that Ohio State and Meyer would both want to wait until the end of the 2011 regular season before announcing any type of agreement. Doing so in-season would be disrespectful to both interim head coach Luke Fickell and Meyer’s current employer. That is, of course, unless there truly is nothing to announce, which appears to be less and less likely as things progress regardless of Meyer’s denials.

Photo Credit: ESPN

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Meyer refutes Ohio State rumors for “this fall”

Former Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer, now a college football analyst with ESPN, released a statement Monday refuting rumors that he is currently in the mix for the Ohio State Buckeyes coaching job left vacant by Jim Tressel.

“I am committed to ESPN and will not pursue any coaching opportunities this fall,” Meyer said. “I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the people at ESPN this spring and remain very excited about my role with the network this fall.

“Jim Tressel has been a respected friend and colleague for a long time. I wish Jim and his family the very best now and in the future.”

Though Meyer’s statement will should quiet the talk of his taking over the Ohio State program this year, its specific usage of the words “this fall” on two occasions will no doubt allow rumors to continue swirling that he could be in line to be the Buckeyes head coach in 2012. Ohio State, incidentally, has said publicly that it does not plan to hire a permanent head coach this year and will stick with interim coach Luke Fickell for the duration of the season. Meyer coached tight ends and running backs at OSU from 1986-87.

Photo Credit: ESPN

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FOUR BITS: Donovan, Tebow, Brissett, Drayton

1 » Head basketball coach Billy Donovan, who has won two NCAA National Championships (in three title game appearances), captured multiple Southeastern Conference Championships and led the Florida Gators to unprecedented heights since he took over the program in 1996, may be on the verge of earning his first SEC Coach of the Year award if the Gators continue their winning ways over the final handful of regular season games. FOX Sports Florida’s Bill Koss examines how Donovan has missed out on the honor previously, even though he’s on the verge of leading Florida to its 13th consecutive 20-win season. Donovan has been overlooked for the award on at least three occasions; this year his former assistant Anthony Grant, now head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide, may stand in his way. Though Alabama is 15-7 on the season, they are 7-1 in the SEC and have won 10 of their last 11 games.

2 » Publishing house HarperCollins announced in November that it will be releasing Through My Eyes, described as “an inspirational memoir by one of the greatest college football quarterbacks of all time: the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, two-time national champion at the University of Florida and current Denver Broncos first round draft pick, Tim Tebow” in April 2011. Companies like Amazon.com have begun taking pre-orders as the book’s release date has been pushed back to May 24. HarperCollins will initially print 200,000 copies of the book, which Tebow will promote via appearances/signings in Denver, CO, New York, NY, and various cities in the state of Florida. An audio book will also be available, and Through My Eyes will be released for the Amazon Kindle as well. You can pre-order it by Clicking Here.

3 » Four-star quarterback Jacoby Brissett indicated that the possibility of playing basketball as well as football was something he was considering when deciding which school he would commit to last week. Brissett chose the Gators which begs the question: How do the head coaches feel about his desire to play two sports? “As far as I’m concerned, in talking to Will [Muschamp], if he wants to be a part of our team, he’s more than welcome to do that,” Donovan said Thursday. “You talk about a guy missing workouts in September. October we start practice. November, December, January – he comes into (basketball) practice completely not knowing one thing. Now, as practice starts, he tries to go from football shape to basketball shape. Now, as we start to go toward the SEC Tournament, they start spring practice. I think what’s going to end up happening is he’s going to have to make a decision.” That being said, Donovan does think he is talented and capable enough to see the court. “There’s no doubt in my mind, watching him play, if he dedicated all his time to basketball he could definitely play here at Florida,” he said. “I think he’s a very, very good player.”

4 » Some Gators fans were confused when former running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Stan Drayton left Florida to take the wide receivers coach job with the Ohio State Buckeyes. However, listening to Drayton explain his decision, it makes perfect sense. “In 17 years of coaching, I’ve never had the opportunity to be around my family,” Drayton told BuckeyeSports.com. “My kids are born and raised in Florida, so they’ve never had an opportunity to be around their grandparents. […] I’m a Buckeye by heart. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. I used to go to coach [Jim] Tressel’s camps as a high school football player at Youngstown State. I had always admired his career, always tried to model myself on some of the principles that he holds his program to. I followed his career and always had a dream of coming back to Ohio State, I just didn’t know when.”

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Ohio State hires Stan Drayton away from Florida

Florida Gators running backs coach/recruiting coordinator Stan Drayton, a native of Cleveland, OH, has officially been hired by the Ohio State Buckeyes as the team’s new wide receivers coach, the school announced on Thursday. One of three assistants retained by new head coach Will Muschamp, Drayton will leave Florida before National Signing Day and begin work with Ohio State on Monday.

“Stan Drayton first and foremost is a fine person and family man. He is a Buckeye born and bred, and will add a tremendous dimension to our football family,” Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel said in an official statement. “We are fortunate to gain one of the finest coaches in America to serve our kids, school and community.”

Drayton has almost exclusively coached running backs since 1993 and has spent four years with the Gators (2005-07, 2010). He was on Florida’s staff when the team captured the 2007 BCS National Championship by defeating Ohio State 41-14.

In addition to his duties as WR coach for the Buckeyes, Drayton is also expected to coordinate Ohio State’s recruiting for the state of Florida.

Muschamp addressed the topic late Thursday. “Our focus will always be on the staff that are here, current players and the prospective student-athletes,” he said.

With the 2011 recruiting cycle coming to a close on Feb. 2, Muschamp will likely wait until it has concluded to hire Drayton’s replacement. New wide receivers coach Aubrey Hill, who coordinated recruiting for the Miami Hurricanes in 2010, may be at the front of the pack to take on those responsibilities for 2012 and beyond.

Position20102011
Offensive coordinatorSteve AddazioCharlie Weis
Quarterbacks coachScot LoefflerCharlie Weis
Defensive coordinatorTeryl AustinDan Quinn
Defensive line coachDan McCarney*Dan Quinn
Assistant: Bryant Young
Running backs coach
Recruiting coordinator
Stan DraytonBrian White
Offensive line coach
Running game coordinator
Steve AddazioFrank Verducci
Wide receivers coach
Recruiting coordinator
Zach AzzanniAubrey Hill
Tight ends coachBrian WhiteDerek Lewis
Linebackers coach
Special teams coordinator
D.J. DurkinD.J. Durkin
Defensive backs coachAustin/Chuck Heater*Travaris Robinson
Strength & conditioningMickey MarottiMickey Marotti

*McCarney was also assistant head coach; Heater held the role of co-defensive coordinator. Muschamp has not named an assistant (or associate) head coach as of press time.

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