FOUR BITS: Baseball ranked, Buffalo hires coach

1 » The Florida Gators baseball team has been ranked No. 9 in Collegiate Baseball’s preseason top 40 poll released Sunday. 2009 SEC Eastern Division Champions, the Gators were 42-22 overall in 2009 and advanced to the NCAA Super Regional in the postseason. The only SEC team ranked higher in the poll is the LSU Tigers at No. 2.

2 » Florida women’s basketball (5-5) defeated the Southern Jaguars (6-3) 62-35 in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Sunday in the first round of the Gator Holiday Classic. Sophomore center Azania Stewart scored a career-high 18 points as she led the Gators to victory. Florida will take on the High Point Panthers for the tournament title at 7 p.m. on Monday.

3 » Further fleecing the Cincinnati Bearcats staff, the Buffalo Bulls have hired Jeff Quinn (Cincinnati’s interim coach after Brian Kelly left for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish) as its new head coach. Though Quinn will not start until after the 2010 Sugar Bowl, his hiring spells relief for Gators fans who were hoping neither cornerbacks coach Vance Bedford nor quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler would be hired away for the job.

4 » Seniors quarterback Tim Tebow and softball pitcher Stacey Nelson, along with 28 other Florida student-athletes, graduated on Saturday. Here are two pictures:

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A whirlwind for Azzanni as Meyer still searches

Less than 24 hours after Billy Gonzales stepped down from his post to become the passing game coordinator for the LSU Tigers, Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer had Zach Azzanni locked up as his new wide receivers coach. Soon after that, Azzanni did a 360 on the recruiting trail, leaving the Central Michigan Chippewas‘s prospects behind and focusing on the Gators’ targets.

For the past week, Azzanni has been feeling his way around – going on recruiting trips, meeting his new coaching mates, getting to know Florida’s current players and finding a place to live as he survives out of his suitcase. On Friday, he participated in his first practice and is still trying to get his feet on the ground. “It’s been a blur to me,” Azzanni told the press Friday. “It happened fast. I got a call last week and got off the road for Central Michigan and got on the road for the University of Florida. This is a dream job and a chance of a lifetime to come and coach with the defending National Champions, and I’m going to take it.”

Since he left CMU, Azzanni’s former head coach Butch Jones also vacated his position, replacing Brian Kelly as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats. The media immediately named Azzanni one of the top candidates to replace Jones, even though he had just accepted his new position with the Gators. While he could very well be under consideration, Azzanni has yet to be contacted about the position.

“Hey, that’s flattering,” he said of the speculation. “It’s my alma mater and a great place. But I’m a Gator and I’m here, let’s go. I have not been contacted by them. It’s just rumors and things I can’t control. I don’t know [if they will contact me]. I’m not going to speculate. I’m here wearing a Gator on my shirt and coaching the wideouts as hard as I can.”

Cornerbacks coach Lance Bedford and quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler have also been rumored as candidates for head coaching and coordinator jobs, but Meyer said he has not yet been contacted by any schools asking permission to speak with them. “I just hired a guy and I hear his name is up [for a head coaching job],” Meyer said. “I’ve been blessed with some great coaches. Eventually coach [Steve] Addazio will be a head coach. Charlie [Strong], you knew that was a matter of time. We just have to keep going. This is Florida and you should have great coaches.”

As far as filling Strong’s open defensive coordinator position, Meyer said he has not achieved much on that front. “I’ve been on the road. I just got back,” he said. “I’ve been working the phones and getting bombarded [by interview requests]. There are a lot of things to consider. I don’t want to comment [on who I might hire]. I’m still at the ground stages of it. It’s the puzzle, the alignment.”

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Gators football honored on SI All-Decade lists

Sports Illustrated followed up its college basketball All-Decade lists published on Wednesday with a number of college football All-Decade lists Thursday, and the Florida Gators earned their way toward a few notable distinctions. In the main article, where SI went over the highlights and lowlights of the decade, the Gators took home three of the top honors: Player of the Decade, Best Coach and Signature Play.

PLAYER OF THE DECADE: Tim Tebow, Florida
A star from the day he set foot on campus, Tebow will graduate with two SEC championships, two BCS titles and a Heisman Trophy. He is 34-6 as a starter and set SEC career records for total yards (11,699), rushing touchdowns (56), total touchdowns (141) and rushing yards by a quarterback (2,899). His impact, though, extended beyond the box score. “I don’t think I have ever seen a better leader,” said Florida State coach Bobby Bowden.

BEST COACH: Urban Meyer, Bowling Green/Utah/Florida
Meyer, who became a head coach in 2001, turned around three programs this decade thanks to a hypercompetitive personality and relentless zeal for recruiting. He leads all active coaches with an .841 winning percentage (minimum five years) and is the only coach to win two BCS championships. Bowling Green, 2-9 the year before his arrival, went 17-6 in Meyer’s two seasons. Utah went 22-2 under his watch. Florida has gone 56-10 in his five seasons.

SIGNATURE PLAY: The Tim Tebow “jump pass”
Florida coaches Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen first broke out their throwback play in a 2006 game against LSU. Facing second-and-goal at the one, Tebow faked like he was running for the end zone, stopped, jumped into the air, double-clutched like a basketball player, then lobbed a touchdown pass to Tate Casey. Most memorably, Tebow used the play to throw a game-sealing TD to David Nelson in the 2008 BCS Championship Game against Oklahoma — this time on a perfect spiral with no hesitation.

Though Florida is well-represented on that list, the recognition did not stop. Tebow’s speech following the Gators’ loss to the Ole Miss Rebels on Sept. 27, 2008, named “The Promise,” was No. 5 on SI’s 10 signature moments of the decade. “Following an inexplicable 31-30 home loss to Ole Miss, Tebow finished his usual question-and-answer session, but the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner wasn’t done talking,” Andy Staples writes. “Tebow honored his pledge. The Gators won their next 10 games, outscoring opponents 469-131. Florida rolled to the BCS title, and after the season, the school memorialized Tebow’s promise by inscribing it on a plaque that stands outside Florida Field.”

Tebow was also named as the starting quarterback for SI’s All-Decade Team. “A star from the day he set foot on campus, Tebow will graduate with two SEC championships, two BCS titles and a Heisman Trophy,” writes Stewart Mandel. “He is 34-6 as a starter and set SEC career records for total yards (11,699), rushing touchdowns (56), total touchdowns (141) and rushing yards by a quarterback (2,899). His impact, though, extended beyond the box score. ‘I don’t think I have ever seen a better leader,’ said Florida State coach Bobby Bowden.”

Mandel followed that up by naming Meyer as the All-Decade Team’s head coach. “Meyer, who became a head coach in 2001, turned around three programs this decade thanks to a hypercompetitive personality and relentless zeal for recruiting. He leads all active coaches with an .841 winning percentage (minimum five years) and is the only coach to win two BCS championships. Bowling Green, 2-9 the year before his arrival, went 17-6 in Meyer’s two seasons. Utah went 22-2 under his watch. Florida has gone 56-10 in his five seasons.”

SI is not done either. Tebow’s Heisman Trophy-worthy performance against the South Carolina Gamecocks on Nov. 10, 2007, earned him one of the decade’s most memorable college football performances. “Heisman Trophy voters had almost come around to the idea of giving the award to a sophomore when the Gators traveled to Columbia. In case anyone was still on the fence, Tebow erased all doubt, throwing for two touchdowns and rushing for five more in a 51-31 win. “That was a Heisman performance tonight,” Florida coach Urban Meyer said. “In fact, it was one of the best performances by a football player that I have ever seen.””

It was not all sunny for Florida on these lists. The Gators were the No. 8 entry on lists for the Top 10 College Football Games of the 2000s and Top 10 College Football Upsets of the 2000s for losses to the LSU Tigers (24-28 in 2007) and the Tennessee Volunteers (32-34 in 2001), respectively.

Referring back to the initial list, Mandel tabbed the Southeastern Conference the decade’s Best Conference and the spread-option as the Best Innovation of the decade.

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Gators hire Zach Azzanni as new WR coach

The Florida Gators have tabbed Central Michigan Chippewas wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni to fill the same position on their staff, according to numerous sources. Hired to replace Billy Gonzales, who has taken the “passing game coordinator” job with the LSU Tigers, Azzanni was picked as a graduate assistant by Florida head coach Urban Meyer when he accepted the Bowling Green Falcons coaching gig in 2001-02.

“He is a tireless worker, relentless recruiter, and a great teacher of fundamentals,” Meyer said. “He is also very familiar with our philosophy and will be a good fit with our players and staff.”

Meyer, a former WR coach himself with the Ohio State Buckeyes, Illinois State Red Birds, Colorado State Rams and Notre Dame Fighting Irish, spent less than 24 hours making his decision on who would replace Gonzales. Azzanni has coached WRs with the Valparaiso Crusaders (1999-2000), Falcons (2003-06) and Chippewas (2007-09), earning a promotion to assistant head coach at Central Michigan before the 2009 season.

“I’ve known Coach Meyer for a number of years and it will be great to be coaching with him again,” Azzanni said. “I’m excited to be joining the Florida football staff and becoming a part of the Gator Nation.”

This season, Azzanni’s top two receivers with the Chippewas are widely considered the best duo in the nation, combining for 49 touchdown receptions. Bryan Anderson (who has set an NCAA record with a catch in 53 straight games) and Antonio Brown (who has a streak of his own with 40 consecutive games with a catch) have topped 3,500 and 3,000 yards receiving in their respective Central Michigan careers. While with Bowling Green, Azzanni’s pass catchers broke almost every school receiving record with five going on to eventually sign NFL contracts.

OGGOA will update this story as more information is made available.

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CHOMPING On: Effect of Billy Gonzales’ departure

Covering the Florida Gators as close as I do every day, I often find the need to vent regarding some of the coverage, news, opinions and general sentiments surrounding the program. In those instances, OGGOA presents CHOMPING On:

You are the wide receivers coach at one of the best programs in college football. You are a respected recruiter. You have known the head coach for almost two decades and have coached under him for the last eight seasons. You are passed over for an offensive coordinator position by said coach who, instead, gave it to an offensive line coach even though you were a successful red zone playcaller the previous season. Your name is Billy Gonzales, and you have just left the Florida Gators and head coach Urban Meyer to become the “passing game coordinator” for the LSU Tigers.

Was Gonzales’ departure really that surprising? Is it truly a big deal in the long-run? The answer to both of these questions is “No,” and I am here to tell you exactly why.
Continue Reading » CHOMPING On: Effect of Billy Gonzales’ departure

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Florida WR coach Gonzales splitting for LSU

Florida Gators wide receiver coach and recruiting coordinator Billy Gonzales has accepted a “passing game coordinator” and WR coach position with the LSU Tigers. Apparently head coach Urban Meyer had already begun informing his team’s commitments and recruits that Gonzales will no longer be with Florida prior to this story being leaked Thursday evening.

Aside from having lost two important coaches in the past 48 hours, the Gators are also losing two top recruiters in new Louisville Cardinals head coach Charlie Strong and Gonzales just two months before National Signing Day. Gonzales was a strong recruiter for Florida in the talent-rich South Florida area and has been responsible for the majority of the Gators’ offensive playmaker commitments over the last few years.

Meyer and Gonzales have a long-standing relationship, going back to when the former coached the latter while with the Colorado State Rams over a decade ago. Gonzales has worked under Meyer for the last eight seasons, and a move that appears to be more lateral than promotional may have come due to the fact that offensive line coach Steve Addazio was promoted to offensive coordinator this season instead of Gonzales.

Rumors are swirling that Meyer is expected to hire Zach Azzanni, the current assistant head coach/WR coach with the Central Michigan Chippewas, to replace Gonzales. Azzanni coached the Bowling Green Falcons WRs from 2003-06, after Meyer left the program in 2002, though he was a graduate assistant under Meyer from 2001-02 and works at the Gators’ football camps every summer.

OGGOA will continue to update this story as more information comes to light.

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Soccer moves on in NCAAs as volleyball falls

Earning a No. 3 regional seed in the 2009 NCAA Championship, the Florida Gators soccer team (16-5-2, 8-1-2 SEC) took down the Illinois State Redbirds (12-7-1, 5-1 MVC) 2-0 in the first round of the tournament Friday night at the Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus, OH. Going scoreless in the first half, the Gators turned it on after the break as sophomore Tahnai Annis and redshirt freshman McKenzie Barney scored two goals in a seven-minute span. Florida has advanced in the tournament and will face the Oregon State Beavers (13-7-1, 4-5 Pac 10) on Sunday at 1 p.m. in second round action.

Coming off an eight match streak where they swept each opponent in straight sets, the No. 10/11 Florida volleyball team (20-4, 14-3 SEC) was taken to task by the No. 19/17 LSU Tigers Friday evening in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The Tigers beat the Gators 3-1 (24-26, 25-23, 25-19, 25-17), sweeping the regular season series between the two teams. LSU’s Brittnee Cooper and Marina Skender combined for 36 of 52 kills while Florida was led by sophomore outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel and her team-high 18 kills. Sophomore right-side/setter Kelly Murphy recorded her nation-leading eight triple-double of the season and the 14th of her career with 13 kills on .333 hitting with 29 assists and 15 digs. The Gators hit the road next weekend, traveling to Knoxville, TN, to face the Tennessee Volunteers on Friday, Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. Florida swept Tennessee in straight sets on Oct. 4.

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Gators women’s sports set for big day Friday

Three University of Florida women’s sports teams are set for action on Friday, each beginning one hour after another. First up is the Florida Gators soccer team (15-5-2, 8-1-2 SEC), which is in Columbus, OH, for the first round of the NCAA Championship. The Gators will face the Illinois State Redbirds (12-6-1, 5-1 MVC) at 5 p.m. at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. The winner of the match will face the victor of the Ohio State Buckeyes and Oregon State Beavers game on Sunday in second round action.

Also on the docket for Friday, the softball team (4-0) will host Chipola College in what is basically preseason action at 6 p.m. at Pressly Softball Stadium. So far this season, the Gators have played two games each against Santa Fe College and Seminole College, coming out victorious in all with an average 6.25 run margin of victory.

To close out the evening, No. 10 Florida volleyball (20-3, 14-2 SEC) will take on the Southeastern Conference West division-leading No. 19 LSU Tigers (20-5, 14-2 SEC). Since being swept 3-0 by the Tigers on Oct. 11 in Baton Rouge, LA, the Gators have been playing outstanding, scoring sweeps against eight consecutive opponents. Florida and LSU are tied for second place in the league standings with a victory Friday going a long way for the Gators. The game will air live from the Stephen C. O’Connell Center at 7 p.m. on SUN Sports.

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