FOUR BITS: Zunino, APR, Fowler, Marotti

1 » One of the most accomplished players in the history of Florida Gators baseball, catcher Mike Zunino has been called up to the major leagues and will suit up for the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, Zunino is hitting just .238 with 11 home runs for the Tacoma Rainiers, Seattle’s Triple-A affiliate. Chances are Zunino’s call up is as a temporary replacement for rookie C Jesus Sucre, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list by the Mariners on Saturday. Unless Zunino starts dominating immediately on the major league level (or even if he does), he will likely be sent back down so the year he is eligible for arbitration is not bumped up a season. “So far the transition has been pretty good,” Zunino told the Seattle Post-Inteligencer as part of a recent feature story. “For me it’s one of those things where it’s all about how you prepare mentally and physically, and taking care of yourself. Ultimately that gives you the best chance to succeed.”

2 » The NCAA released the official Academic Progress Rates for the 2011-12 athletic season with all the numbers coming in positive for the Gators. Florida’s football team finished with an APR of 968, tied with Georgia for fourth-best in the Southeastern Conference behind Missouri, Alabama and Vanderbilt. UF basketball scored a 989, checking in one spot back of UGA.

3 » The Gainesville Sun’s Robbie Andreu penned an interesting feature over the weekend on Gators sophomore Buck linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr. and how his decision to play for Florida has affected his father, a long-time die-hard Florida State fan. “We gave [all the FSU shirts and hats] away,” Fowler said. “Everything FSU is gone. Strictly Gator. All Gator stuff now. It was a little hard for [my dad] at first, but he started wearing some of the Florida stuff to go to the barber shop and everyone would say, ‘You’re wearing orange and blue now.’ Everything FSU is gone. We turned him around. He’s actually glad now that I made the decision to come here. I think in the end, this was the best decision for me. I’m just very happy now.” The feature also looks at Fowler’s successful freshman season, how he is preparing for his second year, and his admiration for his new “big brother,” redshirt junior Buck LB Ronald Powell.

4 » Speaking of features, CBS Sports columnist Bruce Feldman wrote one Tuesday on Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer from the perspective of the team’s assistant athletic director for football sports performance, Micky Marotti. In the piece, Mariotti kind of brags that Meyer was able to nab defensive end Noah Spence, who he notes was the No. 1 player at that position end on Gators head coach Will Muschamp’s recruiting board. He also explains how Meyer has changed from his time at Florida. “He’s a lot less likely to fly off the handle,” Marotti said. “I think he’s at a point, where you try to teach and educate and cultivate your players, but ultimately it’s their decision to make the right or wrong decision out there in the world. He’s done a tremendous, Emmy award-winning job coaching our coaches in philosophy, methodology and recruiting. I see it all. He’s really into teaching.”

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Tim Tebow takes snaps in New York Jets OTAs

The story of the day coming out of New York Jets organized team activities was new quarterback Tim Tebow throwing consecutive interceptions during 7-on-7 drills

His miscues undoubtedly caught the eye of the media in attendance with many saying (in what could be described as either a joking, serious or joke-serious manner) that the quarterback competition in New York is already coming to an end.

But to paraphrase a tweet by Sports Illustrated’s Peter King: That’s as absurd as saying, during spring training, if a guy competing to play first base strikes out his first two times at bat that the competition is over.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” said Tebow of his two interceptions, according to the New York Daily News. “But it’s 7-on-7. Those plays…were the first time I ran them. So I’ll learn from it. Honestly, it won’t bother me again. When you make the bad play, you got to put it behind you and move on. I felt like I did.”

Though Tebow was in a brand new environment running an entirely new offense on Thursday, there was a familiar face in the crowd as former Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer watched practice from the sidelines. Tebow said after the workout that Meyer and former Florida strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti flew into New Jersey on Wednesday and he had dinner with Meyer that night.

The Daily News also reports that Tebow spent time during practice as the personal punt protector on special teams; he saw action back there for the first time on Monday and is expected to be on special teams on occasion in order to provide a different look and give the opposition something to think about.

Tebow also got a bit of grief from his teammates upon entering the locker room following practice. According to multiple reports, players chanted “Lolo, Lolo,” in reference to fellow virgin and U.S. Olympian hurdler Lolo Jones, when he walked inside the facility. Jones, upon learning of this occurrence, first tweeted, “Hello by Lionel Richie is now on repeat on my ipod,” and followed that up with another tweet:

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Gators pick up option on Muschamp through 2016

Head coach Will Muschamp has received a one-year extension from the Florida Gators and is now under contract with the school through 2016.

Sporting News’s Matt Hayes, who first reported the move Friday afternoon, said Muschamp’s one-year extension does not come with an increase in salary and that his original five-year, $13.75 million contract is now a six-year deal worth $16.5 million.

“Coach Muschamp’s original contract was for five years with an option year,” Florida spokesperson Steve McClain said in a statement after the report was released. “The [University Athletic Association] exercised that option year in January and he now has five years remaining on his current contract.”

In his first year at the helm of the Gators’ program, Muschamp led Florida to a 7-6 record, capping off a .500 regular season with a 24-17 victory over Ohio State in the 2012 Gator Bowl on Jan. 2.

He recently corralled the No. 3 recruiting class in the country, according to Rivals.com, and already has 10 high school football player committed to the Gators for 2013.

Muschamp’s first year with Florida was not without plenty of ups and downs. The Gators’ transition to a pro-style offense was a rocky one. However, UF’s defense was ranked No. 8 nationally at season’s end and showed plenty of promise heading into 2012.

He made a splash before the season began by hiring Charlie Weis to run Florida’s offense, but the unit did not produce as many expected and Weis ended up leaving to take the head coaching job at Kansas. Muschamp rebounded by hiring Boise State offensive coordinator Brent Pease, a highly-regarded coach who was also coveted by Alabama head coach Nick Saban, in January.

The Gators also lost director of strength and conditioning Mickey Marotti when former Florida head coach Urban Meyer took the Ohio State job, but Muschamp rebounded again and secured the services of Jeff Dillman, the (now former) head of physical conditioning for the IMG Performance Institute.

Muschamp’s first 13 months have also been punctuated with 10 player arrests including eight for either underage drinking or marijuana possession, one for driving with a suspended license and restating arrest, and one for misdemeanor domestic assault. Three of the nine players arrested are no longer with the Gators’ football program.

Details of Muschamp’s contract as released on May 5, 2011.

Photo Credit: Erica Brough/Gainesville Sun

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Jeff Dillman hired as Florida strength coach

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp has chosen Jeff Dillman as his team’s new strength and conditioning coordinator, the University of Florida announced on Tuesday.

Two sources close to the program told OGGOA last month that Dillman was considered a top candidate for the position and the likely successor to Mickey Marotti.

The former director of strength and conditioning at Appalachian State, Dillman met Muschamp when both were assistants at LSU. The former was a strength coach, while the latter was a linebackers coach and later a defensive coordinator under Nick Saban.

“What I like about Coach Muschamp is his intensity and his fire and his directness,” Dillman said. “That’s the same way I coach. I believe in coaching kids. I don’t believe in crossing your arms and putting your hands in your pockets. I’m a big, big believer in if you coach them hard in the weight room, and you coach them hard in running, when they get out on that field, it’s easy for them. It’s all about eliminating that gray area.”

During his three years at LSU, he worked with teams that have won BCS National Championships, competed in the Final Four and played in the College World Series.

“The strength coach is such an important part of your program,” Muschamp said in a school release. “Jeff has a championship pedigree. He’s been a part of several championship teams and that’s what we’re trying to be here at the University of Florida. He is my voice in the weight room when the coaches can’t have contact with the players. It’s very important for someone to share the same philosophies and approach as I do on how to build a championship program.”

He played football at Elon and Appalachian State and also served as an assistant strength coach at Louisiana-Monroe before taking the job at his alma mater. He has worked since 2009 as the head of physical conditioning at IMG Performance Institute.

In addition to earning bachelor’s of science degrees from Elon (exercise science) and Appalachian State (exercise science, concentration strength & conditioning), Dillman is in progress of completing a master’s of education from Louisiana-Monroe.

He is also a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCa) and American Football Coaches Association (AFCA).

Dillman does not, however, hold the Master of Strength and Conditioning classification that Marotti did, which made the former Florida assistant one of only 100 strength trainers in the country who possess that designation.

Muschamp and Dillman will also look to replace Florida’s former assistant director for strength and conditioning (football) Scott Holsopple, who left the program to take the top job at Kansas, according to CoachingSearch.com.

VIDEOS: Jeff Dillman speaks to the Manatee High School football team (1-2-3-4-5-6)

Photo Credit: Appalachian State University

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FOUR BITS: Noah, chomp, strength, baseball

1 » Participating in a preseason game for the Chicago Bulls Tuesday night, former Florida Gators center Joakim Noah gave Indiana’s Tyler Hansbrough a bit of a reality check as he stuffed his shot right at the basket. Check out the video below:

2 » Appearing on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno alongside play-by-play man Al Michaels last Thursday, former Florida wide receiver and current NBC color commentator Cris Collinsworth discussed getting into broadcasting and the play of Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. The entire show is viewable below; however, if you are just interested in watching Collinsworth do the Gator Chomp upon entering the studio, skip to 18:55 (thanks to OGGOA reader Eli M. for the heads-up).

3 » As the Gators look for a replacement for strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti, one name that a source close to the program told OGGOA is in contention for the position is former director of strength and conditioning at Appalachian State Jeff Dillman. An assistant strength coach at LSU when now-Florida head coach Will Muschamp was an assistant under Nick Saban, Dillman played football at Elon and Appalachian State, was also an assistant strength coach at Louisiana-Monroe and is now the head of physical conditioning for the IMG Performance Institute. OGGOA reached out to Dillman, but our message has not been returned as of press time.

4 » With football season coming to an end and basketball in full swing, baseball is next on the docket among the major Gators sports programs. Florida got an early start to what is expected to be another stellar season by earning a No. 1 preseason ranking in Collegiate Baseball’s “Fabulous 40” poll. The Gators, which were swept in the 2011 College World Series Championship Series by South Carolina, will begin the season ranked one spot ahead of the Gamecocks, CB ranks the No. 2 team into the country. Florida is stocked full of talent on the mound, in the batter’s box and on the field and will likely be the national pick to win the 2012 title.

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Floyd stepped up; players on Meyer, Marotti, Weis

With the Florida Gators hoping to end the season on a high note with a victory in the 2012 Gator Bowl against the Ohio State Buckeyes, three players were made available to the media Tuesday to discuss a number of topics.

FLOYD DID “WHAT’S BEST FOR THE TEAM”

A career defensive tackle, sophomore Sharrif Floyd moved to defensive end before the season began at the request of head coach Will Muschamp, who was searching for a capable starter and depth at a very shallow position. “It was good on my part because it shows that I can do more than just what I’m here for. I can do what’s best for the team and learn things the best I can. I think it was a good fit for my resume this year,” Floyd said, putting a positive spin on the move.

With redshirt senior Jaye Howard and sophomore Dominique Easley manning the inside, Floyd played out of position on the end but still finished sixth on the team (and second on the defensive line) in tackles with 44 (18 solo, five for loss). “As I started to progress at D-end, I started noticing more teams just not coming my way. It was frustrating but at the end of the day it was make a play however it happens,” he said. “It was frustrating at the beginning until I started talked to my coaches about it. They told me to just hang in there and work with them. I did what was best for the team and came out as one of the leaders in tackles.”

That is exactly what Floyd did and though the plan was always for him to move back inside in 2012, Easley tearing his ACL has prompted that move to occur one game earlier. “[I’m] definitely more comfortable,” Floyd said of moving back to tackle. “Don’t like the way it happened or the reason why I went back in[side], but it happens in the game of football. I can’t be more excited. Three-technique is definitely my position now and until I’m done. Since I’ve been playing over eight-nine years now, I’ve been at D-tackle. I know it. I know all the blocks. I know what’s coming at me. There’s no thinking, there’s just going. I understand it a little more and there’s no need to be patient at D-tackle.”

PLAYERS ONLY SLIGHTLY FAZED BY DEPARTURES

Floyd, junior safety Josh Evans and redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose each spoke about the impact and provided their unique opinions on former head coach Urban Meyer taking a new job at Ohio State, strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti leaving Florida to join him, and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis taking the head coaching position with Kansas.

Floyd on how the team felt about Meyer’s decision: “There’s a lot of the guys on the team. We all got own opinions about things. I can’t really talk for everyone else but for me personally, I think that’s good for him. He’s going to do what’s best for him and his family. No hard feelings over here. If I saw the guy today, I would still shake his hand, talk to him, have a normal conversation. That’s the name of the game and it can happen anywhere. Congrats and good luck to him.”

Evans on Meyer’s choice and if the team was angry: “It was a shock. It was a little surprising, but we moved on and we’re past it. […] He’s a good coach, and I wish the best for him. […] I’m pretty sure there are some people that feel some type of way about it, but we don’t really discuss it as much.”

Evans on Marotti being a huge loss for the Gators: “That was big for us because he was a good coach and like a father to some players. That was a big loss because we came in here and basically everybody knew him as the strength coach. We got [Scott Holsopple] now and he’s a good strength coach, too. We kind of figured once Meyer took the job that it was a chance he probably was going to leave because we knew they were close, so everybody kind of had a heads-up on it.”

Debose on Weis suddenly departing: “It was a total shock. We had no clue that he was leaving. My reaction was that he had a great opportunity to be a head coach. I wouldn’t turn that down either. I wish him the best of luck.”

Debose on if Meyer’s decision or Marotti moving on was tougher: “Coach Marotti was just as important as Coach Meyer. I think Coach Marotti was a bigger shock to everybody because that’s our strength coach. He makes a lot of good decisions and he helps our bodies. For him to leave, that was a big shock.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Floyd on Muschamp’s proclamation that training camp was not hard enough: “If coach thinks it should have been tougher, than it should have been tougher. I’m behind whatever he wants to do.”

» Evans on redshirt sophomore cornerback Jeremy Brown not playing: “To me that was a big loss because when I came in that was one of the first guys I met. Seeing him not play was difficult for me because we are real tight like brothers. He should be healthy after the season so he can get back in the spring and hopefully he can [play].”

» Debose on interim offensive coordinator Brian White: “Coach White is a great play caller. He has a track record; he has done it before. I’m behind him 100 percent. Coach White is a genius I feel like.”

» Debose said he had to work on his consistency each practice and looked to redshirt senior WR Deonte Thompson as a model of consistency and high effort for him to follow.

» Debose on having so many transfers this year: “All I can say about that is: If you don’t want to be a Gator, you won’t be a Gator. And if you don’t, you’ll leave. They left.”

» Debose on how redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley will be thought of after the bowl game: “I think John Brantley will be remembered as a hard worker, great guy, good football player. I want him to go out with a bang. I want him to have a career game for the bowl game. Even if he didn’t, I would still think he had a solid career, but I want him to go out like a champ in his last game.”

» Debose on Muschamp hiring a replacement offensive coordinator: “Whoever he brings in, we know that he’s going to be the best for this program. We’re behind him 100 percent.”

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Muschamp confident in future of Gators offense

Losing offensive coordinator Charlie Weis – a four-time Super Bowl winner – to a head coaching job with the Kansas Jayhawks after just one year wearing orange and blue may be a tough pill to swallow for some. Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp, however, is confident that his team will not miss a step either in the 2012 Gator Bowl on Jan. 2 against the Ohio State Buckeyes or going forward next season.

After he confirmed that Weis would be leaving the team at a bowl game press conference Thursday in Jacksonville, FL , Muschamp announced that running backs coach Brian White would take over play calling duties for the contest.

“Brian’s an experienced play caller. He’s a great idea guy. He’s been a coordinator before. He’s had tremendous success as a coordinator before, and he’s a guy I got tremendous confidence in,” he said.

Though White will be a substitute in the interim and may be a candidate for the permanent job, Muschamp does not know who will be taking over long term. He does, however, know the direction the offense is going to be heading.

“We are going to remain a pro-style offense, and I will go hire the best offensive coordinator in the country,” he said. “We need to improve offensively; it’s pretty obvious. We look forward to taking those steps forward.”

He did not express a shred of trepidation when saying that he and the Gators will have no problem finding the right replacement.

“We’re at the University of Florida. We’re going to be able to hire an outstanding football coach that’s going to fit what I want done within our offense and within our systems. That’s what we’re going to do, and I’m going to take my time on it to make sure we hire the right guy and get the right fit,” he said.

Weis is the third staff member to leave Florida since the regular season finale against Florida State. Strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti and director of football operations Mark Pantoni both left UF to join former head coach Urban Meyer’s new staff at Ohio State. Offensive line coach Frank Verducci, a close friend of Weis’s, may also follow him to Kansas, though that remains to be seen.

Despite a few defections, Muschamp refused to say the staff has been “raided” and remains confident in the coaching staff staying by his side heading into 2012.

“Our staff hasn’t been raided,” he said. “Our strength coach left with a guy that he’s been friends with for 25 years, and I totally understood that was a possibility when I retained Mickey. But Mickey’s a good strength coach and he did a good job for us. And our offensive coordinator got a head coaching job, a multi-million dollar deal. That’s not getting raided.

“When you’re at the University of Florida, and you hire a really good staff, what a compliment it is to the job you did hiring people that other people want your coaches. You know what? We’re going to hire really good coaches. Next year, we’re going to win, and they’re going to come want to get our coaches again. It’s a great problem to have. You know what? There are a bunch of people calling my cell phone – that is off right now – that want to come to the University of Florida.”

ADDITIONAL NOTES

» Muschamp, when asked if he had guys in mind for the offensive coordinator job, lit up and responded, “Oh yeah.”

» When asked if Jacksonville head coach Kerwin Bell was a possibility, he did not dismiss the notion whatsoever. “I know Kerwin. He’s an outstanding football coach and certainly will be under consideration,” he said.”

» Muschamp said having a prior relationship with his new hire is not the most important thing but “it would help obviously because you know them a little bit better and, when the bullets start flying, you know how they’re going to respond and react.”

» Asked if he would be leaning on any of his coaching friends for advice, Muschamp quipped, “Most of my friends we got to beat, so no.”

» Most of all, Muschamp is interested in having continuity in the staff in the future. “If guys get a promotion and guys get a step up, I think that’s great and I support it. It says a lot about the guys you hire – that they do a good job, are good football coaches, are good men and are good recruiters. I’m very pleased with the continuity of our staff and do not anticipate any changes moving forward,” he said.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

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OGGOA Week In Review: Nov. 27 – Dec. 4

Considering so much has gone on over the past week in regards to the Florida Gators, the OGGOA Week In Review returns for its second edition. (Yes, it covers an eight-day period, but let’s just all agree to ignore that.) Be sure to check out all of the posts that have been written this week just in case you happened to miss a thing or two.

OGGOA COLUMNS
» An in-depth look at former Florida head coach Urban Meyer going to the Ohio State Buckeyes was published in the latest edition of The Silver Lining. The 3,500-word piece looks at Meyer’s decision from every possible angle (some tidbits you will not find elsewhere are included) and provides you with all the information you need in order to draw your own conclusion.

» OGGOA had the unique opportunity to review “The Play That Changed College Football,” the latest edition of the ESPN documentary series SEC Storied.

» Following Florida basketball’s loss to the No. 3/4 Syracuse Orange, former Gators forward Adam Allen posted the latest edition of Allen’s Alley, explaining in what areas Florida has room for improvement.

EXTRA
While Al Michaels and Bob Costas are discussing the Denver Broncos improving to 6-1 this season with quarterback Tim Tebow starting, former Gators wide receiver now NBC color commentator Cris Collinsworth does the Gator Chomp. (Thanks to OGGOA follower Chaz.)

FOOTBALL
» Meyer agreed to coach the Buckeyes beginning in 2012. His signing was officially announced prior to OSU introducing him at an on-campus press conference. In between, UF athletic director Jeremy Foley wished Meyer the best of luck with his new employer.

» Two Gators – redshirt freshmen safety Joshua Shaw and defensive end Lynden Traildecided to transfer on Tuesday. Shaw and Trail each chose to transfer for different reasons, and OGGOA also spoke with Trail for an exclusive interview about his decision and promise to remain a Florida fan.

» Former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow was announced as the cover athlete for the premiere edition of NFL Magazine, set to go on sale Dec. 13 for $4.99.

» OGGOA confirmed that strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti would join Meyer and has already left the program for the Buckeyes.

» Florida announced that it accepted an invitation to the 2012 Gator Bowl.

» While on the media teleconference to officially accept the bowl bid, Gators head coach Will Muschamp confirmed Marotti’s departure, said sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley will undergo surgery on his ACL Wednesday and discussed a number of other topics relating to the bowl game.

» Florida four-star running back recruit Mike Davis (Stone Mountain, GA) decommitted from the Gators after a significant miscommunication with the coaching staff and completely eliminated UF from his list.

BASKETBALL
» One of the greatest television commercials to feature a college coach was published on OGGOA for your enjoyment. Florida head coach Billy Donovan does a press conference praising the variety of offerings from Florida Gulf Seafood.

» Donovan earned his 400th career win as UF routed the Stetson Hatters 96-70 Monday evening. Freshman guard Bradley Beal led the way with career-highs of 22 points and 10 rebounds. He also discussed what winning his 400th college basketball game meant on a number of levels.

» It was determined that junior forward Erik Murphy did not tear his meniscus but rather had a deep bone bruise and may be able to return for the Arizona game on Wednesday.

» Despite it being a close game throughout, the Gators fell to the Orange 72-68 on the road in Syracuse, NY. Junior G Kenny Boynton started slow but finished with 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting.

» Following Florida’s loss to Syracuse, Donovan pointed to turnovers, poor rebounding and players missing in action as the reasons why UF struggled. Redshirt junior G Mike Rosario was benched during the contest because Donovan was not pleased with where his head was at heading into and during the game.

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