Sea change is on Florida’s horizon
NEW ORLEANS - With orange and blue confetti falling and a Sugar Bowl trophy being passed around, Florida coach Urban Meyer reiterated his plans for the future.
Tentative plans, anyway.
“In my gut I feel like I’ll be back,’’ Meyer said after Florida’s 51-24 victory over No. 4 Cincinnati Friday night. “I just want to make sure my family and health are No. 1. I’ve just got to get that right.’’
Until then, the fifth-ranked Gators (13-1) will be surrounded by uncertainty - the latest and greatest distraction for a team coming off a chaotic season.
Talk about Meyer’s chest pains, hospital stay, brief resignation, indefinite leave of absence, and potential return will linger throughout the offseason.
Sure, there will be news about juniors leaving early, staff changes, and offensive tweaks following the end of quarterback Tim Tebow’s tenure. But nothing will garner as much attention as Meyer’s situation.
How long will he be gone? How will his absence affect recruiting and his assistants? What happens if he decides he doesn’t want to coach again?
“It’s very hard,’’ offensive coordinator and interim coach Steve Addazio said. “You don’t want to see anybody you care about go through what he’s going through right now. That’s why it’s so very important to give him this peace, this stability, that he knows this program is in good shape and in good hands and going well.
“That’s what we’re going to do. We owe him and we love the guy. That’s all that matters, just keep it going that way.’’
The Gators headed back to Gainesville, Fla., yesterday with a championship trophy, commemorative hats and T-shirts, and some redemption after a humbling loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference title game last month.
Florida dominated the Bearcats from the start. Tebow threw for a school-record 482 yards and finished with a Bowl Championship Series-record 533 total yards, breaking Vince Young’s mark set in the 2005 title game against Southern California.
Tebow completed 31 of 35 passes, accounted for four touchdowns, and capped his storied college career with his finest performance.
“All those critics, take that,’’ running backs coach Kenny Carter said.
Tebow accepted the Most Valuable Player trophy, sang the fight song with Meyer, and then took one final victory lap. He even spent a few minutes with Boomer Hornbeck, an 8-year-old from Atlanta who’s confined to a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy.
“To finish it off like this was special,’’ Tebow said.
It wasn’t quite what the Gators wanted, though.
Tebow and his teammates openly talked about wanting to lead the program to its first perfect season and repeat as national champions. Sky-high expectations ensued, and Florida faced varying levels of adversity just about every week. Meyer even called it the “year of stuff.’’
It included flu-like symptoms that ravaged the team; Tebow’s concussion; hijacked cellphone numbers; linebacker Brandon Spikes’s eye-gouging incident; Meyer’s $30,000 fine for criticizing officials; defensive end Carlos Dunlap’s drunk-driving arrest; some close games; a few controversial calls; and what seemed like a season-long offensive slump.
Meyer’s ordeal topped it all.
Meyer, Addazio, and athletic director Jeremy Foley plan to sit down this week and discuss how things will be handled during the coach’s leave of absence. When asked what his role would be over the next month, Meyer sounded as though he expects to stay involved.
“I’m going to do everything I can to keep this train going in the right direction,’’ Meyer said.
It starts with recruiting. Meyer and Addazio hope to salvage a signing class that is sure to hear about Florida’s unsettled coaching situation.
Florida might not be able to afford too many defections, not with seven seniors and maybe just as many juniors leaving. Underclassmen have until Jan. 15 to declare for the NFL draft.
Meyer’s plans could take considerably longer to sort out.
“We’ll address the future when it’s the appropriate time,’’ he said.