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Junior Antoinette Bannister is no longer a member of the UF women's basketball team. (File photo)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The UF women’s basketball team already faced a difficult challenge Monday night at home: No. 1-ranked South Carolina.
The undefeated Gamecocks (17-0, 5-0 in SEC) roll into town as the top-ranked team in the nation for the first time in school history. South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley has built a program that is receiving its fair share of recognition this season, as is Staley.
Tonight’s game is live on the SEC Network (7 p.m.) with former UF head coach Carol Ross serving as analyst.
Meanwhile, the Gators (9-9, 1-4) have found wins elusive since the start of SEC play, including a 62-56 loss at No. 10 Kentucky on Thursday. Florida led 51-50 with 4:24 left in the game but returned home staggered as the Wildcats closed on a 12-5 run.
It got worse for head coach Amanda Butler over the weekend when news broke that one of her key reserves, junior guard/forward Antoinette Bannister, was charged with theft of a credit card and fraudulent use of a credit card.
Bannister, who played in 13 games and started three, is no longer on the team. She was averaging 6.2 points and 2.5 rebounds per game but had appeared in only one of the last six games (three minutes vs. Ole Miss on Jan. 8).
The Gators need something good to happen as they try to turn their season around and avoid dropping below .500 for the first time this season. Although unlikely based on the current circumstances, an upset of the Gamecocks would be one way to do that.
For more on tonight’s game and other news of interest to Gator fans, here are some fresh links from around the Internet:
--Staley wants to see her team break out on offense writes David Cloninger of The State newspaper.
--Former Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, in his second season as Seattle’s defensive coordinator, is set to become head coach of the Atlanta Falcons according to the NFL Network.
--Bulls All-Star Joakim Noah to miss tonight’s game against Cleveland, the second in a row the former UF star has missed due to an ankle injury.
--Gators head coach Billy Donovan addresses why Michael Frazier II and Dorian Finney-Smith were benched for long stretches in Saturday’s loss at Georgia writes Kevin Brockway of The Gainesville Sun.
--Ex-Gator quarterback Brian Schottenheimer expects ‘easy fit’ at Georgia writes the Associated Press via ESPN.com.
--A new experience for former Gators standout Patric Young, who is now playing in Turkey, when fans threw pork legs onto the court during a game last week. Young competed in the Turkish Basketball League All-Star slam-dunk competition on Sunday.
--Recent traffic case against Gators quarterback Treon Harris was dropped writes Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun.
--Florida offensive linemen Max Garcia and Trenton Brown on North Team for Saturday’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
Thursday January 15, 2015 Florida football program is most valuable financially in SEC according to Wall Street Journal study
Updated: 8:42am, January 15
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- If Florida's football program was available to purchase on the open market, say, like the NFL's Buffalo Bills were recently, you better bring a big wallet to the negotiating table.
In the annual valuation of college football programs published by The Wall Street Journal, the Gators are worth more than any team in the Southeastern Conference.
In the latest study by Ryan Brewer, an assistant professor of finance at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, the Florida football program is valued at more than $815 million.
That figure ranks behind only national champion Ohio State ($1.1 billion), Michigan ($999 million), Texas ($972 million) and Notre Dame ($936 million).
Alabama ($760 million) is ranked seventh and Georgia ($710 million) and LSU ($659 million) also crack the top 10, giving the SEC four of the nation's most valuable programs in financial terms.
Texas had held the top spot for three consecutive years until the Buckeyes dethroned the Longhorns this year.
The study ranked teams from 1 to 116. Louisiana-Monroe checked in last in the study. If $815 million for the Gators is out of your price range, the Warhawks are valued at a more affordable $6.4 million.
Wednesday January 14, 2015 Horford's big night, Hutzler hired at Boston College, more Gators tidbits
Updated: 1:15pm, January 14
Former UF assistant Coleman Hutzler, right, has been hired by Boston College. (Photo: Tim Casey)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Al Horford is healthy. So is the Atlanta Hawks' record with Horford back from a season-ending injury a season ago.
Horford's comeback reached new heights on Tuesday night in Atlanta's 105-87 over the Philadelphia 76ers. Horford registered his first career triple-double with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
For more on Horford and other items of interest to Gator fans, check out the links below:
--Horford made 8 of 10 shots Tuesday and has been key to Atlanta's winning streak writes Zach Abolverdi of The Gainesville Sun.
--Former UF assistant Coleman Hutzler has rebounded quickly as special-teams coordinator at Boston College.
--Longtime NFL coach and former Gator Chan Gailey, out of the NFL since 2012, will join the New York Jets as offensive coordinator reports Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com.
--Gators head coach Billy Donovan and new Auburn coach Bruce Pearl renew their rivalry Thursday night writes Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports.com.
--Kiersten Wang is back from injury as Gators gymnastics team prepares for home opener writes Graham Hack (finely suited last name for a sports writer) for the Independent Florida Alligator.
--Former UF golfer and current PGA star Billy Horschel not satisfied with FedExCup title writes David Jones of Florida Today.
--Jeff Driskel is ready for brighter days ahead writes Sean Isabella of the Monroe (La.) News Star.
--The UF women's basketball team is in need of a win writes Graham Hall of the Independent Florida Alligator.
Tuesday January 13, 2015 Former Gators record holder in women's discus passes away
Updated: 2:57pm, January 13
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Jacqueline Mary Gordon enrolled at UF in the summer of 1975, two years after the birth of the Gators women’s track and field team in the wake of Title IX.
Gordon grew up in Annandale, Va., and chose Florida over Penn State, Virginia and UCLA according to a sports publicity questionnaire she filled out while at UF.
The two-sided sheet of paper and three photos are all the items in a manila folder for “Jackie Gordon” filed away in the UF sports information office’s morgue.
A political science major, Gordon threw the shot put and discus for the Gators and made her mark in the sport, earning outdoor All-American honors twice (1976, ’78) in the discus.
A four-time state discus champion in high school, she set a then-UF record at the 1978 Penn Relays with a throw of 157 feet, 6 inches.
Gordon’s record has long since faded from the top 10 in school history as athletes and training methods have improved drastically since her college career. The current school record in the discus belongs to Rachel Longfors (188 feet, 7 inches), set in 2004.
After leaving UF Gordon attended law school at the University of Virginia and began a successful law career and real estate business. She turned 58 on Dec. 10.
One of the questions on that questionnaire she filled out all those years ago was a simple one: Why did you choose Florida?
“Had what I wanted and needed academically, athletically and socially. Also, Brooks Johnson was coming here.”
Johnson has been a prominent track and field coach since the 1960s and spent time at Florida during Gordon’s career.
Sadly, a recent email arrived with news of Gordon’s passing:
Jacqueline (Jackie) Mary Gordon passed away unexpectedly on Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015. She was born on Dec. 10, 1956 in Washington, D.C., the daughter of John “Flash” and Barbara Gordon.
At W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, Va., Jackie was a five-sport athlete, was selected Woodson’s Athlete of the Year her senior year, and won state AAA championships in discus and shot put. She held a state record in discus that was not broken for over 30 years.
While at the University of Florida for undergraduate school, she was a member of the track & field team, selected Lady Gator Athlete of the Year and was an All American in discus. She graduated in 1979 Phi Beta Kappa and went on to law school at the University of Virginia.
After graduation in 1982, she practiced in Dallas for four years, until moving back to Virginia to join McGuire, Woods, Battle & Boothe for several years. She continued practicing real estate law and was a member of the Virginia and D.C. bar associations.
She was elected to the Virginia High School Hall of Fame, the W.T. Woodson High School Athletic Hall of Fame, and selected for the Advisory Board of the Virginia High School League.
Jackie enjoyed supporting her alma maters, their athletic programs, mentoring student-athletes and was an avid sports fan. She is survived by two brothers, David and Garry Gordon, two nephews, three nieces and her beloved dog, Discus.
A private family service was held and memorial donations may be made to the Virginia High School League http://www.vhsl.org/doc/upload/foundation-2013-case.pdf.
Monday January 12, 2015 Bridget Sloan's foot not broken; Gators now waiting on MRI results
Updated: 6:39pm, January 12
The Gators gymnastics team is awaiting MRI results on Bridget Sloan's injured right foot. (File photo)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Junior All-American gymnast Bridget Sloan delivered the goods early in Florida's season-opening victory at Ball State on Sunday. Competing in her home state, the 2008 Olympian and 2009 all-around world champion posted a 9.95 on the uneven bars and later scored a perfect 10.0 on vault.
However, Sloan suffered an injury to her right foot on her last tumbling pass during floor exercise and immediately needed medical attention. The injury forced Sloan to skip the beam event, the meet's final rotation, and cast a big question mark over the two-time defending national champion Gators as they move forward.
On Monday Florida head coach Rhonda Faehn said X-rays revealed that Sloan did not break her foot.
"There is no fracture, so that is great news,'' Faehn said. "Hopefully it's just a bump in the road and we're able to get past it."
Sloan was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Monday evening to determine if there is any ligament or tendon damage to the foot. The Gators expect to know Tuesday the results of the MRI and have a better idea about Sloan's timetable to return.
The Gators host Auburn in their home opener Friday night starting at 6:45, the new start time for home meets this season.
It was challenging for the team [to see her get hurt]. They were rattled. I tried as hard as I could to get them together."
Sloan wasn't the only Gator injured Sunday. Senior Jamie Shisler suffered an Achilles tendon injury and will miss the season, Faehn said. Shisler was scheduled to perform during the exhibition period Sunday but was injuring during warm-ups.
Friday January 9, 2015 Gators' 1977 win over Georgia highlight of Chandler's Hall-of-Fame career
Updated: 2:55pm, January 9
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Whenever Gator fans discuss the most dynamic playmakers in school history, those 30-and-younger instantly bring up Percy Harvin, and deservedly so.
Those Florida football fans who need an extra cup of coffee or two in the morning, well, they instantly mention Wes Chandler. If you ever saw Chandler play you know why.
Those at the National Football Foundation did and on Friday morning, the NFF announced that Chandler will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a member of the 2015 class.
Chandler arrived at UF in 1974 from New Smyrna Beach (Fla.) High and over the next four seasons, despite playing receiver in a wishbone offense, was a two-time All-American. Chandler finished his UF career with 92 catches for 1,963 yards and 22 touchdowns. He added 353 yards and six touchdowns rushing his senior season.
Chandler’s 21.3-yard average per catch (minimum 75 receptions) remains a school record nearly 40 years after he played his final game at UF.
“When you are growing up in high school, you wonder what it would be like to play with such great athletes and just being part of that,’’ Chandler said after learning of his induction. “For me, just to be able to get to Florida and participate with those individuals, individuals who had crates of talent, really helped me grow as a person and helped me grow as an athlete.
“I was just grateful to play there at Florida and with such great people and to be touched and coached by a lot of great people. I remember everyone that had an impact on my life.”
Chandler was the third overall pick of the 1978 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints and played 11 seasons in the NFL with the Saints, Chargers and 49ers. He was selected for four Pro Bowls and led the NFL in receiving in 1982.
But it was in college, wearing No. 89, where Chandler dazzled fans at Florida Field with an array of moves and athletic ability that provided head coach Doug Dickey a versatile weapon unlike perhaps any other Gator before him.
Chandler is the eighth former UF player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, joining Dale van Sickel, Steve Spurrier, Jack Youngblood, Emmitt Smith, Wilber Marshall, Carlos Alvarez and Danny Wuerffel.
Chandler considers his signature game at Florida a victory over Georgia in 1977 at the old Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. The Bulldogs had won three in a row over the Gators, including a 41-27 win the previous season in which the Gators blew a big lead.
In his final opportunity to get a win against Georgia, Chandler split time at receiver and running back.
The final score: Wes Chandler 18, Georgia 17.
For the record, the actual score was 22-17, but Chandler scored all three Florida touchdowns while catching three passes for 50 yards and rushing 15 times for 57 yards in an emotional win for the Gators.
“Beating Georgia for the first time, I’ve got to say that was one of the most gratifying moments of my college career because it was the stigma,’’ he said “We thought one year we were going to the Sugar Bowl and we lost. We had a commanding lead. The fact we had not beaten Georgia in my time there and to finally get over that hump was one of the major accomplishments.
“There are so many more memories, just playing with so many other guys who had great talent was a blessing in disguise for me. I still say that Georgia game was the impact moment in my career.”
Watching that day at the Gator Bowl was Bud Asher, Chandler’s high school coach and by then a scout for the Oakland Raiders.
After Chandler was named the game’s MVP, Asher told the Daytona Beach Morning Journal that Chandler was just getting started.
“I just wish there were some way the Raiders could get him, but with us picking so far down in the draft, there is no way a player of Wes Chandler’s ability will be available,’’ Asher said. “But one thing for sure, Wes Chandler is going to be a superstar in the pros.”
Asher was right. He had seen enough to know, first at New Smyrna Beach High, and then those four years at UF that earned Chandler a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame on Friday.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gators head coach Jim McElwain held a press conference earlier today and then spent some time to talk casually to reporters who cover the program on a daily basis.
McElwain took over day-to-day operations of the program on Monday and held his first team meeting Monday night to give the players an opportunity to meet the team’s new coaching staff.
McElwain said he plans to start meeting with players individually on Thursday and that the relationship-building process is key early in the transition.
“I thought there was great energy in the room,’’ McElwain said. “The guys were very receptive and, you know what, should feel good about themselves.”
Check back with GatorZone.com later for a more in-depth story off McElwain’s press conference. For now, here are a few loose ends McElwain was asked about:
--Junior linebacker Antonio Morrison announced Tuesday that he was returning to school for his senior season. Morrison suffered a knee injury in the first half of the Birmingham Bowl and his status for spring practice remains uncertain.
“Right now it’s under evaluation,’’ McElwain said of Morrison’s injury. “I know that there’s probably some stuff in there, as far as what direction we go, when to fix it, how much needs to be fixed, all that is up to the medical staff.”
--McElwain has one spot on his coaching staff left to fill at wide receivers coach. He said there is no timetable attached to the hire.
“The key is to get the best guy,’’ he said. “The guy is going to affect these young men’s lives, allow them to perfect their craft.”
--As of now, former UF quarterback Chris Leak is not part of the football staff.
“He isn’t, and yet, who knows as we move forward,’’ McElwain said. “There’s a lot to be done before we move forward on that.”
Leak served as receivers coach in 2014.
--He was asked if new Associate Head Coach/Co-coordinator Randy Shannon would serve as a de facto co-defensive coordinator with defensive coordinator Geoff Collins. Shannon is also linebackers coach.
“With Geoff, yeah. As will defensive backs coach Kirk [Callahan], as will [I] when I come in and mess with them. There will be a lot of that, but he’ll have a big hand in that. And part of that is just because he’s been a defensive coordinator.”
--Finally, he was asked about the UAA announcement Tuesday that freshman defensive tackle Gerald Willis is transferring.
“He made a choice. There were some things that we all do. We’ll be here for him. It’s nothing personal. You know what? At the end of the day you have to affect the people around you in a positive way and do what’s right.”
Tuesday January 6, 2015 Gators linebacker Antonio Morrison announces he is returning for his senior season
Gators linebacker Antonio Morrison is returning to school for his senior season (Photo: Tim Casey)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Birmingham Bowl was not the final game for junior linebacker Antonio Morrison in a Gators uniform.
An All-SEC second-team selection this season, Morrison announced Tuesday that he is returning to school for his senior season.
"I'm returning to Florida and I will be getting my degree in 2015. That plays a big role in why I'm returning,'' Morrison said. "And as a leader of this team, I want to lead my team to Atlanta and possibly a national championship. Coach McElwain has put together a great staff and I'm looking forward to working with them this year."
The return of Morrison provides Florida's talented defense with its anchor at middle linebacker. Morrison led the Gators with 101 tackles this season, becoming the first UF player to eclipse 100 tackles in a season since Ahmad Black in 2010.
A native of Bellwood, Ill., Morrison started every game of his junior season and finished with 10 or more tackles six times, including a career-high 16 against South Carolina and 15 against Georgia.
Morrison also added six tackles for loss, a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery in his best season at Florida. Morrison has played in 33 games the past three seasons and has 191 career tackles.
His return provides new UF defensive coordinator Geoff Collins and linebackers coach Randy Shannon a veteran in the middle to build around as young linebackers Jarrad Davis, Alex Anzalone, Daniel McMillian and Matt Rolin vie for playing time around him.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Gators head coach Jim McElwain officially took over day-to-day operations of the team on Monday and had a busy day.
He announced six more additions to his inaugural UF coaching staff, highlighted by the hire of former University of Miami head coach Randy Shannon as associate head coach/co-coordinator and linebackers coach.
Here are other links of interest to Florida football fans as the program transitions from one coach to another:
--While Bullard will return, Gators offensive lineman and fellow North Carolinian D.J. Humphries announced on Twitter that he was leaving school to enter the NFL Draft.
--Senior center Max Garcia, originally invited to play in Saturday's Medal of Honor Bowl, will now play in the more prestigious Senior Bowl on Jan. 24:
Super excited to announce I got invited to the Senior Bowl last night ! God is good ! #Blessed— Max G (@MGarcia_76) January 3, 2015
--Florida punter Kyle Christy and offensive lineman Chaz Green are scheduled to play in Saturday's Medal of Honor Bowl in Charleston S.C.
--Departing junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., who had a career-high three sacks in Saturday's Birmingham Bowl, has hired agents Jimmy Sexton and James Denton of CAA Sports according to Rand Getlin of Yahoo! Sports.
--Less than 48 hours after leading Florida to a victory in the Birmingham Bowl, former UF interim head coach/defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin has a University of Michigan email address writes Nick Baumgardner of Mlive.com.
--If you don't know much about new Gators defensive line coach Terrell Williams, here is a video introduction he did during his three-year stint with the Oakland Raiders.
Monday January 5, 2015 Bullard announces he is returning for senior season
Updated: 1:41pm, January 5
Gators defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard sacks ECU quarterback Shane Carden. (Tim Casey)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Gators junior defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard made a decision on his future Monday.
Bullard is returning to school for his senior season.
"I wasn't projected to go where I want to go,'' Bullard said. "I want to leave a bigger mark on the Florida program than what I have."
After in-depth discussions with his family, former Gators head coach Will Muschamp, and others, Bullard considered it in his best interests to return to UF next season and futher develop as a player.
Bullard capped his junior season Saturday with six tackles and a sack in Florida's 28-20 victory over East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl. He finished the season with a career-high 52 tackles and 8 1/2 tackles for loss.
A full-time starter the past two seasons, Bullard is looking foward to finishing his career before entering the NFL Draft in 2016.
"As a veteran player coming back, I want be a leader on this team as the program enters a new era with a new coaching staff,'' Bullard said. "I want to be a role model for the younger players and help them to buy into the future of the program."
Monday January 5, 2015 Driskel confirms he will enroll at Louisiana Tech; thanks UF staff and fans for their support
Updated: 10:48am, January 5
Jeff Driskel throws a pass in Saturday's Birmingham Bowl victory over East Carolina (Photo: Tim Casey)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- If you know Jeff Driskel or have spent any time around him, his message to Florida fans should not surprise you.
Driskel is leaving in classy fashion.
Florida's starting quarterback at the start of the season, Driskel lost his job to Treon Harris late in the season and made his final appearance for the Gators on Saturday in Florida's 28-20 victory over East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl.
On Monday morning Driskel confirmed that he is departing the program after four seasons and will play at Louisiana Tech in 2015. He plans to enroll at Louisiana Tech in March.
Before starting the next phase of his career, the fourth-year junior from Oviedo provided the University Athletic Association with a statement regarding his future and his career with the Gators.
“There have been rumors going around that I am going to leave the University of Florida and transfer to Louisiana Tech University for my fifth and final year of eligibility. This is indeed true, and I look forward to the upcoming chapter of my life,'' Driskel said. "I have nothing but good things to say about the University of Florida and the football program there.
"I am grateful for the opportunities that have been presented to me over the course of the past four years. Although things did not play out on the field as I would have liked, I have no regrets on the choice I made to attend UF. Again, I appreciate everything that my coaches, teammates, strength coaches, athletic trainers, equipment staff, academic staff, fans, and the University of Florida have done for me.”
Driskel arrived at UF in the spring of 2011 as one of the nation's top prep quarterbacks out of Hagerty High in Oviedo. In 29 career games at UF, Driskel threw for 3,411 yards, 23 touchdowns, 20 interceptions and completed 59.4 percent of his passes. He also rushed for 644 yards and nine touchdowns.
Driskel joins a Louisiana Tech program led by former East Carolina and USF coach Skip Holtz, who led the Bulldogs to a 9-5 record and Heart of Dallas Bowl victory over Illinois last week.
Sunday January 4, 2015 More than 325 Gator games later, Houts ready to put away video camera and see what's next
Updated: 3:22pm, January 4
Longtime Gators football videographer Dave Houts shoots his final practice. (Photo: Tim Casey)
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- He arrived at Legion Field early Saturday morning to prepare for another day's work. Except this time, it was his final day.
The old stadium, a Southern landmark where Bear Bryant, Shug Jordan and other titans of the sideline once roamed, was quiet and empty.
Florida's game against East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl was still a few hours away, but Dave Houts, longtime director of video services for the University Athletic Association, began to set up shop high above the field, dressed in his orange-and-blue Gators gear to protect him from the elements and armed with his video camera.
Coincidentally, the last time Florida played a bowl game in Birmingham -- in fact, the only time prior to Saturday -- was the last time Houts wasn't shooting video of a Florida football game for the coaching staff to review and use a coaching tool.
That was the 1988 All-American Bowl when Florida defeated Illinois. Houts joined the UAA full-time at the start of the 1989 season and on Saturday, shot video at his 328th consecutive game.
Over that span Houts has worked for head coaches Galen Hall, Gary Darnell, Steve Spurrier, Ron Zook, Charlie Strong, Urban Meyer, Will Muschamp, and for his final game, Florida interim head coach D.J. Durkin.
While the Florida football program is in a transition period with new head coach Jim McElwain set to take over day-to-day operations this week, there are many comings and goings.
For the 69-year-old Houts, the decision to leave his post came long before any coaching change.
"I'm ready to start the next part of my life,'' Houts said prior to Florida's 28-20 win Saturday. "This really isn't my last game because every time the Gators play, I will be there one way or another in spirit. I'll always be playing with them. I've had memories of a lifetime."
He certainly has.
Since his first game as a full-time member of the UAA -- a 24-19 home loss to Ole Miss on Sept. 9, 1989 -- Houts has watched and recorded the best moments in the program's long history, including three national championships.
The technology and methods have changed over the years, but not Houts' passion for the Gators.
"I love what I do and have met so many great people and experienced so many good times,'' he said. "It's been a thrill."
While working with the football program was his most visible role, Houts has also served as longtime videographer for the baseball team and works directly with video coordinators for all of UF's athletic programs.
Houts isn't going away permanently. His retirement doesn't go into full effect until May. A native of Pontiac, Mich., Houts and wife Beth will then pack and spend much of their future together in a summer home in Kalamazoo, Mich.
They plan to return to Gainesville for the winters, a place they have called home since the late 1970s when Houts first started helping out around the football program on a freelance basis.
Houts is looking forward to what the next phase of life has to offer.
"The thing I'm going to try and do is slow down the aging process," Houts said. "If I can do that, then I will be successful. Read some great books, get my golf game and fishing improved a little bit, and spend time with my family."
After all those football games over all these years, Houts has earned it.
Gators assistant coach Travaris Robinson is heading to Auburn. (Photo: Tim Casey)
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Florida defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson is headed back to Auburn, his alma mater.
About 20 minutes after Robinson helped the Gators win the Birmingham Bowl against East Carolina, Auburn announced Robinson was joining head coach Gus Malzahn's staff as secondary coach.
The move reunites Robinson with former Gators head coach Will Muschamp, who returned to Auburn last month as defensive coordinator. When Muschamp was Auburn's defensive coordinator in 2006-07, he hired Robinson as a graduate assistant and hired Robinson again when he became UF's coach in 2011.
The move had been speculated about since Muschamp was hired by Malzahn.
"I'm very excited about returning to Auburn where I played, received my degree and was a graduate assistant," Robinson said in a statement released by Auburn. "Auburn has provided me so many opportunities and I'm excited to be able to give back to a place that has meant so much to me. I have a lot of respect for Coach Malzahn and I'm looking forward to working for him. My family and I are glad to be back home."
Robinson played at Auburn from 1999-2002, where he was an All-SEC selection as a senior. He is considered one of the top recruiters in the country and helped Florida build one of the deepest secondaries in the country during his four seasons with the Gators.
Meanwhile, new Gators head coach Jim McElwain is expected to announce more hires to his inaugural staff in the coming days.
Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel has requested a release from his scholarship to transfer. (Tim Casey)
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- In what appears to be Jeff Driskel's final game for the Gators, the fourth-year junior quarterback's final play was a victory snap.
Driskel's 9-yard run for a first down with 58 seconds allowed the Gators to run out the clock in their 28-20 win over East Carolina on Saturday in the Birmingham Bowl.
With starter Treon Harris slowed by an elbow injury, Driskel took over in the third quarter and finished 8 of 17 for 48 yards. He added seven yards on three rushes.
Prior to the game, new Gators head coach Jim McElwain said Driskel has requested and received permission to be released from his scholarship with plans to transfer.
"We all have choices and I’m not going to hold him hostage, certainly,'' McElwain said.
Driskel began the season as Florida's starter but lost his job to Harris following a home loss to Missouri.
Interim head coach D.J. Durkin said Driskel responded well to his unexpected opportunity Saturday.
"I think he was outstanding,” Durkin said. “I think it says a lot about him as a person. The amount of adversity he’s had to go through in his career, to be honest, I don’t know if I could last through that. That says a lot about him and a lot about our team. Our guys believe in him; he believes in his teammates.”
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The Gators will be without two key contributors when they face East Carolina on Saturday in the Birmingham Bowl.
Interim head coach D.J. Durkin said Wednesday that receiver/kick returner Andre Debose and starting defensive tackle Darious Cummings did not make the trip.
The Gators won't have the services of kickoff/punt return specialist Andre Debose Saturday.
According to Durkin, the 24-year-old Debose made the decision and arrived at a “mutual agreement” with coaches.
“He’s moving on with his career,’’ Durkin said. “He’s been here six years and done a lot of great things for the Gators. And he and I have a good relationship. We joke he’s as old as some of the coaches and we’ve been here a long time together. You know sometimes things just work out that way and he’ll be just fine and so will the Gators."
Debose was a non-factor in the passing game after being granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA this season, but he did play a pivotal role on special teams.
He led the SEC in punt returns (14-yard average on 23 returns) and had a 62-yard punt return touchdown against LSU, his fifth career kick return for a score. Debose returned four kickoffs for touchdowns in his career and could get a look in the NFL as a return man.
Meanwhile, Cummings was suspended for a violation of team rules and will miss his final game as a Gator. The senior transferred from a Mississippi junior college and played two seasons at Florida after starting his college career at Florida State.
He started 11 games this season and had 30 tackles, five for loss.
Wednesday December 31, 2014 Morrison Thanks Muschamp for Having Faith in Him When Others Didn't
Updated: 10:17am, January 1
Antonio Morrison leads the Gators in tackles heading into Saturday's Birmingham Bowl. (Tim Casey)
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Gators linebacker Antonio Morrison had something to say.
Following Florida's first practice here Wednesday in preparation for Saturday's Birmingham Bowl, Morrison didn't want to talk about his future.
He wanted to address the past.
Specifically, the junior linebacker wanted to say "thank you" to former Gators head coach Will Muschamp in a public forum. Morrison had not spoken to the media since Muschamp's final game a month ago.
"He's the greatest coach I ever had,'' Morrison said. "I want to thank him for giving me the opportunity to come down here and play at Florida because a lot of guys from the Midwest don't get the opportunity to come down to Florida and play in the SEC.
"I remember the first time they called and offered me. I was so excited to hear from them."
A native of Bellwood, Ill., Morrison helped Bolingbrook High win its first state championship in school history his senior season.
Morrison missed the state title game due to an injury, but by that time, Muschamp and former Florida assistant Bryant Young, Morrison's primary recruiter, had seen enough to know they wanted the tough-as-nails Morrison to be a Gator.
While undersized (6-1, 222 pounds) compared to some of the conference's top linebackers, Morrison immediately made an impact in 2012 as a freshman, most notably a hit on former Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel that forced a fumble and turned momentum the Gators' way in a 37-26 win at FSU.
He became a starter as a sophomore but missed the final three games of the season with a knee injury. Morrison rededicated himself to the game -- and to taking a more mature approach in his preparation -- to have a breakout season as a junior and earn a spot on the All-SEC second-team.
Morrison leads the Gators with 98 tackles and needs two tackles in the Birmingham Bowl to become the first Florida player to reach 100 in a season since Ahmad Black in 2010.
Still, Morrison had doubters back home after the Gators offered him a scholarship.
"My high school coach, the first thing he told me, 'you can't play there, those guys are 20 pounds heavier and run way faster in the 40,' " Morrison said. "I took that to heart man. To hear my high school coach tell me that, that made me even more motivated to come to Florida."
Morrison relayed that story to Muschamp when he arrived and immediately went to work, playing behind a talented group of UF linebackers as a freshman that featured three future NFL players in Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins and Lerentee McCray.
Morrison has not revealed publically whether he intends to return to school his senior season or apply for the NFL Draft.
Whatever his decision, he appreciates Muschamp's faith in him as a player in the SEC when others had none.
"I just want to thank him for giving me that opportunity, and how much I developed as a player and have my teammates think of me enough to give me all those rewards [at the team banquet],'' he said. "I worked hard through high school and when I came here, I just worked hard and I showed it."
Monday December 29, 2014 Links blog: Birmingham Bowl preview, Durkin's future, Spurrier refutes Shockey story, more
Updated: 2:33pm, December 29
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gators returned to practice following their Christmas break on Sunday and practiced again this morning in preparation for Saturday’s Birmingham Bowl.
Needless to say, it’s been a strange month for the players, coaches and team staff as the program transitions from Will Muschamp to Jim McElwain as head coach.
Check out GatorZone.com later for a look back at the 2014 season.
For now, here are some fresh links covering items of interest to Florida fans:
--Gators interim head coach D.J. Durkin will have options – good ones – after Saturday’s game. The news Monday that 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has agreed to become Michigan’s new head coach has many media outlets linking Durkin to Harbaugh in Ann Arbor. The two worked together when Harbaugh was Stanford’s head coach.
--Two East Carolina defensive starters are ineligible for the Birmingham Bowl writes Sammy Batten of the Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer.
--Here is a Birmingham Bowl breakdown via FoxSports.com.
--Former Gators head coach Steve Spurrier disputed a claim by former Miami tight end Jeremy Shockey regarding famous Bourbon Street brawl between Gators-Canes writes Susan Miller Degnan of The Miami Herald.
--Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel is exploring a graduate transfer to Duke writes Laura Keeley of the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer.
--New Gators offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier was a standout player during his days at Idaho writes Jon Kasper of the Big Sky Conference.
--Gators cornerback J.C. Jackson, redshirted due to shoulder surgery as a freshman, escaped serious injury but a former high school teammate did not on their return home over Christmas break.
Tuesday December 23, 2014 McElwain ready for opportunity to coach and teach Gators QB Treon Harris
Updated: 2:50pm, December 23
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A year ago Treon Harris had just won his second consecutive state championship at Miami's Booker T. Washington High and was verbally committed to play at Florida State.
Meanwhile, Jim McElwain had just won the New Mexico Bowl over Washington State in his second season as head coach at Colorado State, confident that with junior quarterback Garrett Grayson set to return in 2014, the Rams' offense was in capable hands.
McElwain was right as Grayson threw for more than 4.000 yards his senior season and the Rams won 10 games for the first time in 12 years.
Fast forward to today, and Harris is Florida's starting quarterback heading into the Gators' Jan. 3 matchup against East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl. McElwain is in his third week as Florida's head coach, evaluating Harris and other players whom he will be coaching in spring practice.
A longtime quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator, McElwain has a proven track record developing quarterbacks, most recently Grayson and Greg McElroy and A.J. McCarron at Alabama.
Soon Harris will be one of his pupils. McElwain shared some thoughts on Harris on Monday night during an interview on the SEC Network.
"Treon has been a guy who has been awful fun to watch,'' McElwain said. "He can spin it; he's competitive. You can see when he's sure he knows what to do. The ball gets out quick. Really looking forward to working with him, as I am all the players."
Harris replaced fourth-year junior Jeff Driskel as Florida's starting quarterback in the Georgia game and went 3-2 as the starter. Harris endured a high-profile off-the-field incident during the season and then earlier this month was charged with a second-degree misdemeanor of operating a motor vehicle without a driver's license.
During a radio interview Tuesday morning with an Orlando radio station, the subject of Harris came up once more, specifically his decision-making and responsibility as a team leader.
"I really look forward into getting into his life and being a big part of his life, as I am all the players, because we're all in a fishbowl," McElwain said. "No matter what, we've got to understand that everything we do has consequences. We all have freedom of choice and yet we don't have freedom of consequences.
"It's like when I get that speeding ticket. I always just smile and give me the ticket because I made the choice, right? At the same time we've got to understand that there's certain things that, especially at the quarterback position, that we need to do to affect the people around us in a positive way."
Monday December 22, 2014 McElwain talks recruiting, has several media spots today
Updated: 12:29pm, December 22
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida head coach Jim McElwain did another media spot Monday morning, this time with Tampa radio station WDAE 620-AM.
McElwain did a phone interview Saturday with ABC’s Brent Musburger and Jesse Palmer during the Las Vegas Bowl. He is scheduled to appear on the Dan Le Batard Show on ESPN Radio at 6 tonight and “SEC Now” on the SEC Network, which airs from 7 to 8 p.m.
McElwain spoke about Florida’s recruiting efforts this morning on WDAE. With National Signing Day in early February, the Gators will try to pick up speed after the holidays to close with a solid class.
“We're going to be pretty balanced at a lot of spots this year," McElwain said. “We've got a lot of scholarships to give, and for us the biggest thing is making sure we get the right fit. Not only great players, but great character and guys that fit the University of Florida.”
A stout defense is one of the biggest benefits McElwain inherited when he was hired to replace former head coach Will Muschamp. With his offensive background, you can guess where much of McElwain’s focus is on the recruiting trail.
“Really it all starts with explosive playmakers at each position,” he said. “It's interesting when you talk about that, that doesn't mean it has to be a guy that has the ball in his hands all the time. It can be a guy that can change a game, whether it be on the offensive line.
“It doesn't matter what position that is. Obviously we need to get our numbers back up with the offensive line position. That's something that we're really pounding on right now.”
To listen to WDAE’s entire interview with McElwain, check out below:
Saturday December 20, 2014 McElwain: Gators Must Start Getting Best Players in State to Return to Top
Updated: 5:40pm, December 20
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- New Gators head coach Jim McElwain spent part of Saturday afternoon watching his former team play in the Las Vegas Bowl.
In the second quarter of the Colorado State-Utah matchup, McElwain joined ABC announcers Brent Musburger and Jesse Palmer for a phone interview.
Musburger asked McElwain what it was like to watch the Rams from afar after leading them to a 10-2 regular-season record and then taking the Florida job less than a week later.
"I've got to tell you, this may be the toughest thing I've ever done,'' McElwain said. "Seeing those guys out there, I just can't tell you how proud I am of everyone in the organization."
McElwain's offensive coordinator at Colorado State, Dave Baldwin, is serving as Colorado State's interim head coach. Meanwhile, McElwain is busy trying to fill out his inaugural Gators staff.
He announced the hiring of defensive coordinator Geoff Collins on Tuesday, his first hire since being introduced as the 25th coach in Florida football history Dec. 6.
He did not place a timetable on hiring assistants.
"It takes patience because you only have one chance to get it right,'' McElwain said. "At Colorado State I really assembled some outstanding coaches with recruiting relationships in some areas we needed to make some headway in and that's kind of the same thing we're doing here."
As McElwain gets acclimated at Florida, he is evaluating the current roster and has watched the Gators practice for the Birmingham Bowl under interim head coach D.J. Durkin. Beyond that, his primary focus is on building a successful program like he did during his three seasons at Colorado State.
The Rams were 9-27 in the three seasons prior to McElwain's arrival. He posted a 22-16 record with the Rams and had back-to-back winning seasons after a 4-8 record in his first season.
"Number one, just getting a feel for the infrastructure and how it's built, and then, really putting the plan in motion,'' he said of the learning curve when taking over a program. "It takes time. I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Much of McElwain's first two months on the job will be focused on National Signing Day and trying to salvage a solid recruiting class. When Florida parted ways with Will Muschamp, Florida lost momentum in recruiting.
McElwain spent his first full week on the job traveling the state and region with secondary coach Travaris Robinson for recruiting purposes.
The mission is clear.
"You've got to take care of your own state, first,'' McElwain said. "And then from there, find them regional. You've got to be smart, and wise, and yet get the right fit for the area that you're in."
At Florida, McElwain has a much deeper in-state talent pool than he did at Colorado State.
However, he has Florida State, Miami, USF and UCF to compete with for recruits.
In his view, it's no secret what Florida must do to climb the recruiting rankings and ultimately, the national polls.
"When the Gators were on top, they had the best players in the state of Florida," McElwain said. "And that's something we've got to come back and do."