February 25, 2015

O'Connell Center renovations delayed a year

GAINESVILLE -- The O’Connell Center’s massive renovations will be put on hold. 

Florida and the University Athletic Association announced Wednesday construction on the O’Dome will be delayed one year. 

The UAA cited the $60 million project’s “aggressive schedule, escalating costs associated with the rehabilitation project and a change in the construction management team” as reasons for the postponement. 

The renovation was scheduled to begin in early March, immediately after the conclusion of the men’s basketball season. 

“We remain 100 percent committed to this project,” UF athletics director Jeremy Foley said in a release.  

“The $60 million that we have already earmarked for the project is indicative of this commitment.”

Although UF has “earmarked” the funds, the UAA has yet to raise (via private donors) the estimated $60 million. 

A new construction manager has been hired and a budget and timeline are expected “in the next couple months.” The current design plays are roughly 60 percent complete, with a new entrance, renovated concession stands, club seating and chair backs already included. 

“The renovation proposal is a major renewal of one of our campus’s most iconic buildings. It’s incumbent on us to take the time and do it right,” UF president Kent Fuchs said.

Florida’s basketball team was not scheduled to play its non-conference games during the 2015-16 season in the O'Dome, planning a barnstorming tour across the state. 

Now, UF will play all its home games in the O’Dome and any other changes to events “generally held in the O’Connell Center will be made once information is confirmed.” 

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February 21, 2015

Florida not penalized for NCAA violation

GAINESVILLE -- Former University of Florida football assistant Joker Phillips committed a Level II NCAA violation last summer for having “impermissible contact with a prospect,” but UF wasn’t penalized after properly handling the situation.

In a ruling released Friday, the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions determined “the corrective actions and penalties self-imposed by the school were appropriate and assigned no additional penalties or measures.”

Phillips, who served as the Gators’ wide receivers coach in 2013, resigned from UF on June 11, citing “personal reasons.”

But the former Kentucky head coach had already been suspended by the school from all off-campus recruiting for 30 days beginning on April 10, 2014.

Florida also ended the recruitment of the prospect involved in the illegal “bump.”

Phillips was not named in the report, but details describe a restaurant meeting with a recruit during a mandated dead period. According to the NCAA, Phillips’ “bump” --  notably arranged by a recruiting service reporter -- resulted in a recruiting advantage for the Gators and “exceeded the boundaries of permissible recruiting.”

Still, UF wasn’t levied penalties due to its swift action and the determination Phillips acted alone and without direction. 

“The University of Florida Athletic Association takes pride in the culture of compliance it has built over the years. Integrity is one of the core values of our organization -- we act in a fair, ethical and honest manner and we strive to do things the right way every day,” UF athletic director Jeremy Foley said.

“That is why we took quick and decisive action after we learned of a recruiting contact rule violation involving one of our assistant football coaches in January 2014. We stopped recruiting the involved student-athlete, we removed the assistant coach from all recruiting activities, and later secured his resignation. We thank the NCAA Committee on Infractions for their thoughtful deliberation. We look forward to putting this issue behind us and we will continue to operate with the highest level of integrity and compliance.”

Phillips is currently the wide receivers coach for the Cleveland Browns. 

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February 10, 2015

Foley: Muschamp is "free to make a living"

GAINESVILLE -- Florida finished National Signing Day with a flurry, but after a number of ballyhooed in-state targets signed with Auburn, a former friend-turned-foe became the focal point of frustration in the Gator Nation.

Former UF coach Will Muschamp, now the Tigers’ defensive coordinator, helped AU land five-star defensive end Byron Coward, as well as four-star linebacker Jeffery Holland and four-star wideouts Ryan Davis and Javarius Davis. He also flipped UF offensive tackle commit Mike Horton. 

Gator fans were infuriated. Muschamp was recruiting against his former employer, while still getting paid by Florida. 

UF athletic director Jeremy Foley, who’s been criticized for not structuring a contract to protect the university against such possibilities, said he understands fans’ “angst” but that “it’s part of the deal.”

"First of all, it's a one-year conversation,” Foley said. 

“I get the angst that that causes. But at the end of the day, we terminated Will. It's not like he moved on on his own. We terminated his contract. We said we needed to go in a different direction. He's free to work. He's free to go get a job. He's free to go get a job. He's free to do his job.”

Muschamp was fired after four topsy turvy seasons in Gainesville, and Florida is on the hook for nearly $6.3 million. Auburn made Muschamp the highest-paid defensive coordinator in the country, but Florida did not receive any relief in the buyout due to zero mitigation in Muschamp’s contract.  

“Will didn’t work at all and we’re still paying him the same amount of money,” Foley said. 

“That’s the world we live in. This is the big leagues. These coaches have a tough job, these coaches are in demand. When you’re negotiating contracts with them. I’m not really worried about that. I also expected Will coach here a long, long time. I certainly expect Mac to be here a long, long time.”

Instead of focusing on fans’ frustrations, Foley acknowledged coach Jim McElwain’s successful inaugural class. 

“I imagine Auburn was recruiting some of those guys before he got up there. And Will's a good recruiter,” Foley said. 

“But so is Jim McElwain. Look what he did on signing day, look at what he did a couple of day prior to signing day. We’re all fine. I get, like I said, it’s good conversation, it’s angst, but, you know, we terminated Will’s contract. He’s free to go make a living like anybody else.”

Florida finished No. 21 nationally in team rankings after sitting in the 70’s a week before NSD.

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December 02, 2014

Florida's next head coach?

GAINESVILLE -- Four years ago, Jeremy Foley lured a former Nick Saban disciple to Florida, hoping to replicate Alabama’s football juggernaut.

It didn’t work, but UF’s athletic director is courting another coach with a Saban pedigree, interviewing Colorado State’s Jim McElwain on Tuesday afternoon, per multiple reports.

According to FlightAware.com, a private jet owned by a Florida booster left Jacksonville early Tuesday morning, picking up Foley in Gainesville and flying to Joplin, Mo., for a brief stop. The flight then landed in Fort Collins-Loveland Municipal airport in Colorado.

The website OnlyGators.com first reported the flight plan.

McElwain, 52, was named the Mountain West Conference coach of the year Tuesday, rapidly turning around a perennial bottom-feeder in three seasons at CSU.

The Rams were 3-9 for three consecutive years before McElwain took over in 2012.

He’s 22-16 at CSU, including 10-2 this season with wins over Power Five schools Colorado and Boston College.

Following four years of offensive futility at Florida, Foley aimed to hire a coach “with a track record” of offensive acumen.

McElwain fits the bill. 

He won a pair of national titles as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator from 2008-2011, and this season, CSU averaged 35.9 points a game, ranking seventh nationally in third down efficiency (51 percent) and passing (323.6 ypg).

Senior quarterback Garrett Grayson is third in the country in passer rating, boasting 32 touchdowns to just six interceptions. Meanwhile, wideout Rashard Higgins, a Biletnikoff Award finalist, leads in the country in receiving yards (1,640) and touchdowns (17).

Since 2013, CSU has scored 30+ points in 17 games. The Gators managed such a feat just 16 times in four seasons under Muschamp.

After a flurry of rumors over the weekend, Florida zeroed in on McElwain when Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze signed a four-year contract extension Monday, removing a potential target from the mix.

Foley turned his focus to McElwain, flying to personally interview and potentially offer the job Tuesday afternoon. 

McElwain signed a five-year contract extension with CSU in August, with an annual base salary at $1.5 million and a $7.5 million buyout.

According to McElwain’s contract, the buyout is negotiable with “extenuating circumstances,” meaning Florida could pay the sum in whole or agree to a neutral-site contest to cover the cost.

If hired, McElwain aims to “retain” UF defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin and defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson, esteemed defensive coaches and a pair of outstanding recruiters, per multiple reports.

Despite his SEC experience, McElwain is a Western native, born in Montana. He played quarterback for Eastern Washington (1980-83), and coached QBs and receivers at his alma mater from 1987-1994.

He was an assistant for 15 years in the Big Sky Conference before jumping to bigger jobs, including Louisville (2000-02), Michigan State (2003-05), the NFL’s Oakland Raiders (2006), Fresno State (2007) and then Alabama. 

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November 16, 2014

The Hot List: Where do Gators go next?

GAINEVILLE -- Will Muschamp -- Florida’s supposed prodigal son -- was fired resigned Sunday, effective at the end of the regular season.

Esteemed athletics director Jeremy Foley will open a search immediately, tacitly pursuing candidates under radio silence.

Florida is a Top 5 job -- rich athletic department, fertile recruiting base, solid roster foundation -- but the program’s systemic issues -- average facilities, substandard support staff, fickle fan base -- are real.

Unless Bob Stoops up and leaves Oklahoma, Foley isn’t hiring a defensive coach.

The Gators will target an experienced, offensive-minded coach, one that hopefully has Southeast ties and a solid recruiting background.

But the search to fill Muschamp’s vacancy won’t be easy. A potential list of who’s who candidates can be crossed off from the start.

Steve Spurrier, Dan Quinn, Charlie Strong, Art Briles, James Franklin, Gus Malzahn, Kevin Sumlin and Chad Morris will not be Florida’s next head coach.

Pipe-dream hires such as Chip Kelly or Jim Harbaugh are also unlikely, and thus, Foley’s job is extremely difficult.

Intriguing options remain, but few offer a perfect fit for UF.

Florida is sure to gauge the interest of Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze, Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez, Arizona State’s Todd Graham, UCLA’s Jim Mora and Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy.

Notably absent: Dan Mullen. Mississippi State’s coach is probably the hottest candidate on the market, but the former UF offensive coordinator reportedly has a sour relationship with Foley and may not even receive as much as a phone call.

Long-shots options include Colorado State’s Jim McElwain, Mike Shanahan or TCU’s Gary Patterson.

In the end, plenty of coaches will receive raises thanks to Florida’s interest, but make no mistake, Foley is under immense pressure to hit a home run.

The real question: Is there one out there?

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October 14, 2014

SEC commissioner Mike Slive to retire July 2015

GAINESVILLE -- Due to a recurrence of prostate cancer, Mike Slive will retire as SEC Commissioner on July, 31, 2015, the conference announced Tuesday.

Slive -- the league’s commissioner since 2002 -- leaves a historic legacy as the architect of the nation's most dominant conference. 

During 74-year-old’s 13-year tenure -- the SEC’s “golden age” -- the conference won seven straight BCS national times, 60 additional national championships, expanded into Texas and Missouri, launched an unprecedented TV network and increased revenues by record numbers.

“Mike possesses all of the qualities of a great leader – visionary, consensus builder, integrity, intuition and commitment, but more than anything he is a great friend to so many of us in this league,’’ said UF athletic director Jeremy Foley to Gatorzone.com.

“He’s led this conference to historical milestones during his tenure and the impact he’s had on collegiate athletics management and structure will be felt for many years. I look forward to working with him during his final year and in his future role as a consultant to the league.”

According to the release, Slive’s medical prognosis is “good,” and he will serve as a consultant for four years following his retirement. 

"I have been blessed in more ways than I can count and I will have as much passion for this job on my last day as I did on my first," Slive said.

"I consider my health situation a temporary detour in a remarkable road that has allowed me to meet amazing people, experience incredible events and celebrate historic victories. I will relish my final year in this position and look forward to being the biggest fan of the SEC for many years to come."

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September 27, 2014

Boom goes the dynamite? Not so fast

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GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp isn’t going anywhere.

Yet.

Despite a venomous and vociferous mob calling for Muschamp’s firing, the embattled head coach will survive the rest of the year and be evaluated at season’s end, according to UF athletic director Jeremy Foley.

Foley told Mike Bianchi at The Orlando Sentinel that Muschamp -- in his fourth season with the Gators -- will have the rest of the regular season to prove his mettle and turnaround a dwindling program.

"You never judge or evaluate a program based on one game or one season," Foley told the Sentinel.

"That's just not how we do things here. We're going to evaluate where we're headed – where the players are, how is recruiting going, what type of staff we have — are we a better (program)? That's going to be plain for all of us to see, but it's also going to be played out over the course of 11 games and we'll see where we are when we get to the end of the season."

Foley fired Ron Zook -- just 23-14 at Florida – mid-season in 2004, but Muschamp won’t endure a similar fate.

The Gators are fresh off a record-setting, three touchdown loss to No. 3 Alabama, leaving Muschamp with a career 24-17 mark as the head coach at UF.

While Muschamp’s entire body of work will be evaluated at end of the year, he won’t see a fifth autumn in Gainesville unless the Gators start winning some conference games.

Florida is just 1-6 in its last seven SEC contests, with marquee showdowns with Tennessee (Oct. 4), No. 17 LSU (Oct. 11), Missouri (Oct. 18), No. 12 Georgia (Nov. 1) and No. 13 South Carolina (Nov. 15) all remaining on its slate.

“The meat of our schedule is coming up,” Muschamp said. “We need to stay the course right now. Everything is still out there in front of us.” 

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July 09, 2014

SEC Network coming to Cox Communications

GAINESVILLE -- Florida fans can rest easy. 

Cox Communications, the major cable provider in Gainesville and much of North Central Florida, will carry the new SEC Network upon its launch on Aug. 14, ESPN and Cox announced Wednesday. 

“Cox is home to some of the biggest fans with five SEC schools in our markets,” Jill Campbell, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Cox Communications said in a release.  

“This is great news for alumni and fans across our footprint who will enjoy all the action and rivalries that have become synonymous with SEC sports.” 

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive added: “The addition of Cox is another very important step in the development of the SEC Network, bringing millions more viewers nationwide to the network when it launches on August 14.  As one of the largest cable television distributors in the U.S., including five states in the SEC footprint, this agreement with Cox has a significant impact on exposure for the SEC.”

The SEC Network will air 45 football games next season, including two of Florida's first three games (Eastern Michigan, Sept. 6; Kentucky, Sept. 13). 

Former Gators legend Tim Tebow will appear on the network as co-host of SEC Nation, a travelling pre-game show similar to College Gameday. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

June 11, 2014

Phillips resigns, Leak to take over WRs

GAINESVILLE -- For the fourth time in as many years, Florida will have a new wide receivers coach.

In a shocking announcement, Joker Phillips, a 26-year coaching veteran who joined the Gators’ staff in December 2012, resigned for “personal reasons,” the school announced Wednesday.

ESPN, citing anonymous sources, reported Phillips was forced to resign due to potential NCAA recruiting violations.

"I'm thankful for the opportunity that the University of Florida and Will Muschamp provided to me and my family, but at this time I have decided to step down from my position on the UF coaching staff for personal reasons," Phillips said in a statement.

"I appreciate Joker's contributions to our program and wish him and his wife, Leslie, nothing but the best in the future," head coach Will Muschamp added.

Phillips was also Florida’s recruiting coordinator, but the more pressing concern is UF’s merry-go-round coaching position.

Former Gators quarterback Chris Leak, a graduate assistant and quality control coach at Florida in 2013, was promoted and will replace Phillips as the wide receivers coach.

While Muschamp touted Leak as a “bright young coach,” the former national champion starting quarterback has minimal coaching experience and is the second graduate assistant in three seasons to either be promoted or coach the receivers despite the lack of coaching acumen.

"He is one of the all-time Gator greats and being at Florida is very important to him,” Muschamp said.

“He has been working with Coach [Kurt] Roper and our offensive staff and is very familiar with our players and new system."

Leak was a four-year starter at Florida (2003-06), amassing school records in yards (11, 213), completions (895) and attempts (1,458) while leading the Gators to their second school national championship in 2006.

"I appreciate the opportunity that Coach Muschamp has given me and my family," he said.

"It's an honor to be coaching at my alma mater where I have so many fond memories both on and off the field. We have a tremendous coaching staff, a great group of players and a support system in place and I'm excited to be a part of it."

More to come. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

May 30, 2014

Friday Fodder: Game times set, recruiting news, UF-UM update

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GAINESVILLE -- Florida fans will receive a brief reprieve from the heat this fall, as the Southeastern Conference announced the Gators’ season opener against Idaho (Aug. 30) will be a 7 p.m. kickoff on ESPNU. 

Earlier in the week, CBS announced the annual Florida-Georgia game in Jacksonville (Nov. 1) will be televised on the network for the 12th straight year with a 3:30 p.m. kickoff. 

The Gators now have four game times set, as UF’s home tilts against Eastern Michigan (Sept. 6) and Kentucky (Sept. 13) are scheduled for 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., respectively, with both games airing on the SEC Network. 

FAMILY CONNECTION

Three-star defensive tackle Andrew Ivie, younger brother of Florida sophomore defensive end Joey, committed to the Gators Thursday, per multiple recruiting services. 

The 6-foot-3, 288-pound Pasco product chose Florida over Ole Miss, Mississippi State and UCF. 

Ivie is the eighth prospect verbally pledged to UF’s 2015 class. 

UF-UM UPDATE

The SEC Spring Meetings concluded Friday, and while league commission Mike Slive announced several major tidbits from the week’s worth of discussions, the Florida-Miami series was a minor noteworthy topic early in the week. 

According to Associated Press reporter Mark Long, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said there’s “mutual interest” in renewing the Miami-Florida football series, but only as a “one-game deal at a neutral site.”

Foley’s quote on the matter hardly makes a potential showdown a reality (in the near or distant future), but it does clear up exactly how “receptive” Florida is in “renewing the series.”

The rub moving forward is how much cash can/will a neutral contest generate and what exactly constitutes a neutral site?

FILTHY RICH

The league announced record revenue in 2013, as $309.6 million will be distributed amongst the 14 schools -- an average of $20.9 million per university. With the league introducing its own TV network this summer, that number could double next season. 

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May 22, 2014

Donovan courted by NBA

GAINESVILLE -- Following another Final Four run, Florida coach Billy Donovan has been contacted by multiple NBA teams this offseason, he said Thursday.

Donovan stressed the conversations have been "brief," and he “fully plans on being back [in Gainesville] next season.”

“It’s always flattering, but at the same time, I’ve always said that I’m very happy here and like it here,” Donovan explained. 

“Jeremy [Foley] has been great here. I like where our program’s at and the direction we’re going.”

Florida’s coach, always guarded when speaking on the NBA following his flip-flop commitment on the Orlando Magic in 2007, didn’t disclose which NBA teams he talked to, but various media reports from league insiders said the Cleveland Cavilers and the Minnesota Timberwolves were among those interested.

“I got a few calls from a couple NBA teams. I’m going to leave it at that. After the Orlando situation, that’s all I’m saying. That’s it. So I’m not going to get into, ‘He’s lying, he’s not being truthful.’ I got a couple of calls, that’s all it is.”

Donovan has led the Gators to four Final Fours in 18 seasons and recently signed a contract extension to keep him at Florida through the 2018-19 season.

NOTHING CHANGED

Damontre Harris, officially removed from UF's roster Wednesday, did not “earn his way back” on the team this offseason, Donovan said.

“Damontre is not a bad kid, he’s a good kid, but really undisciplined and unreliable in a lot of ways. … The things we were talking about is like going to class, being on time, being in the weight room, lifting, showing up to practice, those kind of things. Basically we evaluated him over that two and a half, three months over that second semester and clearly nothing had changed at all.”

Donovan has not spoken with Harris face-to-face since the end of the season, with Harris skipping a meeting on his future sometime in recent weeks. 

INJURY UPDATES

Rutgers transfer guard Eli Carter is “80-85 percent” after missing most of the 2013-14 season recovering from a gruesome leg injury sustained with the Scarlet Knights in February 2013. Donovan said trainers expect Carter to be 100 percent by fall camp in October.

Meanwhile, guard Dillion Graham, another medical redshirt last season, continues a slow, painful recovery from bone spurs in both hips and is not expected to be cleared for any contact until September-October.

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May 01, 2014

Gators debut on SEC Network in Week 2

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GAINESVILLE -- Two of Florida’s first three games in 2014 will be broadcast on the new SEC Network, ESPN announced Thursday. 

The Gators’ Sept. 6 game against Eastern Michigan (4 p.m.) and Sept. 13 SEC opener against Kentucky (7:30 p.m.) will air on the network. 

According to the release, all 14 league teams will appear on the SEC Network within the first four weeks of the season.  

INJURY REPORT

During the conference’s spring teleconference Wednesday, Florida coach Will Muschamp updated the status of several sidelined players set to be cleared this week. 

Tailback Matt Jones, who missed spring practice recovering from a serious knee injury, is “on target,” Muschamp said. 

Also “on track” are linebackers Alex Anzalone (shoulder) and Matt Rolin (knee), as well as sixth-year senior wideout Andre Debose. 

“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” Muschamp said. 

QUOTABLE 

“It’s fine with me. I was for eight games. It isn’t all fair all the time, that’s part of it. Whatever format they went with eight games I was good with it. … There’s no perfect answer to please everybody. We did what is best for our league. We all have hidden agendas whatever university we represent.”

-- Muschamp on the finalization of the future SEC schedule

2015 CLASS ADDS ANOTHER

West Orange cornerback/tailback/athlete Jalen Julius committed to Florida late Wednesday night, according to multiple recruiting services. 

Later, Julius, a three-star prospect, confirmed his verbal pledge on Twitter. 

Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 3.43.00 PMJulius is Florida’s seventh commit in its 2015 class.  

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April 21, 2014

Crowned: Gators earn repeat title (and win a bunch of other games too)

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GAINESVILLE -- Normally, I don’t scribe about Florida’s secondary sports, but I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the hardware (and wins) the Gators collected over a profitable weekend. 

Somewhere, Jeremy Foley is stoked. 

To wit:

* Florida’s women’s gymnastics team clinched back-to-back national titles Saturday night, tying Oklahoma for the first-ever co-champs in the NCAA Super Six. The Gators, who’s team score of 198.175 was the highest score in the history of the NCAA Championships, rallied with a dominating floor rotation and capped a remarkable comeback to share the stage with the Sooners.  

* No. 4 UF’s women’s lacrosse team topped No. 5 Northwestern 13-12 on the road, winning its fourth straight American Lacrosse Conference title.  

* The fifth-ranked Gators women’s softball team swept No. 21 Texas A&M in Gainesville, as coach Tim Walton earned his 600th career victory with Sunday’s 8-0 shutout. 

* Kevin O’Sullivan’s pesky baseball team, ranked No. 18 nationally, swept Georgia at home with a 10-3 win on Easter. Following a rainout Friday evening, the Gators played a double-header Saturday and won three games in roughly 24 hours. 

And while we’re here, some other news and notes over the past week...

PIPELINE CONTINUES

Rivals100 cornerback Marcus Lewis verbally committed to the Gators last Thursday, continuing Florida’s tradition of landing top-flight defensive backs under head coach Will Muschamp. 

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The 2015 four-star corner, originally out of Washington D.C.’s Gonzaga High, is planning on transferring to IMG Academy in Bradenton this summer -- according to multiple recruiting outlets. 

Lewis is the sixth prospect verbally pledged to Florida’s 2015 recruiting class. 

THIS & THAT

On Friday, former Florida point guard Nick Calathes, a backup guard with the Memphis Grizzlies, was suspended 20 games for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy. 

According to a release, Calathes tested positive for Tamoxifen, however, lab results showed no traces of testosterone or performance-enhancing drugs. Calathes is set to appeal/fight the suspension. …  According to 247Sports, Florida tops all colleges with the most former players (10) in the 2014 NBA playoffs.

*****UPDATE*****

According to multiple reports, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah will be named the 2014 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, the most prestigious individual honor ever earned in the NBA by a former Gator. Noah anchored one of the league's top defensive teams, averaging 11.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals. 

Finally, Editor’s note: I understand the Herald blogs haven’t worked properly lately and the higher-ups are aware of the issue. Thanks. Now you all may proceed and spit about how much you don't care about Florida's secondary sports.

Go. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

December 19, 2013

Welcome to Jerry World: Gators set to play in 2017 Cowboys Classic

GAINESVILLE -- For the first time since George H.W. Bush was President, the Gators will play a non-conference game outside the state of Florida.  

UF will kickoff its 2017 football season in primetime against Michigan at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the school announced Thursday.

The Cowboys Classic is scheduled for Sept. 2.

“You don't get these opportunities very often,”' UF athletic director Jeremy Foley said. “Our schedule has been pretty consistent through the years. We were presented this opportunity and just thought it was something that our fans would embrace, our program would embrace.”

The Big Ten-SEC matchup will be the Gators' first non-conference game outside the state of Florida since losing at Syracuse (38-21) in 1991, but Foley called the marquee non-conference game "the exception, not the rule." 

"I think when you are presented with unique opportunities you need to look at it for your fans' sake, for your program's sake,'' he said. "It's something we will not do on a consistent basis because we like playing seven home games. Seven home games are obviously important to our program, important to the city of Gainesville. It will be very much the exception, not the rule, but to sit here and totally close the door on these opportunities just doesn't make sense." 

UF and Michigan have met twice -- 2003 Outback Bowl, 2008 Capital One Bowl -- both wins by the Wolverines. 

Each school will receive 25,000 tickets for the neutral-site game. According to the Michigan release, Florida will serve as the home team, while the officials will come from the Big 12 conference. 

According to David Jones of The Florida Today, the Gators will receive a $6 million payout for participating in the Cowboys Classic.  

AT&T Stadium, originally Cowboys Stadium, opened in 2009 and hosted Super Bowl XLV. The $1.2 billion stadium can seat over 100,000 (with expanded standing-room only tickets) and is scheudled to host the 2014 NCAA Men's Final Four and the first college football national championship under the new playoff format in 2015.

“This is a great opportunity to expose the University of Florida nationally, playing one of the greatest programs in the history of college football, I think a tremendous trip for our fans,” Foley said. “We just haven't done much of this, certainly as long as I've been athletic director. I think there are a lot of positives that come out of it.”

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November 27, 2013

Dead man walking?

GAINESVILLE -- Brent Pease appears resigned to his fate.

During a somber press conference Tuesday, Florida’s besieged offensive coordinator was peppered with hot-seat questions instead of how to score on No. 2 Florida State’s hotshot defense.

Pease said he hopes to return to the Gators in 2014 and believes he’s earned the right do so, but the embattled coach acknowledged his murky future with the team. 

“I think you look at the first year and some of the situations and knowing the body of work and not just a game-to-game basis and situations we’ve been under [this season]. I hope any evaluations are looked at that way,” Pease said in his defense. “But I understand things, too. It’s not like, I know you’ve got to win and have success. If it’s not meant to be… I came into this with friends, and I’m walking out of it with friends.”

During a lengthy press conference -- possibly Pease’s final meeting with the local media with numerous reports regarding his future employment -- UF’s second-year coordinator spoke softly but candidly, handling a number of tough questions with dignity and grace.

Inundated with inquires regarding the fans’ ever-deafening criticism, Pease said, “That’s how it is. If it's coming my way, then it's coming my way. You've just got to kind of take the blows."

Florida’s attack ranks in the bottom-20 nationally in scoring offense (No. 111), total offense (No. 113) and red zone offense (No. 118), but it’s been a unit decimated by injuries. The Gators have lost two quarterbacks, three offensive tackles and a starting tailback to season-ending injuries.

Although head coach Will Muschamp has received a public vote of confidence from the school’s administration, Pease -- and the rest of UF’s offensive staff -- has not. After Florida dropped its sixth-straight game Saturday -- a mind-blowing defeat to Division 1-AA Georgia Southern -- Muschamp called UF’s offensive woes “infectious.”

Muschamp has cited the team’s injury list as a reason to skirt complete culpability for UF’s woeful 4-7 season, and Pease was asked if he’s feeling scapegoated despite the same facts.

"I don't know,” he said. “That's a tough question to answer. … You can always address that question later.”

... For the rest of the piece, click the link

VIDEO: Pease on the offense's "infectious" role, his future, why he deserves to return in 2014 and more.

 

BONUS QUOTE:

Muschamp (Wednesday on Pease): "When you lose three offensive tackles, two quarterbacks, a 1,000-yard rusher and a receiver, it makes it very difficult. Very difficult to call plays. Brent's a good playcaller and an outstanding football coach. It's been frustrating for all of us, including him, our production offensively this year."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 25, 2013

Changes looming, but Muschamp not going anywhere

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s historic defeat to Georgia Southern -- a middling and mediocre Football Championship Subdivision team with double-digit losses to Samford, Wofford and Appalachian State -- ignited a wildfire in an-already toxic environment. 

A seething Gator Nation hoped (and presumed) a seismic coaching shakeup was looming. One week prior to Saturday’s embarrassing loss, Florida fans were told to “get a grip,” and then the Gators dropped a home game to a FCS foe winless in 20 tries against FBS competition.

But to the dismay of a disgruntled fan base, embattled head coach Will Muschamp isn’t going anywhere.

“It’s all disappointing. It’s hard to really measure it,” Muschamp said following Florida’s sixth straight loss. “It’s my job to get it fixed. We will get it fixed.”

Muschamp will presumably get that chance.

Boom(Courtesy bleacherreport.com)

Despite presiding over one of the worst defeats in school-history -- the Gators paid the Eagles $550,000 to come into The Swamp and humiliate a team that won 11 games just last season -- UF’s third-year coach is all-but-assured to return in 2014.

UF’s 4-7 campaign, its first losing season since Jimmy Carter was president, has been effectively written off by the school’s administration because of the team’s crippling injury situation, losing 10 players to season-ending surgeries including quarterback Jeff Driskel, star defensive tackle Dominique Easley and three offense tackles.

Two weeks ago, following a then-momentous home loss to Vanderbilt, athletics director Jeremy Foley released a public vote of confidence, saying he’s “a thousand percent convinced” in Muschamp’s leadership. Despite Saturday’s harrowing defeat, the administration’s sentiment hasn’t changed, according to UF spokesperson Steve McClain.

On Sunday, McClain told ESPN’s Joe Schad that Foley’s position remains resolute. 

But while Muschamp will survive the tidal wave of criticism, Florida’s program remains seemingly directionless and answerless.

UF’s defense -- Muschamp’s brainchild -- surrendered 429 yards rushing, but for the first time all season, Muschamp lashed out at UF’s incompetent offense.

Florida’s coach called their struggles “infectious,” while distancing himself from beleaguered coordinator Brent Pease. ..."

For the rest of the story, click the link

ICYMI: Here's the gamer, notebook and grades from Florida's embarressing loss to Georgia Southern. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 14, 2013

Muddled thoughts on Muschamp's (still) murky future

GAINESVILLE -- It was nice. It was (probably) necessary. It changes little.

BOOM.

BOOM.

BOOM.

Ultimately, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley’s platitude-filled word salad vote of confidence Wednesday afternoon hardly moved the needle for embattled coach Will Muschamp’s future.

Again, it was nice.

But the prevailing sentiment in recent weeks -- even after a third-straight loss to Georgia -- was that Muschamp’s job was safe for 2014.

Yes, the Vanderbilt defeat was humiliating, catastrophic and [enter any hyperbole and multiply it by 1000. Hey just like Foley!!!], but to think one loss should suddenly change Foley’s judgment on a coach is myopic and stupid.

Media.247sports.com(Courtesy media.247sports.com)

Foley’s declaration was bold, but hardly tangible and definitely not black or white.

Muschamp is 22-13 at Florida with a fluky, funky, fortunate 11-2 season sandwiched between his tough first season as a head coach (7-6) and now Florida’s worst fall campaign since the Iranian hostage crisis.

There’s little need to rehash Muschamp’s line-by-line resume, but it’s suffice to say, he’s breaking too many wrong records. Florida’s third-year head coach is a defensive savant, but he’s presided over an offense even masochists find appalling.  Florida’s program might’ve been “broken” in 2010, but it wasn’t devoid of talent -- as so many experts wailed. 

To date, Muschamp’s credentials as a bonifide CEO remain unknown -- a frightening proposition for a school with such history and resources.

Significant issues with talent evaluation, player development and, yes, basic wins and losses (even with so many injuries this year) have led to Muschamp’s comeuppance.

It appears when not if he’s no longer the head coach of the Gators.

And yet, maybe not and that’s what makes Foley’s PR move so interesting.

Foley’s “1000 percent convinced” could be one-billionth percent, but it doesn’t change Muschamp’s murky future.

But if taken literally??? Foley could be committing to Muschamp well past 2014 -- even with a third (out of four) rebuilding season in sight.

Staff changes appear in order -- although Foley’s comment about UF’s Sugar Bowl season at least hints this too may fall in the grey -- but that’s a slippery slope that almost always leads to the head coach seeking future employment too.

While conventional wisdom says what should be done eventually must be done immediately, [COVER YOUR EYES AND EARS, GATOR NATION] there’s a chance additional staff turnover could only further exacerbate the problems in the present. So how long is Foley willing to wait on the future?

How long is that rope? Is the investment -- and chance Muschamp does develop into a great CEO -- worth doubling-down?

While many have called Muschamp’s pressure Zookian -- they’re wrong. It’s worse. Florida won two national championships after Ron Zook was not-so-kindly asked to exit stage left.

The malaise surrounding Florida’s program is part Muschamp’s bunker-mentality and part unbridled delusion of a fan base.  After losing just seven games in a ridiculous four-year stretch, Florida’s lost 18 games (and counting) in the four seasons since. That’s as many as Texas and more than Virginia Tech (15), Michigan (14), Kansas State (15) or Nebraska (15). The Gator Nation considers itself a class above all those teams. 

Even with a pair of beatdowns looming, Muschamp -- with all the injuries, one-season removed from a BCS appearance and his yearly recruiting exploits -- deserves a fourth year, but the lame duck questions won’t go away.

A ringing endorsement from one of the nation’s most powerful ADs simply confirmed the consensus for this offseason, but 2014 is still shaping up to be a tumultuous year in Gainesville.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

November 13, 2013

1000% Committed

GAINESVILLE -- Florida -- a preseason top 10 team -- appears poised for its first losing season since 1979, but embattled head coach Will Muschamp has not lost the support of the UF administration.

For the first time since hiring Muschamp in December 2010, athletics director Jeremy Foley and school president Bernie Machen publically reaffirmed their commitment to Muschamp in an official statement released on the school website Wednesday afternoon.

“As athletic director, I’m a thousand percent convinced that Will Muschamp is the guy to lead this football program,’’ Foley said. “Nothing has changed in what we feel about Will Muschamp from the day we hired him. “Everyone around here wants the same thing. We want to do what is right for the University of Florida. We understand that this football season has not gone the way any of us wanted it to go, certainly not the way our fans wanted it to go, and most of all, not the way Will Muschamp wanted it to go.”

Media.247sports.com(Courtesy media.247sports.com)

Added Machen: “I want the Gator Nation to know that I have full confidence in Coach Muschamp and his leadership of the football program.’’

Muschamp is 22-13 as Florida’s coach. The Gators went 11-2 just a season ago, but in the midst of their  second four-game losing streak in three seasons -- Florida’s only such skids since 1990 -- the Gator Nation has grown restless.

Florida was humiliated last Saturday, losing to Vanderbilt 34-17 at home for the first time since World War II (1945). 

But despite a season marred by injuries (10 season-ending surgeries), offensive ineptitude (a likely third-straight finish in the bottom-20 nationally in total offense) and all the wrong records being broken (Florida’s 22-season bowl streak), Foley remains assured Muschamp is the right man for the job.

“I understand the passion and the disappointment,’’ Foley said. “But at the end of the day, we’ve got great fans, they love the Gators and their passion makes this place special. They are hurting, they want the program to be successful and we feel that hurt.”

“We have a history of being successful, we have a history of fixing things when they need to be fixed, and that is what is going to happen here, and Coach Muschamp is the one that will fix it.”

Muschamp’s contract runs through 2017. Foley pleaded for fans’ patience, while also citing his faith in Muschamp’s coaching abilities.

“We will get better under Will Muschamp’s leadership,’’ Foley said. “This is not the quote-unquote dreaded ‘vote of confidence.’ This is just how we all feel around here. We have a strong faith and a strong belief in his capabilities, in his leadership skills, in his ability to evaluate what needs to be fixed.”

“Go back to a year ago: we’re 11-1 and beat four teams in the Top 10 and he was SEC Coach of the Year. I don’t think that was a fluke. I think coaching had a lot to do with that. We’ll stay the course here. We’ll get it right. We’re not going to let Gator fans down. We want the same thing they want.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 09, 2013

July 26, 2013

BOOM: FNL, Muschamp nets raise, open practice dates announced

UPDATE! UPDATE! UPDATE!

Here's Safid Deen's piece from FNL last night, centered around the South Florida trio who may unite as Gator teammates. 

UF also collected its first verbal commitment for the 2015 Class from Miami Central wide receiver Da'Vante Phillips during the event. Phillips is a four-star prospect according to ESPN and the high school teammate of running back Dalvin Cook, Florida's top-rated commitment in its 2014 Class. 

PREVIOUSLY ON GATOR CLAUSE...

Tonight (like, right now) Florida hosts Friday Night Lights, its annual recruiting extravaganza (‘a camp’, officially) held in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Top prospects from the 2014 and 2015 classes will flood to Gainesville en masse as Will Muschamp & Co. look to build on some recent recruiting momentum after a blah couple of months on the trail.

Highly coveted five-star prospect Adoree’ Jackson, Rivals’ ninth-ranked player in the 2014 Class, is expected to be in attendance, as are multiple Florida verbal commitments. The rumored list of camp attendees is a who’s who of ballyhooed prospects, but the phrase ‘reportedly attending’ has to be attached with so many fickle 18-year-olds.

The Gators already received some good news earlier in the week with two verbal commitments for the 2014 class: OL/DL Donte Angus, a three-star prospect according to Rivals and Justus Reed, another three-star defensive lineman.

Today, Tre Jackson, a Florida legacy and 2016 prospect, committed to the Gators. Jackson is the son of former UF receiver Jack Jackson.

Full disclosure, I am no recruiting expert and will not be in attendance tonight. I will not pretend to be omnipotent and pass along all the rumors circulating around Gainesville this weekend. The Herald is sending someone in my place, and I’ll link his story on the blog. Later, I’ll post a recap of the event/weekend too.

If all goes well I expect Muschamp to look like…

Colbert

Then again, we’re talking about kids here, so he could be like…

Tumblr_m2ldlwvZn11qihztbo1_500

(http://www.reactiongifs.com/)

 

CASH MONEY

As first reported by The Sporting News, Muschamp has received a $250,000 yearly raise on a contract that runs through the 2017 season.

Florida’s coach will now earn an annual salary right around $3 million, making him the seventh-highest paid coach in the Southeastern Conference.

The league’s top compensated coaches are Alabama’s Nick Saban ($5.5 million), LSU’s Les Miles ($3.8 million), South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier ($3.3 million), Georgia’s Mark Richt ($3.2 million), Arkansas’ Bret Bielema ($3.2 million) and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin ($3.1 million).

In a statement (via Gainesville Sun), Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said, “[Florida president] Dr. [Bernie] Machen and I believe very strongly in Coach Muschamp and his leadership and we felt it was appropriate to adjust his salary to be more in line with the market value.”

FO’ FREE?

Florida announced four practice dates open to the public this summer, including one session in The Swamp.

The Gators kickoff training camp on Aug. 2 with the following dates open to the public for free.

* Thursday, August 15 – Time TBA – Donald R. Dizney Stadium (lacrosse field)


* Saturday, August 17 – 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. – Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
 (with Fan Day to follow)

* Monday, August 19 – Time TBA – Sanders Football Practice Facility


* Tuesday, August 20 – Time TBA – Sanders Football Practice Facility

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

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