Publicly, the Gators aren’t sweating the Urban Meyer drama surrounding the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl.
Sure, the man who led Florida to two national championships and three SEC title games in six years will soon be manning the Ohio State team the Gators are pitted against at Everbank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., but Florida players aren’t concerning themselves with the iconic figure that left the program a year ago.
“We talk about it a little bit, but it’s just the same old game,” Florida safety Josh Evans said. “We’re just getting ready for them, nothing’s changed. I’m pretty sure there are some people that probably feel some type of way about it, but we don’t really discuss it as much.”
It probably helps that Meyer won’t be in town for the game.
There’s no doubt some Florida players are steaming over Meyer’s decision to head back into coaching a year after leaving Florida. When Meyer said he was stepping down to be closer with his family and tend to his health, players surely supported him.
A year later, you’d have to be naïve to think that some of those same players don’t have some ill will toward Meyer.
And that’s natural. It’s a part of a sport where coaches create very close bonds with young athletes. Some players, like wide receiver Andre Debose, head to a university just because of the head coach.
“Coach Meyer was the reason I came to Florida,” Debose said. “Point blank. He was the reason.”
Debose said he wasn’t upset with Meyer’s decision and could understand reasons why he would take a job so soon after stepping down.
“I’ve learned over the years since I’ve been in college that it’s a business, and it’s all about money,” he said. “So I mean, I wouldn’t turn down whatever he was offered. So I’m happy for him. He went to the money. It’s a business. I’m happy for him.”
There were a handful of “no comments” spouted by Gator players when they were first asked about Meyer taking the Ohio State job, and sophomore safety Matt Elam, whose relationship with Meyer stems back to when his older brother was recruited by Meyer to Notre Dame, tweeted about how he couldn’t wait to play Ohio State shortly after the Meyer news broke.
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd didn’t hesitate to say that he’s pretty motivated to play the Buckeyes -- but it has nothing to do with Meyer.
Floyd is pumped to play Ohio State because the Buckeyes were second to Florida on his recruiting list.
“I think that’s what I’m more excited about getting to play my second choice,” Floyd said. “I’m not really looking at it like playing coach Meyer’s school, I’m just looking at it as playing my second choice. I can’t wait.”
The pre-bowl drama everyone wanted from the Florida side of this thing just isn’t there. Maybe you’ll see a little more trash talk during the actual game. Maybe some hits will be delivered a little harder, and maybe some runs will administered a little tougher.
Whether the Gators are being sincere about Meyer is up for debate, but what is clear is that players are killing this distraction with kindness.
“He’s going to do what’s best for him and his family -- no hard feelings over here,” Floyd said. “If I seen the guy today, I would still shake his hand and talk to him with a normal conversation. That’s the name of the game, it can happen anywhere. So I say congrats and good luck to him.”