Gators embrace Addazio
NEW ORLEANS -- As Steve Addazio listened to Florida coach Urban Meyer talk about his health and his future, it never crossed his mind what kind of reaction players would have when he was picked to be the Gators' interim coach.
Addazio was unprepared for their response.
They gave the longtime assistant an overwhelming reception, an ovation so long and loud that it even caught superstar quarterback Tim Tebow off guard.
"It was one of the loudest rounds of ovation and applause that I have been a part of in my entire life," Tebow said Monday. "The team, the players clapped probably for three or four minutes and didn't stop. You could see coach Addazio getting emotional while we were doing that because it meant so much to him. I think that was one of the coolest parts of the last two days."
Addazio will take over next week, filling in during Meyer's indefinite leave of absence brought on by recurring chest pains and an alarming hospital visit three weeks ago. Addazio has one goal in mind: Keep the team humming along until Meyer returns.
Although Addazio received his share of criticism during his first year as Florida's offensive coordinator, he has been given nothing but votes of confidence from players and peers since arriving in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl.
"He knows how to lead a team and get a team going," center Maurkice Pouncey said. "We love Addazio to death. I almost teared up for him. It was a great moment."
Addazio's coaching resume includes stops at Syracuse (1995-98), Notre Dame (1999-01) and Indiana (2002-04). He also spent three years at Western Connecticut State (1985-87) and seven seasons at a Connecticut high school.
This will be considerably different.
The Gators haven't worked out details regarding Meyer's absence. Will he still be involved in recruiting? Will he be in charge of hiring a defensive coordinator to replace Charlie Strong? Or will Addazio handle most of the big decisions involving one of the premier programs in college football?
And what happens if Meyer doesn't return at all? Would athletic director Jeremy Foley really turn things over to a guy whose only head-coaching experience came at Cheshire High about two decades ago?
"I feel great about the fact that they trusted me with this role, but I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about it," said Addazio, who's known for his "Vitamin Addazio" speeches during pregame breakfasts. "It's not about me. It's not. It sounds corny, but that's how I feel about it. I'm not really interested in the other stuff. I'm just interested in making sure our players are good, our coaches are good, coach Meyer is good. We've got a lot of work to do now."
Addazio expects other schools to use Florida's unsettled coaching situation to try to sway some of the nation's prized recruits. It's something he knows he will have to counter, and his pitch could be simple.
"At the end of the day, everything's going to stay the way it's supposed to stay and it will all be back to the way it's supposed to be back," Addazio said. "It's nothing to overreact to right now."
Meyer said Sunday his gut feeling was that he would be coaching the Gators next fall. He acknowledged the possibility of having a procedure to alleviate chest pains that started four years ago, but would not say if he had a heart condition. He insisted he didn't have a heart attack and refused to say whether doctors told him he needed to step away or risk greater damage.
Meyer will coach Florida though Friday night's Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati, then turn things over to Addazio.
"Continuity is the issue here," Addazio said. "That's my role. My role's to come in here and keep a great program on a great course and keep continuity."
The 50-year-old Addazio said the transition should go smoothly because of is his relationship with Meyer and because he has so much in common with his boss.
"We're both driven, but different personalities," Addazio said. "At the end of the day, we share a lot of the same interests. Family is most important, love of players, drive to want to get it the best it can be, intensity, energy, juice. Those are real common traits."
Addazio and Meyer learned that early on, even in their first meeting more than a decade ago.
Addazio was an assistant at Syracuse, and Meyer was at Notre Dame when they crossed paths on a recruiting trip to Central Bucks West High School in Pennsylvania.
"We were just laughing about it a week ago," Addazio said. "The only two idiots to get up as early as we did to watch their early morning workouts were Urban Meyer and Steve Addazio."
They both showed up around 6 a.m. to evaluate an offensive lineman and ended up eating dinner together later that night. A few years later, they were on the same staff in South Bend, Ind.
"We became good friends," Addazio said. "You're attracted to guys who in your mind see it the way you see it, and he was an O-line coach coaching receivers. It was just the best thing to watch. We laughed, had a lot of fun and spent a lot of time together.
"We're both different kind of cats."
Maybe that's why Addazio's promotion, even if it's only temporary, was so well received.
"The team has so much respect for him," Tebow said. "We're so excited that he got this opportunity, this position, and everybody's behind him. I think it's just going to be a rallying cry to go out there and do well for coach Addazio and make him look good. He'll handle the pressure and I think everybody's behind him 100 percent."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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