December 28, 2009
The questions about Urban Meyer's future at Florida far outweigh the answers in the wake of one of the most tumultuous 24-hour stories in recent memory, but we did get one firm answer out of the weekend: Immediately after the final gun in Friday's Sugar Bowl, Meyer is out, and Steve Addazio is in for the foreseeable future.
So: Who the hell is Steve Addazio? He is not, contrary to some rumors among the Gator faithful, former secretary of state Alexander Haig, although it's not a fruitless comparison: Just as Haig tried to jump the line of succession to the White House when Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981, Addazio would have been third in line at best to ascend to the interim chair a year ago, behind Meyer's right-hand men, offensive coordinator Dan Mullen and defensive coordinator Charlie Strong. After Mullen left to take over moribund Mississippi State, Addazio almost certainly would have still ranked behind Strong at the start of the month, before Strong left to take over moribund Louisville. He might have ranked behind another longtime Meyer assistant, receivers coach and top recruiter Billy Gonzales, if Gonzales hadn't just left for a job at LSU. In that sense, Addazio is the guy because he's one of the only guys left.
That is, he's one of the only veteran Meyer disciples left, having worked with Meyer when both were on Bob Davie's staff at Notre Dame and re-joined his old colleague when Urban landed the Florida gig in 2005. (As opposed to the only remaining member of the staff with college head coaching experience, defensive line coach and former Iowa State boss Dan McCarney, who only joined the fold in 2008.) Addazio's last head coaching job was at Cheshire High in Connecticut from 1988-94, in which time he won four straight state championships and put together one of the longest winning streaks in the nation before moving up to coach offensive linemen at Syracuse; he was briefly considered for the top job at 'Cuse last year, before he was promoted at Florida to replace Mullen as offensive coordinator, a position he'd held for three years at Indiana.
The results of his work in that role, to put it charitably, are in the eye of the beholder. On one hand, the Gators had one of the most balanced attacks in the country, leading the SEC in total offense for the third year in a row with Tim Tebow at the helm and actually improving its standing nationally, from 15th in yards per game in 2008 to 13th in 2009. But you can only swallow that line if you never actually watched the offense in action, with essentially the entire '08 lineup in tow, in which case you couldn't pretend there wasn't a significant regression against teams other than Charleston Southern, Troy and Florida International:
The tempo seemed to slow considerably following Tebow's concussion against Kentucky, beginning with the 13-3 clinch-fest against LSU in the next game, when the Gators ran three times as often as they passed, for just four yards per carry. But the defense was doing the heavy lifting even earlier, in the surprisingly close win over Tennessee in September, in which Tebow ran 24 times and didn't complete a pass for 20 yards. The downfield passing game was an issue all season, with the short shovel pass to Aaron Hernandez as likely to break for big yards as Tebow attempting to find any of his receivers deep; for the first time in four years, Tebow seemed to not entirely trust his line or his receivers, and the whole operation sometimes seemed out of sync for long stretches compared to its explosiveness with Mullen calling the shots.
That may not have as much to do with Addazio taking over play-calling as Florida fans want to believe -- maybe the scheme really missed Percy Harvin's vesatility and big-play knack that much, or opposing defenses made some key, fundamental adjustment to the system Meyer had employed to such great effect for so long -- and it doesn't have much bearing on his (probably) temporary promotion if Meyer is back in the saddle by the fall, as he apparently expects to be. If Addazio takes the team through spring practice and into the summer before handing the reins back to Meyer before the season, "Steve Addazio, Head Coach" will go down as a minor footnote in Gator history.
If he leads a largely rebuilt team on the field for a few that count, though, Florida's getting a guy who won a lot of games in high school and has coached some pretty good offensive lines, who's main qualification appears to be his presence on the Gator staff for the last five years. That's putting the Meyer System to the test.