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July 6, 2013
The Silver Lining
The Silver Lining comes to you at week's end during the summer to highlight some of the most important Florida Gators-related sports stories from the past week.
* Junior quarterback Jeff Driskel signing a baseball contract with the Boston Red Sox, which selected him in the 29th round of the 2013 MLB Draft, became a much bigger story than it should have been late Wednesday. Though the initial source of the news, WEEI.com's Alex Speier, had the story correct in the first place, a lack of detail in his initial tweet led some to believe that Driskel had not necessarily signed with the Red Sox in the same vein that Russell Wilson signed with the Colorado Rockies. (Wilson never swung a bat for Colorado, finishing college and getting drafted by the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.) Additionally, a denial from Driskel's mother, Mary Driskel, confused things even more. Eventually his father, Jerry Driskel, confirmed his son's signing and made it clear that football remained his top priority.
Nevertheless, Florida fans that continue to irrationally hate and disrespect Driskel found a problem with his decision to basically take free money from Boston for simply deciding to give the team his baseball rights for six years. Insinuations that Driskel is not focused on football or somehow does not care about doing everything he can to improve as a player during the offseason for the Gators are simply off-base, as is the contention by some that Driskel is not talented enough to lead Florida simply because he struggled at times during his true sophomore season. For a first-year starter forced to emerge from a quarterback competition that ended with the back-up more than perturbed and some on the team believing Jacoby Brissett did not get a fair shot to win the job, Driskel had an admirable first season at the helm of an offense under a brand new coordinator, his second in as many collegiate seasons.
He completed 63.7 percent of his passes and posted a 2.4-1 touchdown-interception ratio (12-5), throwing all of those interceptions in just three games (one in a 38-0 win against Kentucky, two in a turnover-filled loss to Georgia and two more in Florida's tough Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville). That's a completion rate and ratio that mimics Chris Leak a lot more than it does John Brantley. He also proved that his mobility can be a major asset, scoring four touchdowns on the ground including three in a single game. In fact, against Vanderbilt and South Carolina in consecutive weeks, Driskel registered seven of his team's nine touchdowns.
So before Gators fans decide that throwing stones at Driskel for a relatively common and not surprising decision (with the benefit of hindsight), realize he's the best chance you have to have success in 2013 and most likely 2014 as well.
* The murder investigation of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd continues and every new detail uncovered seems to put Aaron Hernandez's innocence in greater doubt. In addition to separate stories released this week looking at incidents Hernandez was involved in (one way or another) while a resident of Gainesville, FL, in 2007, more recent information is also coming to light.
Massachusetts State Police found a "flop house" apartment Hernandez owned that contained the same ammunition used to kill Lloyd and a white hoodie that he may have been wearing the night of the incident. A Hernandez associate that investigators wanted to question was killed early Sunday when he was involved in a car accident with a vehicle registered to his father-in-law, who also happens to be Hernandez's uncle. Bristol County corrections officers reviewed tattoos on Hernandez's torso for gang affiliations and have not found anything solid, as of press time, but it appears that Carlos Ortiz, also in jail in connection with the murder, was indeed involved in one. Perhaps most interesting to sports fans, a scouting service in the business of psychologically profiling players told the Wall Street Journal that it found back in 2010 that Hernandez enjoyed "living on the edge of acceptable behavior" and that he "could be seen as a problem" for his new team. In a test conducted by the service Hernandez also scored a one out of 10 in "social maturity" despite finishing with nines and 10s in most other categories.
* Speaking of irrational hate, I used to be under the impression that Florida fans were taking things a bit too far with comments made about Urban Meyer. Sure, he may have left the program under somewhat false pretenses. Yes, he said he was leaving for his health and his family but decided to work at ESPN rather than even take a year off. Of course, he immediately pounced on the Ohio State job opportunity. But in some ways, I still felt fans should have given him a slight benefit of the doubt. The man did win two national championships, after all. Even if one could not find it within themselves to stop disliking Meyer completely, perhaps the vitriol could be turned down a bit the further away he got from UF.
So when FOX Sports' Clay Travis, citing sources, accused Meyer this week of reporting the Gators and running backs coach Brian White for a minor secondary recruiting violation, it definitely piqued my interest. As did Travis's contention that Meyer's action of turning in a former school and former assistant was "unprecedented" and "unheard of in college athletics." That just seemed a bit hyperbolic.
Meyer denied doing so, of course, telling The Gainesville Sun's Pat Dooley that it is "absolutely not true" and he only learned of Ohio State turning in Florida "weeks after" it happened. Then ESPN's Brett McMurphy basically invalidated Meyer's obvious denial by reporting that Meyer was not only aware of the move but "endorsed" the decision at the time it happened.
Florida fans should not get it twisted; Meyer has always been this cutthroat. It is one reason he is so successful. Gators fans used to love that characteristic when he was on their side. Now that his actions are meant to negatively impact Florida rather than its rivals, he has turned into a bad guy. And you know what? That's OK. Not every coach that leaves a team can be like Steve Spurrier, who never stopped praising the Gators and openly admits to still having Florida in his heart. Spurrier has been criticized at times, too. Hell, he didn't even vote Tim Tebow first team All-SEC, remember?!
The difference between the two is simple. Spurrier was home grown and will always be a face for Gators football, even if he is now wearing garnet and black rather than orange and blue. He left for a "step up," an NFL job, a chance to try something new after he conquered college. Even when he was screaming at his quarterbacks, Spurrier was known to be jovial in nature and generally a pleasant person to be around. Meyer appears to have been deceitful, trading in one top-tier college job for another. He came in as an outsider, acclimated to his surroundings, ruffled as many feathers as he possibly could and left still an outsider. Former football staff members I spoke with this week were not surprised one bit when they read Travis's story or Murphy's confirmation. "Yup, that's Urban Meyer," one said.
The good news for Gators fans is that Will Muschamp appears to be more Spurrier than Meyer (even if his fiery temper puts both to shame) and that is something Florida should appreciate even if the Gators do take a small step back in 2013.