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At its second and final bye week of the season, Florida (4-3, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) finds itself unranked and looking for answers in a season that is beginning to feel lost. As "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes would say, the Gators have fallen on "hard times, daddy." In 2004, they dealt with similar tribulations during a 7-5 campaign that resulted in coaching changes. We caught up with a couple players from that team to discuss the past and present of Florida football.
The players: Running back Ciatrick Fason and defensive tackle Joe Cohen were at different stages of their respective UF careers during the 2004 season. Fason was primed for a breakout junior season in which he would lead the SEC in rushing at 1,267 yards and leave afterward for the National Football League Draft - he was selected in the fourth round by the Minnesota Vikings. Cohen was a sophomore who started every game at defensive tackle but had his best years ahead of him. He would go on to start 12 games at defensive tackle in 2006 and be a major part of a national championship team.
What constitutes a bad season at Florida?
"Any time you lose three or more games at the University of Florida, it's a bad season. That's what they're having so far this year, and with the schedule we've got left, it's definitely already a bad season. We lost to the teams we were expected to beat by losing to Missouri and even LSU. With the way our defense was playing, that's a bad season." -- Fason
What is it like to be a player in Gainesville during a bad season?
"It's tough. It's great to be on a traditional team where a 9-3 season is a bad season, but it's tough on you and it's tough on the coaches because of the high expectations. Sometimes in all reality, you end up playing great teams. You play a great team week in, week out and it's hard to win them all. As of right now, I just think it's a few pieces of the puzzle missing. Me personally, I don't think it's Will Muschamp. I don't think Muschamp is the problem. I think he has to add on some pieces, get rid of some pieces and he will be good to go. For me, he's a great coach. Me being around that team and the way they speak about him and the way they carry themselves, he's made the changes that need to be made around there." -- Cohen
"The mood for the players is always the same when it comes to the fans. The fans always show the players love, and they really don't speak negative on the players. But we always have to answer a lot of questions about the coaching situation whether it's the student body or just fans. Do we believe the coaches shouldn't be fired or should be fired? Will they keep their job and why? That's the main part that gets on the student athlete's nerves is we always have got to answer the questions. But as far as the fans go toward the players, the mood is pretty much always the same. They never turn their backs on the players. They always turn them on the coach." -- Fason
How much do players pay attention to the public assessment of their coach during a down year and can that be a distraction?
"It really never becomes a distraction in the locker room. You've got too much football going on and too much in school going on to be distracted. We went through the same thing with Coach Ron Zook, and I was there on that team when Coach Zook was relieved after the Mississippi State game. Leading up before that, we heard people on TV. We heard people around campus wanting him fired. Even the fans were chanting, but it never became a distraction. As a player, you never think your coach is going to get fired. When Zook got fired, it was a surprise, especially the way it happened. The players are still focused, and a lot of players are in it for personal goals or team goals. When the team goals are going bad, the personal goals are there. Players don't think about those kinds of distractions." -- Fason
"That can be a distraction. To hear your position coach, he might be fired, or to hear your coordinator, he might be fired. It can be a distraction. In some players' eyes, if they don't like that coach, you lost that much more respect for him. You're thinking, 'Oh man, he's going to be gone. In January, I'm going to have a better coach.' I hate when that type of talking is done during the season because it is a distraction, especially if you have a young team. When you've got young-minded people, it can become a distraction because they lose even more respect for that coach knowing more than likely, he's not going to be there. As a head coach, I know Muschamp is trying to keep all that under wraps as much as possible." -- Cohen
People call for midseason firings all the time. What does it do to a team when one actually happens?
"It's tough, especially if you care about your main guy. I know those players care about Muschamp. Like I said, hopefully the Gator Nation gives him a shot. When you lose a piece like that to the puzzle, it's tough to you as a player. A lot of these kids probably look at Muschamp as a mentor as well as a coach. It's a lot of disliking going on, as far as them not liking the athletic director or whoever it may be. That's another distraction because they're not thinking about football. They're thinking about how can I get back at whoever fired my coach that I care so much about. I think firing a coach midseason is one of the worst things to do to a young man that is away from home. A lot of kids look at that coach as a father figure or a mentor, especially if you've got a good head coach." -- Cohen
"It's definitely big. It's hard. Once he gets fired, a lot of players are going to disrespect the coach. Not saying that all players do, but you get a lot of players who do. And if you get an interim coach, a lot of players don't respect the interim coach. Because in a player's mind, they know this guy has always been an assistant coach and you might take the approach a little bit different. It's definitely hard unless you have a guy like Coach Zook, who came out there and he still coached us all the way until the bowl game. He coached us and prepared us just like he was still our head coach. As a coach, you want to go out there and give that coach a bang. Especially when you love the guy, and he's got your back 100 percent. But it is hard to play for an interim or a lame duck coach, because you can just be sitting there without any reason to be there. A lot of players will disrespect him, but the players who have their personal goals, they'll go out there and play for their coach." -- Fason
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