Gary Darnell said his postgame speech to players Saturday was the toughest since he took over as Florida’s coach in October.
Just minutes after Florida’s 34-7 loss to Washington in the Freedom Bowl game at Anaheim Stadium, Gator players were still wondering who would be coaching them next season.
Darnell didn’t know. He was full of questions, but had few answers, about his future.
“I told them I couldn’t tell them anything,” Darnell said. “I was apologetic in some regards.”
It seems clear, however, that Darnell won’t be back, at least as head coach.
Bill Arnsparger, Florida’s athletic director, has confirmed that Steve Spurrier, who led Duke to an 8-4 record this season, has the job if he wants it. But Spurrier, who has already been replaced at Duke, has made no announcement about his plans.
Barry Wilson, one of Spurrier’s assistants, was named the Blue Devils’ coach Saturday by Duke Athletic Director Tom Butters.
“I was disappointed that I didn’t know,” Darnell said. “I felt like all the hocus-pocus was over.
“This team will disband and have to learn things a different way, and I’m not too happy about that.”
Darnell has coached the Gators to a 3-4 record since taking over for Galen Hall five games into the season. He was the defensive coordinator under Hall for two years and had been an assistant at Wake Forest, North Carolina and Kansas State.
Hall was forced to resign Oct. 8 after admitting to NCAA rules violations for paying $22,000 in salary supplements to two former assistants.
Then, on Oct. 16, the university suspended starting quarterback Kyle Morris, reserve quarterback Shane Matthews and two walk-on players for gambling on pro and college games.
Darnell said the suspensions and coaching change haven’t been a distraction for his players.
“And you think it would be,” he said. “I told the fellas ‘I’m just like you.’ I want the same thing, to have a good football team and maintain the educational process.”
Linebacker Pat Moorer said the players were wondering all week about the team’s future.
“Coach Darnell talked to us about all we were reading in the press,” Moorer said. “He said he didn’t know what was going to happen after this week but that we should concentrate on the game.”
Florida had problems doing that. Semester exams and travel took its toll on his players, Darnell said.
“It was hurry, hurry, hurry and we never got focused in on the game,” he said. “We were really loose before the game and that’s not our normal mentality.
“I felt too many eyes starting to wander. The game was slipping back as far as significance.”
Freshman quarterback Donald Douglas, who scored Florida’s only touchdown on a 67-yard run in the first quarter, said blaming the loss on the distractions wasn’t fair.
“We came into this game prepared to win and our coaches did a good job,” he said. “We just lost.”
Darnell also drew a vote of confidence from tailback Emmitt Smith, who has yet to announce his plans.
“Our coaches did their job and prepared us as best they could,” said Smith, who is considering skipping his senior year at Florida to apply for the NFL draft.
Darnell said he and his assistants are prepared to handle the news about their future--good or bad.
When asked if he would stay at Florida as an assistant coach, Darnell said: “I don’t think that’s my call. That’s another man’s call.”