Distractions are nothing new to the Florida Gators.
Before the season began Vernon Hargreaves, Jeff Driskel and Dante Fowler Jr. fielded questions on Will Muschamp being on the hot seat. As losses piled up, the hot seat talk followed suit and distractions continued to swirl around the locker room and the program.
So when Muschamp was finally fired following a loss to South Carolina, most players knew it was coming. They didn’t like it, but it didn’t catch anyone off guard.
They rallied around their coach and played hard for him the final two games of the season, now, Muschamp is gone. Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin will coach the bowl game and is assuming all head coaching duties to finish this season off.
Just another distraction.
Add it to the pile that this team has encountered this season. They’re used to it.
“Change is always a difficult thing, but it is a part of life – not just football, but a part of life,” said Durkin. “Our guys are going through the process and responding well to it. I told the team that life does not stop for anyone.”
The last time the Gators went into a bowl game with an interim head coach it was Charlie Strong and the opponent was rival Miami in the Peach Bowl. The Gators came out flat and lost an ugly game 27-10. It was an embarrassing end to a forgetful season but things would get turned around.
Durkin is working tirelessly right now recruiting, but when the team reconvenes for their bowl practices he will be tasked with keeping the players focused and getting them ready to finish the season strong.
“Our guys understand that, and we are going to prepare the right way and get ready to go play,” he said. “It should be a great game, we are looking forward to it and we have a good few weeks of preparation coming up.”
For all of the seniors and many of the juniors, this is the last time they will have the opportunity to put on a Gator uniform. The finality of their collegiate careers will hit them square in the chest, harder than any linebacker or defensive end ever could.
They have one last chance to represent the University of Florida and wear orange and blue. If that doesn’t help them focus and tune out the distractions, nothing will.