Speaking in tongues

Somewhere between a rant and a tirade, the transmission in the area of Mickey Marotti’s brain that controls speech gets slapped into a brand new gear. Maybe it works like the old ’67 Shelby Mustang with the 428 cubic inch, 400 horse engine that almost slammed your shoulders back against the seat the moment you slapped it into fourth. In Marotti’s case, the words get slammed to the back of the seat when he hits fourth gear. What comes out next is anybody’s guess.

“Speaking in tongues,” says freshman defensive end Earl Okine. “Coach Mick speaks in tongues when he gets going.”

Marotti is Florida’s strength and conditioning coach. Urban Meyer says he’s the best in the business and if you simply judge by visible transformations of bodies, then it’s hard to argue. Marotti takes the skinny Gators and changes them from bean poles into these well-defined, can’t pass a mirror for looking at all the muscle types. The overweight, Pillsbury Doughboy lookalikes transform into hard bodies that are lean, mean blocking and tackling machines.

He is a no-nonsense type, a “my way or the highway” kind of guy. What he says goes. Don’t question why, just do it. Players have learned that while Marotti might not be your conventional strength and conditioning coach, there is no doubt he gets the results. Tire flipping might not seem like your normal way of building strength and muscle but it works. Marotti has a multi-million dollar weight room to work with and he uses every machine and every barbell in the place, but he’s not above making Florida’s football players run around while carrying big rocks or push trucks or anything else he thinks might add an ounce of strength or take a hundredth of a second off a 40-yard-dash.

And what he says goes. His weight room is not a democracy. He is the maximum and supreme leader, judge, jury and if you think about crossing him, executioner.

Only no one crosses him.

“No one dares cross Coach Mick … EVER,” says freshman defensive lineman Matt Patchan, a free spirited type that teammates think is an alien on loan from another planet.  “That’s just the golden rule. You may yell back at one of the coaches and get mad at him but I’ve never seen anyone yell at Coach Mick. Everybody knows better than that.”

Patchan is an apostle always ready to stand up and deliver a message based on the Gospel According to Mickey Marotti. Patchan has been the poster child for the walking wounded since he arrived at the University of Florida back in January. He’s been sick, shot and had a muscle tear, freaky things you just can’t plan for but every step he’s taken on the road back to recovery has been taken with Marotti at his side.

“He’s like a real hero to me,” said Patchan. “He’s there for you. You got an injury and you gotta rehab it, he’s there. He pushes you. He gets under your skin until you push yourself. He’s going to get you better. He’s going to make sure you come back stronger than you were when you got hurt.”

Patchan came to Florida from Seffner Armwood, one of the most heralded offensive linemen in the country. His 270-pound body shrunk to 235 thanks to a Titanic bout with mononucleosis. By the time Patchan got on campus, the mono was a thing of the past but so was a whole bunch of muscle.

Patchan trusted Marotti to put the muscle back on and by the spring, Patchan had gained all the way back to 250. He was well on his way back to his old weight when he got shot in the shoulder one night when he was standing around with a group of guys back home in Tampa.

“Just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” says Patchan with a shrug. The best that anyone can figure, the shooter fired randomly into the crowd and Patchan’s shoulder just happened to get in the way.

Again, Marotti was there for Patchan but then came a slight tear of a pectoral muscle that set him back one more time. Marotti to the rescue again and now, a week into August practice, Patchan is on the verge of clearance for full contact and he’s stronger than he’s ever been at Florida.

“I’m just under 270 and it’s working,” said Patchan. “I’m real good with the weight. I’m good enough with the weight to get on the field and mix it up.”

As quick as Patchan is to sing the praises of Marotti, he’s also quick to shake his head when it comes to describing what happens when Marotti goes into a weight room tirade.

At first the words are easily understood. Maybe a bit harsh, but easily understood. At that point when the category three rant becomes a category five tirade, the words start blending together and before you know it, nobody understands a word he’s saying.

“Coach Mick can come up with some funny stuff,” said redshirt freshman quarterback John Brantley, who admits that while he may not understand a single word spewing out of Marotti’s mouth, he fully understands the intention. He says that when Marotti gets going, teammates will give each other funny looks but nobody dares ask what was just said.

“We just look at each other and we say, ‘Okay, whatever you say coach,’” said Brantley.

Adds freshman linebacker Brendan Beal: “It’s like another language when he gets going. We’re listening to everything he’s saying but we’re all looking at each other and wondering where did that come from. Never heard anything quite like that before.”

Third year sophomore defensive tackle Terron Sanders is another one who’s been “Marroti-cized.” He had knee surgery his senior year in high school and had to have knee surgery to clean things up once he got to Florida as a freshman. He ballooned to 330 pounds and says he almost caused an eclipse when he walked onto Florida’s practice fields. Thanks to Marotti, he’s regained the quickness he lost after the knee surgeries, lost 60 pounds of fat and replaced it with 30 pounds of pure muscle.

He loves Marotti, but he admits that when rant transforms to tirade it’s an experience to remember.

“He says so many weird things when he gets going that you try to remember it,” said Sanders. “Every time he gets going, you know he’ll say something that’s really unique.”

Patchan says that when Marotti gets near the end of the tirade, the words become “an angry grunt.” He said he can’t really describe it but it goes something like “fugmmshnnnzzznnshpsssdnnngrrrzzznshizznnflap … and then it turns into a grunt.”

The Marotti effect is felt on the field in terms of strong bodies that move quickly and fast players that go from standstill to full speed in a split second.

And then there is the Marotti effect that is there in the subconscious. Beal says he doesn’t even know it’s there until something happens on the field.

“I’ll mess up and I’ll say something and instead of something that I thought I was going to say, I’ll say a Coach Mick word,” he said. “It’s really weird. Really, really weird that way.”

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.