Monday, December 28, 2009
Sugar Bowl teams try to stay focused
By Brian Bennett
NEW ORLEANS -- It came as absolutely no surprise that Monday morning's Allstate Sugar Bowl news conferences were dominated by words like distraction and focus.
These two teams are in fairly unchartered waters, especially for a BCS matchup. Cincinnati, of course, lost head coach Brian Kelly after the regular season to Notre Dame, has an interim coach in Jeff Quinn who's already accepted the Buffalo job and a new next head coach in Butch Jones, who is staying in the shadows while in New Orleans.
And right now, the Bearcats seem pretty stable compared to their opponent. Florida watched as head coach Urban Meyer announced Saturday that he would step down after the game, only to reverse course Sunday morning and say he would take a leave of absence instead. Steve Addazio will serve as the interim coach during Meyer's leave, but nobody is really sure how long that will last.
Every question in Addazio's 17-minute news conference -- which was ostensibly to discuss the Gators offense -- revolved around the Meyer situation.
"There have been a lot of emotions in the last 24-to-48 hours," Addazio said. "But right now we've got to keep our focus on this game because that's what important."
The company line from Florida has been that Sunday's early-morning practice dispels any notion of Meyer's news taking a toll on the team. The Gators were so sharp and crisp in their pre-New Orleans workout that it helped Meyer decide not to take a permanent leave.
"That's not to say there aren't distractions," Addazio said. "Of course there are. What are we talking about here? Obviously, there's been a lot that's happened. But I think the testimony was the way the players came at 7:30 in the morning [on Sunday.]
"That speaks volumes about where the team is right now. There's a strong resolve, and it feels like we've really bonded together."
The players still aren't sure what's going to happen -- running back Jeff Demps said he didn't believe Meyer would return for the 2010 season -- but they've dealt with plenty of distractions all year, including defensive end Carlos Dunlap's arrest, Tim Tebow's concussion and trying to go undefeated and win a second straight BCS title. The Meyer situation might even provide some motivation.
"This might have added a lot of extra incentive," Tebow said. "You don’t know if this is going to be his last game, so you want to finish it the right way for yourselves, the team and for coach Meyer.”
Cincinnati has had a lot more time to deal with its unusual coaching transition, since Kelly left on Dec. 10. The Bearcats coaches and players insist that while there was a lot of emotion and turmoil in the couple of days after Kelly's announcement, they've gotten back to business.
"Everybody felt like it was the best decision for [Kelly] as a professional, but as a team right now we all came together to really understand that we still have a goal to be 13-0," said defensive lineman Alex Daniels, who was publicly critical of Kelly the night the coach left.
"We have a chance to play the defending national champions in Florida, and one of arguably the greatest players in college football in Tim Tebow. We don't care if a dog is coaching us, we'd go out there and play hard."
Cincinnati players said they could empathize with their opponents when the Meyer news broke over the weekend. But that doesn't mean they're any less anxious to hit the Gators in the mouth on Friday night.
"Like I told my teammates, we are not going out there to play sympathy football; we are going out there to win the game," Bearcats linebacker Andre Revels said. "At the end of the day when you're out on that field none of that stuff is going to matter. You are going out there to play football and right when those first snaps hit you are going to do what you've been doing or you're going to something different."