Commentary

Fractured Florida

The Gators continue to talk about improving the chemistry within the team

Updated: December 29, 2011, 9:12 PM ET
By Michael DiRocco | GatorNation

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn knew the Gators' locker room wouldn't be the same as an NFL locker room, because the roster is twice as big -- too many people for the same kind of togetherness seen in the NFL.

But he wasn't expecting so much division. The amount of selfishness and separation between different classes was startling.

"It seemed like we had a fractured bunch at times, for whatever reason," said Quinn, who had spent the past 10 years as an assistant coach with four NFL teams. "Not a close-knit team."

It was the same issue the Gators faced in 2010. The problem was the highly-decorated freshman class arrived on campus with a sense of entitlement and self-importance. They clashed with the older players, and the rift lasted all season.

There was still some of that at the beginning of this season, but it was compounded by the transition to a new coaching staff and learning new offensive and defensive schemes. The players say that doesn't exist any longer, that the team is much more together now, despite a winless October and a 6-6 record.

"Younger guys weren't here when we won a national championship back in my freshman year," redshirt junior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said. "[They] didn't get to be around [Brandon] Spikes and [Tim] Tebow and those type guys, Jermaine Cunningham, those type leaders. Those guys didn't get to experience that, so it's up to guys like myself and Jaye Howard this year, and Willie Green this year, to teach those guys, to show them the way."

Despite their efforts, things didn't start off well. Since the arrival of coach Will Muschamp in January, 11 players have left the program. One (Janoris Jenkins) was dismissed for disciplinary reasons, five others left between January and the start of the season, and five left during the season.

Some left to be closer to home. Others left for more playing time. Other than Jenkins, none were significant players.

Their departures aren't proof that there were some issues on the team, because there is always some movement out of a program when a new coach takes over, but 11 is an eyebrow-raising number.

"Any time you have a transition, there's a natural attrition that occurs -- whether it was the coach that recruited you, the position coach, the coordinator, the head coach is different, the scheme is different," Muschamp said. "I think there's a lot of things that occur with that, and I don't think that in any of those situations, it's all one thing."

Several players said the team is not divided any longer and that the camaraderie and togetherness is as good as it has ever been, but that might not necessarily be the case. The night before the Florida State game, sophomore safety Matt Elam said on Twitter that he only respected the speeches given by seniors Jeff Demps and Deonte Thompson and that the rest were "FAKE &!"

That's a clear sign of a lack of respect and leadership among the players. Junior safety Josh Evans admitted the upperclassmen have to do a better job in that area.

"The leadership is there. I think it could be better -- absolutely it could be better," Evans said. "But it's there. Everybody is starting to bond and do things together, so I would say it's there."

Junior linebacker Jonathan Bostic said he didn't notice division in the locker room, but he admits the team still isn't as united as it needs to be.

"You really had to kind of look into it [to see the division], but I didn't really see it too much," Bostic said. "I still saw a lot of guys that were real close on the team, but we need everybody to come together. It can't just be offense, defense. We need offense, defense, special teams. We need everybody to come together."

Things likely would be better if the Gators were not 6-6 and fighting to avoid the school's first losing season since 1979. Winning masks a lot of things, including problems in the locker room. But sophomore defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said this season has been effective in showing which players are committed and which are not.

The non-committed ones will be dealt with in offseason workouts, by the yet-to-be-hired strength and conditioning coordinator and the older players.

"I think through all the adversity, you learn not only football-wise, but you learn about who cares and who's really in it for the team," Floyd said. "That was a big thing for me, because I like to observe and understand where people are coming from and things of that sort.

"Adversity is bad, but it's not all bad. There's some good in it. You learn from it, and you keep moving forward."

Hopefully, together.

Michael DiRocco covers University of Florida sports for GatorNation. He can be reached at espndirocco@gmail.com or on Twitter @ESPNdirocco.

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