Florida has a new head football coach, but Jim McElwain isn’t actually coaching yet. He’s simply observing practice.
D.J. Durkin remains UF’s interim coach through the Jan.3 Birmingham Bowl against East Carolina, but the Gators’ defensive coordinator learned Tuesday he won’t be retained next season. Additional staff turnover is forthcoming, with Florida’s remaining assistants scrambling for future jobs.
Meanwhile, several players have publically announced their intentions to bolt to the NFL, and others are rumored to follow suit.
In all, Florida is a program ripe with distractions, and Durkin, in an unenviable position, is doing his best to keep the team focused on the task at hand: winning a bowl game for the first time since 2011.
“Our guys handle everything and go about their business in practice and do a great job,” he said.
“They know that [McElwain] is watching, and I’m sure that makes a little difference, too. You want to make sure your first impression is a good one.”
Or in Durkin’s case, a special audition.
Durkin, who denied Thursday he has accepted the defensive coordinator opening at Texas A&M, has embraced a unique set of circumstances, juggling all the new responsibilities that come with an interim tag.
Despite his lame-duck status, Durkin’s first responsibility was to speak to the team, delivering a message that would resonate with everyone in the room.
“The biggest thing I talked to the team about is you sit in a room with 105 guys, everyone has a little different motivation. But as long as you have motivation, we’re all right,” Durkin explained.
“It might be some guys’ motivation might be to play and show the new coach what I can be. It might be, ‘I love Coach [Will] Muschamp, I want to show him.’ Whatever it is. There’s a million different motivations. That’s fine. Just be motivated. Be a guy that’s motivated at practice and motivated to play. Our guys will do that.
“We have good leadership and a good group of guys. I know things didn’t go right all the time, but no one can say we didn’t complete and play hard. Our guys responded, they’re resilient. It’s nothing different with this game.”
He continued: “Everyone wants to work with people that are motivated, you want to be around people that have motivation. Some motivations are different than others, and that’s fine. We can’t all agree on one thing. If we can all agree that we’re motivated and going to give it our best, we’re going to be all right.”
The Gators (6-4) can ill-afford to take the Pirates (9-3) lightly. ECU touts an explosive offense (senior wideout Justin Hardy is the NCAA’s all-time leading receiver) and a stout rush defense (No.8 nationally), so Florida is well aware of the Pirates’ potential.
The constant chaos surrounding Florida’s football program and the weekly emotional roller coasters simply heighten the challenge of winning a bowl game..
“There’s a lot of outside distractions right now, but we just got to come together and focus on the task at hand, which is winning this ball game,” senior right tackle Chaz Green said.
“Everybody is motivated in different ways. We’ve got some older guys going on and have future [professional] aspirations down the road.
“We have some younger guys that want to motivate the new coach coming in and have a positive impression on him.
“We all have reasons to be motivated. As long as we can come together to get this win, it will be a good thing.”