NEW ORLEANS — Steve Addazio has made no secret that he aspires to be a head coach one day, but his time might have arrived sooner than even he had imagined — and in a most unlikely manner.
On Sunday, the first-year Florida offensive coordinator was named the interim head coach for the Gators. He will take over while Urban Meyer takes an indefinite leave of absence.
"I believe he's one of the top coaches in America," Meyer said. "He's also been on our staff for the past five years."
Addazio is a 24-year coaching veteran, including positions with the Gators as the tight ends coach and offensive line coach before taking over as offensive coordinator this season.
He is known among the Gator players as extremely intense and competitive but compassionate. The father of three children, Addazio's coaching career includes stints at Notre Dame, Syracuse and Indiana, where he was an offensive coordinator in 2004 — the year before he arrived at Florida for Meyer's first season in Gainesville.
"He's one of the guys we call a father," junior offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey said. "He's a great guy."
Though Meyer is a staunch supporter of Addazio, the offensive coordinator received his share of criticism this season as the Gators struggled on that side of the ball, including the SEC Championship Game in which Florida scored just 13 points against Alabama.
Addazio said he understood expectations at Florida are high, and often said he considered criticism part of the job, but ultimately judged his and his team's performance on wins and losses.
"That criticism is unfair," Pouncey said. "The guy did a phenomenal job this season. We had a lot better offense this year than last year, running the ball, him being more active with us and involving us in how we think the game plan should be. He made great calls, and we went out there and performed."
Athletic director Jeremy Foley said Addazio's role will be temporary while Meyer is out, with the hope that Meyer will return.
Whether Addazio will ever coach a game as the Gators' leader remains to be seen.
It's also unclear how long he'll retain the title and whether he'll have input in the hiring of the Gators' new defensive coordinator. Foley said he had not had time to discuss whether Addazio will receive any additional compensation.
"Those details as far as Coach Addazio and those types of things are to be worked out," Foley said.
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]