TAMPA — In the days after the 2009 SEC Championship Game and the weeks leading up to Florida's Sugar Bowl game against Cincinnati, UF offensive coordinator Steve Addazio had a strong feeling the game could be make or break.
Florida was coming off a devastating loss to Alabama, its first of the season. Its national championship hopes were over, and coach Urban Meyer had abruptly resigned due to health reasons, then rescinded that decision 24 hours later.
"I knew a lot of things could happen at that point," Addazio told a crowd at the Tampa Gator Club Gator Gathering on Monday night. "You could go a lot of different directions. You could fragment. A lot of different things can go down in times of controversy, in times of struggle. … You're a family and the head of your family is going through a hard time. You're getting ready to play in the Sugar Bowl, you're coming off an extremely disappointing loss, you've got a lot of people looking, second-guessing, questioning. What happens is you get in a situation where you find out a lot about your team, you find out a lot about yourself and a lot about your program."
What Addazio believes the Gators discovered is that when their backs are against the wall, they are more than capable of rising up and fighting back, as a 51-24 Sugar Bowl victory showed.
"We're a family," he said. "And what do families do in times of stress and times of trouble? You circle the wagons, you lock arms, you get stronger, you gain a little momentum, and you take care of your own."
According to Addazio, it's that mentality, the momentum and confidence gained from the trying times, combined with a No. 1 recruiting class and tons of returning talent that should make the Gators very good in 2010.
In a 75-minute speech that included a lengthy question and answer session, Addazio walked the room instead of standing behind a podium. He delivered a speech that was at times fiery and emotional, at times pep rally, and included a complete breakdown of the Gators' depth chart for the upcoming year. Addazio, famous among Gator players for impassioned pregame speeches, delivered one for the audience as if it were in the locker room on a Friday night before a game.
He got a standing ovation.
"I really liked him," Tampa Gator Club member Terri Parnell said. "I think he gives a great perspective of all the players, he puts you in there, and I think he's excited to be here. He just appreciates Gator Nation, and it's nice to be appreciated."
"I thought he was really good," said Argie Radics, UFAA Region III vice president. "He did a great job; he had us all fired up. I really liked him."
Addazio, who will substitute for Meyer at all seven Gator Gatherings this spring, assured the audience that Meyer is "feeling great" and looking forward to returning in the fall. Addazio said the Gators' motto this season will be "accountability."
"A house divided (against itself) cannot last," he said, quoting President Abraham Lincoln in 1858. "But a team united stands the test of time."
player dies: Eastern Oregon linebacker Dylan Steigers, 21, took a blow to the head during Saturday's spring game and died Sunday. He leaves behind a 2-year-old daughter.
USF basketball: The Bulls will represent the United States in the inaugural Pan American University Championships on Aug. 8-15 in Brazil. Other teams include Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, U.S. Virgin Islands, Netherlands Antilles and Uruguay. Meanwhile, Eniel Polynice, a 6-foot-5 combo guard from Sarasota who started 64 games in three seasons at Mississippi, is considering transferring to USF. Polynice will graduate this summer then can play immediately.
Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report, which used information from Times wires.