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Florida Gators: Why Darnell Stapleton’s Tampa triumph does and doesn’t matter at UF

Stapleton only brings out the Super Bowl ring he won at Raymond James Stadium for recruiting. But it still resonates.
New Florida Gators assistant Darnell Stapleton (72) won Super Bowl 43 in Tampa with the Steelers.
New Florida Gators assistant Darnell Stapleton (72) won Super Bowl 43 in Tampa with the Steelers. [ CHARLIE RIEDEL | AP (2009) ]
Published Apr. 13

GAINESVILLE — When Florida Gators assistant Darnell Stapleton thinks back to his Super Bowl 43 victory with the Steelers at Raymond James Stadium, no singular moment stands out.

“I remember everything,” Stapleton said.

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Jennifer Hudson’s national anthem. The first touchdown (on a play called 22 double). James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return. Dapping teammate Willie Colon before the last drive. Santonio Holmes’ toe-tapping, game winner.

Santonio Holmes' last-minute touchdown gave the Steelers the victory in Super Bowl 43 in Tampa.
Santonio Holmes' last-minute touchdown gave the Steelers the victory in Super Bowl 43 in Tampa. [ Times (2009) ]

“A lot of people don’t know we ran the same play the other way the play before, and we just missed by inches,” Stapleton said. “And then the next one became history.”

History is where it remains for Stapleton. He doesn’t mention the triumph in Tampa much with the offensive linemen he coaches at UF. Aside from occasional recruiting appearances, his Super Bowl ring is tucked away.

“I want those guys to have that type of success, and I know what it takes,” Stapleton said after Tuesday’s practice. “And they won’t get it by looking at my ring.”

But they’ll have a chance by following his story of persistence.

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Stapleton played at Hudson Valley Community College and went to Rutgers as a two-star recruit. Starting 25 games there under Greg Schiano and being named one of the top centers in the country wasn’t enough to get drafted. He made the Steelers’ roster as a free agent and became Pittsburgh’s starting right guard during their Super Bowl run.

Darnell Stapleton celebrated Pittsburgh's Super Bowl 43 triumph with fans in Tampa.
Darnell Stapleton celebrated Pittsburgh's Super Bowl 43 triumph with fans in Tampa. [ WINSLOW TOWNSON | AP (2009) ]

“It was a road that most don’t take as an undrafted free agent,” said Stapleton, who will make his formal UF debut in Thursday night’s spring game.

His coaching road isn’t common, either. He began that path with a women’s pro team, the New York Sharks, in 2011. Stapleton climbed from a Division II school (Pace University) to the Football Championship Subdivision (Bucknell, Sam Houston State) and latched on with Billy Napier at Louisiana before coming with him to UF this offseason.

Stapleton rose through the ranks by learning how his NFL pedigree did and didn’t work in coaching.

It helps by commanding instant respect. Though Ethan White hasn’t seen Stapleton’s ring yet, he has watched the film. He and his teammates want what Stapleton had.

Darnell Stapleton is in his first year as an offensive line coach for the Gators.
Darnell Stapleton is in his first year as an offensive line coach for the Gators. [ ISABELLA MARLEY | Courtesy of UAA Communications ]

“It’s credibility,” said White, a Calvary Christian product. “You don’t have to question anything he says.”

Especially now, after Stapleton has spent years mastering his new craft. He quickly figured out that simply demonstrating a technique wasn’t enough; his players didn’t have the years of reps and next-level athleticism he did.

“I had to learn how to teach young people,” Stapleton said, “and that’s why I started to become a little bit better coach.”

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And to become the best coach he can, Stapleton knows he can’t focus on history. Bringing out the shiny memory of his triumph in Tampa isn’t going to help beat Utah in Week 1 or bring championships back to UF.

“I know it’s not going to win us any games,” Stapleton said. “Me building a relationship with the young men that I coach and them trusting in me and them having the understanding that I’m going to do everything possible to put them in a position to win — that’s what’s important.”

Bucs in ‘good hands’

Stapleton still has fond memories of the offensive coordinator who helped him earn his ring in Pittsburgh: now-former Bucs coach Bruce Arians.

“That’s my guy …” Stapleton said. “Phenomenal teacher, phenomenal mentor. I’m happy that he had the career that he did as a coach and what he’s done in Tampa.”

Stapleton still has ties to Tampa Bay’s staff; two of his Steelers teammates were Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and co-defensive coordinator Larry Foote. That gives Stapleton a personal interest in the team’s success.

“I’m happy to know that team will be in good hands going forward,” Stapleton said.

• • •

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