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December 8, 2010

FSU benefits from Meyer's departure

MORE: Meyer steps down again | Who is next at UF? | Wetzel: Smart play | More at GatorBait.net

No, this isn't an instant replay, but yes Florida coach Urban Meyer is once again stepping down as the head coach in Gainesville for the second straight December.

And the biggest winner in Meyer Resignation II is Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher, who now is clearly the king of the hill when it comes to recruiting in the Sunshine State.

RECRUIT REACTION
The Florida Gators currently have 17 commitments in the 2011 class and two prospects already committed in the 2012 class. Here's some early reaction to Urban Meyer's decision to step down:
QB Jeff Driskel, Oviedo (Fla.) Hagerty
"I know you're going to ask about coach Meyer and I just don't want to comment yet. I'll wait until later in the week."

LB Ryan Shazier, Plantation (Fla.)
"I'm shocked. I'm pretty shocked...I'm not de-committing but me and my family are going to talk it over. I'm supposed to be taking an official to Ohio State on Wednesday and Thursday of next week. I set it up today."
CB Nick Waisome, Groveland (Fla.) South Lake
"Right now, I heard the news. To tell you the truth, I'm not going to make any comments about it right now. Me and my family are going into meetings with some of my advisors also. I'm just kind of in shock. I'm going to go home and talk about it with my family."
FB Hunter Joyer, Tampa (Fla.) Catholic
"I was pretty shocked and a little bit upset but I'm still 100-percent with Florida and the Gators. I'll stay with them. I've spoken to quite a few recruits. I've just talked to them about staying, being patient and I told them not to make any crazy decisions."
OT Tommy Jordan, Ridgefield (Conn.)
"I'm definitely not going to back out of [my commitment]. I made a decision and I made a commitment so I have to stick with it. These two or three weeks are going to be pretty crucial to see how everything falls into place, but I'm still a Gator."
WR Latroy Pittman, Citra (Fla.) North Marion
"I just can't believe it. I'm shocked. I just have to think about things, sit down with my family and see what they say about it. I didn't see it coming. It was like somebody just slapped me in the face. I don't want to get emotional about things but it just hurts me."
Somewhere, perhaps in private, Fisher has to be smiling. Miami head coach Randy Shannon was ousted following a weak 7-5 season and now Meyer, who also suffered through a shockingly mediocre 7-5 campaign, is out of Gainesville and Fisher is now the coach of the state's big three with the most recent experience and tradition. And Fisher has only been on the job for 11 months.

The Seminoles currently boast the nation's No. 4 recruiting class and have a real chance at finishing No. 1 if they close well. The instability at Miami and now Florida will certainly help that.

But how far the Seminoles climb is secondary in the recruiting world to what happens with the Gators' current top 10 class.

How will the 17 commitments react? Who is most likely to bolt? Will Florida move quickly to fill the head coaching job (Dan Mullen, Charlie Strong?) or do a long, national search?

And, ultimately, what happens to a program when the head coach steps down for the second time in less than a year?

Meyer has had amazing success on and off the field at Florida, and his loss certainly hurts the program - it's hard to argue that. After a 2005 recruiting class that ranked 15th following the firing of Ron Zook and the hiring of Meyer, the new guy put together arguably the best recruiting class in recent history.

That 2006 class, which didn't even finish first that year in the team rankings (USC was No. 1), will be remembered for Tim Tebow, but Percy Harvin, Brandon Spikes, Riley Cooper, Jermaine Cunningham, Carl Johnson, Brandon James and others all contributed greatly to two national titles for Meyer.

Meyer followed that class, his first full class as head coach, with the top-ranked class in the country in 2007, highlighted by Joe Haden, Aaron Hernandez, Carlos Dunlap and others. His 2008 and 2009 classes also finished inside or near the national top 10. However, Meyer's best recruiting job ever was in 2010.

After resigning on Dec. 26, 2009, Meyer changed his mind a day later and said he was taking a leave of absence. Following that 24-hour period of indecision, Meyer went out and secured the commitments of the nation's No. 1 prospect, defensive end Ronald Powell, as well as fellow five-stars Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd. He re-secured a commitment from five-star Matt Elam. He also landed four-stars Chris Dunkley, Michael Taylor, Adrian Coxson and Chaz Green, all while competing recruiters were telling each and every Florida target that Meyer wasn't long for the job.

Meyer's class finished No. 2 last year, falling short of USC again. Although at the time of the final ranking, offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson was still listed as a Trojan commitment. Henderson ended up signing with USC but got out of his letter due to NCAA sanctions on the USC program and is now at Miami.

This time around it seems clear that Meyer won't be changing his mind. And his resignation comes with two full visit weekends left before the dead period over the holidays, while last year it came in the middle of a limited contact period. There is little doubt that this time around, Florida will lose a few more recruits than it did last year and that it won't be able to close as strong.

Rumors of Meyer's resignation started long before Tuesday, although they were very quiet rumblings. The fact that he wasn't as involved in recruiting last spring wasn't surprising but it became clear to insiders that this wasn't the same Urban Meyer on the recruiting trail as in years past. As early as last spring rumors began to swirl that Meyer simply came back to Gainesville for one more season and that the chances of Meyer stepping down following this year, regardless of his team's record, were around 50/50.

When rumor turned into reality Wednesday, the future became the focus. Of the 17 current commitments, expect many to explore other options but a few stand out as potential decommitments.

Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee running back Mike Blakely was torn between Florida and Auburn before choosing the Gators. However, Auburn is still in need of a big-time running back and you can bet it will make a strong push at Blakely. Some thought that Meyer was the main reason Blakely chose the Gators and if that's the case, he could be gone.

Jacksonville (Fla.) University Christian School tight end A.C. Leonard has already de-committed from Florida once and Alabama has been pushing very hard, among others. He's another one who could flip quickly. Alabama has also been going hard after Pensacola (Fla.) Pine Forest athlete Louchiez Purifoy so he's another one to watch.

Wide receiver Javares McRoy is another to keep an eye on, as is cornerback Nick Waisome. The standout from Lakeland, Fla., was an early commitment to Texas Tech prior to the ouster of Mike Leach and now he's sitting by watching Meyer resign. As for Waisome, he was very high on Florida State before choosing the Gators and it wouldn't be a shock to see him flip.

The headliner of the class is obviously Ovideo (Fla.) Hagerty quarterback Jeff Driskel, who was being counted on to be a right-handed Tebow of sorts and possibly compete for immediate playing time. Driskel is set to enroll at Florida in January and his second choice, Auburn, already has an Elite 11 quarterback committed in Kiehl Frazier. So look for Driskel to stick with his commitment barring a surprise and he will be key in trying to keep this class together.

Last year it was quarterback Trey Burton, who emerged as a recruiting leader in the Gators' class and reached out to numerous committed and uncommitted prospects to keep them interested in Florida during Meyer's period of indecision. Now that job falls on the shoulders of Driskel, who will be a key for the Gators over the next few weeks.

Obviously any of the current commitments could flip for their own reasons so don't be surprised by anything at this point. The same can be said for the two 2012 commitments, Latroy Pittman from Citra (Fla.) North Marion and Dante Phillips from Venice (Fla.). But as much as they will affect the committed prospects, it will also have a big effect on the remaining targets.

The Gators were the frontrunner for linebacker Curtis Grant from Virginia as well as linebacker Stephone Anthony from North Carolina and safety Wayne Lyons from Florida. They were also in the mix for wide receiver George Farmer and his teammate, athlete Marqise Lee, who took an official visit all the way from California. Other uncommitted players that already took official visits to Florida include two other Californians, wide receiver Junior Pomee and defensive end Todd Barr.

The timing of his resignation isn't good, as Florida was set to host its biggest recruiting weekend of the year. It is assumed that the scheduled officials of Delvon Simmons, Elkino Watson, Izauea Lanier, Jabari Gorman and Lamar Dawson set for this weekend will all be canceled. Florida is also likely out for an official visit for five-star linebacker Tony Steward, who was expected to take an official visit to Gainesville sometime this month. Current commitments Waisome, Leonard, Hounshell, Clay Burton, Valdez Showers, Ryan Shazier and Kyle Christy are also scheduled to take official visits this weekend and it is unclear if any of them will be on campus.

This shouldn't be a long, drawn-out process when it comes to hiring a new head coach. The assumption is that Bob Stoops will once again be the top choice and that Stoops will once again distance himself from the situation and remain at Oklahoma barring a surprise. Bobby Petrino has also been mentioned but the most logical choices appear to be former Florida coordinators Dan Mullen (Mississippi State) and Charlie Strong (Louisville), who both would likely jump at the job. Mullen, who was the offensive coordinator at Florida prior to taking the job with the Bulldogs, would be the choice that would lead to the easiest transition since Florida runs a funky offense he is very familiar with and the Gators run a base defense. In fact many feel that if Mullen were named head coach, nothing much would change at Florida. However, Meyer's name and ability to recruit will be hard to replace, even for someone who coached under him in Gainesville.

Finally, the stability of the Florida football program is now under scrutiny. Before last December, most people expected Meyer to coach the Gators for years and the program to constantly be in contention for SEC and national championships. The new head coach will not have the same job security Meyer earned with his two national titles and will be under intense pressure replacing him.

For years in the Sunshine State, Florida State was the picture of stability with Bobby Bowden. That disappeared late in Bowden's career with the chaos the ensued in Tallahassee. But with Meyer (and to a lesser degree, Shannon at Miami) out of the picture, Fisher represents that stability in the state. From here things can only get better for the Seminoles. Meanwhile, the Gators join the Hurricanes in trying to find the next coach to bring the program back to prominence.

How quickly things change in college football.



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