Each off-season Inside the Gators interviews the departing seniors and early entry juniors for our Parting Shots series. It enables us to get an in-depth look back on their time at Florida as well as what they're up to now and plans for the future.
Up today is the first of a two part Parting Shots with senior safety Josh Evans.
ITG: It is tough to begin on such a delicate subject, but considering your mother passed away when you were just 14, how difficult was it for you to decide to play for the Gators and go to college in Florida rather than remain closer to home near your remaining family?
Evans: "It was very difficult at that time because the family was going through a down moment from the loss of my mother. As time went on - because that was actually going into my freshman year of high school - I had a couple years to get myself together and basically take advantage of my opportunities. Florida came down and visited me, and I felt it was a time to actually get out and experience and not dwell on something [negative] by being home all the time and being there. It was time to move forward. Florida was the place to be for the experience and to reach my dreams."
ITG: Most fans probably don't know that you were an accomplished offensive player in high school with 32 touchdowns in your career as a quarterback. How did you go about deciding to focus on defense in college and try to make a career on that side of the ball?
Evans: "I was always an offensive player growing up. I loved to throw the ball around. There were actually a lot of schools that offered me to play quarterback such as Virginia Tech, Michigan State. I came to the conclusion probably my senior year that I just wanted to move forward and stick to playing safety. I always liked to come down and tackle and be aggressive. I felt like I had a better opportunity being a defensive guy than being a quarterback and coaches felt that was the best thing for me, too."
ITG: What was it like committing to a program that had just won the national championship, its second in three years? Did you feel a lot of pressure to play great right away or did you maybe feel less anxiety because there were so many guys ahead of you on the roster?
Evans: "I was actually there at the BCS National Championship Game and took my official visit after the game. I knew from there on that the team that was coming back [was special] and the leadership they had was something I wanted to be a part of. They had great guys like Brandon Spikes, Tim Tebow, Joe Haden, Major Wright. I knew that type of staff coming back with those players, I was going to be able to learn a lot from them to move forward in my career. I wanted to come up that next season and compete and do what I could do while they were there."
ITG: What is your perspective on Urban Meyer's first resignation before the 2009 Sugar Bowl? How did you feel about that as a first-year player, and did you worry about it to the point that you considered transferring?
Evans: "I didn't consider transferring. I didn't. My heart was in it. I already put time and effort into being at Florida. It was more of a confused feeling at the time. He left and I thought all my four years he was going to be there. I just started to adapt, learning the plays and everything. I felt like I had a good chance of moving forward with that coaching staff. For that to happen, it kind of threw me off a little bit."
ITG: Do you think the younger players took it harder than the juniors and seniors?
Evans: "I would say it shook the whole team. The younger guys like me came in thinking that the guys that recruited them, the staff, was going to be there for four years. It affected them because they put their trust in guys that recruited them and suddenly they may only be there for their freshman year. Everyone was thinking that they were going to have to learn under a whole new coaching staff and adjust just to be able to compete."
ITG: Though Meyer ended up sticking around for the next season, Charlie Strong's departure to Louisville was already set in stone. How hard did his leaving the team hit the defense?
Evans: "You felt a little bit of separation in the team. You had a lot of guys that really bought into Charlie Strong and his style of defense and the way he coached. It was also one of those things where we understood it was a business and he was just taking advantage of his opportunity. You want to wish the best of luck to him. It was a business decision and he moved forward. You can see the career path he's had there. It was one of those things to where he kind of moved forward and you can't dwell on the past. You look to see who the next guy is coming along."
ITG: You saw a lot more action on defense as a sophomore and even got to start in three games, but the season did not begin smoothly at all. After Strong officially left, George Edwards was hired as defensive coordinator only to decide to go back to the NFL shortly thereafter. Meyer then hired Teryl Austin to take over. How strange was that situation for the players?
Evans: "Before [Austin] got there, the team was just confused. Nobody really knew where the program was going. You had a coach leave, you have [Edwards] come in and you think you're going to learn that scheme and then he leaves. We kind of were just gathering ourselves together to face the adversity. No one knew what was going on or what was going to be the outcome, who was going to be the coach and how we were going to adjust to their scheme. Then you get a guy like Teryl Austin come in - great coach, knowledge of the game is through the roof as far as knowing the ins and outs - but it took the team a minute to build up that chemistry to get back together because you had guys who were in it and guys who kind of weren't because of the coaching changes and Urban Meyer leaving for a minute. I ended up learning some good things from [Austin]."
ITG: It's pretty well-documented what happened to the team during the 2010 season. Do you feel like Meyer changed the way he coached that year? Maybe he was not doing as much on a day-to-day basis or he lost some of his fire? And how did the players take his second resignation, was it surprising at all?
Evans: "I definitely felt a difference in the team, in practice, as far as how people went about things, how the staff was put together. We all had that gut feeling of what was going on. It was almost expected that something was going to go down; we just didn't know what it would be. Where do we go from here? How do we move forward? What's going to be the adjustments? How are we going to fight through adversity? Everybody wanted to know what the next thing that was going to happen. What's the next step? Where do the Gators go from here? It's tough being a top-of-the-line program with these fans and everybody expecting so much from you but nobody really knows what happened on the inside. Nobody really knows the hurt and the pride you have to want to be good but knowing there's so much other stuff around the place that's going on that is included in the reasons why the Gators struggled."
ITG: What was your first impression of Will Muschamp when he was initially hired and how do you feel the transition under him was handled in 2011? How uneasy was the team about the change?
Evans: "When the whole Muschamp era thing hit, the first thing everybody was asking was, 'Who was this guy?' Nobody knew who was coming in. Some guys knew him from Auburn, might have been recruited by him. A guy like me really didn't really know too much about him. So those were the first questions. Who is this guy? Where is he from? Where has he coached at? He came down and spoke to the team and you could tell he was a players' coach, high-energy guy, as fans saw that season. Being a player, it took a minute to adjust to how he went about things. It ended up working out to be for the best."
ITG: When he first came in, he held the player meeting and then did individual interviews with the players. Did you see right away that some guys were not going to buy into his methods maybe because it was so drastic of a change?
Evans: "You can somewhat kind of say that. That comes with the process of before he even got there, once Urban Meyer left, there were guys that had one foot in and one foot out. It did not have so much to do with Muschamp being there. It had to do with people being confused because, 'This guy recruited me. He's not here anymore. I don't want to be here anymore.' Muschamp comes in, tries to clear things up, but it was kind of a broken situation already. It left chips on the other players' shoulders. [Muschamp] definitely helped and changed how things were going."
ITG: You obviously got a big chance to show out during your junior season even though you still had a lot of kinks to work out. When did the new defense start clicking for you that year and was the process of learning something new like that a lot longer than people realize? It was, after all, the third defense you were learning in as many seasons.
Evans: "Going into my junior year, there were high expectations. That spring it was all about Josh Evans and Matt Elam at safety. Things were going good and then, during the second week of camp, I pulled my hamstring. It set me back a little bit because I was just getting in the groove of learning the system, getting my calls down pat. When I pulled my hamstring, it kind of broke me down mentally. I wasn't mentally in the right place because I was worried about being out there with my hamstring hurting. I was almost feeling bad for myself, but I tried to push myself to do things I couldn't do. Those first couple games, me not being healthy was difficult. I couldn't really do as much because the more I was pushing myself, the more I was hurting myself. In that fourth or fifth game, things started to click a little more as far as learning the system. It was hard to play fast because everybody was just learning the defense. It was new. This style of defense is very professional and advanced. Being still a young guy at the time, learning the scheme was difficult. Around that fifth game, it started to click and we were able to adjust and do things better than those first couple of games."
ITG: How did you and the team feel when Meyer took another job just one year after leaving Florida? Was there a lot of resentment, a desire to play well in spite of him? How did the locker room react when that news was released after he spent a year at ESPN denying that he was interested in other jobs?
Evans: "I have to be completely honest with what was going on. Being around Urban Meyer, he's a guy you got a ton of respect for. The way he coached, the players he coached, the championships that he's been around. He deserved respect from his resume. Being a player, you kind of feel like you were lied to just because of the fact of the meeting we had. He said he was never going to coach again. He mentioned about a heart problem and going through different problems with his father and everything. It was somewhat understandable at the time but difficult because nobody wanted to accept the fact that this was going on. It affected us. It affected us a lot just because he told us he would never coach again and then a year later he's at Ohio State. It made us question [the situation] ourselves. Was he really in it to not coach no more or was this a job he always wanted to have and take control of? That kind of hit us in a way that everybody was kind of confused. 'Woah, where did this come from?' We thought he was just going to be an ESPN analyst and then he's taking the Ohio State job. It was definitely confusing. No hatred towards him. I still got a ton of respect for that man and wish him the best."
ITG: The coaching staff probably did not come out and use Meyer taking the Ohio State job as motivation during the bowl game but how much did the players talk about showing up and dominating that contest? Was there a sense that the guys wanted to kick some ass and make a point?
Evans: "It was probably one of the biggest chips on our shoulders that we had in years. It was almost a statement [among the team] like, 'We got to go out there and win. We got to go out there and win this game.' Not even so much because he left us and ended up going there a year later, but just to prove a point that the Gators are going to finish strong and we got a good squad coming back that next year. We wanted to finish the season as a winner, that's what it really came down to."
In Part II Evans talks about Muschamp, the change in him from 2010 to 2011, the turnover in the strength and conditioning staff, beating Florida State, losing to Louisville, the quarterback derby, the 2012 season and much more.
Read the four part Parting Shots with an anonymous 2012 Florida football player: I | II | III | IV