Even interim head coach D.J. Durkin could admit how tough change can be. The Gators practiced on Thursday morning before Durkin got on a plane and flew to Birmingham for the press conference. Florida’s bowl practices are an added benefit the program didn’t have last year, but this one is different.
While recently named coach Jim McElwain is out on the road recruiting, his current team is practicing under Durkin.
“Change is always a difficult thing, but it is a part of life – not just football, but a part of life,” Durkin said. “Our guys are going through the process and responding well to it. I told the team that life does not stop for anyone. You have to keep going, and our guys understand that. We had a great practice earlier today, and they are going to be ready to go.
“There’s a lot of change and a lot going on at our place right now, but the best thing for our guys is to get back on the football field. They really enjoy one another, playing with one another, so they are looking forward to another opportunity and a great challenge ahead of us.”
It also provides Durkin a chance to take the reigns of the program. He’s still uncertain what his role will be, if he has one, under McElwain. However, the opportunity to serve as the head coach for a few weeks is one that will only benefit him going forward.
Florida was in the same situation at the end of the 2004 season when Ron Zook was fired. Charlie Strong took over the program as the head coach before staying on as co-defensive coordinator under Urban Meyer.
While Durkin isn’t sure what his future holds, he does see this chance as an important one for his future.
“I look at it as a great opportunity,” Durkin said. “You never know when you are going to get your first opportunity to be a head coach. What the circumstances are, obviously this is a little different, but it is fine. We have a great staff that is ready to go coach and do a great job. Our team enjoys each other and enjoys playing with one another, so we will get this thing in the right direction.”
The Gators will play the game at historic Legion Field, and Durkin said he has already spoken to the team about the history of the stadium.
“When you start talking about the history of the game, you can’t really do that without mentioning Legion Field,” Durkin said.
More than anything, the Birmingham Bowl is about building momentum for the players and the program as they head into the offseason. McElwain will take the reigns of the program completely after the game, but Durkin wants to be able to hand over a winning team with momentum going in the right direction.
“It is mainly about the kids,” Durkin said. “I want our seniors to finish on a good note. I have personally been at Florida for five years, so all of our fifth-year seniors I have been with the whole time. Personally, my thoughts are with them – let’s go get a win for those guys and send them on their way with a win.”