“That’s special stuff,” Bowen said. “He was always at the hospital when I got done with surgeries, and not everybody does that. I can guarantee not everyone does that.”
Fifteen years ago, when Addazio was an assistant under Paul Pasqualoni at Syracuse, he found himself rushing to be the first person at a 6 a.m. workout for an offensive lineman in Pennsylvania. He was surprised to see another coach there. It was Urban Meyer, at the time an assistant at Notre Dame.
“Of course, the two idiots that are at this 6 a.m. workout are me and Urban,” Addazio said.
They talked to the coach, looked at the lineman, went to lunch, and went on their way.
“We’ve been friends ever since,” Meyer said.
When Meyer became head coach at Florida, he brought Addazio with him. Addazio climbed the ladder from coaching the offensive line and tight ends to coordinating the offense.
“Relationships and friendships are so important,” Addazio said. “It always comes back.”
Pressed into duty
In 2009, when Meyer took an indefinite leave of absence for health reasons as the Gators were staring at a Sugar Bowl matchup with Cincinnati, Florida AD Jeremy Foley told Addazio they needed to talk.
Now and then, Foley would have some fun at Addazio’s expense. For instance, he’d catch him in the hallway or call him to the office and say, “What’s going on, Steve? Why aren’t you excited? It’s the biggest game of the year, you don’t have any juice today?”
It didn’t matter that Addazio was always running on jet fuel, he’d get worried anyway.
“I could get him on that two or three times a year,” Foley said. “Next thing you know, he’d be yelling something.”
But this time, Foley was serious. He needed Addazio to become interim head coach.
“It was chaotic when it happened,” Addazio said. “My whole thing at that point was this is something I felt like I could do for the University of Florida, for the players, and for Urban. With all he had done for me, I just said I just want to get this all right so when he’s ready to come back, I can give him back the program in great shape and not a situation where there was chaos.”
Addazio guided the Gators to a Sugar Bowl win, then had to hire a defensive coordinator, secure what was the No. 1 recruiting class in the country (“We signed everybody,” he said), handle many of Meyer’s speaking engagements going into the spring, and run spring practices.
Beyond that, he had to keep key players in the program. The Pounceys were thinking of leaving for the NFL. Addazio had to get them to believe that the dollars would still be there if they waited a year. They trusted him because they remembered the person that came to their home to recruit them.
“He did a good job being a man about it, approaching the team the right way, doing things in the best interest of those guys and not in the best interests of him,” Maurkice Pouncey said.
Addazio kept the program together at a critical point, said Foley.
“It was a difficult time for everybody,” Foley said. “He came through with flying colors.”
Meyer said, “He commands respect from his staff and his players, and he did an excellent job.”
For Addazio, it was on-the-job training at the highest level.
“Sometimes when people talk about interim head coaches, usually that term means for the bowl game or a week or two or three,” he said. “But I ran the program for eight months. So that was, for me, a tremendous learning experience. So when I went to Temple, I had been a head coach, probably in the most pressurized spot in America, and that experience for me was invaluable.”
Hard at work
It was part of what Bradshaw saw in Addazio.
“He’s the quintessential football coach, the tough, roll-up-your-sleeves, steam, smoke coming out of his nostrils,” said the Temple AD. “He looks it. He’s central casting when he comes out there fired up.”
When Bradshaw hired Addazio, he figured the program was at a point where it was a destination for coaches. Al Golden spent five years doing “the heavy lifting,” Bradshaw said, rebuilding from a 1-11 team in 2006 to a 9-4 bowl team in 2009, before leaving for Miami after the 2010 season.
“I believe there was a lot of people who felt that this was a program where somebody could come in and sink their teeth in,” Bradshaw said. “Certainly Steve was grateful, because we were the first FBS program to give him a chance to be a head coach. He had looked to do that for a long time and we were the first ones to give him that opportunity. So there’s probably an expectation from most people that he would be here as long as Al Golden was.” Continued...