Florida coach Jim McElwain provided no update Monday on the status of nine suspended players.
Star receiver Antonio Callaway, starting running Jordan Scarlett and seven others missed the season opener and still haven’t been cleared to return, McElwain said. Reports vary from misuse of school-issued funds to alleged credit card fraud as to the reason for the suspensions.
Touted true freshman WR James Robinson is back with the team this week after serving a one-game suspension for his Aug. 21 marijuana citation.
Florida came into fall camp with momentum and optimism after eight months of success on both the team and recruiting front. The last three weeks have seemingly halted that progress, at least in terms of program perception.
The Gators showed Saturday – yet again – that they’re still not equipped to compete with a top-10 team, though their roster wasn’t at full strength.
The nature and volume of Florida’s suspensions opened the door for criticism of third-year coach Jim McElwain. Some fans and media members have even suggested McElwain may be losing control of his program.
SEC Network analyst Marcus Spears, a former LSU and NFL defensive lineman, doesn’t see it that way.
“That lack of institutional control B.S. sometimes to me is so overrated,” Spears told SEC Country in Dallas. “Players really dictate the climate on a football team. Coaches can give their message … but when you’re talking about championship teams, teams that really play on a high level all the time, the players control that environment.
“You think there wasn’t a few incidents when Tim Tebow was there? You just didn’t hear about them. They would tell you Urban Meyer had great control. Winning is the cure-all.”
Callaway and Scarlett could be the cure for Florida’s offense, but both juniors have now been removed from the team twice for disciplinary reasons. Like Robinson, Callaway and Scarlett also have history with marijuana and now showed lack of leadership with their involvement in the student-fund fiasco.
“When you first heard that story, who was the main guy they talked about? The leader of the team,” Spears said. “Let’s be clear with Antonio, these are decisions now. They’re not mistakes. If I’m a player on that team, I’m like, ‘We can’t count on this dude. Bottom line.’ … The toughest pill to swallow is the scrutiny you get for your teammates.
“It ain’t the media. It ain’t the coaches. It’s those dudes in the locker room. Once they start saying, ‘Dude, you’re effing up. You’re not here for us. We need you.’ And if it doesn’t register then, then nobody will be able to get to you.”
Spears continued on Callaway and spoke specifically about his marijuana use. He feels the issue is not always properly addressed and understood by coaches and fans.
“Obviously to Antonio Callaway, smoking weed ain’t bad,” Spears said. “He’s already risked, he’s already been in trouble and he smoked again. This is Antonio’s second or third run-in with marijuana.
“That’s not an institutional problem. That’s not a Mac problem. That’s not a coach on that coaching staff’s problem. That’s an Antonio Callaway problem.”
Speaking from first-hand experience, Spears said that problem can only be solved through rehab, a strong support system and some tough love.
“These dudes are addicted to marijuana,” Spears said. “They grow up in it. That’s their lifestyle. When we get to the marijuana talk, we need to start dealing with the addiction and stop saying we’re going to suspend a guy. It’s an addiction. I went through it with Tyrann Mathieu when he was at LSU.
“Josh Gordon, who played for Cleveland, right now he would be the highest paid receiver in the NFL. They just gave DeAndre Hopkins $81 million in Houston. So you’re telling me that a dude consciously is going to say, ‘I’m going to blow $100 million so I can get high.’ No. He’s addicted.”
Spears feels McElwain has taken the necessary steps to help Callaway, but also acknowledges that the third-year coach will have to cut ties with his star receiver if anything else occurs.
“I don’t like to use (the term) lack of institutional control unless you just see dudes out here wilding,” Spears said. “All scopes, different incidents, multiple players and you just don’t have a pulse on anything that’s going on, as a head coach that falls on you. The fact that McElwain is suspending dudes, your best player, the fact that’s coming out and being in the forefront about it, that’s control.
“We’re saying that the action is lacking control, but we’re not giving control to the consequences. Consequence is the control. What more can he do? He can’t put him over his knee and spank him. You don’t want to cut him because most of these coaches care about these dudes. They want them to be better and have a chance to correct themselves.”
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