GAINESVILLE, Fla. — While the Florida fan base is reaching peak stress levels heading into the fourth week of the Gators’ coaching search, the players are simply trying to lighten the mood and keep things loose despite being the ones set to be the most directly impacted by the hire.
Hence the choreographed stream of emojis on Twitter on Sunday night that immediately sent fans into a frenzy over whether or not the players knew something about an imminent announcement. Especially as reporters waited at an airstrip in Ocala for a chartered plane to return from New Hampshire, where presumed top candidate Chip Kelly lives.
Nope, they were just having fun.
“Yeah, we’re wondering just like you guys. We’re just trying to have fun with it sometimes,” linebacker David Reese said after practice Monday. “We were all at dinner, just sitting down, and I guess someone just seen a tweet talking about another coach. So we’re like, man, we’re tired of this, let’s just have a little fun with it.”
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Wide receiver Josh Hammond said about 10 players were at a teammate’s house for a group dinner when the idea struck. He added that offensive lineman Fred Johnson was the first to get it started.
Then it expanded beyond that room with other teammates and even recruits chiming in with the same curious-face emoji.
“We (were) just finding out just how all you guys find out. So we don’t know what’s going on. The rumors are out there, but nobody really knows,” Hammond said. “So we just all tweeted out the emoji, thought it would be pretty funny for us to just come together and kind of bother Twitter a little bit. … We (were) just like, let’s tweet it and see what happens.”
Said fellow receiver Dre Massey: “We (were) just looking at Twitter like y’all look at Twitter. … I mean, we see everything on social media. We’re just waiting to see what’s going to happen like y’all are.”
In the stream of emojis, linebacker Kylan Johnson instead tweeted about his injured hamstring, prompting some good-natured jokes on Twitter that Reese added to Monday after practice.
“We got to ask him about that one. He didn’t get the memo,” Reese joked.
That said, the players aren’t interested in discussing the coaching search or the buzz around Kelly, etc.
“We’re just blessed to have the coaches that we have now that are still supporting us through this time,” Reese said.
Said Hammond: “Our athletic director (Scott) Stricklin will pick somebody good for us so we just leave it alone and wait to see what happens. You know it’s going to be interesting; we’re just looking forward to see what happens.”
But haven’t they had any conversations about what it might be like to play for Kelly, with his prodigious offensive track record, or any of the other rumored candidates?
Hammond says they haven’t.
“Playing in the season right now, Coach (Randy) Shannon’s our head coach right now, we’re just focused on that. So I think that’s been the biggest thing for us moving forward just worrying about this week and not worrying about the stuff that comes that’ll come in the future, you know,” he said. “We’ve got a ball game this week. Coach Shannon’s our head coach right now, so I think that’s the focus for our team right now.”