Stan Drayton was the running backs coach at Florida for the first three seasons under Urban Meyer. After the Gators' 2007 season, which saw an offensive explosion but a decrease in the use of the running back position, Drayton and the Gators parted ways. Exactly what all those reasons are we may never know, but since then Drayton has spent a season at Tennessee under fired coach Phil Fulmer, then a season at Syracuse in a program on the rise, but in the bitter cold Northeast.
Drayton now chalks it all up to lessons learned and is ready to get on with his new/old job as the running back coach at Florida. All of it started when Urban Meyer reached out to talk to Drayton about coming back.
“It was a great feeling,” Drayton said about the offer from his former and now current boss. “You go through this profession and you come across some bumps. Those bumps are expected, because this is what we do. They are all learning experiences as long as you take them the right way. It was a great learning experience...my two years away from the University of Florida. I realize that the grass is really green down here. Things are great and there is a structure in place and I am really happy to be back.”
The call from Meyer was a little bit surprising given the circumstances of their separation. Drayton refuses to dwell on that as if things have changed in whatever matters were differing between the parties two years ago.
“I would be lying to you if I said I wasn't surprised,” Drayton said. “...In regards to what happened, I am not going to invest time in that. I am moving forward. Coach Meyer and I are in great shape, we understand each other and respect each other. We are moving forward.
The media took hold of it back then and wouldn't let it go. It was especially brought to the forefront because Drayton went to a rival school in the SEC...Tennessee.
“All of that stuff was blown out of proportion, but the respect was never compromised,” Drayton said. “It was not hard for me to come back to a place like the University of Florida.”
One issue was supposedly that Florida has underutilized the running back position under Meyer and Drayton didn't care for that. Well, in 2008, the running backs accounted for 1,965 yards in the Gator offense. Things have certainly changed.
“All you had to do is watch Florida play last year, those guys were a very important part of this offense,” Drayton said. “That is no longer a concern at all.”
Drayton certainly learned that there are a lot of places in college football, but not many compare to what is going on in Gainesville, Florida. A move away from Florida was one that he learned a lot from.
“Things happen for reasons and I will leave it at this,” he said. “It was a phenomenal learning experience for me. Any move that I make, there is a priority I am going to go through. I am going to check my faith check my family, and check my professional development. Those two years away from here were a fantastic learning experience for me. I am very happy to be back here because I am still in line with what my priorities are. That will never waiver.”
“I would love the opportunity one day to be a head football coach. When you have aspirations like that, you have to tap in to the way that programs run...what makes them successful and what makes some failures. Leaving this place and experiencing the things other people were doing, you can't put a price tag on the lessons you learn. Those experiences were priceless and I don't regret them at all.”
Now Drayton feels like he is part of a superior staff, one that has four new parts, but they all have some link to one another that allows for some continuity.
“Urban Meyer does a great job of putting together a staff of people that pretty much know each other...at some point we crossed paths,” Drayton said. “There was somewhere along the way where we worked together before and we all know each other. We are all cut from the same cloth where we approach our (players), approach football, and approach our families. Because of that continuity and those common denominators we all work well together. It is not that way everywhere, this is a special place. (It is easy) bringing your family into a place like this because you know exactly what to expect.”
It is a staff that is still feeling each other out, but one that got off to a good quick start.
“Chemistry has to be time tested, but as far as a bond, that took about a day,” Drayton said of the staff getting to know each other and getting along. “Urban Meyer doesn't run a program where people have separate agendas. We know when we come in the door you are going to get along. There is a system in place and there are rules. Number one is developing quality young men to be good football players, great husbands, and great fathers. When you have a staff that believes in that and they are all walking that walk too, that foundation is really hard to break and we get along just fine because we have our priorities in place.”
One common theme among the media and fans for the most part has been the questions surrounding the health of Meyer. Drayton said that the situation with the staff and Meyer's health was certainly something he weighed into his decision to come back to Gainesville.
“I was very aware of it and interested to see what was going on,” Drayton said. “Any time you have to pick up your children and your wife (and move) you are going to find out all the ins and outs. That lasted about two minutes after Urban Meyer called me and I heard it in his voice.”
“I talked to Steve Addazio, a man that I really love and trust. I felt nothing but reality coming through the phone...nothing but a confidence and excitement about getting this thing going and completing that cycle once again. You can tell I was comfortable about the whole deal because I am here and ready to go.”