By: Eddie Pells, AP Sports Writer
(AP) Florida coach Ron Zook didn’t wait to get to the sideline to make his first unusual call of the week.
Instead, that came Monday when he unexpectedly declared all his players off limits for media interviews this week, in the leadup to Saturday night’s game against Florida State.
“I want our players focused on this football game,” Zook said after practice. “I don’t want any other information to be focused on. I don’t want any other things said. I want them focused on this football game, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
It was a move thought to be unprecedented at Florida, where media access to coaches and players grew slowly more difficult over Steve Spurrier’s 12 seasons — by the end, he commonly crossed out names of players he didn’t want to talk — but never resulted in a complete blackout.
Zook’s gag order comes at a most odd and inopportune time for his program.
He made the announcement only hours after Florida State and Bobby Bowden found themselves in a public-relations mire, having dismissed quarterback Adrian McPherson amid reports that police planned to question him in the theft and forgery of a blank check.
Florida’s media day is Tuesday, and more than 100 reporters are expected to descend on Gainesville, Fla. One of the most prevalent topics would have been how good things have been going lately at Florida, where the Gators are on a four-game winning streak, especially compared to Florida State.
But no players will have a chance to address that topic — only Zook, who will speak at his regularly scheduled 12:30 p.m. news conference.
The coach claims gag orders are quite common in the world of college football.
“Oh no, it’s not radical,” Zook claimed. “Teams do this all the time.”
He said Ohio State’s Jim Tressel called for one last week before the Michigan game, which is not true — about 20 Buckeyes players were available last Monday for a 90-minute interview session.
Even though the teams are struggling this season — the Gators are 8-3 and the Seminoles are 8-4 — the Florida-Florida State rivalry has long been one of the best in the nation and it has always been rife with storylines.
Among those the Gators won’t be available to discuss this week are:
* The Battle of Twisted Knee: Florida tailback Earnest Graham alleged that Florida State’s Darnell Dockett intentionally twisted his knee in the pile last year and caused him an injury that forced him to miss the next game. How does he feel about things now that the rematch is less than a week away? Only Graham knows.
* Florida’s quest for a 10-win season: Despite their failure to win the Southeastern Conference, Zook has been painting this season as a success story in the making, especially if the Gators defeat FSU. Do the players agree? The public might never know.
* Winning in Tallahassee: Zook has a chance to win at Florida State, something Spurrier never accomplished. How do the Gators feel about trying to do that for their coach, who has weathered intense criticism all year? Again, the answer is a mystery.
“I don’t know what you want me to say,” Zook said. “I made a decision, and that’s what I’m going to do.”