Florida Football: Laura Rutledge preaches patience for Gators

Jul 20, 2022; Atlanta, GA, USA; ESPN/SEC Network host Laura Rutledge speaks to the media during SEC Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 20, 2022; Atlanta, GA, USA; ESPN/SEC Network host Laura Rutledge speaks to the media during SEC Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

In less than a week, Florida football gets to take the field for real, and all the hypotheticals turn into reality.

We here at Hail Florida Hail were fortunate enough to interview Laura Rutledge from ESPN. In partnership with Honey Baked Ham, Rutledge, a Florida graduate herself, gave us her thoughts on the upcoming season and her favorite spots in Gainsville to tailgate when she isn’t on the clock covering a game.

Florida Football: Laura Rutledge acknowledges success will take time

Hail Florida Hail:

You’re doing this partnership with Honey Baked Ham and talking about some tailgating ideas.

What do you feel you miss out tailgating-wise when you’re on the clock with ESPN covering a game versus when you’re just a commoner or a fan at a game?

Laura Rutledge:

It’s a great question. There’s something special about having the opportunity to be on the sideline or even in the press box. You get a unique vantage point there; I’m super thankful for it. But you do miss out on all the festivities and the celebrations. Tailgates are getting together with people, letting the early afternoon lead into the night, watching all the games all day.

It’s such a special thing that we get to do in football season, and really I think we hold on to each week of that because we don’t get that many of them. There are not that many weeks in football in general, whether it’s college or the NFL. So, I do get excited when I get the chance to partake in a little tailgate action as a break from work.


Everyone has their secret spot at UF. Did you or do you still have a secret spot in Florida when tailgating?


Plaza of The Americas is one of the best spots. It’s a little bit far from Ben Hill Griffin, but one of the reasons why I like it is because when you go to the stadium, you get to walk past everything, all the festivities that are going on during game day at Florida, and I think it’s special.

The tradition of Gators fans, the tailgating tradition, just the fanfare in general, all of it as it’s happening if you are slowly making your way over to the stadium, you get to really take in all of that and enjoy it.


In your line of work, you get the unique perspective of going to all the SEC schools.

Where would you say Florida ranks in terms of tailgating, and if they’re not number one, what do they have to do to become number one?


You’re gonna get me in trouble with Gator fans. I would say they’re top five for sure, and it does depend on the game, right? So, actually, I was talking to Tebow about this the other day for talking about Florida vs. Florida State being in Gainesville this year. Of course, FSU is looking really good, and we were saying how unique that pre-game even is with the rivalry that is Florida vs. Florida State.

Single out that game as an opportunity for Florida to be right there at the top of the list when it comes to SEC tailgating, but this is great with the Groove at Ole Miss. I would throw LSU in there; I absolutely love it, and the LSU tailgate at Baton Rouge is so much fun and has its own unique flavor that you can’t find anywhere else. And then maybe put in Athens to accomplish great food, and I think, in general, the opportunities there when it comes to what you can eat really make a difference. I would put all of those in my top five.



Let’s talk about on the field for a second. Everyone in the national media seems to think the Gators are going to be terrible this season. Vegas has Florida pegged for five wins. There was a segment on the SEC Network where one of your pundits picked Florida for four wins. The Athletic yesterday dropped the prediction that Florida is going to win only three games and fire Billy Napier by week 11.

It’s with that backdrop that Paul Finebaum made a comment last week where he thinks Florida football fans are being too generous towards Billy Napier.

So my question is not so much what do you think Florida is going to do on the field, but what do you think is a reasonable and fair expectation for Florida fans to have for Billy Napier in 2023, given the off-the-field recruiting that he’s doing?


Yeah, it’s so tough. I think the hard part about Florida’s situation is they continue to make coaching changes whether you agree with them or not, and then you’ve got to start all over again. These other teams, obviously Georgia, but even South Carolina or Tennessee in the SEC East have been able to build on the players that they’ve had or stick with some coaches.

We can even use Kentucky as an example where a lot of people years ago thought that maybe Mark Stoops should lose his job, which was ridiculous; now look at some of the sustained success that Kentucky has been able to have in the SEC.

They might have a little bit more, and I say all that not to avoid your question but to state that’s where Florida football fans have to be realistic about where it’s at. College football is not a world right now where people are patient with coaches, so I do think the expectations should be high because Florida should be a national contender and should be a huge brand.

I believe there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done so I would say right now that six or seven wins like that would be great. I’m not sure that I see seven wins and I think if anything, as Florida fans, you’re almost looking for some progress offensively something that makes you say, ‘Alright, you know there’s something,’ and maybe we can see more.

The hard part too is you look at Anthony Richardson, a top-four draft pick, and have to say it’s not necessarily that Florida didn’t have talent at that spot. It’s just how do you build a team when, to your point, the recruiting hasn’t been where it needs to be prior to this season. It’s got to come from the transfer portal and developing some talent too, which takes time.


I’ll get you out of here on this question and follow up on your point.

Urban Meyer on Swamp Kings made the point that at Florida, it is national title or bust. And to your point, of the last three coaches to follow Urban Meyer, none of them have lasted more than four years.

So my question is, and obviously, this is hypothetical guessing, do you think within five years Florida football is going to win a national title?


Yeah, that’s going to be tough. No, I don’t I think within five years, and maybe it has to be longer than that.

But look, the reality is when LSU won in 2019, did we think that they were going to win the national title based on their previous five years before winning it all? Maybe not, so I do think it’s possible if they can utilize this transfer portal well, but it’s going to be an uphill battle with so many teams getting so much better.

We here at Hail Florida Hail want to thank Laura Rutledge for her time in conjunction with Honey Baked Ham and their tailgate packs. Their Hawaiian rolls come with it as well as your sizes and they have the big two-slider pack with two options of sliders, ham and Swiss, as well as turkey and cheddar. 

They are currently running a promotion at Honeybaked.com/tailgate 

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