GAINESVILLE, Fla. — New Florida football coach Dan Mullen hasn’t yet announced any official titles for the offensive assistants he’s hired, and it’s an interesting collection of skill sets he’s put together as the Gators look to (finally) jump-start their long-slumping offense.
Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy, the first hires Mullen made, served as his co-offensive coordinators at Mississippi State. And former Utah quarterback Brian Johnson was also an offensive coordinator last season, at Houston, after previously serving as Mullen’s QB coach with the Bulldogs. He was officially announced as an addition to the Gators staff Sunday.
That’s along with Mullen, who for the last four seasons has called his own plays and is renowned for his work in developing quarterbacks.
It looks like Mullen is going all-in on making sure Florida is able to (finally) recruit and develop a program-changing quarterback, like he was able to do in Starkville, Miss.
At Mississippi State, Gonzales was the wide receivers coach and oversaw the passing game as part of his co-coordinator role. Hevesy was the offensive line coach and oversaw the running game.
It will be interesting to see what titles are doled out to the group here, especially with Johnson. He’s leaving a coordinator position at a stable program, albeit one under the direction of an offensive-minded former coordinator in Major Applewhite, but the offensive hierarchy appears even more cluttered here.
Regardless, the hires make perfect sense for Florida.
Mullen retains his two most trusted lieutenants in Gonzales, who coached 14 combined seasons with Mullen at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Mississippi State, and Hevesy, who has been with Mullen every season since 2001 at Bowling Green. That continuity is rare in college football and will only ease the process of getting the Gators up to speed in Mullen’s spread offense.
Then, in addition to his own reputation as a quarterback guru, Mullen is now able to pitch to recruits the added coaching attention of a highly-successful collegiate quarterback in Johnson, who along with Mullen helped former Mississippi State standout Dak Prescott turn himself into an NFL star.
Mullen’s other hires were to bring aboard defensive coordinator Todd Grantham — who boasts experience in that role at Georgia, Louisville, Mississippi State and with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns — and Mississippi State strength and conditioning coach Nick Savage.
The strength and conditioning operation is the backbone of Mullen’s program-building philosophy, and he’s already promised the Florida players “it’s probably going to be something they have never even experienced in their life before, our offseason conditioning program.”
So to review:
- Trusted strength coach to instill the new mindset/mentality Mullen expects the Gators to embrace — ✓
- Infrastructure to install new spread offense proven effective throughout his career — ✓
- Young, accomplished quarterback coach to connect with recruits and help him develop the most important position on the field — ✓
- Veteran defensive coordinator with track record of success — ✓
Much like his overall strong impression in his first couple weeks on the job, Mullen has done well so far in assembling his staff.
But there are still spots to fill and questions to answer.
Between Gonzales, Hevesy, Grantham and Johnson, the Gators have four sure things for their 10 available assistant coaching positions (the NCAA is allowing teams to add a 10th on-field assistant coach effective Jan. 9).
Meanwhile, three holdovers from the previous staff remain in Ja’Juan Seider (running backs), Tim Skipper (linebackers) and Brad Davis (offensive line). None are guaranteed to be on staff in 2018 yet.
Seider is a strong recruiter and did well with Florida’s running backs in his only season in Gainesville. He would seem the best bet to be retained, but clarity might not come until after bowl season.
Speaking of loyal assistants, Greg Knox was Mullen’s running backs coach at Mississippi State since his first season there in 2009. He is presently serving as the Bulldogs’ interim coach, but he’s likely out of a job after bowl season as new Bulldogs coach Joe Moorhead has already named a new running backs coach and run game coordinator. Reports surfaced last week linking Knox to Florida, but he has stated he has no agreement in place with the Gators.
He also has been the Bulldogs’ special teams coordinator since 2014, and if Mullen wanted to use that extra 10th coaching spot to make that a standalone role at Florida, that would be a way to both keep Seider and hire Knox if he indeed wants to bring his longtime assistant aboard.
Skipper, meanwhile, is one of Florida’s top recruiters and has coached on both sides of the ball, including starting his career working with defensive backs. But Grantham was officially his own linebackers coach at Mississippi State, and it remains to be seen if there is a long-term fit for Skipper on the reconstructed staff.
Davis seems less likely to have a position once the dust settles with Hevesy entrenched.
So here’s a guess at the staff as it currently stands:
Co-offensive coordinator/WRs/passing game: Billy Gonzales
Co-offensive coordinator/OL/running game: John Hevesy
QBs (perhaps co-offensive coordinator?): Brian Johnson
Running backs: Ja’Juan Seider
Tight ends: ?
Defensive coordinator/linebackers: Todd Grantham
Defensive line: ?
Special teams: (possibly/likely Greg Knox)
While Florida had one defensive backs coach last year (Corey Bell), Mississippi State split the duties in half with separate cornerbacks and safeties coaches.
Terrell Buckley was the Bulldogs’ cornerbacks coach and recruiting coordinator the last two years, but he was also a star at Florida State from 1989-91 and would be an interesting hire for the Gators. Mullen wouldn’t care about that if he felt it was the best hire for the position, but it’s unknown if Buckley would have interest in working for his former rival.
Mississippi State’s safeties coach last season was Ron English, who was overqualified for the position after stints as a defensive coordinator at Michigan (2006-07), Louisville (2008) and San Jose State (2016) while serving as coach at Eastern Michigan from 2009-13. He’s a name to keep in mind, certainly.
The Bulldogs defensive line coach the last two seasons was Brian Baker, another veteran coach with an impressive resume. After one season as the defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech in 1995, Baker coached defensive lines throughout the NFL with the San Diego Chargers, Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams, Carolina Panthers, Dallas Cowboys and then coached outside linebackers for the Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins. For what it’s worth, Baker has continued recruiting for Mississippi State, but nothing has been announced about his future there.
And finally, Mississippi State tight ends coach last season was D.J. Looney, who is expected to be out of that position. Young in his career and a Mississippi State alum, it’s not clear how much of a fit or target he’d be for Mullen at Florida.
Mullen initially said it could be after the new year before the staff is finalized, so stay tuned.