With recruiting at a standstill due to the dead period where coaches cannot initiate contact with prospective athletes, new Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain has been focusing on staff building. Initially, there was wide spread speculation that a few of Will Muschamp’s assistants might be retained on the new staff. Those who were expected to be offered were defensive coordinator and interim head coach D.J. Durkin, defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson, defensive line coach Brad Lawing, and offensive line coach Mike Summers.
With the hiring of Geoff Collins as defensive coordinator, it’s apparent Durkin will not be retained after Saturday’s bowl game. Lawing it appears will not be retained either. There has been speculation that he may retire from coaching altogether. Summers, however, is reportedly going to return as offensive line coach and may end up as the sole staff member returning.
Robinson, or T-Rob as he is affectionately known by fans, has been widely reported as having a standing offer to return to Florida and was mulling over that and a competing offer to join Muschamp at Auburn, Robinson’s alma mater. Besides his prowess as a position coach, T-Rob was Muschamp’s best recruiter and has strong connections in the recruiting hotbed of south Florida.
Coach Mac has made it abundantly clear he intends to rebuild recruiting pipelines in-state particularly in south Florida and the Tampa area. So with this in mind, it makes sense for McElwain to try to keep T-Rob on staff.
However, with the expected naming of former Miami head coach Randy Shannon as linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator, it’s likely that T-Rob has chosen to rejoin Muschamp at Auburn as was previously reported by Booger McFarland.
Shannon is a fantastic recruiter and linebackers coach who spent almost his entire life playing and coaching in Miami. He should bring instant credibility to Gator recruiting efforts in south Florida particularly Dade and Broward counties.
Another name that had been bandied about due to his recruiting prowess and south Florida ties is West Virginia running backs coach JaJuan Seider. He’s done very well getting talented skill players to Morgantown from south Florida and is well respected as a position coach. However, with him reportedly agreeing to a two year contract extension at WVU it’s highly unlikely he’d be leaving for Florida.
The name that has been gaining steam of late for the running backs coach position is Tennessee RB coach and former Gator Robert Gillespie. Gillespie has coached rb’s at South Carolina and Tennessee so he has significant SEC experience as well as Oklahoma State and West Virginia and is regarded as an above average recruiter which is something Mac is looking for in all his position coaches.
With Coach Mac’s offenses featuring potent running games, this could be a huge career break for Gillespie if he is chosen. I get the sense, however, that he is merely a back pocket candidate at this point.
Currently, the hottest name being mentioned to join the Gators’ staff is Texas defensive line coach Chris Rumph. He is well respected as a position coach having previously coached All-American Daquan Bowers at Clemson and was the DL coach at Alabama from 2011-2013. Check out his bio here.
Rumph would be another strong addition to the new staff with some good young talent waiting for him in Gainesville and would be a major coup for McElwain if he can lure him away considering he has an assistant head coach title as well as defensive line duties and a large salary. There may not be a better candidate for this position in all of America.
Like Shannon’s hiring, however, nothing official has been reported by UF but expect official word for both hires to come some time next week after the holidays and the bowl game. These two hires are just the tip of the iceberg and, with bowl season and NFL season winding down, expect the remaining staff to be filled rather quickly within the next week or two. Positions left to fill include receivers coach, tight ends coach, and defensive backs coach assuming Summers is retained for OL coach. A special teams coach could also be named separately but will likely be an additional title for another position coach.
Along this line, another name considered to be a strong candidate to join the Gators’ staff is Alabama director of football operations Joe Pannunzio. He is a former tight ends coach and special teams coordinator at Miami under Randy Shannon where he coached both Greg Olsen and Jimmy Graham. He is reportedly itching to get back on the sidelines and this would certainly be his best opportunity to do so. See his bio here.
Pannunzio would be another strong addition to the Gators’ staff as both a position coach and as special teams coordinator and is another who has been well versed in Nick Saban’s infamous coaching “process”.
A couple other names that have been reportedly connected to the Gators assistant coach search are Alabama assistant Billy Napier and former Chicago Bears assistant Mike Groh, both for the receivers coach position.
Napier is the current receivers coach for the Tide but reportedly wasn’t interested in leaving that spot for anything less than a coordinator position. With former Bama OC Doug Nussmeier named to that post at Florida it appears Napier’s interest has waned.
That leaves Groh, who previously coached receivers at Alabama before joining the Bears. With the firing of the GM and entire coaching staff of the Bears Groh is certainly available. The bigger question is would he be willing to leave the NFL to return to college as a position coach?
The NFL has the advantage of paying better and no outside duties like recruiting, but Groh is considered to be a fantastic recruiter, he was named 247sports recruiter of the year two season’s ago while at Alabama and if he were to go back to college there aren’t many better gigs than a flagship school like Florida in the heart of the nation’s most competitive and fertile recruiting grounds.
If he is a candidate and considering an offer expect things to move quickly.
While McElwain has been somewhat slow and methodical to this point in building his staff with potential candidates finishing their season, expect the pace to pick up next week. It’s important to get position coaches named so they can “hit the ground running” as coach Mac previously stated once the dead period ends. They’ll have approximately three weeks to attempt to salvage this recruiting class which at this point is the weakest I’ve seen in covering the Gators for the last 35 years.
Stay tuned to Swamp Music for more Gator Chomps as the coaching rumor mill continues to heat up.
** Update 2 pm 1/1/15
OnlyGators.com is reporting Colorado State assistant Tim Skipper is set to be hired as the Gators RB coach. See story onlygators tim skipper story.