How much can coaching continuity help a football program? We’re finally about to find out in Gainesville.
For a time the coaching carousel spun out of control in Gainesville. From 2013-2017 the Gators had 26 different coaches, including two different head coaches. Since Dan Mullen took over in 2018 he has lost just two coaches, Charlton Warren and Sal Sunseri, who were replaced by Torrian Gray and David Turner prior to the 2019 season.
That’s not to say that Mullen’s staff hasn’t been looked at heavily. After the 2018 season, Todd Grantham was a serious candidate for the defensive coordinator job with the Cincinnati Bengals under new head coach Zac Taylor. Grantham coached for more than a decade in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns, and Dallas Cowboys. After an interview, Grantham decided to stay with the Gators and Florida finished the 2019 season ranked 7th in scoring defense and 9th in total defense in the country.
“I have a really good job. My family likes it here,” Grantham said when asked about his job in December. “We’re working very hard to win the SEC, and I think we’re moving in the right direction. We just got to continue to do that. I think playing well in this bowl game and doing the things we need to be a good defense can help us moving into the offseason. That’s the focus.”
As recent as this week Grantham’s name was linked to the vacancy at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs let got of head coach Joe Moorhead on January 3 — a few days after a disappointing 38-28 loss to Louisville in the Music City Bowl — and immediately began looking for a replacement. Footballscoop.com listed Grantham as the “top candidate” for Mississippi State before the Bulldogs’ announced that they had come to an agreement with Mike Leach on January 9.
Now, as it stands, the Gators will return their entire coaching staff, all 11 coaches. As assembled, Florida’s coaching staff has more than 112 years of coaching experience inside the SEC and the program as a whole continues to trend upwards.
How much of that can be attributed simply to not having a ton of staff turnover? Take a look at Clemson. The Tigers are playing in their fifth College Football Playoff and looking for their third National Championship since 2016. Head coach Dabo Swinney is in his 11th season with the Tigers and he isn’t even the longest-tenured coach on staff. Co-Offensive coordinator Jeff Scott has been at Clemson for 12 seasons. In fact, the only departures from Swinney’s staff came in 2017 when Dan Brooks retired and Marion Hobby left for the NFL. 11 seasons, two departures. Clemson pays their assistants handsomely, but it’s more than just a paycheck. Coaches are getting paid breathtaking amounts of cash all over the country, so there is a loyalty and a solid working environment that Swinney has created in Pickens County that is keeping these guys around.
Mullen has that in Gainesville. Mullen, Billy Gonzales, and John Hevesy have been around each other for almost two decades. Film sessions with the three might not even use words, just knowing glances and grunts that convey a message already understood.
Clemson is an oddity in college football. Nick Saban’s coaching staff is routinely plucked and Saban has had to rebuild his staff on an annual basis but there are many ways to do things. Clemson’s continuity has helped on the field and on the recruiting trail. Mullen’s culture looks to be leaning more towards what Swinney has in Gainesville and that’s a good thing for the Gators.