On the surface, the hiring of Jeff Choate seemed to come out of left field. Choate didn’t have any ties to Will Muschamp and had just accepted a promotion to be the defensive coordinator at UTEP with his good friend, new head coach, Sean Kugler.
When coaches spend a long enough time doing one thing, as Choate had been coaching special teams for a long time, they can start to be stereotyped as just a coordinator. Being named a defensive coordinator was just the opportunity that Choate had been waiting for.
“I had an opportunity to number one, work with a guy that I have a tremendous amount of respect for and had a long-standing relationship with in Sean Kugler,” Choate said. “He gave me an opportunity to call the defense, which is something I wanted to do and I was excited about that and felt that we were making the strides that we needed to make to improve the program there at UTEP.”
So why would a coach who has been waiting for an opportunity to call plays leave that job to take another special teams coordinator job? The opportunity of challenging himself against the competition in the SEC was simply too good to pass up.
“Then Will called me, it was a little out of the blue, but ultimately it was an opportunity that I really could just not say ‘no’ to,” Choate said. “Having a chance to coach in the SEC, to compete at the highest level, I think anyone that’s a true competitor wants to challenge themselves against the very best and this was an opportunity for me to do that. As hard as it was for me to say no to the young men at UTEP and in Sean in particular, again I think it was an opportunity I couldn’t say ‘no’ to.”
The hiring wasn’t a random one. Choate spent several years on the Boise State coaching staff with Brent Pease. Muschamp valued his offensive coordinator’s opinion during the search and Pease played a big role in Choate’s hiring.
“Really excited to have him on board,” Muschamp said. “Brent’s input was very valuable in that process to have a guy that’s been on the staff and understands what it’s like.”
Will Muschamp and Choate also have experience with each other recruiting the state of Texas. So while on the outside this initially appeared as a random hire, it was far from that. Choate’s initial press conference last Wednesday wasn’t even his first time in Gainesville. Choate had previously met with Florida’s coaching staff a year ago to discuss coaching ideas and philosophies.
“Special teams wise, matter of fact he visited with our staff last year, you could see philosophically [he was] very much on the same page with he and D.J. [Durkin] and as far as some things he’s doing, has done before and what we were doing and will continue to do at Florida.”
Choate knows that there have been high expectations placed on the special team unit in Gainesville and he is excited to continue that tradition. While not having the opportunity to be with the team for spring practice is far from ideal, the fact that Choate and Durkin share almost identical philosophies should make the transition fairly easy for the team.
“Probably if there was one situation that would work out ideally, it would be this one. As Coach Muschamp alluded to, D.J. and I are very similar in the way we approach special team,” Choate said. “So really it is me learning some terminology things. I don’t think there’s going to be a whole lot of technique or scheme adjusted. I’ll bring kind of my spin on some things here and there but obviously without a spring I don’t see there being a lot of wholesale changes.”
Furthermore, Choate knows that the players that are already in place and Florida’s attitude toward special teams will make his job that much easier.
“I’ve watched some film. Purifoy kid is about as good a gunner as you’re going to find. He’s going to make me a much better guy in terms of kick coverage. Obviously the punter, Christy, he’s a heck of a player as well,” Choate said. “There’s definitely some talent here. You have one of the best kick returners [Andre Debose] in school history. The kids know it’s important, there’s tremendous amount of buy in here in that phase. There’s a lot of evidence that that can win games for you here.”
Gator fans know that last statement to hold true. Under Urban Meyer, Florida developed one of the strongest special teams units in the country. Just last season, a blocked punt kept the Gators from potentially being upset against Louisiana-Lafayette.
Choate understands the importance of his new role and is ready to meet expectations.
“I know that there’s a tradition of blocking kicks around here and that is something that I’ve taken a great deal of pride in during my time as special teams coordinator and I think that’s something that will continue here,” Choate said. “I think there’s an identity here, the kids understand the importance of the kicking game and I’m just looking forward to really building on that culture.”