Chris Leak knows what it takes to win a national title at Florida.
The former Gators’ quarterback was named the MVP of the 2007 BCS National Championship after leading Florida to a convincing 41-14 victory against Ohio State.
Leak, now a TV and radio college football analyst with an eye on a future career as a coach, recently visited with GatorCountry.com to weigh in on the direction of the program under Will Muschamp and the progression of quarterback Jeff Driskel.
Of course, Leak likes what he sees from his alma mater. He believes Muschamp was the perfect hire when his former coach, Urban Meyer, resigned two seasons ago.
“The transition year that the Gators needed after Urban Meyer left was going to be difficult, and I think Will Muschamp was definitely the right guy,” Leak said. “A blue-collar, chopping-wood type of disciplinary that this Gator team and the Gator Nation needed. He’s hard-nosed and believes in playing great defense.
“I think that’s exactly what Florida needed at the right time.”
The 27-year-old North Carolina native said Muschamp is a head coach who commands respect from those around him. Discipline on and off of the field was needed to right the ship and that’s exactly what Muschamp brought to the table.
Still, Leak did not expect the turnaround to happen this quickly.
“I tell you what, going from 7-6 to (11-2) says a lot about the effect he has on players and obviously about the coaching staff that he has as far as him being a leader for this Gator Nation, so my hat’s off to him,” Leak said.
While understanding discipline and defense had a lot to do with that turnaround, Leak also credits quarterback Jeff Driskel for performing well as a first-year starter. Sure, Driskel made mistakes along the way, but that’s to be expected out of a “young quarterback,” he said.
Most of all, Driskel didn’t make many mistakes that got his team beat, leading the program to its fifth 11-win season.
“Any time you have a young guy starting at quarterback in his first year, especially in the SEC, there’s going to be a growing period,” Leak said. “The good thing about him is he’s a quarterback that takes care of the football. He continues to improve week in and week out, and that’s what you always wants to see as a player, as a coach and as a fan. You want to see your players, especially your quarterback, who is a guy who is going to get a lot of publicity, doing well at improving from week-to-week.”
Leak also lauded first-year offensive coordinator Brent Pease for “catering” to his personnel by developing a creative running game behind senior Mike Gillislee. He’s certain Pease would have liked to pass the ball more but said the Gators did not have the “weapons in the perimeter” for that to consistently be effective.
Given time this offseason, Leak believes Gators fans will witness less of a one-dimensional offense led by a much-improved Driskel. The biggest jump often occurs between a player’s first and second years, which Leak expects to happen heading into Driskel’s second season as the starter.
“I think in the future and in time with another offseason to develop the offensive line and the receivers – to develop routes and to get that chemistry will be good because that timing, that chemistry takes so long for quarterbacks and receivers to get,” Leak said.
After all, Driskel didn’t even start the 2012 season opener at quarterback, which won’t be the case in 2013. Before the Sugar Bowl, Muschamp said he wouldn’t re-open the quarterback battle during the offseason, cementing Driskel’s spot atop of the depth chart.
“These wide receivers didn’t know who their quarterback was going to be before the (2012) season, so it takes time to get that chemistry down,” Leak said. “To try to do it during the season is very tough, because you have your game plan and you don’t have the time to work on routes and work on timing like you would if you had an established quarterback.
“Now they’ll have an entire offseason with their established quarterback, so I expect to see a lot of improvement going into next season.”
Leak said he tries to visit UF as often as possible. He believes it’s the responsibility of former players to give back to the program that gave so much to them as a student and an athlete. He remembers former players like Alex Brown, Rex Grossman and Danny Wuerffel helping mentor him as a college player.
Usually those alumni visits come during the spring, he said. During the season, former players may catch a few games, but the current team is so focused on the task at hand that players don’t need too many outside forces offering up tips on how to handle themselves on and off of the field. Plus, with classes, practices, film-room study and road trips for games, little time remains for mentoring sessions.
“Through my career having 50 starts and playing four years, I definitely have some things I can share that may help them,” Leak said. “I think one of the great things about Gainesville and the University of Florida is how former players come back to give to the school. Whether it’s advice, whether it’s time, whether it’s money, they always do their part as far as giving back to the athletes and helping them grow, not just as athletes but as student-athletes and as young men.
“I want to do my part by coming back and giving back with anything I can give.”
As for Leak, he has stayed close to the game as an analyst on “College Sports Nation,” a talk show on Sirius XM satellite radio, Channel 91. He also has been on the CBS Sports Network and runs the Chris Leak Championship Football Academy. While saying he’s been “blessed” to have been guided into sports talk because “college football is dear to my heart,” Leak has a different career path in mind than simply serving as a former player turned media mouth piece.
“I really think, long-term for me, I’ll be a college football head coach somewhere — Maybe Florida, who knows,” Leak said with a smile. “I know I have a lot of head coaches out there that I played under and at a lot of special schools just like Charlie Strong at Louisville, Larry Fedora (North Carolina), Urban Meyer (Ohio State), Dan Mullen (Mississippi State) — you go down the line.
“But I tell you what, there would be nothing like going to your alma mater, going to the school you love and the school that you played for, there’s nothing that would be more special than that.
“No matter where I end up, I know I will be coaching somewhere on down the road.”