Firing Todd Grantham: 3 thoughts on the coaching changes at Florida
Florida parted ways with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and offensive line coach John Hevesy on Sunday night.
Grantham and Hevesy were fired one day after Florida suffered a humiliating 40-17 defeat at South Carolina where Grantham’s defense surrendered 284 yards rushing to a Gamecocks offense that had struggled to run all year and Hevesy’s offensive line was dominated and limited to just 82 yards rushing by a South Carolina front that had been one of the worst rushing defenses in the SEC.
Multiple sources have confirmed to SDS that the Florida offensive line will be coached by graduate assistant Michael Sollenne for the remainder of the season. Christian Robinson will be Florida’s defensive coordinator for the remainder of the season, and the Gators also have 2 coaches on staff in Wesley McGriff (Ole Miss) and special assistant to the head coach and defensive analyst Paul Pasqualoni (Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions) with prior defensive coordinator experience.
Here are 3 thoughts on the coaching changes.
1. Making the change at defensive coordinator immediately was vital to stem the PR tide sweeping up Florida’s program
How bad were things under Todd Grantham?
From just a bird’s eye view, Grantham’s defenses posted nearly 3 full seasons where his defense ranked outside the top 25 in the country at a program that had tallied just 1 such season in the 15 years prior to his arrival. His 2020 defense was the worst at Florida since the 0-10-1 1979 team and surrendered more points per game (30.8) than any Florida defense since 1917.
Grantham blamed COVID and a lack of spring football for the problems, but his unit wasn’t much better in 2021. The Gators have surrendered 24.8 points per game this season (with a shutout!) and have given up an average of 266 yards rushing in Florida’s past 3 SEC games.
That’s atrocious, and making matters worse, Grantham had lost the locker room.
Mohamoud Diabate, Florida’s leading tackler and an honors student in line for a Rhodes Scholarship, said as much after Florida’s shocking loss to LSU, where the Gators gave up 49 points and 321 yards rushing to an LSU team that ranked 127th in college football in rushing entering the game.
Asked why Florida couldn’t adjust to the counter, Diabate said “(We) made the adjustments we were given to make.” Pressed further, Diabate said, “I can only do what I’m coached to do. I’m like a soldier who shoots how he is told to shoot. It’s not my job to ask the generals what they are doing. That’s your (the media’s) job.”
That type of statement from a leader of your football team is problematic, and you can bet a smart young man like Diabate, who is careful with his words and has been terrific with the media for 3 years, put time and thought into those answers.
But it wasn’t just the players. Multiple sources inside the football program told SDS that Grantham had become unbearably difficult to work with over the past year, yelling at coaches who offered constructive criticism or advice and talking down to interns and graduate assistants.
“Most toxic environment I’ve ever dealt with,” one Florida staffer texted Sunday night.
Firing Grantham ends that, and allows Florida to try to play without distraction the rest of the season. It is also a gesture of good faith to a locker room that had clearly given up on playing for Grantham. That could yield dividends as Florida attempts to close strong, beginning with Saturday’s game against Samford.
Finally, it helps stem the massive public relations tide sweeping up Florida football over the past month. At least with Grantham out, prospective recruits will know they will be playing for a new defensive staff. The Gators had lost multiple high-level defensive recruits over the past month. A big part of that, according to multiple sources, was concern over playing for Grantham. Florida can now turn the page and sell recruits on the future without the baggage of Grantham lingering over the program.
2. It is too early to know what the changes mean for Dan Mullen
Simply firing Grantham doesn’t change the calculus I outlined yesterday at SDS when I wrote that a change needs to be made at Florida.
From a business standpoint, Florida is still going to have multiple coaches out of contract at the end of the season and there is likely no better time than now, at least financially, to change direction.
Worst Power 5 records last 10 games vs. P5 opponents:
South Carolina 2-8
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) November 7, 2021
Can Mullen survive? It’s going to be difficult. For one, the program has been in a death spiral that dates to at least last year’s no-show at the Cotton Bowl.
Dan Mullen 20-ish minutes ago: "To be honest with you, I didn't even know we had our band here today with that." https://t.co/6YfVNkSoJw
— Zach Goodall (@zach_goodall) November 7, 2021
Florida isn’t winning games, they are recruiting at a 3-decade low (the 2022 class is ranked 22nd in the 247 composite), and there are days when the coach seems either completely disengaged or aloof, such as Sunday night when he forgot the Florida band was at the South Carolina game despite walking past the band on his way into the stadium.
It’s possible Mullen may be burnt out. It happens at Florida, where the pressure and heat from a fan base that demands excellence is matched only by the sweltering Florida sunshine. Time will tell, but the Florida State game may mean everything.
3. The Hevesy change was overdue, but Florida has to get the hire right and there’s only one name
John Hevesy has spent 20 years with Mullen in one capacity or another dating to the Urban Meyer era, making the news that he was also fired Sunday at least a little surprising.
Don’t confuse surprise with a lack of necessity, however. Hevesy’s track record as an offensive line coach is a long, effective one, but his units have disappointed in at least one facet of the game, whether it was run blocking or pass protection, in each of his 4 seasons under Mullen at Florida.
This year’s unit appeared to be overachieving but has struggled to run the football for the last month, culminating with Saturday’s debacle in Columbia. This offense is not prolific enough in the passing game to survive without running the football, and as Florida’s run game has fallen off, so have the Gators.
It’s also clear that Hevesy had lost the players. It’s rare to see open celebration from players about a coaching change on social media, but a few Gators, in now-deleted tweets, couldn’t contain their joy when the moves to relieve Grantham and Hevesy leaked Sunday night.
Hevesy is also an empty suit on the recruiting trail. Florida has failed to land top-flight offensive line recruits during Mullen’s tenure and lately, even struggled with lower-tier targets, one of whom picked UCF and then called Hevesy’s recruiting tactics “embarrassing” and “spam.”
The justification for keeping Hevesy, knowing his recruiting limitations, was always that his units produced. At Florida, they have stopped producing. That was sign one a change needed to be made, but even if Hevesy’s units were producing, why not try to get a coach who can both develop talent and recruit?
There is one name out there — and one name only — Mullen should target and acquire. Money should not matter. Former All-SEC Florida lineman and national champion Phil Trautwein, currently coaching offensive line at Penn State, needs to return home to Gainesville. Trautwein is considered one of the elite recruiters in the country and his offensive lines at Penn State have been terrific. The Gators need both a coach who can help them improve in recruiting and be well-rounded up front. Trautwein, who played for Mullen, is the only good hire. Anyone else would be disappointing.