Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Graduate Assistant James Rowe an excellent addition to the UF staff

Although the majority of today's news regarding the Florida coaching staff focused on the hire of former FIU assistant Kerry Dixon as the new receivers coach, the nugget from coachingsearch.com regarding the appointment of former Jacksonville University DB coach James Rowe as a defensive graduate assistant for UF caught the eye of some as well.

It should have. Let me say this, the Gators got a good one in Rowe.

Having played against him in high school -- I attended nearby Titusville Astronaut at the same time he went to Cocoa -- I was always impressed by his presence on the field. He had that moxie about him. An undersized quarterback for legendary coach Gerald Odom (who played at UF, as did his son), Rowe helped begin to lay the foundation to turn Cocoa into the powerhouse program it is today under John Wilkinson (an Odom disciple).

Rowe also excelled in basketball and baseball in high school. Had he been a couple of inches taller and/or a couple of ticks faster on the stop-watch, I suspect he would have played football at the high-major level. Instead he headed off to USF and played baseball.

Upon finishing in Tampa, it was not much of a surprise to see Rowe back on the sidelines in Cocoa. His Dad was a well-known coach (leading Cocoa to a state basketball title in 2009), and James followed in his footsteps. Rowe helped coach up his brother, David, into the first of several BCS recruits out of Cocoa in recent years (the younger Rowe was a DB at Rutgers from 2008-12 and is now a GA at Western Michigan under former Rutgers assistant P.J. Fleck). On the sidelines for three consecutive state titles at Cocoa, Rowe was able to break into the college ranks, and after a successful stint at JU is now at UF.

So, what are the Gators getting in Rowe? Well, for starters, they are getting a coaching lifer who also happens to be an up-and-comer. They will get an intelligent guy who could eventually move into a few different spots down the line (QB, RB, WR, DB) as a full-time coach unless another program snaps him up first.

He should, also, help open up the door at Cocoa, a school that UF should not have any problems pulling talent out of. However, the Gators let Notre Dame nab talented RB Tarean Folston in 2013, and Ohio State grab superb speedster Jamel Dean in the 2015 recruiting cycle (despite his projection as a corner by most recruiting services, Dean is a guy who could have stepped in and competed for immediate playing time at receiver had he come to Florida).

With a pair of talented players coming down the pipe from Cocoa in 2016 DB Chauncey Gardner (a one-time UF commit) and 2017 ATH Bruce Judson, Rowe should help the Gators on the recruiting trail as well, despite the fact he isn't allowed on the road as a GA.

So, trust me when I say this. The Gators got a good one today. Hires like this to the support staff beyond the nine "full-time" assistants the Gators are allotted, shows me Jim McElwain is doing his homework and bringing in quality guys to fill out his growing support staff.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

2015 Signing Class Analysis: The Gators Done Good

Looking back on today, it will be easy to lament the losses.

Yes, the Gators were set and primed for -- at worst -- a top-five class when we looked into the future at the conclusion of National Signing Day 2014.

But, as the saying goes, "shit happens."

The end of the Will Muschamp "error" brought the Gators a new coach in Jim McElwain. And while "merely" a top-25 signing class will have to do, the Gators still met most of their needs and now have a roster stocked with enough talent to take a step forward in 2015.

The highlights of Wednesday:

Replenishing the Line-of-Scrimmage: Some unexpected losses on the offensive line left the Gators in a bit of a pinch there looking ahead to next year. With only eight returning scholarship offensive linemen. this was an area that needed to be addressed. McElwain and staff responded by picking up six signatures up front, highlighted by Apopka five-star Martez Ivey, generally considered to be the #1 offensive line prospect in the country. Overall, the Gators signed 11 linemen in total, which was just one of the mark I set as the goal they needed to hit. Both lines are in fairly good shape moving forward for the Gators.

Home is where the heart is: Of the 21 players to sign with the Gators, 15 were from Florida and 5 were from Georgia (ATH Kylan Johnson, of Texas, being the lone newbie to hail from elsewhere). Obviously, not every year is going to be like this, and the circumstances of a new coaching staff helped to dictate where the Gators were going to focus their efforts heading up to National Signing Day. However, this is a good model for where Florida should get the majority of their recruits moving forward. Fans will be happy about these numbers.

Getting a game-breaker: Antonio Callaway was a surprise get for Florida on National Signing Day. While most had him pegged for Miami, there was some growing buzz in regards to Callaway and the Gators in the final 48 hours before he signed. It would not surprise me to see Callaway make a push to get on the field early in his career in Gainesville. His decision made up for the loss of Ryan Davis to Auburn. And given the choice of one or the other, I think Florida got the better player.

Hitting a home run in the backfield: The Gators picked up quite the running back trio in Jordan Scarlett, Jordan Cronkrite and D'Anfernee McGriff. Scarlett is a tremendous all-around back, who will likely push to get on the field early, despite the presence of both Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane on the roster. McGriff is a match-up nightmare who could contribute in a number of ways, including as a bit of a FB/H-Back hybrid. Cronkrite is a great all-around athlete, and I ultimately wouldn't be surprised if he ends up on defense as a safety down the line.

Getting to 21: That McElwain was able to sign 21 on Wednesday was pretty impressive in itself. Florida's last two "transition classes" had 18 (Meyer, 2005) and 19 (Muschamp, 2011), respectively. In Ann Arbor, Jim Harbaugh managed to sign just 14 on Wednesday (although it should be noted that he got the job several weeks after McElwain took the reins in Gainesville).

CeCe: Ole Miss had been trending with five-star DE CeCe Jefferson for a while now. But the home-grown star spurned the Rebels to stick with his childhood favorite. A huge get for the Gators, no doubt.

We would be remiss if we didn't look at some of the misses as well:

Where are the quarterbacks? Although Jim McElwain and offensive coordinator kicked the tires on several other names, Florida concentrated most of their recruiting efforts on a pair of in-state signal callers: Deondre Francois and Lamar Jackson. Both ultimately stuck with their commitments -- Francois to Florida State and Jackson to Louisville -- despite some drama from both in the days leading up to National Signing Day. McElwain will now presumably head into next year with just three scholarship quarterbacks: Skyler Mornhinweg, Will Grier and Treon Harris, despite the fact that McElwain seemed to leave the door open for another addition at the position during his National Signing Day press conference.

A lack of skill: One miss on Wednesday for Florida that I thought was somewhat overlooked was Javarius Davis out of Jacksonville. Although a bit lacking in size at around 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, Davis was one of the fastest prospects in the state, a potential contributor on either side of the ball, and extremely physical for his size. Seven was the target number I had pegged for the skill positions, and the Gators ultimately landed six. Another defensive back in this class would have been nice, however.

The linebacker quandry: One of the storylines heading into Wednesday was the possibility of a late flip by Adonis Thomas to Florida off of an Alabama commitment. It made sense. Alabama isn't lacking in players at the position, while at UF there appeared to be an opportunity for Thomas to get on the field early. The switch didn't happen, however as Thomas stuck with the Crimson Tide. Florida landed just two players -- Rayshad Jackson and Kalen Johnson -- at a position where taking four wouldn't have been a bad idea. Both will need a couple of years of development to make an impact as well.

Byron: All things considered, it's hard to be down on this class too much. But Byron Cowart to Auburn ... sign. What could have been.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Line-of-scrimmage a priority late for Gators on the recruiting trail

With a flurry of commitments coming out of Florida's biggest recruiting weekend of the year, Florida now stands at 13 pledges for the 2015 recruiting cycle, with the potential to add upwards of about 10 more between now and Wednesday, when those commitments can be put to paper. Potentially a great finish for Jim McElwain and his staff, to be sure.

That said, what is really impressive about this group, is the work being down down the home stretch on both sides of the line-of-scrimmage. All three of the commitments made to Florida this weekend have come from linemen and with less than three days to go until National Signing Day, 8 of the Gators' 13 pledges are from linemen.

There's still work to be done, however. The target number I assigned for this group a couple of weeks ago was 12. That's 12 total linemen in this class, since some of these targets and commitments -- Luc Bequette, G.G. Robinson, and possibly even Andrew Ivie and Luke Ancrum -- could ultimately project on either side of the ball in college.

A weekend visit to Auburn by Florida pledge Mike Horton potentially has his status with UF on shaky ground. So the target number for McElwain and staff to land over the next couple of days is 4-5 linemen -- a number very much attainable considering the number of prospects still on the board for Florida.

TE/OL/DT G.G. Robinson
OT Martez Ivey
OT Tyree St. Louis
OG Nick Buchanan
OG/OC Quarvez Boulware
OC/DT Luc Bequette

DE Byron Cowart
DE Keivonnis Davis
DE/DT CeCe Jefferson

Ultimately Florida may not land four (or five) of the nine prospects listed above, but it's not out of the realm of possibility, especially considering Florida seems to be trending very heavily for several of these prospects.

And the board may be bigger than this. Florida has seemingly been a bit cloak-and-dagger about some of the visits being taken. Is it possible that a player or two snuck in under-the-radar? Is a player like DT Kahlil Welsh, a Wake Forest commitment out of Jacksonville Sandalwood who was scheduled to visit UF this weekend but went to Illinois instead, still a possibility? Could there be others in that vein on the board?

In any case, the late push on both sides of the line of scrimmage has been mighty impressive by McElwain & Co. Even if Florida doesn't get to 12 as I have suggested they aim for, they're going to get awfully close. As much as Muschamp stressed that the SEC was a "line-of-scrimmage league" during his time in Gainesville, the numbers on both sides of the ball were often leaving a bit to be desired during his tenure. While McElwain hasn't stressed those words quite as much when addressing the media, his actions sure are backing that notion up.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Some thoughts on the UF coaching search...

First, my disclaimer. No inside information here. Just trying to read between the lines...

The names and rumors are flying hot and heavy for the vacant Florida head coaching position now that the majority of teams in college football have seen their regular seasons come to an end.

Since Saturday night, we've seen four names get dropped as "leading" contenders for the job: Doc Holliday (several sources, most notably a now-deleted tweet by Only Gators Get Out Alive), Hugh Freeze (first in a report by SI's Pete Thamel on Saturday night, followed by report from SB Nation's Steven Godfrey that UF had extended Freeze an offer), Jim McElwain (a report by Yahoo's Pat Forde which included a nugget that McElwain and Foley spoke via phone on Saturday evening) and Josh McDaniels (based on reporting by Football Scoop on Monday morning).

The takeaways from all the early conjecture?

1. I do not believe that Hugh Freeze has an offer in hand from the Gators, as it seems Foley is still in the process of "vetting out" his candidates (a term used directly in the Football Scoop report). I would not, however, be surprised if Freeze was the early or current favorite in the eyes of the UF search committee.

2. Jimmy Sexton strikes again. There could be portions of the SB Nation report which are accurate (I hate to seemingly throw Godfrey under the bus, as Sexton would be a legitimate source if that's where the information came from. But you must always be wary of agents ...). For instance, could Foley have already spoken with Freeze or an intermediary? Quite possibly. Could Foley have thrown out a figure like "$4.2-4.3 million" as the number UF was looking to spend on the upper end? Wouldn't surprise me. Could Freeze now be "mulling" the possibility of taking an offer from UF if it comes? Certainly within the realm of possibility. But the only thing I Would read from the Freeze reports at this moment, is that he's poised to make quite a bit more money next year, regardless of where he's coaching.

3. There seem to be some similar general characteristics developing from the names which are jumping out early on. Head coaching experience is a must (all four names fall under that group). SEC experience is highly preferred (Holliday, McElwain and Freeze have that, McDaniels does not). An offensive background is a major plus (all but Holliday fall into that category). And age may not be as much as a factor as it has been in previous UF searches for head coaches -- McElwain is 52 and Holliday is 57, while McDaniels (38) and Freeze (45) seem to fit the more typical profile of a Foley hire.

4. Once again, I have to wonder how McElwain's buyout will figure into the picture if he were to become one of the last finalists the job. A $7.5 million buyout at Colorado State, on top of the ~$8 million or so (a number that will certainly figure to go down as Muschamp staff members get jobs elsewhere) that Florida already has committed to the outgoing staff. That's somewhere in the neighborhood of $14-$15 million BEFORE paying for a new staff. McElwain has done a good job at Colorado State, but I don't know if he's worth the financial commitment Florida will have to make to bring him to Gainesville.

5. Josh McDaniels is a bright, young offensive mind who deserves another crack at a big job down the line. But is UF the right fit for him? He is the son of a coach, and already has over 15 years of experience at the ripe old age of 38. However, he has only spent two years at the collegiate level (as a graduate assistant under Nick Saban and Bobby Williams at Michigan State from 1999-2000). No real recruiting experience, and he's going to get thrown into the gauntlet that is the SEC? Not a good combo. Hiring McDaniels would require a strong staff of recruiters (read: expensive group of assistants) around him.

So, that's what we have so far. I do believe there is some legitimacy to all four of the above-listed names being in the mix for the UF job. We know from past experience that Foley wanted 15 names as candidates for the job when he went through the search that led to Urban Meyer's hiring in 2004. We also know that Foley can throw us a real curveball, as he did with Will Muschamp in 2010. So, the biggest takeaway from everything right now ... until the Gators actually make a hire, there's a LONG ways to go in this coaching search.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Post-Carolina Recruiting Thoughts

For those of you who have followed this blog over the last couple of months, I apologize for my absence over the last few weeks. There have been a lot of changes on the home front (many of them good) that have caused me to take a step back from this little pet project of mine. But now that I'm settled in a bit, I'm looking to churn out a few posts per week as we start to move towards this offseason, which figures to be coming a lot sooner than most Gators fans anticipated at the beginning of the fall.

– To be frank, there haven't been many recruiting developments over the last few weeks. The only big one of note was the slightly positive surprise of Derby (Kan.) tight end Deandre Goolsby. For anyone who has followed this blog at all, you're well-versed in how much I've been harping on the need for good tight ends in this class. Florida now has two good ones in Goolsby and Alabama native C'yontai Lewis. The Gators should also be keeping close tabs on Crawfordville Wakulla prospect Jordan Franks and Ocala Vanguard star Elkannah Dillon down the stretch as well, based on the campaigns they put together during the 2013 season.

In terms of Goolsby, the Gators are getting, in my estimation, a player who can step in and have an impact immediately. Now, I'm not predicting a 1,000-yard receiving season or anything of that sort. But this is a guy who should be able to come in, and battle for an opportunity to get on the field as a freshman. At a position where the players on the roster have really shown no ability to make an impact in the passing game as receivers, Goolsby will certainly be a welcome breath of fresh air next fall.

– But while things have been relatively quiet for the Gators on the recruiting trail in recent weeks, Thursday could be the day that changes course for UF. Highly-regarded OT prospect David Sharpe, who at one time appeared to be heading towards a decision at the Army All-American Bowl, has now decided to move up his timetable on announcing a college choice:

While Sharpe's only official visit has been to Tennessee so far, the signs are pointing quite favorably towards UF landing good news on Thursday. This would obviously be good news if the "buzz" proves to be true. Again, for anyone who has followed this blog, Sharpe has been a player discussed on numerous occasions and is obviously an incredible talent with major upside as an offensive tackle. If the Gators do, in fact, land him later this week, it's a big move in the right direction for a Florida unit that has struggled all throughout the course of the season.

– All that aside, a lot of Florida's recruiting success down the stretch will hinge on whether or not the Gators can hold together a strong nucleus that they've put together on the recruiting trail to date, with 15 commitments from a talented group. Prospects like Will Grier, Quincy Wilson and Ermon Lane seem to continue to give out positive vibes. However, players like Duke Dawson, J.C. Jackson and Dalvin Cook have certainly left the door open to end up somewhere other than Gainesville. With Florida poised to end a streak of 22 consecutive years in which the season was ended with a bowl game, Will Muschamp and his staff (or I guess I should say, what remains of his staff after the year), can get to work on holding together a class which still could possibly finish among the top 5-10 groups in the country come Feb. 1, 2014.

Now that it's very much clear that Will Muschamp return at the helm for at least his fourth season in Gainesville next fall, the spotlight falls directly on the offseason, and what changes Boom decides to make on his staff (along with the crop of players he brings in for next fall, obviously). Muschamp's future in Gainesville will essentially come down to the 3-4 hires (possibly more) he makes to fill out his staff this offseason. We will be keeping a close eye on the names as they emerge on the board as the Gators look to get things turned around following what will almost certainly prove to be the most disappointing UF football season in over 30 years.