Florida announced the resignation of linebackers coach and special teams coordinator Jeff Choate, and the hirings of New Mexico special teams coordiator Coleman Hutzler (to replace Choate as special teams coordinator) and N.C. State director of player personnel Drew Hughes (to replace the long-departed Jon Haskins in the same role) on Friday.
"Coleman is a young coach with a very bright future," said Muschamp. "He has a great work ethic and obviously is very familiar with our special teams’ schemes. It will be a seamless transition for our players."
“I’m excited to be returning to Gainesville and be a part of the Gator family again,” said Hutzler. “I enjoyed my time there and have the utmost respect for Coach Muschamp and the administrative team in place at Florida. I understand the value placed on special teams under Coach Muschamp, and look forward to getting to work.”
"Drew will be a great asset to our program," said Muschamp. "He is extremely organized, and based on his experience he has a very good understanding of how we operate and should fit right in."
“I’m very excited to have the opportunity to work for Coach Muschamp and the University of Florida,” said Hughes. “It will be great to get back to the state of Florida and the SEC – the best conference in the nation. I’m very much looking forward to helping the Florida coaching staff attract student athletes who will be champions both on and off the field.”
Hutzler was on Florida's staff in 2010 and 2011, working with then-special teams coach D.J. Durkin on those units, and his hiring to replace Choate — who has "resigned to pursue other coaching opportunities," per GatorZone's verbiage, which might mean he was gently nudged out the door — likely represents an attempt by Florida to get a little more of Durkin's philosophy back on special teams. Durkin's units were excellent in 2011, and something beyond that in 2012, when Florida feasted on kick and punt coverage and had finalists for the Lou Groza Award (Caleb Sturgis) and Ray Guy Award (Kyle Christy).
But Durkin's promotion to defensive coordinator left special teams mostly out of his control in 2013, and the units suffered without him, though Florida did get great kick returns out of Solomon Patton and a well-coached kickoff unit. Most notably, Florida was woeful on field goals, making 12 of 22 and tying for 117th nationally in field goal accuracy, and regressed from eighth in yards per punt in 2012 (44.68 yards per punt) to 62nd in 2013 (40.88 yards per punt).
Hutzler is credited with turning around New Mexico's similarly awful special teams in his two years in Albuquerque, though:
UNM’s kickoff return unit ranked 16th in the nation in 2013, averaging 24.0 yards per return. Sophomore Carlos Wiggins was named the 2013 Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Year after leading the nation with 1,303 total kick return yards and ranking fifth nationally with a 29.6 kickoff return average. He was the only player in the country to return three kickoffs for touchdowns in 2013, which also tied the Mountain West single-season record.
New Mexico was 26th in kickoff returns in 2012, and that was up from 70th in 2011. The Lobos were also fifth nationally in punting in 2013 (up from 26th in 2012, and 94th in 2011).
New Mexico finished the year tied for 82nd in field goal percentage, but part of that was based on a small sample size: Lobos kicker Justus Adams made eight of just 12 field goals. Adams was an honorable mention All-Mountain West selection in 2012 under Hutzler, when he made ... nine of 13 field goals.
Hutzler would seem to be an upgrade over Choate on the merits, although it's unclear whether Hutzler will also replace Choate as the Gators' linebackers coach — another group that Durkin coached admirably before his promotion. But, more importantly, Hutzler returning to Florida and Durkin's aegis likely means that Florida is trying to recapture the style that its special teams had under Durkin's tutelage.
When asked before the season about what would be different about Florida's special teams, Durkin told a GatorZone reporter, semi-facetiously, "I won't be coaching them!" That was seriously apparent on the field in 2013, and Will Muschamp's taken a step to rectify that.
The hiring of Hughes also rectifies a bit of disharmony in another part of Muschamp's 2013 staff. Haskins, who served as Florida's director of player personnel from January 2012 to the middle of the 2013 season, was unpopular in the recruiting office, according to a source familiar with his work, and his departure was probably long overdue. Bringing in a younger hire — Hughes graduated with his bachelor's degree from Alabama in 2011; Haskins graduated from Stanford in 1997 — may be a shot in the arm for Florida's recruiting, which hasn't actually been all that bad, especially considering the Gators' failures on the field in 2013.
Hughes is also responsible for one of the more legendary letters in the era of recruiting missives becoming public knowledge:
Y'ALL FLORIDA'S HIRING DREW HUGHES FROM NC STATE AKA THE AUTHOR OF THIS LETTER pic.twitter.com/hSs1TVo7YA— Jason Kirk (@JasonKirkSBN) December 20, 2013
Like the hiring of a former Durkin lieutenant to coach special teams, the hiring of someone who has been heavily involved in Alabama's recruiting — Hughes spent four years in the Alabama recruiting office, working under the widely respected Ed Marynowitz, who parlayed his success under Nick Saban into a job with Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles — represents a return to a more familiar approach for the Saban-schooled Muschamp.
And who can blame Muschamp for wanting to recreate at least some of the conditions that led to an 11-2 season in 2012?