Jeff Choate has a name that might be unfamiliar to you. But he's Florida’s newest special teams coordinator: You'll know his name before long.
Urban Meyer made special teams cool at Florida; they got the newest equipment, and they ate the best food at team meals. On the field, they blocked a lot of kicks and they returned their fair share for touchdowns as well. Meyer recognized the importance of special teams and in turn, Gator fans did too.
Great special teams play is the reason Florida stayed in the hunt for a national championship in 2006 (no doubt Ryan Succop still has nightmares about Jarvis Moss). Shrewd special teams coaching is the reason Florida beat Louisiana-Lafayette last season. If you’ll remember, Florida called a timeout with 13 seconds to go, D.J. Durkin dialed up the block, and well, you know the rest.
Special teams coordinator at Florida is a position in high regard, but I don’t think Will Muschamp and Co. went about addressing the need in the right way at first.
Promoting Durkin to defensive coordinator after Dan Quinn departed for the NFL was a solid move, but it left the position vacated, and, with special teams being handled by committee in the spring, too many cooks in the kitchen. That experiment must not have been such a good idea after all, leading Florida to scramble and find a coach at last minute. This is not to say Choate doesn’t deserve his new position; I just have doubts about whether or not he would be Florida’s first choice if it were January, prime season for poaching coaches from other staffs.
Choate said all the right things during the only time we’ll probably ever hear him speak to the media on Wednesday. He talked of being excited to coach in the SEC and bringing intensity to the position, and said it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up despite having a chance to be a defensive coordinator at UTEP. He won the press conference, for whatever that is worth.
Choate also has a connection with Brent Pease, they coached together from 2006-2011, the entirety of their respective tenures at Boise State. Choate probably jumped to the forefront of Pease’s mind when the Gators decided they were going to fill the position, and for good reason. Choate’s special teams units were productive at Boise State, 2007-2011, and the Broncos were top 10 in punt return yardage each year.
Schematically, I don’t think Choate adds much, but on the other hand he definitely doesn’t subtract. It’s more of a push in my book about what he brings to the X’s and O’s of special teams.
But special teams coordinator isn’t his only assignment. Choate will also be the hand guiding the outside linebackers. Choate coached linebackers at Montana Western in 1992 and 1993, at Boise State at 2009, and at Washington State in 2012. It will be interesting to see how he will handle Neiron Ball and Ronald Powell, as well as how he manages sharing duties with Durkin, who is responsible for the inside linebackers.
Coaching outside linebackers also means he’ll be coaching the Buck position, so Choate will also deal with defensive line coach Brad Lawing. Two new coaches working together and handling the hybrid position speaks to how the platoon mentality of Florida’s defensive staff has become a pervasive theme.
Because of the timing of Choate’s arrival, I don’t think this is a schematic move, not principally. Instead, Choate was probably brought on first and foremost for recruiting. The expansion of Florida’s recruiting reach makes this a good hire, not what Choate will bring to the special teams unit. He’s only coached east of the state of Montana for one year, during a stint at Eastern Illinois. That means Choate has significant ties out west, and can effectively recruit hotbeds in California and Texas, even though he will focus on Florida's stomping grounds in the Southeast first. While Florida has made a concerted effort to focus on the state of Florida, any little bit helps from pipelines west of the Mississippi, and the Gators wouldn't have gotten players like Powell, a California native, and Philly boy Sharrif Floyd without expanding their scope.
At the end of the day, Choate brings a wealth of experience to the table, a bit of familiarity with Florida's current coaches, and a new resource to leverage on the recruiting trail. That’s where he’ll make his impact, and he’s wasting no time: Choate said he plans to hit the road May 1.