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Reports: Florida to retain Drew Hughes despite South Carolina interest

The Gators’ director of player personnel is staying put.

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators will retain director of player personnel Drew Hughes after a Tuesday report that he would leave Gainesville to join Will Muschamp at South Carolina, according to multiple reports.

The saga began with this tweet from Football Scoop’s Scott Roussel:

Roussel also wrote this on his website:

Sources tell FootballScoop Florida director of player personnel Drew Hughes plans to join back up with Will Muschamp at South Carolina. Before joining Muschamp’s staff at Florida in December 2013, Hughes had previously overseen recruiting at NC State. Hughes also served as a recruiting specialist at Alabama from 2007-2011.

That was at about 10:30 a.m. — and within 90 minutes, Florida (and/or Jim McElwain) had apparently met with Hughes and “convinced” him to remain with the Gators.

Roussel again:

Sources tell FootballScoop Jim McElwain is meeting with Drew Hughes today…perhaps Mac convinces him to stay… Will update when decision is final.

And again:

Sources tell FootballScoop Jim McElwain has convinced Drew Hughes to remain at Florida. Hughes had been offered a similar position at South Carolina.

Roussel’s update was nearly contemporaneous with Florida beat writers reporting that Hughes would, indeed, be staying.

Roussel’s reporting on Hughes staying also came after reporting from Florida beat writer Andrew Spivey suggesting that Florida was trying to keep him...

...and after former Florida tight end and multi-tool Twitter bon vivant Jake McGee got his jokes in.

But after the initial buzz over Hughes leaving and the reports of his apparent retention, a source told me that even prior to Roussel initially reporting Hughes would depart for South Carolina, the move was “definitely not happening,” and suggested that the reaction to Hughes staying was “out of proportion” to the chances that he would actually leave.

And, to my mind, that checks out for two reasons.

The first is familiarity. Hughes was hired by Muschamp to be a sure hand in Florida’s recruiting office in late December 2013, but he has stayed in Gainesville through both Muschamp’s firing and Muschamp initially taking over at South Carolina in early 2016. He’s now been a part of the Florida program for longer than every coach on McElwain’s staff — and his history with McElwain dates back to their shared time at Alabama under Nick Saban, with McElwain serving as offensive coordinator from 2008 to 2011 while Hughes worked as a recruiting specialist from 2007 to 2011.

The second is sense — and, well, cents. Hughes has done an excellent job for Florida in his role — which has also required and/or permitted (depending on your perspective) him to recruit on the road in each of the last three recruiting cycles, thanks to unfilled spots on Florida’s full-time coaching staffs — and arguably holds more value for the Gators than any other program. And he, as Gator Country’s Nick de la Torre pointed out, probably deserves — or deserved — a raise.

But Hughes also doesn’t have any coaching experience outside of the recruiting trail, and thus lacks the sort of leverage an assistant coach with upward mobility might have to get such a raise. And so interest from another program — especially Will Muschamp’s South Carolina, a program that Florida could not lose to in any fashion without a teacup tempest from some fans — is about the only thing Hughes could really have turned into leverage.

Of course, today’s cycle of reporting could also be construed as a benefit for both Hughes and Florida. The now-accepted “fact” that Hughes could have left makes Hughes look better for being coveted, justifies giving Hughes a raise to retain him, and makes Florida look better for keeping a coveted piece of the program, right? If South Carolina did not have legitimate interest in Hughes, then the story of McElwain “convincing” Hughes to stay might be bunk — but reporting that Hughes “plans” to join South Carolina, as Roussel did, doesn’t necessarily require knowledge of South Carolina’s thinking.

And a trompe l’oeil in this circumstance would track with the other outlier of Florida’s month-plus of palace intrigue, the out-of-the-blue January report about Chris Rumph turning down Clemson to stay at Florida. While whispers have suggested McElwain would shake up his coaching staff heading into 2017 for months, Rumph has always been considered a mortal lock to return, and news that he would even be a candidate elsewhere — much less a school he departed for Alabama weeks prior to National Signing Day in 2011, even though that program now has another national championship trophy in its case — came as something of a surprise.

Again, though: It’s logical to think that Florida and Rumph would both benefit from deliberately leaking that he turned down a job to remain at Florida.

Do I have the sourcing or grounding to make any of this line of thinking more than a quasi-logical conspiracy theory? Not really. But I do trust my source on this, and I can’t come up with many reasons other than “It’s a work” that help make the timeline of “definitely not happening” coming prior to a flurry of reporting make sense.

In any case, though: Hughes staying at Florida is probably a good thing for Florida, no matter what the backstory truly is, and this was certainly a jolt of excitement on a rare sleepy day of covering the Gators.