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Monday Buffet: Bengals want to interview Todd Grantham, Florida building 2020 recruiting class

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Florida’s defensive coordinator is drawing NFL interest, and the Gators have strong positioning on two big 2020 names.

NCAA Football: Florida at Georgia Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Bengals want interview with Todd Grantham

Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is being pursued for the same position by the Cincinnati Bengals, per Will Sammon of The Athletic, who reports that the Bengals have requested permission to talk to Grantham — and Sammon’s sources indicate Grantham is a “lead candidate.”

Grantham was obviously a somewhat controversial figure for Florida fans before arriving in Gainesville, given his previous choking gesture to Florida’s Chas Henry as a Georgia defensive coordinator and his reputation for blitz-happy (and, accordingly, sometimes porous) defense, but he acquitted himself nicely in 2018, helping to mold a defense without a ton of true blue-chip talent into the nation’s No. 20 scoring defense, No. 28 total defense, and No. 17 defense per S&P+.

And while there’s no logical landing spot for Grantham at the collegiate level as a defensive coordinator, and he’s very well-compensated — he made $1.4 million for 2018-19 — the lure of a head coaching job or an NFL job that comes with similar pay and fewer recruiting responsibilities will always be there for Grantham so long as he remains a competent coach. So this first bit of interest in Grantham at the NFL level is either the first and last instance of Grantham being rumored to head elsewhere, ended by him leaving, or the first of multiple instances of such, with various reasons leading Grantham to stay.

One good reason Grantham might stay, I think, is his son Corbin, currently a high school sophomore who plays both football and baseball and has a decent chance of becoming a significant baseball prospect. Coaches tend to not disrupt the ends of their children’s high school careers if they can help it — though Grantham would be far from the first to uproot a family while scaling the ladder — and the younger Grantham stands a far better chance of being fully developed and recruited as a baseball player in Florida than Ohio.

Of course, the other good reason for Grantham to stay would be money. Florida’s assistant coaches are likely in line for a raise after a surprisingly excellent 2018 season, and it would not be hard to imagine Grantham pushing $2 million per year to keep his salary closer to the top end of SEC defensive coordinators working under offensive-minded head coaches — LSU’s Dave Aranda, Auburn’s Kevin Steele, and Texas A&M’s Mike Elko are all at $1.8 million or above — should such a round of raises come.

And it’s possible that a salary nearing $2 million in Florida, a state with no income tax, will be a better deal based on take-home pay than whatever the Bengals, known as a relatively conservative organization when it comes to expenditures, would offer.

I would expect that Grantham’s situation is resolved sooner than later, no matter what ultimately happens. It strikes me as unlikely that Dan Mullen or Florida wants to get into a bidding war with an NFL team for one of its coaches, and Florida getting through the 2019 recruiting cycle means that the Gators have reached a point in the academic year when contracts can most easily be ironed out.

Florida’s 2020 class hits camp circuit

Speaking of recruiting: The ink is barely dry on the final bits of Florida’s 2019 recruiting class, with National Signing Day only happening less than a week ago — but that means the 2020 cycle has less than a year to go, and that Florida’s strong foundation for a class fans have looked to as a potentially seismic one is now the No. 6 class in the nation going forward.

That class took a hit last week, when quarterback Anthony Richardson of Gainesville’s own Eastside High decommitted from the Gators in a since-deleted Twitter post. Richardson had been committed to Florida since last July, and was viewed as a rather solid commit for most of the fall and winter, with Dan Mullen showing up at a recent Eastside basketball game makes clear that Florida remained interested; Richardson insists that he’s still open to overtures from Florida, too, but persistent interest from Penn State and a recent offer from Georgia make a recommitment somewhat unlikely.

Also making that unlikely is Florida’s pursuit of rising Jacksonville Mandarin quarterback Carson Beck, who just decommitted from Alabama and could well establish himself as the state’s top-ranked QB prospect for 2020. Beck threw five touchdown passes to help Mandarin win its first state title (in Florida’s highest classification, 8A) in December, and is set to rise in the recruiting rankings if his performance at camps matches his impressive film and on-field exploits.

Our friends at Roll Bama Roll seem to think that Beck will end up at Miami — where he would follow offensive coordinator Dan Enos, the then-Alabama offensive coordinator he committed to — but Mullen’s quarterback acumen and the sequence of Beck decommitting and Richardson possibly seeing the tea leaves and decommitting in turn are most of why Beck’s Crystal Ball is looking very orange and blue at the moment.

And Beck isn’t the only primary target whom Florida has to like its positioning for right now. Five-star Lakeland High running back Demarckus Bowman, who had his own fantastic state title-winning performance in December in helping the Dreadnaughts down perennial power St. Thomas Aquinas, called Florida his leader in interviews after an Under Armour camp this weekend.

It’s not really new to think Florida is well-situated for Bowman, with this public comment only reinforcing the feeling that has led every prognosticator to log a Crystal Ball prediction for Bowman to project him eventually being a Gator. Florida seems to have re-established Lakeland, which sent players like the Pouncey twins, Chris Rainey, and Ahmad Black to Gainesville under Urban Meyer, as a stronghold, nabbing Deyavie Hammond, Lloyd Summerall, and Keon Zipperer from the school in the 2019 cycle. And Florida has made space in its 2020 class for Bowman to be a centerpiece, taking a one-player running back class in 2019 that leaves plenty of room next to current commit Keyvone Lee in 2020.

But Bowman is potentially the Southeast’s No. 1 running back for the 2020 cycle — of the players in front of him, two are from Texas, one is from California, and one is from Maryland — and has a very formidable offer list, with Clemson and Georgia standing out on it. If Florida does eventually land Bowman, it will still be a triumph, rather than a fait accompli.

And if Florida lands Beck and Bowman to add to the nucleus of its 2020 class, it will be set up for a very special recruiting class, indeed.

Gators begin softball season with undefeated weekend

Finally, while I want to get back to writing a weekly post about all of Florida’s various teams accomplishing whatever they did in a week or a weekend, I also want to single out Florida’s softball team for its undefeated start to 2019 this weekend at the USF Opening Weekend Invitational.

Florida began the season on Friday with a 15-0 romp over Illinois State, then spent the actual weekend sparring with tougher competition — and came through each time, downing Michigan and Arizona on Saturday and N.C. State and USF on Sunday.

The Gators’ paths to the wins were all fairly distinct, too. Kelly Barnhill allowed just two hits in a complete game in the 6-0 win over the Wolverines. Barnhill came in to save the 3-2 win over Arizona in which homers accounted for all three Florida runs. A walk-off sacrifice fly by Jordan Matthews got the Gators past the Wolfpack in a 2-1 win that saw Barnhill let up a run in relief after four scoreless innings from Natalie Lugo. And Hannah Adams smacked a grand slam to bury the home-standing Bulls in Sunday’s final contest.

The undefeated start is nothing new for Florida, which is now 28-0 over the past six years of opening its season at USF-hosted tournaments. But getting two wins over ranked teams on Saturday and then gritting out Sunday wins against possible NCAA Tournament outfits — N.C. State also upset Arizona over the weekend, and USF’s almost always better in conference play than it is while hosting some of the nation’s best teams early on — is a fine start regardless of its lack of novelty, and means that Florida will open the newly renovated Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium on Tuesday in an exhibition game against the Japanese national team as an undefeated squad.