Florida coach Dan Mullen will not fire embattled defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and instead shuffle the Gators’ defensive staff around him, likely firing cornerbacks coach Torrian Gray and safeties coach Ron English, according to reports from Thomas Goldkamp and Football Scoop.
Unconfirmed reports that Florida would seemingly be keeping Grantham but revamping its defensive staff — pointing to the departures of Gray and English — had begun to circulate as of late Thursday; Goldkamp’s report was the first to bring that out of the realm of uncorroborated message board intel, and notes that Florida’s staff directory no longer lists either man under its football section.
English’s Twitter profile also no longer bears any Florida insignia or mention of the Gators in its bio, though his header remains one depicting former Florida safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson making a tackle as a New Orleans Saints player.
For Florida, new blood coaching its secondary might not be a terrible idea. Florida’s weakest unit during Mullen’s tenure has consistently been its safeties, with English often faulted for coverage breakdowns and frequently targeted for firing by fans — at least prior to a run of strong recruiting at the position. Another fall of faltering by yet more faces at safety restored his seat to its typical warmth, however.
And while Gray enjoys a fine reputation as both recruiter and coach, Florida’s cornerbacks have been mostly spotty-to-good and not great in his two years at Florida, especially outside 2020 first-rounder CJ Henderson and sure NFLer Kaiir Elam. It would be hard to hire a cornerbacks-specific coach who would be widely seen as an upgrade on Gray, but if Florida intends to give just one coach a fuller defensive backs coach role and hire a defensive assistant to split the coaching duties for the line or linebackers, letting Gray go would superficially make more sense.
Of course, the move that makes most sense to most Florida fans is firing Grantham and executing wholesale changes on the defensive side of the ball, given how complete most of the Gators’ failures were this fall — and Goldkamp reports that change is unlikely.
At no point in 2020 did Florida’s defense look like a unit with an Achilles’ heel, but rather a group that had few strengths to point to; its literal coordination, in the form of being able to get lined up correctly prior to the snap, looked to the layman like a glaring deficiency. Apparent issues like that paired with staggering stat totals — as well as Florida’s defense sinking the fortunes of an elite offense for one of the few times in program history that the Gators have fielded that combination of units — leave Grantham with precious little purchase with the fan base as 2021 dawns.
But fans don’t hire and fire coaches, and coaches hire and fire assistants, so all that rancor has mostly just put Mullen in the unenviable position of having to either fire a friend and familiar assistant — Grantham has been his only DC at Florida, and tied Geoff Collins as Mullen’s longest-tenured coordinator this fall, his fourth season of service under Mullen over the last four years tying Collins’s four from 2011 to 2014 for most in Mullen’s time as a head coach — or expend a significant chunk of his political capital with Gator Nation on retaining and subsequently defending him.
For now, it seems very likely that Mullen has chosen the latter option, perhaps in hopes that this season — extraordinary in so many ways — was also a blip when it came to Florida’s defense being at par or better under Grantham.
If he’s right, and Grantham can cobble together a good defense with the benefit of different assistants, different players, a full offseason and normal fall practice slate, and the time and space to diagnose just what went so disastrously wrong this year, the upside remains what it always has been with Grantham: An attacking defense that can fluster opposing offenses into mistakes and support an offense by short-circuiting drives or forcing takeaways.
If Mullen’s wrong, and we see a reasonable facsimile of Florida’s 2020 defense under Grantham in years to come, he’s left with just one more move — firing Grantham outright — before the heat under his own seat becomes searing.