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Florida fires defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, offensive line coach John Hevesy

Changes have come.

Syndication: Gainesville Sun Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Florida has fired defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and offensive line coach Todd Hevesy, confirming the moves in a Monday morning release.

The first to report both firings was Bruce Feldman of The Athletic.

In something of a surprise, Florida will turn to linebackers coach Christian Robinson as its defensive play-caller, elevating a young coach known as the Gators’ best recruiter to a position just vacated by the coach who brought him to Gainesville. The Gators will also temporarily elevate veteran coach Paul Pasqualoni, previously serving as special assistant to the head coach, to an on-field coaching position.

Robinson being given play-calling duties over defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff is also somewhat surprising, especially given that one Sunday report suggested McGriff is already tabbed for the role.

On the other side of the ball, Florida will turn to graduate assistant Michael Sollenne to work as Florida’s offensive line coach, which confirms a Sunday report putting Sollenne in Hevesy’s shoes.

Both Grantham and Hevesy had come under fire throughout Dan Mullen’s tenure in Gainesville, and each had coached a unit that has gone from relative strength to major weakness for Florida’s 2021 team. Grantham’s defense mostly held up this fall — after a terrible 2020 campaign — until LSU ran roughshod over it in a 49-42 win in Baton Rouge, while Hevesy’s line appeared to be paving the way for a record season for Florida’s offense until the Gators found it difficult to convert yards to points at Kentucky.

Neither Florida’s defense nor its offensive line has been particularly good since those first failures, with Grantham’s group being pushed around for an average of 266 rushing yards per game over Florida’s last three contests and Hevesy’s line failing to get Florida to 200 rushing yards in any of its last five games after averaging 322.5 yards per game in the Gators’ first four outings.

And Grantham and Hevesy have both been cited as significant reasons why Florida’s recruiting lags behind where many feel it must be to compete for significant successes. Hevesy’s gruffness has often been faulted for Florida signing just a handful of four-star linemen — and no five-star prospects — during his tenure, and while Grantham has a decent reputation as a recruiter, his defense nose-diving since 2020 has been blamed for Florida failing to add pieces.

Both Grantham and Hevesy are also long-time Mullen lieutenants, and their continued presence on Mullen’s staff has been used to argue that Mullen is too protective of his personal friends despite on-field or recruiting trail troubles. But while Grantham making it to 2020 was seen as an upset and a misstep by many, he had only about a half-decade of tenure under Mullen — a single year at Mississippi State, then three at Florida — to speak of.

Hevesy, on the other hand, has been with Mullen since both were part of Urban Meyer’s coaching staff at Bowling Green beginning in 2001, joining Mullen in following Meyer to Utah and then Florida as assistance and then following Mullen to Mississippi State and back to Florida. His two unbroken decades of work under Mullen were almost unheard of in modern college football coaching, an itinerant profession in which tenures that long are often only given to literal family members of coaches.

Many Florida fans and observers — myself included — have thought for some time that Grantham getting fired was only a matter of time, as it would have been a painful but necessary change for Mullen to make in hopes of strengthening Florida’s chances of becoming a championship program. While Mullen and Grantham are known to be friends, Grantham has been hired and fired often enough to understand the realities of the industry.

Hevesy being fired — and just weeks before the end of a regular season — is legitimately shocking, as nothing to date had indicated that either Mullen was fed up with Hevesy or close enough to the end of his rope as Florida’s head coach to trigger a firing of his longest-tenured assistant. Hevesy — like Mullen — had also never been fired as a football coach since making it to the collegiate ranks.

What Mullen does in the medium term to replace two men who were perceived as very close to him will likely decide whether he will remain Florida’s coach for the long term.

And while it’s possible that his program is already listing far enough to have taken on water that it will never be able to bail, these seemingly necessary and arguably overdue plank-walks suggest that if the ship goes down, its captain is at least going to go down fighting.