News came last week that Florida Gators WR coach Joker Phillips had abruptly resigned for “personal reasons” midway through summer recruiting and planning for the fall. It’s none of our business what those reasons are, though rumors suggest it was a person affiliated with Miami who turned Phillips in for a recruiting violation (the sheer irony of Miami turning anyone in for anything is hard for me to fathom, but I digress) causing his resignation.
This analysis is not to look at the reasons behind Joker Phillips’ resignation, but rather to look at it purely from a “cheap seats” perspective.
First, let’s not kid ourselves. This was a blow to the UF staff. Not only because they lost someone with SEC head coaching experience, but because they lost a dedicated recruiter, and are now on their sixth wide receivers coach in as many years. That’s right: six coaches in six years. For the receivers. At Florida. That might explain why Florida has not had a receiver with over 600 yards since Riley Cooper in 2009.
Billy Gonzales (who left Florida via sticky note for LSU); Zach Azzanni (who left following Urban Meyer’s departure in 2010); Aubrey Hill (who ironically left under similar circumstances to Phillips); Bush Hamdan (who left for a promotion at Arkansas State as QB coach); and Phillips all couldn’t seem to right the ship. One that former Gators QB Chris Leak has now inherited.
While it looks pretty bad, all is not lost. Sure the Gators are down an incredible recruiter, however without the right coaching a talented recruit means absolutely nothing. Besides, in the last recruiting cycle Phillips missed on a number of excellent receivers like Ermon Lane, Artavis Scott and Travis Rudolph. In something that floored me, Phillips even watched his own godson (Jamal Adams) commit to LSU instead of Florida.
While he recruited players who had flashes of brilliance last year (i.e. DeMarcus Robison, Ahmad Fullwood and Chris Thompson), the lack of production at wide receiver played a significant role in the 4-8 debacle last season.
Continuity is important in today’s college football world, and while Florida has not had much, they will in Chris Leak. With a legacy at Florida that includes a national championship, Leak is committed to the Florida name and Florida brand. He can only aid in the development of the talented receiving corps that existed before, during, and after the tenure of Joker Phillips. While a former QB might not make sense as a receivers coach at first glance, this is a brilliant move to me. Leak is a winning quarterback who understands where receivers need to go, what they need to do, and how to create open space. And more importantly, he’s a Gator. He’s a Gator that’s been there, won that, and done that. He can set a new level of expectation.
His task is daunting, however. Having your first coaching job at Florida brings a lot of pressure – especially as your first coaching job outside of being a graduate assistant. I’d venture to say Leak is as important, if not more so, than Roper. He must get production out of the historically vaunted unit that once had names like Percy Harvin, Carlos Alvarez, Reidel Anthony, and Ike Hillard, among others.
I have no doubt in Leak’s ability to be successful. It’s just a matter of timing – only I am not sure how much time is on Will Muschamp’s side. One thing is certain: there is a bevy of work to do between now and August 30.