The main focus of all the preseason buzz about Florida has been the roster continuity, and for good reason. I, along with a lot of other people, am a believer that football success is more about the Jimmy's and the Joes than the Xs and the Os.
However, as is often the case with national title winning teams, Florida lost a couple coaches. Former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dan Mullen left to coach in the City of Cowbells, taking with him former tight ends coach John Hevesy. That left three roles and two personel spots to fill on the staff.
Hevesy was replaced by Brian White, who spent last season as the special teams coordinator and tight ends coach at Washington. He's now just tight ends coach. Mullen's old quarterbacks coach gig was filled by Scot Loeffler, who spent last year with the Detroit Lions but is better known for his work at Michigan.
If you're counting along at home, that means the two new coaches on a team trying to go undefeated were a combined 0-28 last season between the winless Huskies and Lions. Clearly Urban Meyer took more than last year into account with the hires. Most notably, White was named the AFCA Div. I-A Assistant Coach of the Year in 2004 for his work as Wisconsin offensive coordinator. Loeffler worked with Tom Brady and Brian Griese as a grad assistant before mentoring All-Big Ten selection John Navarre and UM's all time leader in yards, TDs, completions, and attempts, Chad Henne.
The offensive coordinator role did not go to Mr. Outside Hire, as those positions did though. The trendy pick among Gator fans who thought they were insiders was receivers coach Billy Gonzales. Folks figured Gonzales would need to get that job in order not to leave, as he's a hot name in coaching and had declined a job with the Jacksonville Jaguars the previous off season. He ended up turning down offers this off season from Lane Kiffin and the Cleveland Browns' Eric Mangini, despite not getting a promotion.
Instead Meyer tapped a guy he worked with back during his days as Notre Dame's receivers coach, Steve Addazio. Addazio coached the Irish's offensive line, tight ends, and special teams in those days, and he rose up UF's coaching ranks from just tight ends coach in 2005 to offensive line coach and assistant head coach in 2008. He did have one prior year as an offensive coordinator, with Indiana in 2004.
White has been largely overlooked this summer, but he'll be a key to the season. After clearing out the roster of tight ends and fullbacks upon arrival, switching them to other roles, Meyer brought them back late in the 2005 season after realizing you kind of need them in the SEC, even in a spread attack. Since then, the tight end position has become an important one in the Gator offense. Aaron Hernandez is going to be great, but behind him is a true freshman in Desmond Parks and that's about it. Parks' development will determine if Florida can run the double tight end sets that Hernandez and the now-graduated Tate Casey ran last season, not to mention there's only him and the walk ons if Hernandez should go down.
Loeffler has already made an impact, working with Tim Tebow and John Brantley on their throwing motions and footwork. In the scant practice videos I've seen, you can notice a difference in Tebow's delivery, and some practice reports have made a point to tell how good it looks now. Mullen was all right as a quarterbacks coach, but he was also coordinating the offense and, as a former tight end, he had little to no quarterbacking in his background. Loeffler is a quarterbacking clinician on the other hand, having played the position for Michigan in college and having never coached anything else.
The biggest question mark is how Addazio will do in his dual roles now. It took half a season before last year's offensive line to gel, and that was with both him and Hevesy (the assistant O-line coach) working on it. Will this year's line take as long come together now that Addazio is juggling both being the only offensive line coach and offensive coordinator?
There is the matter of play calling too. The offensive game planning has been a team effort among all of the offensive assistants under Meyer, with the head coach interjecting too. That much hasn't changed, though Loeffler brings a distinctly new and different voice that will need to be assimilated wisely into the system. Addazio will have the role of choosing what to do when, something he's done in just one season prior, and there's no doubt there will be some learning curve to it.
I would advise against seeing what kind of reviews Gator fans give him for it though, because they are never happy with the play calling no matter what. Even if the team wins by 50, they'll nitpick a third down call in the second quarter.
In any event, the perfect continuity in both the defensive ranks and defensive coaching staff contrasts with the moderate amount of turnover in the offensive ranks and offensive coaching staff. How well everything syncs will determine the difference between Florida being just good or elite.
The first big test of the year will come against Monte Kiffin, Eric Berry, and Tennessee in the third game of the season. Last year Florida played things close to the vest, content to simply return home with a win, as the Vols continually found ways to give the game away. The Gators scored just 24 offensive points, 17 of them off of drives of less than 50 yards, and were outgained by the Clawfense 258-243. Meyer even chose not to run up the score, running Chris Rainey into the back of the line inside UT's red zone with under three minutes to go.
The motivations are much different this time around, with an offensive explosion a la 2007 necessary to deliver the beatdown that so many are expecting to come. If Florida is to make good on the storyline for that game, not to mention the storyline for the season, all three of Addazio, Loeffler, and White will need to be successes.