Joker Phillips' resignation is just the latest twist for the Florida wide receivers position, a roster spot that has been under some kind of strange curse for a while now. It used to be that the Gators could count on always having a great array of targets, but that hasn't been the case for a while.
Chris Leak is becoming the sixth wide receivers coach the program has had in the past six seasons. Billy Gonzales wrapped up his last year in Gainesville in 2009. Zach Azzanni came in for 2010, the last of Urban Meyer's tenure. The Will Muschamp era in 2011 began with former Gator receiver Aubrey Hill minding the position, but he abruptly resigned the following summer thanks to the Nevin Shapiro scandal at his former employer, Miami. The 2012 season had grad assistant Bush Hamdan supervising the crew, and then Phillips came in for 2013. A second summer resignation is forcing another former grad assistant into service with Leak for 2014.
The 2009 season was the last with a truly great target for Florida's quarterbacks, with Riley Cooper hauling in 51 catches for 961 yards. It's hard to peg the nadir because everything has been awful in the years since then, but 2011 makes the best case. Andre Debose led the team with 16 (!) catches for 432 yards, but he was basically the long bomb specialist with 210 of those yards coming on three catches. The next-most productive receiver that year was Deonte Thompson with 21 catches for 264 yards. Charlie Weis, ladies and gentlemen.
The thing is, Phillips really is a big loss because 2013 was easily the best year for Gator receivers since that '09 campaign. Andy at Alligator Army covered that pretty well, so head over there to see all the details. Here's what I can add. From 2010-12, only two receivers went over 400 yards on the season: Thompson in 2010 and Debose in 2011. In 2013, despite the team going through three quarterbacks (the last of whom basically shouldn't have played on the I-A level), three receivers went past that mark with Solomon Patton (556), Quinton Dunbar (548), and Trey Burton (445). Burton was an especially great sign of Phillips' coaching ability, as the former omniback became a full-time receiver and mostly did well. Also, keep in mind that those receivers in 2010-12 had a 13th game to try to rack up stats, while last year's trio did not.
Leak was a good quarterback and was a non-coaching member of the staff last year, so he's not coming in cold without qualifications. He still is now in his first ever coaching job, though, so it's hard not to see this as a step back for the program. The position made real progress last year, and with Dunbar back along with promising young guys Ahmad Fulwood and Demarcus Robinson, there was a real sense that this fall could be even better than last fall for the receiver position. Now, that's back in doubt.
Next to quarterback, receiver is the most important position in a spread offense like what Kurt Roper is installing this year. The whole point of spreading the field is to make defenders have to cover more space, but if the receivers are no threat to do much, then safeties and linebackers can cheat more on the run than they otherwise could. Dunbar is the only proven commodity at the position for this fall, and he's basically proven that he's adequate. One adequate receiver is not going to cut it.
Next to losing Roper to some kind of truly unexpected event, losing Phillips is the staff change that Muschamp could least afford heading into this critical season. Maybe Leak will turn out to be fine, but there's absolutely no way that he is not a downgrade from someone who played the position and coached it for 19 years.
Whatever Florida's offensive ceiling was going to be for 2014, it's now lower.