Florida parted ways with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and offensive line coach John Hevesy on Monday, the school announced, with the Gators mired in a 4-5 season just one year after winning the SEC East and flirting with the College Football Playoff. In subsequent moves, linebackers coach Christian Robinson will serve as the play-caller on defense, and special assistant Paul Pasqualoni will move to an on-field role.
Grantham and Hevesy were the two most embattled assistant coaches on Mullen’s staff due to the play of their respective units. Grantham has coached with Mullen since he was hired to lead Mississippi State’s defense in 2017, while Mullen and Hevesy have been on the same coaching staff spanning 20 years under both Urban Meyer and Mullen himself.
Grantham’s defense currently ranks eighth in the SEC in defensive yards per play (5.44) and 12th of 14 teams in tackles for loss per game (5.22). The Gators are coming off a miserable performance in which they lost 40-17 to South Carolina, a team led by third-string quarterback Jason Brown, who transferred in from FCS St. Francis prior to the season. The Gamecocks averaged 20.9 points entering the game, and their 40 dropped the Gators to 62nd nationally in scoring defense.
Grantham’s defense posed issues even during last year’s SEC East title run. It gave up 6.06 yards per play, 30.8 points per game, allowed touchdowns on 64.4% of opponent’s red zone trips, all while seeing opponents gain 10+ yards on 185 different occasions, 13th in the SEC.
Grantham previously served as Georgia’s defensive coordinator from 2010-13. He had the same role at Louisville from 2014-16 before being hired by Mullen at Mississippi State in 2017.
Hevesy’s offensive line hasn’t been as much of a liability this year as the defense. The Gators are third in the SEC in rushing offense at 224.78 yards per game and have only allowed nine sacks through as many games. However, the running game that was once ranked second in the nation has stopped working over the past few weeks, and there are massive depth problems on the line. This one year after the Gators struggled mightily to run the football and give former quarterback Kyle Trask any help.
Both Grantham and Hevesy struggled with recruiting, which has been a pain point for Florida under Mullen. The Gators’ Class of 2022 is currently ranked 22nd in the nation, per the 247Sports Composite team rankings, and Mullen has not brought in a class ranked better than ninth in his first few seasons at the helm.
Let’s take a look at what this news means for Florida both ahead of its Saturday game against Stamford and potentially entering the 2022 season.
Mullen is feeling the heat
The moves come at a tumultuous time in Gainesville, Florida, as the defending SEC East champion have been unable to live up to the pressure of wearing the target on their backs. The Gators have lost three straight games, four of their last five and given up 34 or more points in each of the last three games. Florida is also 4-8 against its last 12 opponents dating back to last season and 2-8 vs. Power Five opponents in those games.
The sub-.500 season has put heat on the fourth-year Gators coach. Mullen’s public hiccups in the media have not sat well with Gator Nation, which look at him like a coach who has — in some ways — checked out. Mullen has been outwardly stubborn, brash and combative while previously refusing to make significant changes to a team most could see was floundering.
Do fans make decisions? No. But athletic director Scott Stricklin fired former coach Jim McElwain in the middle of Year 3 despite McElwain leading the Gators to back-to-back SEC East titles in the two previous seasons (2015-16). That happened, in part, due to comments McElwain made publicly about receiving death threats that were never verified to have occurred.
Stricklin and Mullen have had a long-standing relationship dating back to their time at Mississippi State, but given Stricklin already used a quick hook during his time in Gainesville and reportedly had a strained relationship with Mullen prior to bringing him to Florida, that possibility remains out there.
Loyalty can cost a coach
Hevesy has been on Mullen’s staff since his first season as coach at Mississippi State in 2009. He previously had been in lockstep with Mullen on Urban Meyer’s staffs at Bowling Green (2001-02), Utah (2003-04) and Florida (2005-08). Grantham was hand-picked by Mullen as a star hire at Mississippi State in 2017, and Mullen made him the sixth-highest paid assistant in the nation at $1.8 million per season when he brought Grantham to Florida.
Grantham and Hevesy were both retained after last season despite mounting pressure from the fan base. The point being that Mullen was loyal to both coaches … in this case to a fault. The fact that Mullen made these moves — and perhaps was forced to do so — suggests that things are getting really bad inside the program.
How will Mullen handle parting with guys he clearly cared to retain as long as possible while the rest of his job is closing in? That’s something that must be evaluated by Stricklin over the final few games of the season.
Recruiting will suffer
The rest of the staff is intact for now, but the news of Grantham and Hevesy’s departures will certainly raise some eyebrows on the recruiting trail. In fact, the Gators already lost two top-100 defensive commitments last month as word of Grantham’s likely departure leaked following the Florida-Georgia game.
The early signing period is just over a month away, and the instability within the coaching staff will be concerning to recruits who are looking to make decisions about their future over the next few weeks. On top of that, the hot seat that Mullen sits on could cause several current commits to pause a bit, which will allow other schools to swoop in and try to flip them away from the Gators.
For a team that’s already struggling with recruiting, that does not create a rosy picture. Perhaps Florida will be able to make some waves with its new staff members ahead of National Signing Day in February and through the transfer portal, but this recruiting class may well be headed to an all-time low ranking for the Gators.