GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida’s new offensive staff features a head coach who made his reputation coordinating high-scoring units, a pair of long-time lieutenants with co-offensive coordinator titles and a quarterbacks coach who has been an OC at Utah and Houston.
So how does that whole operation work when it comes to coaching the offense and calling plays on Saturdays?
Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy, the co-offensive coordinators, met with reporters this week for the first time since arriving in Gainesville and offered their insight into the operation.
“Ultimately, Coach Mullen’s going to be the offensive coordinator when it comes to calling those plays. Again, there are no egos,” Gonzales said. “You can say it’s three-headed, but I’ll say that you can throw [tight ends coach Larry Scott] in. You can throw [QBs coach Brian Johnson] in there. You can throw [running backs coach Greg] Knox in there. We’re all going to work together. We’re all going to get together. We’re all going to be working in piecing this thing together. That’s how we’ve always done it since we’ve been together.
“We started out in 2000. The system’s always worked that way and will continue to work that way. Dan does an unbelievable job. He’s, in my opinion, the best play caller in the nation. But at the same time, we’ve all got responsibilities how we break the game plan down to get ready.”
Gonzales is the Gators’ wide receivers coach and oversees the passing game while Hevesy is the offensive line coach and oversees the running game. They go way back with Mullen, since all three were assistants under Urban Meyer at Bowling Green starting with the 2001 season.
Meanwhile, Johnson played quarterback for the staff back at Utah and later coached with them at Mississippi State, and Knox was Mullen’s running backs coach for all nine of his seasons at Mississippi State.
Mullen discussed the staff structure as well last week while conducting a Q+A session with fans after National Signing Day. He reiterated at that time that he will ultimately be the primary play caller, but he described a collaborative in-game process.
“I call plays, but it is very unique in how we do it because we’ve been together so long,” Mullen said. “Believe it or not, a lot of times, even though John and Billy are kind of the co-offensive coordinators, a lot of times when I’m with the defense Brian might even be the one who calls the plays when I’m on defense because he’s upstairs … getting all that stuff to the quarterbacks.
“We all kind of contribute to it in between series. If you see us all talking and making notes, I’m [saying], ‘Hey, John, what do you want to run? Billy, what do you want to throw? Brian, what are the quarterbacks comfortable with? What do we see?’ But in the end I like calling plays.”
Hevesy said much of the same in explaining his role in the process.
“Saturday comes, ‘OK, hey, what are we going to run?’ ‘I’m seeing this, these are great run plays to run.’ In between series, ‘These are the three runs I like. These are the things they’re giving us out of these formations.’ Billy will do the same thing on the pass game. And then it comes down to coach Mullen going, ‘OK, I like those, I like those,'” Hevesy said. “At times he can, obviously being the head coach, he trumps, ‘I don’t like that one.’ So again, it’s working together for so long we kind of know how we’re doing things. …
“And there’s a great trust factor when those comments are made of what we should do. We trust each other in what’s being said.”
Much of the fan excitement for this new coaching staff stems from the hope that Mullen and Co. will finally be able to fix Florida’s long-struggling offense.
The Gators won two national championships when Mullen was here as an offensive coordinator, with Gonzales and Hevesy also on that staff.
And the group produced strong results at Mississippi State as well (with Gonzales rejoining Mullen’s staff in 2013 after stints at LSU and Illinois).
Here’s a look at what Mullen’s offenses have done and where they’ve ranked nationally over the years. It should be noted that he took over as his own primary play caller during his last four seasons at Mississippi State, which were the best of his tenure there offensively.
|Year||Points per game||National rank||Yards per game||National rank|
|2009, Mississippi St.||25.6||72nd||371.9||65th|
|2010, Mississippi St.||29.0||48th||401.3||42nd|
|2011, Mississippi St.||25.3||73rd||357.2||84th|
|2012, Mississippi St.||29.5||60th||381.9||79th|
|2013, Mississippi St.||27.7||70th||434.4||42nd|
|2014, Mississippi St.||36.9||T-16th||513.8||8th|
|2015, Mississippi St.||34.4||33rd||460.5||31st|
|2016, Mississippi St.||30.4||56th||440.2||44th|
|2017, Mississippi St.||32.1||37th||419.8||49th|
Florida, meanwhile, ranked in the 100s nationally in both scoring and total offense in all three seasons under former coach Jim McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
The Gators ranked 111th in total offense (334 YPG) and 100th in scoring (23.2 PPG) in 2015; 116th in total offense (344 YPG) and 107th in scoring (23.9 PPG) in 2016; and 109th in total offense (335.9 YPG) and 108th in scoring (22.1 PPG) this past season.
While Mullen’s teams averaged 33.5 points per game over those last four seasons, the Gators haven’t averaged that for a season since 2009 under Meyer. Florida’s only season with more than 30 PPG in that span was 2014 (30.2).
It remains to be seen what kind of immediate boost the new coaching staff will provide while moving the Gators to a spread offense, but it’s hard to argue with the results Mullen and his trusted crew of assistants have delivered in the past.
“Every day in the spring is going to be a great evaluation of what can we do,” Hevesy said. “As you finish, go through spring, finish spring, who can do what with the ball, who can do this? Then you really start tweaking the offense. You know more after spring. We have what we’re going to do [as a] base, just to teach them to learn the offense, the premise of the offense. After that it’s going to be how do we tweak things after spring, at the end of spring through the summer to get them to put in place for the fall.”
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