Florida lost a valuable asset to its staff Wednesday when wide receivers coach Joker Phillips resigned from his post.
The 26-year coaching veteran was a huge hire for Will Muschamp in late 2012 after two of the last three WR coaches had a combined experience of just seven years. Phillips helped Trey Burton, Quinton Dunbar and Solomon Patton have career-highs in catches and receiving yards last season, even with the injuries and struggles UF had offensively.
But one of the biggest issues during Muschamp’s tenure has been the lack of camaraderie with his offensive coaches, especially in 2013.
The friction between Brent Pease and Tim Davis was well documented, but several sources have told The Sun that Pease and Phillips bumped heads as well. Phillips was also interested in the coordinator position, the sources said.
For all the positive things Phillips did for Florida’s receivers, there are negatives to having someone like him on staff.
Being a former head coach, he is overqualified for an assistant position and has an ego like most coaches of his caliber do, as was the case with Charlie Weis during his time at UF.
When the team is losing, it can create an unhealthy and hostile environment when staff members feel like they can do a job better than their counterparts. That situation had yet to repeat itself with Phillips and new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, but the potential for it was there with Roper having served under Phillips at Kentucky in 2005.
Enter Chris Leak.
The former Florida quarterback is an obvious step down in experience — though the Gators went 11-2 in 2012 with a graduate assistant coaching the wideouts — but the relationship between offensive coordinator and receivers coach will be much different this season.
Sources told The Sun that Leak has become like a right-hand man to Roper. He has learned his offense by spending hours with him in the film room and studying the playbook, and they work well together. That’s why Muschamp was so quick to pull the trigger on Leak, and he’s been around the program and players for more than a year.
Leak is also a laid-back guy who’s smart but very low key and soft-spoken. He just goes about his business and is eager to coach, an approach and attitude that’s appreciated by the other assistants.
However, what makes Leak a good fit for the staff could also put him at a disadvantage on the recruiting trail.
He will have hard time relating to kids with flamboyant personalities, but that’s what you have coaches like Travaris Robinson and Derek Lewis for. Leak’s legacy at UF may help him with some prospects, and Phillips wasn’t reeling in top-flight receivers despite his coaching ability.
What remains to be seen is Leak’s skills on the sidelines. Future Gators Ryan Sousa and Tre Jackson said they were impressed with how Leak coached them last summer at camp, but recruits are one thing. Can he get the same amount of respect from Florida’s receivers and lead them in meetings and on the football field?
Leak did it in 2006 as a player, now we’ll see if he can as a coach.