McMillan Excited for His Return to the Swamp and the Challenge That Awaits

Sep 7, 2019 | 0 comments

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As a defensive tackle for the Gators from 2003-07, Clint McMillan started 13 games and recorded 32 tackles, three tackles-for-loss and a sack. He was a key contributor on special teams during UF’s 2006 national championship season.

On Saturday, he’ll return to the Swamp for a game for the first time since his graduation – as the enemy. The Oviedo native is in his third season as UT Martin’s defensive line coach and co-special teams coordinator.

McMillan said he’s excited to be back in the stadium where he made so many great memories, but he’s not going to allow himself to get caught up in the nostalgia. Like a lot of coaches, he deflected the attention off of himself and put it on his players. He knows his team faces a gigantic challenge against the No. 11 Gators, and he’s focused on preparing his team as best as he can.

“I’ve kind of tried to let everyone know [that] this is not a typical SEC game that’s 11 in the morning that people are kind of trickling into,” he said. “It’s going to be home opener, 95,000 people there, a night game in Gainesville. It’ll be a great experience. I’m really excited for my kids.”

McMillan admittedly wasn’t good enough to play professional football, but his passion for the game remained. So, he got into coaching to help change young men’s lives.

“I kind of always tell my kids that the opportunity football gives you can change your life,” he said. “I’m the first person in my family to go to college and graduate, so it’s a unique opportunity to say that you can be good at a sport and really change your life for future generations. So, I like giving that opportunity to other kids.”

After spending a couple of seasons as a high school coach in Florida, McMillan was a graduate assistant at Weber State from 2012-14 and at Marshall from 2014-16. He landed his first full-time coaching job with the Skyhawks in 2017.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity,” he said. “Like I said, with coaching, I’ve never worked a day in my life.”

While he’ll be the opponent on Saturday, he said that “once you’re a Gator, you’re a Gator forever.” He still follows the program and remains in contact with some of his former teammates, including Keiwan Ratliff and Vernell Brown, who work on UF’s support staff. He’s received texts from some of his former teammates this week.

McMillan was recruited by Ron Zook’s staff but played for Urban Meyer’s staff his final three seasons. Dan Mullen was the offensive coordinator, Billy Gonzales was the receivers coach and John Hevesy was the assistant offensive line coach. Of course, they’re all back at UF now.

While McMillan didn’t deal with them a lot as a defensive player, the trio left a favorable impression on him, and he looks forward to seeing them.

“We always keep in touch,” he said. “I keep in touch with Coach Mullen and Coach Hevesy and Billy G and all those guys. So, it’ll be great to see everyone and then the ball’s kicked and we [won’t] like each other.”

McMillan referred to Meyer as “one of the greatest college football coaches to ever do it” and said he learned a lot about the importance of preparing the players in practice throughout the week and catering everything around what the players can do.

“The best thing you can do is make sure that your kids are prepared,” he said. “That’s all you can do as a coach. What I know is really not important. It’s what information can I give to my players? Everything is about them. If there’s something that they’re doing poorly, I’m not doing a good enough job coaching it, and, anything they do correctly, it’s because they took the coaching. There’s not a whole lot that I’m going to do on Saturday other than make sure that I’m getting them the correct information.”

He said that all the former Gators players he knows were excited when Mullen returned to UF as head coach. What stands out about him is his ability to evaluate talent and develop players at an elite level.

“He knows exactly what it takes to win at Florida,” he said. “He was there for two championships, he was running that offense and did a great job finding quarterbacks and offensive linemen and receivers. There’s guys that are still playing that he recruited.”

Mullen said he runs into McMillan from time to time at camps, on the recruiting trail and at the American Football Coaches Association convention every year. In 2010, Mullen returned to Florida for the first time as Mississippi State’s head coach. He knows McMillan is in for a strange night in the Swamp.

“I love to see former players go out and have success in coaching,” Mullen said. “So, I got to see it. I’m sure it’ll be a fun homecoming for him, coming back. It’ll be a different feeling. I’ve done it once where you come in, and, all of a sudden, you’re in a different locker room and you’re running out of a different stadium. He ran out of the locker room and took a left a lot. He’s got to take a right this time.”

McMillan said he expects running out of the visitor’s tunnel and standing on the visitor’s sideline will bring back some wonderful memories and feel “maybe a little weird.”

“Probably for about a split-second it will be kind of remembering a lot of those memories you have running out of that tunnel and how great it was,” he said. “But, you know, that’s got to kind of wash over real quick, and you got to get ready to play a football game. The good thing is it isn’t what it used to be; I’m not the one that’s got to go out there and get hit anymore.

“Once the ball’s kicked, it’s making sure our kids are in the right calls, making sure they’re lined up, making sure everything’s how it needs to be. So, once the game starts, all the weirdness kind of wears off.”

McMillan’s units have fared well. In 2017, the Skyhawks’ defense ranked ninth in the FCS in passing defense, 20th in rushing defense, sixth in total defense and fourth in points-per-game allowed. In 2018, they ranked 17th in tackles-for-loss and 26th in rushing defense.

Individually, Jay Murphy was named All-Ohio Valley Conference in 2017, while Julian Crutchfield received the honor last year following a nine-tackles-for-loss, two-sack season.

McMillan attributed his unit’s success to the great job the coaches did recruiting before he arrived at UT Martin.

The unit is shaping up to be one of their conference’s best again this season, as all three starters are seniors. Crutchfield and Joseph Murry start at end, while Austin Pickett mans the middle. A Preseason All-OVC selection, Pickett recorded a sack in UT Martin’s opener against Northwestern State.

McMillan said he likes the effort the group plays with and their depth.

“I hope there’s not a lot of drop-off when those next guys get in there, but we’ve got a bunch of guys that play really, really hard as long as they can, and then when they can’t, they got someone coming in to do the same thing,” he said.

Obviously, the Skyhawks’ defense will face its most daunting challenge of the season against Florida, although they also play at Kentucky in November. UF recruits much better athletes and will have an extreme advantage at every position. He said what stands out most about the Gators’ offense on film is how physical they are.

“The biggest thing I think people always underestimate when they look at those SEC schools is in the trenches,” he said. “Sure, you’ve got a bunch of people that are fast. That’s all great, but they’re extremely physical. Coach Hevesy does an outstanding job coaching them up front. It’s just a big, powerful football team. I mean, the quarterback’s out there head-butting defenders. The running backs, they’re extremely physical in pass protection.

“Everything they do is the same thing it was when I was playing and Coach Mullen was there. It’s going to be a physical, punch-you-in-the-face offense. Sure, they might throw some balls and do things like that, but they’re an extremely physical, well-coached football team.”

McMillan said he’ll probably have at least 10 family members and friends at the game – not counting his friends on the opposite sideline. The way he looks at it, everyone’s going to be wearing orange and blue. Some will be wearing UT Martin’s navy blue and orange, while others will don Florida’s orange and blue.

“It’s a special place. Coach Meyer, Coach Mullen, they said anytime you win a championship somewhere, it ties you together forever. So, it’ll be exciting, and then, like I said, then the ball’s kicked and it’s my job to make sure my unit’s prepared. It’ll be exciting, and then the ball’s kicked, you got a job to do, and then at the end of the game, we’ll shake hands and go from there.”

McMillan is an enemy for a day but a Gator for life.



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