Chaney reflects on his time on Florida's recruiting support staff

Jul 20, 2020 | 0 comments

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    Former linebacker Jamar Chaney played his final collegiate season under Dan Mullen at Mississippi State in 2009 before embarking on a five-year NFL career. After he hung up his cleats for the final time, he took over at St. Lucie (Fla.) West Centennial High School, his alma mater, as head coach in 2016.

    Wanting to be an on-field collegiate coach someday, he reached out to Mullen in early 2019 and asked for an opportunity to join Florida’s staff. Mullen obliged and hired Chaney as an Assistant Director of Player Personnel, a position that focuses primarily on recruiting. Chaney left Gainesville last week to take the next step in his coaching journey and become a Senior Defensive Analyst at Mississippi State.

    As one of nine members of the player personnel department at Florida, Chaney often worked the same hours as the coaches, from early in the morning until late at night, he said. His role was basically to make recruiting as easy as possible for the coaches.

    Assistant coaches have a lot of things that they’re responsible for, such as developing their players, implementing game plans, and making sure their players stay out of trouble. Keeping up with high school juniors often isn’t at the top of their priority lists. Plus, with there being thousands of high school football players around the country, finding the right 25 or so players per class can be a daunting task.

      “Nine times out of 10, we’re the first point of contact as far as finding the talent, searching the talent, and simmering down the list because there’s a lot of high school football players out there,” Chaney said.

      Chaney and his eight colleagues were each assigned to at least one assistant coach, he said. He was assigned to running backs his first year and added linebackers and offensive linemen to his responsibilities this year. He searched long and hard for any information his assigned coaches might’ve wanted, such as potential disciplinary and academic issues. He also communicated with recruits’ coaches and made sure UF’s coaches stayed in touch with key targets.

      “We’re constantly working, constantly grinding, constantly trying to find out information and constantly trying to get an edge, constantly trying to do more research, just doing a lot of stuff to make the coaches’ jobs easier but making sure we’re doing good enough jobs of evaluating kids and making sure we try to get the right kids in front of the coaches to watch,” he said.

      Because Chaney is interested in becoming an on-field coach, he also did some additional football-related work with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and linebackers coach Christian Robinson, he said.

      Though he’s not too far removed from his playing days, recruiting has changed drastically since he graduated high school in 2005, he said.

      Social media has transformed recruiting from a mostly local affair to a national competition, he said. When Chaney was in high school, players had to mail or email their highlights to coaches and hope some of them showed up to watch them play in-person. Now, a player in California can post a highlight video on Twitter and immediately be on Florida’s radar. The result is more opportunities for players to be discovered by college coaches but a bigger challenge keeping elite talent in-state for the Gators.

      Another result of the rise of social media is an increasing number of decommitments, as being bombarded with recruiting messages and graphics from recruiters and other prospects can sometimes make a player waver on his commitment. Chaney said the key to surviving the roller coaster is to focus on building relationships with recruits, whether they’re committed to you or not.

      “You’re going to win some, you’re going to lose some, but, hopefully, the guys that you want, you win more of those than you lose,” he said.

      “They’re 17 to 18, some of them 16-year-old guys, and they have a change of heart sometimes. You’ve just got to do a good job of presenting yourself, presenting the program, and let everything else take care of itself.”

      Of course, Gator fans have a reputation for being one of the largest, most passionate, and most critical fan bases on social media. They expect their team to be one of the nation’s best on the field and in the recruiting rankings. When that doesn’t happen, meltdowns usually occur. The sky is always falling, and any glimmers of optimism are immediately squashed by warnings of impending doom.

      Related: Washington quarterback coach Zampese shares his thoughts about his year at Florida

      Some have wondered if this glass-half-empty outlook by fans hurts the Gators in recruiting. Chaney doesn’t believe that’s an issue at all. He’d rather have fans that care too much than fans that don’t care at all.

      “You want to have a passionate fan base, you want to play with passionate fans,” he said. “With that, they’re so passionate that they get upset, they get mad about certain things, but that just comes with having passionate fans. I played NFL ball in Philadelphia. There are passionate fans in Philadelphia. They’ll get on you when you’re not doing good, but hey, I love coming to a game and no matter who we’re playing, the stadium’s going to be 100 percent full.”

      During Chaney’s time at UF, the biggest selling point they pitched to recruits was the quality of coaching they would receive at Florida. Mullen routinely develops his quarterbacks into stars, receivers coach Billy Gonzales just had three players drafted, Grantham pumps out double-digit sackers like it’s an assembly line, defensive line coach David Turner mentored two of the highest-paid tackles in the NFL at Mississippi State and cornerbacks coach Torrian Gray just churned out his third first-round draft pick in the last six years in CJ Henderson. They want recruits to think of choosing UF as a “business decision,” as several Gator commits have referred to it as.

      “If you want to go to a school and get developed to your max ability, I think it’s a great place for you,” Chaney said. “Dan [Mullen] does a great job. He has great coaches around him and knows how to develop guys. The proof is in the pudding; you see it on the field, whether it be the first year or the second year. I know they have big plans for this year if there’s going to be a season. I think that’s the main thing is the development of players and the coaching you’re going to get when you get to the University of Florida. That’s the biggest thing they’ve got going as far as getting players. You know you’re going to be coached and developed by the best.”

      However, that “business decision” mantra hasn’t appealed to recruits as well as some fans hoped for. Despite back-to-back top-10 seasons on the field, the Gators have struggled to land top-100 recruits and have finished near the bottom of the top-10 in the recruiting rankings the past two cycles. This frustration is compounded by the recent recruiting successes of Miami and Tennessee, programs that have been mired in mediocrity for the duration of recruits’ lives.

      While they’re always looking for improvement in all areas of the program, Chaney said it’s important for the Gators to focus on maximizing what they can do in recruiting and not worry about what other schools are doing. He points out that Mullen took a four-win team in 2017 and turned it into a team with quality depth at most positions that should be extremely good this season if given the opportunity to play. Clearly, something is going right.

      While Chaney has moved on from UF to climb the coaching ranks, he learned a lot at Florida that he’ll carry with him to Mississippi State and beyond.

      “Getting a chance to learn from one of the best defensive coordinators in the country, Todd Grantham, and one of the best up-and-coming coaches in the profession, Christian Robinson, and just those guys was amazing,” Chaney said. “Just seeing how Mullen runs things because he’s been a head coach for a while, but he’s been to some great places. Everywhere he’s been, he’s won.

      “All the stuff I learned from them just was great. Coach Mullen, Coach Grantham, Coach Robinson, Coach [Greg] Knox, I learned so much from them. The information and stuff I learned from them was priceless. It was a great opportunity for me.”



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