FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
- Monday (2/1) Recruiting Insider
- Top quarterback targets share their thoughts on Florida after Johnson's departure
- Despite staff defections, Florida holding on to four-star
- Four-star defensive tackle to decide among final three
- Redshirt Report: Johnson has a bright future
- Anonymous Player Q&A II: Thoughts on the true freshmen
- On the Mark: Is the recruiting tide turning for Florida at IMG Academy
- Parental Perspective: Gamble rewards mom’s bravery
- Where are they Now: Shane Matthews talks Florida Football
Florida fans had plenty to say about the Gators’ defense during the 2020 season. especially the secondary, and most of it negative.
It wasn’t just Third and Grantham that was an issue, first and second down presented problems too.
After a few solid seasons, this past season the Gators defense finished 100th in passing yards allowed per game (257.2), 97th in completion percentage allowed, the 19th-most yards per completion allowed in FBS (14.15), and 28 passing touchdowns allowed in 12 games.
Obviously, large parts of the Gator Nation responded by calling for a coaching change. So, what did Dan Mullen do? He parted ways with cornerbacks coach Torrian Gray and safeties coach Ron English.
The Gators filled their spots by hiring Wesley McGriff and Jules Montinar.
Each made a multitude of stops before landing in Gainesville.
Notably, McGriff is well-traveled in the Southeastern Conference. He served an array of roles such as coaching running backs and defensive backs as well as serving as a defensive coordinator during stops at Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, and Auburn (twice).
Montinar also spent some time in the SEC but in lesser roles.
The Naples native held a graduate assistant position with Alabama plus a quality control role with Georgia. Additionally, he served as a defensive backs coach at James Madison University, Texas State and USF.
But, enough about where these coaches worked. What are they like?
Inside the Gators caught up with several of their former players for the Inside Scoop.
According to DeMarquis Gates, McGriff owns a military mindset. Gates started at middle linebacker as a senior at Ole Miss during McGriff’s first year as the team’s defensive coordinator. The Georgia native posted a team-leading 114 total tackles (70 solo) plus 10 tackles-for-loss during that season.
“During the week, he did his job,” Gates said. “He was a hard worker; a hard coach and he was a players’ coach. He loved us (and) got us energized and ready to go.”
Gates said McGriff’s great at relating to the younger generation. He works out with the athletes in the weight room. Plus, according to Gates, McGriff has children of his own around Gates’s age.
“He’s a little old now,” Gates joked. “But he’s got a little younger flavor to him.”
Having kids who were around the age of his Ole Miss players helped McGriff adapt to them and relate even better. Gates said their then-defensive coordinator had a great relationship off the field with them.
That familiarity at Mississippi left McGriff open for a good ribbing from time to time.
Gates even has a video of his defensive coordinator running on the treadmill at a slow rate. The middle linebacker can be heard yelling in a joking manner “Speed it up! Coach is putting in no work!”
The two still keep in contact to this day. Gates mentioned McGriff has a propensity to check on his guys and to give great advice.
Coach’s best piece of advice to the young linebacker?
“Revert back to your training,” Gate said. “He always says that. That’s one of his go-to's. Something you’ve been doing all your life, don’t stray off that path. Always revert back to what you’ve been doing.”
And Gates leans on that advice in whatever he does in his everyday life. Whether it’s trying to make money, living through a pandemic or anything else he comes across.
Now, McGriff might act young – but this Eastern Kentucky alumnus actually is. Now he might not be Christian Robinson young, but he joins the Florida staff at just 35 years of age, making him Florida’s second youngest coach.
If the reviews from former players Jordan Brown and Rashad Robinson glowed any more — they’d blind anyone within a five-mile radius.
Montinar coached the two as defensive backs during his time at JMU. Despite him moving on before the duo finished their college eligibility, it’s clear Montinar made a significant impact on the two.
Brown arrived at JMU as a quarterback with no experience playing defense in his life. The coaching staff moved him to defensive back due to an offensive scheme change – and Montinar took over from there.
“He made me the player I am when it came to technique,” Brown said. “I went from a guy on special teams and transitioned all the way to a first-team All-American and had a shot with the Baltimore Ravens and the Tennessee Titans. I can 100% say that he was a huge contributor to my talent, and just fundamentally on the defensive side of ball.”
Robinson echoed Brown when it came to the impact Monintar had on his career. He preached practicing hard and working technique that way it came easy come game time. What stood out to Robinson was how the defensive backs coach treated every player the same whether they were an All-American or a walk-on.
Also, Montinar was tough and didn’t cut any corners.
“He was the coach that we really needed as freshmen,” Robinson said. “He came in and showed us all about the hard work you needed, being on time and just what it takes to be a student-athlete overall.”
When it comes to playing for Montinar, it is 100 percent all-go, all the time whether it be during a workout, a practice, or in the game itself.
“You're going to see him demonstrating the drill. He'll get physical with you as well, when it comes down to blocking or putting hands on (someone) or tackling or catching the ball,” Brown said. “He's the guy throwing the ball 100 miles per hour at your face so you get you get used to catching the ball and anticipating it because he's all about turnovers and hard-nosed football. I don't know, Florida's background right now but if they're used to having a lot of missed tackles — he's going to be the guy that's going to fix that technique and eliminate those in the games.”
And Montinar’s always got his guys’ backs. He’ll go toe-to-toe with any coach disrespecting his guys whether he’s on the other team or his own.
Both Brown and Robinson remember him getting into it with a wide receivers coach who talked smack during one-on-one drills. He did this as a guy who joined the program from a school different from any of the other coaches.
“Coach Montinar shut up our wide receivers coach to a point where he put his tail between his legs and went back to his players,” Brown said. “Because he knew he didn’t want any of that smoke with Coach Jules and us as defensive backs. He has our back and he will go to war with us.”
According to Robinson, it was almost an everyday occurrence.
Montinar recruited Robinson and, according to Robinson, that coach was unidentifiable when practice came around. Robinson didn’t know how intense the calm and collected coach who recruited him was in practice until he started at James Madison.
But once practice ended and they left the field — the switch flipped from intense coach to mentor and brother figure.
The Naples native connected with his players off the gridiron too. He always asked how his players were, about their families and how classes were going. Brown even recalled Montinar went golfing with him just to get to know Brown better.
He invited players over for game nights or barbecues. He was family first. Robinson said Montinar even walked him through signing his national letter of intent when recruiting him.
“He was coaching like a freshman coming in as a brand-new coach,” Brown said. “It's tough to kind of feel the vibe. He was someone that started that off the field. And that came with hanging out with each other or taking us to movies. He's a really good dude that likes to be involved in his players lives, and is always there.”
One of Brown’s best memories of Montinar is when the coach ended up in charge of the freshmen talent show during camp his redshirt freshman year.
What does he do? Puts on a karaoke show featuring him and that season’s set of freshmen. Brown saw him duet a song from High School Musical with a freshman player. Montinar took the part of Vanessa Hudgens while the freshman took Zac Efron’s part.
“This guy comes in as a rookie coach and he puts himself in front of the entire team and staff is just starts singing karaoke,” Brown said. “…we're listening to this grown man sing and he's hitting these high pitches, his voice is cracking. We started dying.”
Montinar’s big on opportunities. Robinson remembers Montinar counting how many missed opportunities the secondary had in games whether it’s missing an interception or a tackle. Montinar paused tape during film sessions just to called those missed opportunities out.
That was the biggest lesson Robinson learned from his coach: don’t miss or waste the opportunities you’re given.
“Whenever an opportunity comes out, make the most out of it, because it might be your last,” Robinson said. “You might not get thrown out more than once a game but that one time. And if you drop a pass you might not get it again.”
Being hired by Florida is Jules Montinar’s opportunity to show he can succeed at the SEC level as a defensive backs coach.
Both McGriff and Montinar have spent time at several different stops and showed their propensity to recruit players, relate to the ones they had and develop them into competent defenders.
That’s what got them to this point and now they have their shot to shine under an Orange & Blue spotlight.
If they do, then the Gators can get back on track after a dismal 2020 season and establish themselves among the top programs in the country on the field.