Coach's Corner: Former player/defensive line coach/super recruiter talks Florida football

Oct 11, 2021 | 0 comments

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    After playing defensive line for Florida from 1962 through 1964, Jerry 'Red' Anderson returned to campus in 1985 to begin a 20-year stint as part of the coaching staff and Gators Boosters. Today he joins Inside the Gators to share his take on several Florida football-related topics.

    Q: Nowadays programs have an extensive Strength and Conditioning staff, making it strange to see that early in your career you served as both a position coach as well as a strength coach at the same time. Now, the S&C Director is widely considered as the second most important coach on the staff behind the head coach. What did being the strength coach entail back in those days?

    A: I can remember being an athlete in high school in the early ’60s and the coaches did not have any organized strength training or conditioning within the program. I worked out with weights in my buddy’s garage, you were pretty much on your own. When I attended UF as a football player weight and strength training was in its’ infancy and most coaches were just beginning to understand the residual benefits. At that time, athletes were not required to train during the off-season. Starting in the mid-’60s, a few weeks prior to spring practice, UF started utilizing different methods of training such as isometrics, extra-genies, and some training with weights. At any rate, strength training was in the beginning stages.

    Lou Saban hired me at the University of Miami in the late ’70s as an assistant linebacker and strength coach. By this time, colleges were beginning to institute some type of weight training program but in most cases, one of the assistant coaches had that responsibility. It was hard to believe but we actually started from scratch establishing a strength training program at UM. In major colleges today it would be impossible for an assistant coach to be in charge of the strength program. There is too much involved to do both.

    A guy named Boyd Epley established a strength training program at the University of Nebraska and because of their success, his program gained a lot of attention. The race was on when a number of college athletic programs started trying to emulate the University of Nebraska’s success. Everyone was trying to gain an edge. Needless to say, strength training programs evolved into an integral part of many of the major athletic programs. It is totally amazing to see how far things have advanced in this segment of athletics. Not only do you have an individual solely in charge of conditioning and strength training but other support staff that deals with nutrition, mental, and psychological aspects of the athlete. All of an athlete’s time is organized and accounted for and there is no such thing as an off-season for an athlete. There is no question that your strength training coach is the second most important person on your staff. He will see the players more than any of the coaches. I always told my players that if you want to be successful and enjoy playing football, you have to prepare yourself before you get to the game. Everyone wants to be a part of the excitement and glory but they must understand that a heck of a lot goes into it before you get to that point. A big part of that preparation is the strength and conditioning program. Vince Lombardi once said, “Fatigue can make cowards of all of us.” Strength coaches can help make your program successful, or they can be a detriment. It is extremely important to get the right person to run this part of your program. They have to develop these young men physically, emotionally, psychologically and be a disciplinarian in the process. A lot is riding on it and the coaches expect the athletes to be ready once they hit the field.

    Q: You were the interim head coach at UCF in 84. That experience, did it make you want to again one day be a head coach at the college level, or did you scratch that itch with that job?

    A: When I got into coaching I wasn’t really thinking about becoming a head coach. I just enjoyed working with young people. It was gratifying to watch them mature, gain confidence, and believe in themselves. I became a head coach in high school so I did have some experience albeit on a lower level. I wanted to work with young men on the college level so I was hoping being a head coach in high school would help me attain that goal. I was very fortunate because it did provide the opportunity. Being a head coach certainly involves having prior success but it also entails a lot of politics. Some coaches are always on the phone maneuvering to get their next job. I never was a political animal. I was an in-the-pits type coach. At UCF, I became the interim head coach because of concern for the players. We had put a tremendous amount of effort into recruiting in order to help UCF reach the next level. I had a great relationship with our athletes and wanted to see our efforts reach fruition. However, I knew it would be tough because Bill Peterson was the athletic director and he was an FSU man. He certainly did not want a Gator guy. I hated to leave our players but there wasn’t much I could do about it. It all worked out in the end because I got to come to the University of Florida.

    Q: You came back to your alma mater in 85 to begin a 20-year stint with the program.

    A: When I came back to UF there was a rush of happy memories that came flooding back and I felt like I was at home. I graduated from Florida and my son and daughter graduated from Florida; the roots run deep. There was no question that UF was in my blood and I had no interest in leaving as long as they wanted me. As I mentioned before some coaches are always on the lookout for their next coaching job. That was not me I was completely satisfied to stay at the University of Florida.

    Q: First off, how did the offer to come back to UF as a coach come about?

    A: It was back in the early ’80s when Charlie Pell got into trouble and was asked to leave along with two other coaches, Joe Kines and Dwight Adams. Galen Hall was hired as the new head coach and was looking for two coaches to replace the two that were asked to leave. Charlie Bailey (later went on to become the head coach at Memphis University) took Joe Kines’ spot and I was hired to take Dwight Adams’ position. Galen was looking for a former UF player and someone who could recruit south Florida. I happen to fit both of those criteria. This all occurred after I missed out on the head coaching job at UCF. It was good timing for me.

    Q: What was it like to be part of Steve Spurrier's staff? To be the first team to really begin living up to Florida's potential as a football power?

    A: I was in the same freshman class with Steve when we played football at the University of Florida. So, I already knew him from being a former teammate. It was amazing to see, he had a lot of the same idiosyncrasies he had when he was a player at UF. The one thing about Steve is he is an extreme competitor and does not like to lose at anything. He was a super athlete and I believe he lettered in four sports in high school. Steve was not afraid to think outside the box. He was not opposed to trying new things if he thought it was something that could help him win. Steve had great abilities in scheming up offensive plays to attack defenses and he also had a knack for utilizing the talents of specific players to accomplish his plan, so when people talked about how great a particular defense was Steve relished the challenge. Being a part of the previous staff we always thought that in the early 90’s we would have a chance to turn things around. Steve’s timing was good in a couple of ways. One, albeit the depth was not great, the overall talent was better than in the past, especially the defense. Two, when Steve came into the SEC most of the teams played power football. In other words, run the football and play defense (ground and pound). Steve came in and ran an exciting spread them out and throw the ball all over the ballpark. The SEC coaches were not used to it, or ready for it. He loved to scheme up his offense against these SEC defenses. Coach Spurrier did a super job of recruiting and did not want anyone who did not love UF. Being back at his alma mater was very important to him. His goals were simple, beat Georgia and win the SEC Championship and the rest will work itself out. There is no question that Coach Spurrier fundamentally changed the style of offenses that are run in the SEC.

    Q: You were known as an outstanding recruiter back in your day. What was your approach to recruiting?

    A: Most recruiters have a tendency to make things bigger than they really are and spend a lot of time glorifying everything (in laymen's terms it is called BS). It was simple for me, I tried to be totally honest with my prospects and speak in terms of reality. The coaches in high school appreciated the fact that I knew what problems they faced because I had been a head high school coach at one time. I was fortunate enough to establish a good reputation and trust with the high school coaches.

    Q: There have been plenty of changes since then, and a 100 kids can give you 100 reasons as to why they made their choice but is there a bottom line when it comes to recruiting?

    A: Recruiting has changed a lot since I was involved, especially, because of the digital advancement that exists today. However, some things never change. For example, what is really important to the student-athlete, what type of personality does he have, what are his goals, and who has the most influence on him? You have to remember this is an eighteen-year-old kid who is just starting out in the world and may not have enough maturity or judgment, to know what is best for him. You try to help him understand the importance of his decision and the amount of work it will take to achieve his goals and attain success. That is why it is so important to figure out the person close to him with the most influence. A recruiter has to work from several directions. You have athletes that say they are going to the last place they went to on an official visit. They like them all. Bottom line you have to realize you are dealing with a young person and try to help him not get blinded by the bright lights that will confront him. Your objective is to try and get him back to reality. Hopefully, you can direct him toward an intelligent and logical decision. Again, knowing the person with the most influence on him is very important in this process.

    Q: You went from being a position coach to working for the UAA for seven years. What were your duties during that time?

    A: My responsibilities entailed working with all letter winners, organizing the Athletic Hall of Fame, and helping with fundraising within Gator Boosters.

    Q: What was it like to come back as an assistant coach under Ron Zook? How was that experience different than UF under Spurrier?

    A: I had thought about getting back into coaching about the time Coach Spurrier was leaving the program but I didn’t want to accept just any coaching position. The word was that Ron had a good chance of getting the job and there was a previous relationship and connection between him and so getting back on the staff was a natural thing for me.

    You are talking about apples and oranges when you discuss the differences between Ron and Steve. Steve was more offensive-minded with an outside-the-box approach and was more of a person open to change. Ron was more defensive-minded with more structure and basic concepts. He had just spent a lot of time in the NFL and brought some of that philosophy with him.

    Q: Moving ahead to today's game, there's been an offensive explosion-especially in the passing game across college football. How hindered are defenses nowadays?

    A: There is no question that spread offenses have put tremendous pressure on defenses. It is all about getting mismatches on the defense. When you spread everybody out by formation you create a lot of open spaces. Taking a great athlete with speed and quickness and putting him in open spaces gives the offense an opportunity for big plays. When you dial in RPO’s (run/pass/option) it puts even more of a strain on the defense. Defenses have had to recruit differently in order to keep up and defend the spread offenses.

    Q: Florida was on a streak where they had a top 10 defense in 11 of a 12 year period. They have only been in the top 10 once in the last four years and currently rank 62nd overall (UF is now up to No. 28)). What does UF have to do to get back to elite status?

    A: I don’t think that is a mystery, you have to recruit elite athletes and develop them. My personal biases are you need to start upfront with your defensive linemen. The secondary cannot cover all day so you have to find guys that are great pass rushers and can pursue the ball all over the field. Finding great defensive linemen is not an easy proposition. There will be extreme competition to sign the great ones. Sometimes it takes a little time to develop these players, especially, if you think he has the potential to be a great defensive lineman and he plays another position. In fairness to coaches, the great players are leaving early for the NFL and it becomes difficult to replace them. The transfer portal has been of some help.

    Q: What are your thoughts on the UF defense this year?

    A: They lost some players from last year and injuries have put a strain on them. With hurry-up offenses nowadays you have to have good depth because you will end up playing a lot of players. Even though problems have occurred thus far this year they still seem to be getting better. It is hard on coaches because they are always fighting to be consistent. Sometimes inconsistency can be caused by young players.

    Q: Are there any current Florida defensive players who really stand out to you this year?

    A: I think Zach Carter and Brenton Cox have played well. Ventrell Miller being injured has hurt, especially losing his toughness and senior leadership. I have been impressed with Mohamoud Diabate's ability to play inside linebacker; it is not an easy adjustment. The defensive back Kaiir Elam being injured hasn’t helped, he seems to make things happen.

    Q: What is your impression of how Dan Mullen is currently running the program? Pluses? Minuses?

    A: It is extremely easy to criticize and second guess someone when you are looking in from the outside. Believe me, I have seen my share, there are experts everywhere but they have no idea of what goes on inside the program and the challenges that may exist. These coaches live and die every day with their players. I think Dan has done a fabulous job. He came in under some very difficult circumstances and attained success right away. I think he has been flexible in adjusting to the abilities and talent of his team and is right on the verge of competing for some championships.

    Q: UF just held a reunion for the 95 and 96 teams. Do you keep in touch with any of your former players or coaches who were on staff with you? How strong are those relationships after all these years?

    A: When I was with Gator Boosters I became involved with a number of reunions and even initiated or started a reunion. When someone leaves the university, coach or player, initially and generally there is good contact with that person. Unfortunately, as life goes on there is a tendency to get further from the program. Gator Boosters and the Athletic program spends a lot of time trying to draw them back. Players have a tendency to get back in touch as they approach different stages of their life. Although I do hear from a coach or player from time to time, I have pretty much kept a low profile since leaving Gainesville a number of years ago. The thing is you cannot place a value on those experiences and relationships it is something both players and coaches treasure the rest of their life.

    Q: Florida lost to Kentucky for just the second time in 35 years, with both losses coming over the last four years, both under Dan Mullen. How do you explain that?

    A: I will give you an opinion but I don’t think there is a good explanation for it. The Kentucky people would give their right arm to beat Florida, so emotionally and psychologically they really get up for the game. However, Florida does not reciprocate that feeling and may take Kentucky a little too lightly. Florida has had a history of that with Kentucky so it is not something Dan started. Most of the time, in the past, Florida has had better talent than Kentucky and during the game they were able to come out of the doldrums once the game got close. But Kentucky has gotten more competitive with good recruiting and portal transfers. When you combine this with a lack of focus the game can snowball in the wrong direction in a hurry and be difficult to get back on track.

    Q: You used to coach the offensive line, is there anything you can do about all of those false starts during the course of a game or is it too late to change your strategy?

    A: The thing you have to remember is last year the Gators were not confronted with any noise problems. Because of Covid, there was hardly anyone in the stands. So, working through your cadence in a loud arena was not a top priority, thus the players didn’t get the reps in a game situation. Experiencing those away games that are extremely loud is a carryover for the following year. Now think about this, the number one team in the nation came to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and had difficulties with the noise levels. You would think they would be prepared since they have three former NFL head coaches on the staff, one of which is the offensive line coach. Not having any previous year experience certainly didn’t help. Not getting enough repetitions over time is part of it.

    Now having said all that, most of the time, you are successful with what you emphasize in practice. After be away from coaching for a long time I know today they probably have some fascinating ways to institute the silent count. If you are anticipating a loud stadium then the silent count would be a point of emphasis. One of the ways to assimilate the noise level you have at these away games is to set the loudspeakers to their highest capacity when the offense is running plays during practice. Again, it is easy for me to make assumptions when I have no idea of what went on in practice. They may have practiced it a lot and it just didn’t work out. The problem could have been their focus level. Only Dan can answer that because he is on the inside and knows what went wrong.

    Q: Former UF defensive end Johnnie Church, posted a 10 Observations for us and he talked about the expectations during his playing days under SOS, where even after a blowout win, if things weren't done according to expectations, the players would still have to run gassers or the steps the following week.  What was it like back then to have to get players up for even lesser opponents when you went in there expecting to win?

    A: Steve’s goal was to try and keep them focused and performing at a certain level. He placed emphasis on it by punishing them for not attaining that level. Complacency, or taking a team for granted is an attitude that is contagious and can destroy your ability to win. It is something coaches are confronted with all the time and they must react to it. I am sure you have seen a game where one team was much more talented than the other but lost because they just rolled out their helmets and expected to win. If you play a team with less talent, lose your focus, and are not ready to play, the momentum can shift and you cannot always gain it back. It is imperative that the team is disciplined in their approach to preparation and playing the game. You will hear coaches talking about the process; it is a winners’ attitude. However, in my opinion, there are certain games that are absolutely more meaningful and you want to be physically, emotionally, and psychologically at a higher level. Unfortunately, you can have too many of those types of games and your team can get drained. That’s what makes the SEC such a difficult conference.

    Q: Who was Florida’s strength coach back in those days, and what was he like? Any examples of him putting the team thru a grueling workout?

    A: Florida’s head strength coach, Nick Savage, seems to do a great job. I know that coach Mullen and the players have a lot of confidence in him. His ability to get the team ready to perform during the year and each week is extremely important and essential to the program. During my tenure at UF I had the opportunity to be around a number of different strength coaches. The one that stood out the most to me was Rich Tuten. When it came to getting you ready to play he was like a marine drill sergeant and there was no-nonsense, or excuses. Not even being injured got you out of anything; they worked just as hard, if not harder, than the non-injured players. The players had a love/hate relationship; they hated the training but they loved the results. He got a lot out of them and was recognized for his efforts; Rich, was a valuable part of the program, especially back then, when we had a lot of depth problems and players had to be in exceptional condition. He utilized a number of different methods in the process of training our players whether it was running hills, pulling a weighted sled, running the stadium steps with weighted vests, resistance against a parachute, using ban resistance between players, using the stair master, and especially, he loved to use the leg press machine until total exhaustion. The players respected him so much they would get t-shirts that would say “I was Tutenized”, or “I survived Tuten’s camp.” It was a badge of honor.

    Tags: Sport

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