The Florida Gators turn to long-time SEC assistant Knox, amid football transition
Gainesville, Florida. – Greg Knox steps in for Dan Mullen for the second time in five years. Knox, the 27-year-old Southeastern Conference football veteran and only match winner as interim head coach, knows how to handle the staff. He knows how to deal with players. He knows how to treat himself.
One thing he won’t deal with: Mullen’s former Florida office.
“I passed in there and looked, but that’s all there is to it,” Knox said Monday.
Knox has the daunting task of putting together Florida after a turbulent few weeks that saw the Gators (5-6) shoot Mullen, defense coordinator Todd Grantham and offensive line games coordinator/Jon Hevesy.
Florida, which has lost nine of its last 11 games to the Power Five, will try to end the regular season on a positive note when it hosts rival Florida State (5-6) on Saturday. The winner will be eligible for the tournament.
No one would be surprised to see the Gators stumble back into the swamp after all they’ve been through. Then again, Knox is confident enough to believe he has a chance of getting a program that has been in a slight downturn for a month changed in days.
Perhaps it pays off that he beat Louisville and star quarterback Lamar Jackson as Mississippi State’s interim coach for the 2017 TaxSlayer Bowl.
“I can’t even tell you how many text messages, Twitter messages, Facebook messages I’ve received from previous players who saw me in his position,” Knox said. “They know, and they were like, ‘Hey, I know you’re going to get the job done. I know you will do an amazing job. It’s confidence. It is relaxation. I’m comfortable in this situation.”
Knox will not make any wholesale changes in Gainesville. He said quarterback Emory Jones remains the starter, and backer Anthony Richardson has a chance to play for the first time after being eliminated from the game against Georgia last month.
“If he’s healthy and available, we’ll have him play the game,” Knox said.
First-year brokers coach Garrick McGee will call play for Florida, and Christian Robinson will take charge of the defense for the third week in a row. Quality Control Assistant Dean Kennedy was promoted to a field role to assist in the offensive.
I’m not Dan, it’s me. So it has to be me. I can’t be anything to the players that I haven’t done all year,” said Knox, the team’s linebacker coach and special teams coordinator. “So they understand who I am and they understand how I deal with everything and the direction I come from. There may be a slight change here and there, but it is almost unnoticeable.”
Florida fired Mullen on Sunday, a day after losing 24-23 in overtime in Missouri and just one year after competing for a place on the College Football Playoff. The move has been brewing since Florida followed a blowout loss in South Carolina with a poor performance against lower-tier Samford.
“It was kind of a shocker,” said Damon Pierce, blinking. “We thought at least we could finish the season and anything that happens in the off season happens in the off season. But for that to happen suddenly, it was definitely a shock.”
Pierce said Mullen’s departure left the team extra motivation to end an otherwise dismal year with a much-needed win over a rival.
“The valley teaches you lessons that the mountaintop does not,” said Pierce. “I prefer it to go low and learn, so when I get to my highest point, I’ll be ready.”
Knox may be the man who helps the Gators cross the valley.
“Coach Knox brings so much energy every day,” said defensive end Zach Carter. “He’s always motivating the guys. I feel like he’s going to do something great for us this week, bring the juice. The guys are going to be shot. He spoke to us this morning and he had a great message for us: he got the big guys on the right track and he just talked to us about how important this game is, the rivalry Big. So I’m excited for it.”
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