Florida football defense. Photo via Florida Athletics.
The Florida football coaching room has seen quite a bit of movement in the last two days.
Florida, under second-year head coach Billy Napier, has seen three assistant coaches leave the program on Wednesday and Thursday. The Gators have also quickly replaced one of those vacancies in the meantime as well.
On Wednesday, ESPN’s Chris Low broke the news that Florida’s co-defensive coordinator, Patrick Toney, was leaving for a defensive secondary coaching position with the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. Low also reported in the same article that Florida was hiring 29-year-old Austin Armstrong as Florida’s defensive coordinator replacement.
Armstrong worked on Napier’s Louisiana staff in 2020 and was the defensive coordinator at Southern Mississippi for the last two seasons. Just ten days ago, on Feb. 13, Armstrong was announced as the inside linebackers coach on Nick Saban’s Alabama defensive coaching staff. Armstrong’s time with the Tide was very short after accepting a job with Florida less than two weeks later.
Toney worked with Napier at Louisiana for four years prior to calling Florida’s defensive plays during Napier’s first season in 2022. Florida ended up having the No. 97-ranked total defense last year according to the NCAA. Tennessee, for comparison, ended the season at No. 91.
That wasn’t the only activity on Wednesday, though. In addition to Toney’s departure from Napier’s staff, Florida also lost tight ends coach William Peagler, who is also joining the staff of the Arizona Cardinals in a defensive role.
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The Cardinals hired Nick Rallis as their new defensive coordinator on Feb. 18, 2023. Rallis, however, does not have any immediately apparent ties to either Louisiana or Florida, despite grabbing two of the Gators’ assistants this week.
Peagler joined the Florida coaching staff during Napier’s arrival before the 2022 season and spent the year as the Gators’ tight ends coach. Florida did not sign a tight end in the 2023 recruiting class.
Lastly, on Thursday morning, Florida saw wide receivers coach Keary Colbert leave for the same job with the NFL’s Denver Broncos after just one year with the Gators. Colbert, who also has experience coaching at USC, will be gearing up for his first coaching stint in the NFL. Colbert played for the Broncos for a very, very brief two-game stretch in 2008, part of an eight-year NFL career.
It’s interesting to see three Florida assistant coaches all leave for the NFL within one day of each other. What makes more sense, though, is that both the Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos are bringing on new head coaches, throwing some shake-ups into the coaching rooms.
Tennessee did not have to deal with a ton of coaching movement this year. And the movement that did need to be handled was settled very easily.
Prior to Tennessee’s Orange Bowl appearance against Clemson last December, offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Alex Golesh was announced as the next head coach at the University of South Florida. Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel later elevated quarterbacks coach Joey Halzle to the offensive coordinator position and promoted Vols offensive analyst Alec Abeln to the tight ends coaching position.
Florida will host Tennessee on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023.