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The best and worst coaching transitions in Florida football history

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You always know that next year’s team won’t be like last year’s team when it comes to college football. Sometimes the impact is a player or two (think Percy Harvin) and sometimes it’s a mass exodus that leaves you wondering if you’ll be able to field a team.

That’s certainly the case as Florida enters the second year under Billy Napier.

Transitions are not always easy. Then again, there have been some in Florida football history that have been flawless.

In the latest Dooley’s Dozen, we rank the last 12 coaching transitions at the top of Florida’s football food chain.

Galen Hall to Steve Spurrier

USA TODAY Sports

Spurrier has often spoken of the incredible talent he inherited when he came here on New Year’s Eve in 1989. What he really needed to focus on was changing the mindset of the program.

He tells the story of a player coming to tell him that he was delighted to shave the heads of all the freshmen. Spurrier wondered why. The player told him it was a tradition.

“The same goes for Georgia,” Spurrier said. “We are going to change some things here.”

The freshmen’s follicles survived. Spurrier’s first two teams were SEC best and then SEC champions.

Ron Zook at Urban Meyer

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Another example where it is more about changing culture. In this case, there was also Meyer’s best sophomore recruiting class.

He won nine games in his first year but was still working on changing his attitude, so much so that he kicked out two team players during a rowdy team meeting on the plane on the tarmac after returning from a loss in South Carolina.

The following year, he won the national title. Of the 22 starters, 21 had been Zook rookies.

Meyer to Will Muschamp

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It was a transition that should have been better, but the rights issue took an entire year to resolve. By year two, Muschamp nearly made it to the BCS title match.

That tells you the talent was there. But as Muschamp recounts, Chairman Bernie Machen was waiting for him on his first day on the job to tell him to clean up the mess.

It all started with the dismissal of Muschamp [autotag]Janoris Jenkins[/autotag] (who later said Meyer would never have done that) and a lot of struggles to align players with Muschamp’s fiery personality.

The transition was looking pretty good in 2012.

After that, not so good.

Spurrier at Zook

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Now Zook would tell you that Spurrier didn’t leave him much to work with. Horse hockey. There were over a dozen players who made careers in the NFL. There was Rex Grossman, except sometimes he called plays that weren’t in the new coaches’ playbook.

The players were there. Zook struggled under Spurrier’s shadow, but don’t forget that in his first two seasons he won 16 games and went 12-4 in the SEC.

Gator fans would take that now.

Charley Pell in Hall

Allen Dean Steele/Getty Images

It may not have been the most comfortable transition when Pell was fired three games in the 1984 season, but it was exactly what Florida needed. The talent was overflowing (some of it had been acquired illegally according to the NCAA) and Hall was just the guy to take charge of despite his freshman year with the program.

He was much less stuck in game situations and affable off the pitch. The players played loose and had consecutive 9-1-1 seasons.

But with the transition came sanctions that ultimately pushed Florida back into mediocrity.

Bob Woodruff to Ray Graves

AP Photo/File

There will be old school in this area that you millennials will have to put up with, but Woodruff left a lot of talent behind and Graves knew what to do with it. He became UF’s all-time winningest coach until Spurrier arrived.

Graves definitely brought a different mindset to the game, and Florida’s top players got better. The 1960 team – the first for Graves – won nine games, including UF’s second bowl victory. After a struggle as a sophomore, Graves has never seen a team win less than six games and two others win nine in 10-game seasons.

McElwain to Dan Mullen

Denny Medley – USA TODAY Sports

Here’s the thing – Mac left Mullen some great players. But there were a lot of holes. Still, that didn’t stop Mullen from going to three consecutive New Year’s Bowls.

The best part of the transition was that Mullen introduced a new offense and it was effective. He was lucky to catch some teams in their low cycles like FSU, but first-year losses weren’t good.

Still, winning 11 games in Year 2 meant there were a few studs left. The hiring itself was a bit awkward and last season was a disaster, but McElwain was a very good recruiter.

Raymond Wolf in Woodruff

“We beat Georgia!” (1950 Yearbook, p. 154) Courtesy of University of Florida SID

Things didn’t go well in Florida’s four seasons under Bear Wolf. He inherited a floundering program and it didn’t improve without winning seasons.

Along came Woodruff in 1950 with his Robert Neyland pedigree and a higher salary than the school president (unheard of at UF at the time). Its first team won five of its first six and its second team won at Alabama. By the third year, he was winning eight games.

Muschamp to Jim McElwain

Jim McElwain

Jim McElwain

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Now McElwain would tell you he didn’t have an offensive lineman and he couldn’t even have a spring game. And I recognize that Muschamp was not offended.

But there were enough players to start 6-0, win the SEC East its first two years and beat Georgia both years as well. Muschamp had filled the team with SEC defenders and who knows what that team might have done if [autotag]Will Grier[/autotag] was not skipped.

Graves to Doug Dickey

Doug Dickey (R). Syndication: Nashville

This one wasn’t just about talent as the Super Sophs were back. But Florida had lost so many great seniors from that 1969 team and it showed.

Additionally, it was about the players feeling let down by Graves leaving and Florida bringing in a coach that Florida had just beaten in a bowling game. Then Dickey made the offense so mundane it was hard to watch. It was a very bad transition because the players had such a hard time accepting the new coach.

Dickey to Pell

AP Photo

Dickey was fired not only because of his record (10-11-1 the last two seasons), but because he had lost control of the team. It’s what Pell inherited and it was on display in 1979 when Florida had its infamous 0-10-1 season.

It’s been a bad transition year.

Pell had his own purge after the season. The team players called it “the Charley Pell Fire Sale”. They showed up at camp in 1980 and wondered where everyone had gone.

But Pell was recruiting hard and had the season 8-4 in 80. He not only changed the culture of the players but the culture of the fans. They had to get on board.

From Mullen to Napier

Christopher Hanewinckel – USA TODAY Sports

Mullen’s last two defenses have been terrible. And since Napier wanted to spend a year getting a feel for what he had, the defense has been historically poor this season.

We all know the stories of how recruiting was in the tank and we saw it for the second year in a row. The team that left in 2022 just wasn’t talented enough to win enough games and bad enough to lose to all three rivals, plus Vanderbilt plus and an embarrassing bowl loss.

There is a reason for the purge and so many players are leaving. It was an uncomfortable transition.

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The story originally appeared on Gators Wire


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