Now that Sal Sunseri, the former linebackers coach for the Oakland Raiders, and Greg Knox, Mississippi State’s interim head coach for the bowl game, are officially part of Dan Mullen’s coaching staff, Florida’s new coach is close to completing his staff.
All of these hires, of course, are important. But perhaps the most important one off all — one that will have the first impact on this football team — is already on board and ready to put the players to work “with relentless effort” starting next week.
I’m talking about new director of football strength and conditioning Nick Savage, whose goal will be to turn the Gators into savages in the weight room, something they obviously weren’t under the former coaching staff.
In Mullen’s attempt to turn the program around, making the Gators stronger and tougher is priority No. 1. That responsibility falls to Savage, the former MSU strength coach who will basically be in charge of the team from next week until the start of spring practice in March.
Mullen has warned the players that the offseason strength and conditioning program is going to be very challenging and highly competitive. He said it’s going to be something they’ve probably never experienced before. He told one early enrollee that Marine Corps basic training would be easier.
That’s good. That’s what this team desperately needs.
It was obvious last season that the Gators were not strong enough or tough enough to have sustained success on the football field. They got pushed around far too many times, especially in the opening loss to Michigan, which turned out to be a total physical mismatch that left many questioning the methods of Mike Kent and the strength staff.
As it turns out, the weight room had become a big problem area for the Gators, and it was reflected in their performances on the field. I’ve heard from several sources that there was very little energy and effort in that room, and that the staff seemed perfectly OK with the lax environment, doing little or nothing to change it.
Savage will be changing it in a big way. Mullen is demanding that the Gators take on all aspects of their lives with relentless effort, and it’s going to start with the strength and conditioning program over the next few months.
Remember what the culture in the weight room was like when Urban Meyer was here (and Mullen was his offensive coordinator)? Well, the Gators are going back to it, or something similar to it. There will be competition and winners and losers in everything the players do, whether it’s lifting or running or doing pull-ups and push-ups. I suspect those exhausting mat drills that physically and mentally toughened the players under Meyer will return, along with a lot of other demanding challenges.
The Gators need it, and they are getting it, starting next week.
By the time spring ball rolls around, there will be a noticeable difference in the physical appearance of this football team. That’s a given.