On the night the news broke that Florida cornerbacks coach Charlton Warren had left for Georgia, Dan Mullen’s cell phone started blowing up with texts from people recommending a replacement.
Those people happened to be Mullen’s own players. And they all made the same recommendation.
“I’ve never been in a situation where we lose a coach and basically every player on the team starts texting me, ‘Is there any way we can go hire this guy?’ ” Mullen said. “I didn’t know Torrian, but every one of our players was like, ‘But we have to get him, we have to get him.’
“I’m like, OK, well, he’s currently the secondary coach of the Washington Redskins, so that sounds like a really good idea.”
Mullen may not have known much about Gray, but the players, especially the guys in the secondary, knew a whole lot about him.
They knew he was UF’s secondary coach in 2016, and they knew the Gators’ secondary that season was one of the best in college football, one that included Tez Tabor, Quincy Wilson, Duke Dawson, Marcus Maye and Brian Poole — all of whom are playing in the NFL.
The players wanted Gray back at UF so badly that they not only hit Mullen’s cell phone, some actually called Gray.
“I get a text from (safety) Jeawon Taylor, ‘Coach, would you come back?’ OK, let me look on Twitter, why would he ask me that?” Gray said. “So OK, I see Coach Warren had left. Then (cornerback) Marco (Wilson) gives me a call, (cornerback) CJ (Henderson) gives me a call. ‘I would take it again, yeah I would be interested, I would love to come back. That’s home. If you want to, bring it up to your coach.’
“It was interesting getting that process going in that manner.”
Things went quickly from there. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham called Gray to gauge his interest, Mullen did research on Gray and then brought him to Gainesville two days later for an interview. That same day, a deal was struck and Gray became the Gators’ cornerbacks coach.
Mullen understands now why his players wanted Gray back on the coaching staff.
“As I started to research and as I talked to people, both in college and several people in the NFL about him, I thought, wow, it’s a really unique deal of how highly everybody spoke of him,” Mullen said. “The current players speak really highly of him, guys that have worked with him in college say, ‘Boy, what a great recruiter, great personality as a college coach.’
“Talked to guys in the NFL and talked about his development and his ability to develop young players and all of that sounds great.”
It was just a matter of Mullen meeting Gray to see if he’d be a good fit on the staff. He checked that box also after spending some time with Gray.
Now, Gray, who grew up in Lakeland, is back in Gainesville after spending the past two seasons with the Redskins.
Gray’s first stop at Florida was a short one. Hired by Jim McElwain after the 2015 season, he departed after one season to move up to the NFL.
He hasn’t been gone long, but a lot has changed since he left — mainly the culture under Mullen and the new coaching staff. Gray noticed the change the first time he walked into the weight room and watched the players work out under Nick Savage and the strength and conditioning staff.
“I was really impressed with just their intensity and their effort and those type of things like that,” he said. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is pretty neat to be able to see those guys work down there.’
“I was thoroughly impressed with that.”
Gray also seems impressed with the talent — and the potential — he’s going to be working with. The talent, he said, is similar to what he had during his first coaching stint at UF.
“It was a very talented group (in 2016),” he said. These guys are a little less experienced. But from a talent standpoint you’re barking up the right tree.
“Definitely excited to coach the guys that are in the cornerback group. You’ve got Marco Wilson, C.J. Henderson, those guys are obviously the bell cow. Familiar with those guys before I left.
“And to see the guys we just got, that give us some depth, the freshmen guys. Chris Steele, Jaydon Hill, (Chester) Kimbrough, (Kaiir) Elam. It’s a very talented, talented group. I’m extremely excited to be able to work with these guys.”
Based on all those texts and calls a few weeks ago, the cornerbacks obviously feel the same way about their new coach.