Gators notebook: Saban helped launch Grantham’s career; Bogle on spurning Tide

Zach Abolverdi
Gainesville Sun
Florida head coach Dan Mullen, left, and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will have their hands full matching wits with the Alabama coaching staff.

For Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, the jump from college to the NFL — where he spent 11 years — wasn’t the hardest adjustment he had to make during his coaching career. 

It was going to work for Nick Saban. 

“I used to coach with Todd a while back,” the Alabama coach said this week. 

After spending six years as an assistant at his alma mater, Virginia Tech, Grantham was hired in 1996 as the Michigan State defensive line coach by Saban, who was heading into his second season with the Spartans. 

Grantham said he learned a lot from him during their time together in East Lansing. 

“I worked for him three years,” Grantham said. “Have the utmost respect for him. And a lot of the things we do from a fundamental and philosophical standpoint come from my times with him. 

“When I went there, it was probably the biggest adjustment I had to make from a coaching standpoint. Just from terminology, philosophy, how he recruited, all of that relative to coming from Virginia Tech. So that really was a big growth in my career.”

Prior to the 1998 season, Saban promoted Grantham to associate head coach at the age of 31. He left the following year to be the defensive line coach for the Indianapolis Colts. 

Grantham had met the team’s general manager, Bill Polian, through Saban. 

“I always wanted to get into pro football and try it out and see what it was like,” Grantham said. “Being around (Saban), I was introduced to Bill Polian, so that's what led to the move to Indianapolis. And honestly when I moved there, the adjustment to going from Nick to the Colts was much easier than when I went from Virginia Tech to Michigan State.

“Meaning that I was able to get a lot of information and adjustments and ways to do things that you could carry over because of his detail and the way he prepares. I stay in touch with him and I have a lot of respect for what he's done. I always think the world of him because he gave me an opportunity.”

The respect is mutual. Despite the struggles of Grantham’s unit this season, Saban thinks highly of him as a coordinator and the scheme he has. Saturday will be their second time coaching against each in the SEC Championship Game after the 2012 matchup between Alabama and Georgia, where Grantham served as DC.

He also faced Saban in 2017 at Mississippi State. Alabama won both of those games against Grantham by one score (32-28, 31-24).

“Have a lot of respect for him as a signal caller, a guy that will put together a really good game plan,” Saban said of Grantham. “I'm sure they'll do something that will create some problems for us. We'll have to adapt and adjust. Our players will have to do a good job of trying to execute against them because they're a very, very good unit. 

“They're very athletic. They got a lot of team speed. They do multiple things to pressure you, multiple coverages, try to disguise what they do extremely well.”

Bogle on spurning Tide

The Crimson Tide have 16 players on their roster from the state of Florida. 

Khris Bogle could have been No. 17.

“They decided to go to Alabama,” Bogle said this week, “but every player has a different perspective.”

The former top-100 recruit in the 2019 class committed to the Tide on live TV during the All-American Bowl. A month later, however, he flipped to Florida on National Signing Day following his official visit to Gainesville in late January. 

“I was highly recruited by Alabama,” Bogle said this week. “Me and the coaches, we had a great relationship. I mean, I just felt at the end of the day that Florida was home for me, and I believe in Coach Grantham and Coach (Dan) Mullen and the system. So, I changed my plan and came here.”

Part of their pitch to Bogle was to put on for his home state and try to get other recruits to do the same, such as top-100 cornerback Kaiir Elam. Bogle relayed the message to Elam, another South Florida prospect, who was deciding between UF and UGA. 

After contributing as freshmen, both have helped get the Gators back to Atlanta this season. 

“I talked to Kaiir a little bit before recruiting, and me and him decided to come to Florida,” Bogle said. “I came to Florida to get on the field, play early, to just win. To win the SEC Championship, to win the National Championship, play for the University of Florida and the Sunshine State.”

Stewart back at safety

Brad Stewart’s final game in The Swamp last Saturday featured him playing his home state team, LSU, and his old position. 

After spending this season at the STAR spot, Stewart was moved back to safety against the Tigers with starter Shawn Davis and freshman Rashad Torrence both out.

“That really depleted that unit,” Grantham said of Davis and Torrence. “Brad had won a lot of games for us and played there and gave us reps, and we felt good about Tre’Vez (Johnson) as far as what he had done at nickel.

“The situation we were in, we felt that putting Brad back at safety gave us the ability to have a little more flexibility as far as who could play safety, who could play nickel.”

Davis could return to the starting lineup Saturday, but Grantham said he’ll continue to play Stewart at safety. If both Davis (undisclosed) and linebacker Jeremiah Moon (foot) are available against Alabama, it will mark just the second this season that Grantham has every starter available to play (the other game was Georgia). 

“Anytime you can get all the guys that are available, it does give you depth and it’s fun,” Grantham said. “Credit to the players that we got, they’ve always adjusted. Guys have had to move on a Monday to another position relative to who’s available that week and maybe have to move back or to another one the following week. 

“You want to get players in positions to make plays and get your best 11 out there. For us to be able to get through the grind of a 10-game SEC schedule, it really goes back to the players willingness to adapt and learn. We’re looking forward to having as many healthy guys as we can come Saturday.”