Player-Turned-Staffer: Reggie McGrew
Reggie McGrew returned to the University of Florida to fulfill a promise to his mother.
He not only honored his word, but found a new career as a strength coach.
After playing three years at UF, including the national championship season in 1996, McGrew skipped his senior campaign to enter the 1999 NFL draft. He was taken 24th overall by the San Francisco 49ers, becoming just the second defensive tackle in school history to get selected in the first round.
“I promised my mom I would come back to school and finish my degree,” said McGrew, who relocated to Gainesville in 2013 to make good on his promise. “My plan was actually to move back to California once I graduated.”
McGrew grew up about an hour away from UF in Mayo, and reconnected with family and friends while back in school. His wife, former Gators volleyball standout and 1997 SEC Player of the Year Nina Foster, enjoyed being in Gainesville again and the thought of raising the couple’s daughter near her grandparents.
“We couldn’t take her that far away from them, so we kind of set up shop here and just started liking it,” McGrew said. “I started seeing people in the community from the UAA and I was just like, ‘Is there anything I can do to help the university and help the program? I’m here, able and willing.’ That’s how I got started.”
McGree, 44, was hired in May 2016 as a strength and conditioning coordinator in the football program. He never aspired to coach like his father, Taylor McGrew, a longtime coach and athletic director at Lafayette High in Mayo.
Instead, the former UF standout had a desire to work with players in the weight room.
“From my time when I played, I felt like you always had the biggest bond with your strength coach because you see them almost every day,” McGrew said. “I wanted to be able to make an impact on kids and I thought that would be the perfect place. I had a lot of respect for my strength coaches at Florida. I had three really good ones.”
Steve Spurrier’s director of strength and conditioning during McGrew’s career was Jerry Schmidt, who’s now in the same role at Texas A&M. McGrew also trained at UF under Rob Glass, who was promoted to director after Schmidt joined Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, and former Gators linebacker Pat Moorer.
Glass is currently the assistant athletic director for strength and conditioning at Oklahoma State, while Moorer is an assistant with the Houston Texans after serving as Charlie Strong’s head strength coach at Louisville, Texas and USF.
“Those guys were a big reason we won that national championship,” McGrew said. “I thought they did a great job of preparing us to play because we trained hard and felt that pain after the workouts. When we got on the field, that was the easy part.
“So they just taught you the value of hard work. And it was about more than just football. They prepared you for life, because you’re going to have challenges. You just gotta be able to push your way through it like a workout.”
The Gators played for an SEC title in McGrew’s first year back, but had a losing season in 2017 and went through a coaching change. The results disappointed McGrew and also put his job in limbo, but Florida coach Dan Mullen retained him after getting hired and has turned the program around.
“It’s been really nice to see it come back. Nobody likes going 4-7,” McGrew said. “That was difficult for everybody. It’s especially hard for me because it’s my school and I have a lot of pride about it. I’m just thankful we were able to bounce back from it and get the program to where it should be.”
McGrew has enjoyed working under director of strength and conditioning Nick Savage, who came over with Mullen from Mississippi State. The 31-year-old reinvigorated Florida’s weight room with his training style and personality, but also assembled a staff with the right balance and chemistry.
In addition to Savage, McGrew works with assistant director of strength and conditioning Zach Akenberger and fellow coordinators Shawn Facione and Tanner Maher.
“If you met our whole staff, everyone is totally different. Nobody’s the same. Coach Savage does that on purpose,” McGrew said. “This staff is a little more intense, a little more upbeat. I’m sure you’ve heard about Coach Savage. He’s a high-energy guy and that’s him to a T. But he made that transition smooth and real comfortable by telling me to just be me.
“I just try to bring these guys a lot of wisdom. I’m that one who’s been in the seat that they’re in right now. So just to give them confidence and to be a resource if they have questions, problems, whatever it may be. Anything they want to discuss is on the table. It’s not just all about strength and conditioning.”
McGrew works with Florida’s defensive line and coordinates the workouts at the position. Given his background and willingness to talk, players often seek him out for advice and ask a wide range of questions.
McGrew serves as their sounding board.
“Reggie is a huge asset for us, especially with that position group,” Savage said. “Having played defensive line here, he’s someone players can easily relate to because he was in their shoes once. Not only as a player, but as a player at the same school, and also having been a national champion here, and then a first-round pick and playing in the NFL. He’s lived everything these guys want. So, the experience and the perspective he brings to our staff is unique.”
McGrew has trained six NFL draft picks in his five years at UF, including first-round selection Taven Bryan. The Gators led the SEC in sacks the past two seasons and McGrew thinks they’ll have another dominant defensive line in 2021.
“Every year I’ve been here we’ve had some good guys up front and that will continue,” McGrew said. “You gotta like Zach Carter coming back for another year. That was big for us. And we got some guys right now that developed this offseason and hopefully we keep trending that way once we get into camp.
“And with the two transfers (Daquan Newkirk and Antonio Shelton), it’s always good when you can add interior defensive linemen who’ve played for multiple years. You can tell those guys have been in good programs and they’re ready to play. I’m just fine-tuning their craft right now, but that was definitely a big bonus for us just to get that veteran experience.”
McGrew is one of four former players working in Mullen’s program, along with director of player development Vernell Brown, director of player personnel Charlie Skalaski and assistant director of player personnel Keiwan Ratliff.
“I think it’s huge,” McGrew said. “You got guys who’ve been there and done it, so they know what it takes. We love the University of Florida and love being a Gator, and it’s so valuable to have guys on staff like that. With Keiwan in recruiting, that guy knows every top player in the state of Florida. And with Vernell, I call him Mr. Gainesville. He knows everybody and can do everything.
“I enjoy my job of working hard with kids in the weight room and helping them build up so they’re ready to play. I’m just in a great situation for my family and it’s been a fun ride so far. Hopefully we can ride it as long as possible.”