Florida football: Current Gators, former players want next coach to keep Nick Savage
Sweeping staff changes are coming to the Florida football program following the firing of fourth-year coach Dan Mullen.
UF running backs coach and special teams coordinator Greg Knox will serve as the interim coach for the regular-season finale Saturday against rival Florida State. Knox is one of just three assistants who’s been on staff since 2018, along with wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales and linebackers coach Christian Robinson.
“As the special teams coordinator, I get a chance to stand in front of the team more than anyone besides the head coach. So I'm there in front of them all the time,” Knox said. “So that was an easy transition to be able to stand in front of them as the interim head coach. So I don’t think it was a big issue. I think they’re ready to go.”
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There’s another staff member who’s been with the team as much as Mullen and Knox: strength coach Nick Savage. After two years with Mullen at MSU (2016-17), UF players and coaches have credited Savage for intensifying workouts and helping change the culture in Gainesville.
“Coach Savage, we spend the most time with him because he’s our strength coach,” defensive end Zachary Carter said. “So Coach Savage has a lot of close relationships with us and he really takes the time to get to know players and he really pours into the players.”
Players used #KeepSavage on Twitter to support Gators' strength coach
That was evident on social media Monday. More than 20 current and former players took to Twitter with the hashtag #KeepSavage. It started with a message posted by defensive tackle Gervon Dexter and offensive linemen Josh Braun and Ethan White.
“Coach Savage and his staff have been one of the biggest reasons for Florida’s return to college football relevance and embodies what this program is and should be about. As players we believe it is in both our, and the University‘s, best interest to retain coach Savage. Former players, fans, let @scottstricklin know what we all feel.”
Carter isn’t sure which one of his teammates wrote the message that was circulated by players.
“But it was a good message. I agree,” Carter said. “So, as y’all see, a lot of guys are tweeting today about keeping Savage. He’s had a big impact on a lot of players here and former players. So guys around here love Coach Savage because of how much he means to us.”
The former players posting about Savage include tight end Kyle Pitts and center Brett Heggie, who was one of the first to advocate for him Sunday night.
“Change happens often in college football. However, something needs to be done to keep Savage and his staff in Gainesville. They are the best in the business,” wrote Heggie, whose tweet was reposted by Dexter and tight ends Keon Zipperer and Jonathan Odom.
At least one former player thinks keeping Nick Savage is the wrong choice
However, at least one former player doesn’t think retaining Savage would be the right move. Former UF walk-on Scott Peek (2008-12) was with the program when Will Muschamp took over and kept Mickey Marotti as his strength coach.
After one season under Muschamp, Marotti left to reunite with Urban Meyer at Ohio State.
“This is 1,000% not the move,” Peek tweeted in response to Heggie’s tweet. “Just like sticking Muschamp with Marotti for a year was not the move. New guy deserves a blank slate. Not to mention we had absolutely no discipline and routinely had our cheeks clapped in the trenches.”
Steve Spurrier’s strength coach at UF, Rob Glass, was also retained by Ron Zook and spent all three years with him before landing at Oklahoma State, where he’s been since 2005. Those examples, however, are few and far between.
New head coaches often want to hire their own strength coach, and it will ultimately be up to Mullen's successor whether Savage stays. He’ll have plenty of players to vouch for him after the hire is made.
“No joke. Coach Savage and his staff are absolutely VITAL to this program. Nobody knows us like he does,” defensive tackle Antonio Valentino tweeted. “I’ve never met somebody who cares so much about his job and his players. He gives us 110% every single day and we give it right back! KEEP COACH SAVAGE!!!”
Who: Florida State (5-6) vs. Florida (5-6)
When: 12 p.m.
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850