A 34-year coaching veteran who has led offensive and special teams units at six different stops, Greg Nord has seen it all when it comes to college football. He is used to change and more than ready to take on his next challenge as tight ends coach and special teams coordinator for the Florida Gators.
“This isn’t a school that has had just one guy successful, two guys be successful. We’ve had a history here of being successful in all phases. You got three Heisman Trophies down in the trophy room that I’ve got a chance to walk past. You got three national championship trophies that I’ve walked past. You got guys all over the NFL, when they get introduced, [they say] ‘The University of Florida.’ They don’t say their high school, they’re proud, they say ‘The University of Florida.’ And that’s probably why I’m so excited about getting the chance to have a Gator on my sweater today,” he said during his introductory press conference a few weeks ago. “[The Southeastern Conference is] truly the best league in the country and [Florida is] one of the programs that’s recognized throughout the country that’s recognized as a place you want to be.”
His praise for the school and opportunity presented to him is matched only by his colleagues’ kind words. Offensive line coach Mike Summers, the lone coach retained off Will Muschamp’s final staff, was excited about having Nord on board, explaining how much he will be able to bring to the football program.
“He is a veteran coach of a lot of different experiences and he’s got a way about his coaching style that connects with players. He can get the most out of them. He can reach inside them and connect with those guys and they play hard for him. I’ve seen it for years and years,” Summers said.
“He is such an addition to what this staff can be and what this football team can be. He’s got energy and passion and also the knowledge to help us be a great team. I’ve been around him for a long time, so I know him well.”
Nord is well-aware that his work is cut out for him and Florida’s roster is in need of a makeover. The Gators have not put out a legitimate playmaker at tight end since Jordan Reed graduated, and though there are some youngsters on the roster that may develop, Nord wants to fill out the positional depth chart with more bodies.
“We look for guys that can go make plays. The biggest thing about or offense is get the ball to the playmakers. We got to have ‘get it to’ guys on our offense. Where that comes from is going to be determined in the spring through competition at every position. It’s going to be determined with who we may sign that’s a ‘get it to’ guy out there now that comes and joins us. … Whoever you can get it done with is who we’ll get it done with,” he said.
“We’re getting out there trying to look out for the next Ben Troupe to come in here next year.”
That being said, he is likely one of the happiest coaches on the roster at this early part in their tenure after learning this week that redshirt senior tight end Jake McGee was cleared by the NCAA to remain with the Gators for a sixth season of eligibility.
McGee, as a big and athletic target for Florida’s starting quarterback next season, is a prototypical “get it to” guy at the tight end position.
“It adds a great deal,” Nord said of McGee potentially becoming eligible, which has since come to fruition. “You have a guy that does have some age, does have some experience and is really – other than the football part of it – he’s the one guy that’s bigger than everybody else, just meeting him. You get a chance to have a guy that is bigger than all the rest of them and does have some experience, certainly, the more the better. The more the competition is this spring, the better we will be.
Nord thought he saw another one of those “get it to” guys walking the halls in the Florida football offices during his first week on the job. Unfortunately, as a new coach, he was unaware that the player he was eyeballing as a potential special teams contributor was actually already in the NFL.
“Frankie [Hammond] was down in the office coming back, he was walking down the hallways. My eyes kind of [got wide]. ‘Hey, what teams were you on last year?’ He said, ‘What do you mean, coach?’ I said, ‘Special teams, which ones did you play?” He said, “Well, I played them all.” I said, ‘That’s great.’ He said, ‘Yeah, but I’m with Kansas City right now.’ [Hitting the table] ‘Dang.’”
Indeed, the Gators’ once-great special teams units are in need of a talent infusion just like the offense has to find playmakers before the start of the 2015 campaign.
Nord remembers how dominant of a special teams force Florida used to be and plans to get the Gators back playing at that level again.
“I’ve coached against this university at several other stops in my career, and you used to have to hold your eyes when you punted to one of them cats that they had back there deep. You used to cringe when you had to protect the guys getting ready to rush at punter. When you were returning the kick, you hoped they would kick it for a touchback because they were going to tackle you on the 10 if they didn’t,” he remembered.
“They had an aura about them of having great special teams. That’s what we’re going to strive for, that’s what we’re going to work to try to get back.”
He will not be alone in that charge, however, as Florida head coach Jim McElwain – himself a former special teams coordinator – will join Nord in that room as they oversee the unit together.
Nord sees special teams not only as a difference-making unit on the field but also one that can help shape the Gators’ locker room.
“It’s the one place that does help you mesh a team together because you’ll have offensive guys lined up next to defensive guys; we’re on the same team going against a mix of guys as well on the other [side],” he explained.
Before Nord can determine which players will be plucked for that unit in the spring and how they will all fit together, new director of strength and conditioning Mike Kent will get his hands on them.
Nord and Kent go back a ways, which is why the former was able to offer such solid, complete praise for the latter, noting that the Gators should begin looking like a completely different team once Kent’s “Swamp Life” program gets underway.
“He’s going to build those guys not only stronger, faster, bigger; he’s going to develop the whole attitude, the mentality that we’re going to look for that’s going to help us develop the team we think we can one day become,” Nord said.
Florida’s players have already begun experiencing precursors to Swamp Life as Kent’s had them in the facility working out early this spring.
The hope is that the Gators have a renewed mindset once spring practice begins, and McElwain is counting on Nord’s experience, guile and talent to help lead Florida as a new era begins in Gainesville.