With April Fool’s Day approaching, Florida Gators defensive line coach Chris Rumph indicated last week that he is no fan of tricks.
He has been burned before, which is why he is taking any signs of promise that Florida’s defense has showed him halfway through spring practice with a mountain of salt.
“They flash; they fool you,” said Rumph of his players. “[They]’re just like the girl I dated in high school. She told me she was gonna take me to the prom, and I’m getting my hair cut, trying to get my brother’s car, washing it up clean and all that stuff. I’m all excited about it … and then all of a sudden she calls and says, ‘I’m going to go with your best friend.’
“That’s how they are. They flash, they tell me they’re going to take me to the prom, but we haven’t gotten there yet.”
Yes, the Gators’ defense – which head coach Jim McElwain believes is well ahead of the offense to this point – is still a work in progress, according to Rumph. Florida will field arguably the nation’s best secondary in 2015, but he sees plenty of work ahead for the younger players in that unit as well as those in the defensive front seven.
“Some of the things we’re trying to teach those guys is to see the total picture and know not only your position but know what the other 10 guys are doing,” he explained. “The most important thing [is] they need to understand ‘why’. … That comes from not knowing the entirety of the defense and sort of being selfish. I heard a coach that I worked for before say, ‘He’s looking through a straw; he’s not seeing the big picture.’ Once [they] understands the ‘why,’ … they’ll stop doing so many things they’re doing and start making sense and start clicking. Then it’ll come together.”
Rumph made those comments coming off a question about defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard, who broke out late in 2014 but nevertheless decided to return for his senior season. He thinks Bullard needs to become more of a student of the game, one who needs to see the total defense in order to understand where he fits in to the Gators’ packages.
But Bullard is far from the only player Rumph was able to passionately break down last Friday, often times by delivering some hilarious and entertaining one-liners.
On 6-foot-5, 275-pound redshirt freshman Taven Bryan, who has been moved inside to defensive tackle: “Oh man, he brings energy. That’s my big Wyoming wildman. He’s a big ol’ caveman. You just want to use all his brute strength. But he’s athletic for a big guy. His football IQ is really, really low because he hasn’t played a lot of football. I don’t know how many great players come out of the state of Wyoming, but he could be up there – if there is one – he could be just as good as those guys once he learns the game, ‘cause everything right now is just new to him. I got him on Gerber baby food. I can’t even feed him table food yet; he’ll choke. But once he learns … he’s teeth are starting to come in and maybe we’ll feed him off the table before long.”
On redshirt sophomore DT Caleb Brantley: “Caleb has to push himself. He’s a very, very talented young man – very, very talented – but right now he’s mentally playing like a freshman. Sometimes he’s relying on his talent and his athletic ability to do things, and as a coach, one of the hardest things to do is to coach a guy up after he’s done something wrong but yet he’s had success. So he’s so result-oriented that’s all he sees. When I tell him, ‘Hey, look at your footwork here, look at where your eyes were, your hands were on this particular play.’ He blocks that out. The only thing he’s saying right now is, ‘Coach, you’re crazy. I just made a sack, I just made a tackle for a loss. That’s what you want!’ So I have to tell him, ‘Yeah, you get away with that against this guy but what if it’s LSU? What if it’s Georgia? What if it’s that other school? You may not have the success when you’re going up against someone who is just as talented as you are; it comes down to technique and fundamentals.”
On redshirt freshman DT Thomas Holley, whom he recruited while at Alabama: “You just saw a big guy that can run. This guy was dunking a basketball and his elbow is on the rim that size. … Big, athletic guy that’s strong and can run. Those are the guys that you take a chance on, guys that are athletic and can run. We all think we’re gurus and great coaches; we can coach them up and stuff like that. I saw a guy that could run, could hold the point, could rush the passer, and he was just doing it naturally. I was happy to get him here and hopefully, if I don’t screw him up, he’ll be a great player.”
On redshirt junior defensive end Alex McCalister: “Oh man, I love him, man. He’s the Energizer bunny, man. He’s bouncing all over the place, man. He keeps me going; he has energy all the time. I love the kid. He plays hard; he practices hard. One of the things, not only him but a bunch of the guys, he asks the right questions. When he asks a question, it makes sense, there’s a reason why. You just got to keep a tiny rein on him because sometimes he’ll get out there a little bit. He’s a great kid. I look forward to working with him, and I think he’s going to do a lot of great things for this university and this D-line.”
On redshirt freshman DL Khairi Clark: “Khairi, he’s working really well right now. He’s getting better every day, man. I’m excited for that kid because he’s a kid that, once he gets it right and you celebrate him getting it right, it’s just like, he’s so happy to accomplish something. He’s a kid that, he wants to make coach happy. He wants to make people happy. He wants to do good, so when he does that and we celebrate it, I just love looking at his face.”
Rumph did not stop there, though. The South Carolina native made sure to point out how the media – and UF’s athletic website – have been incorrectly placing him in the wrong hometown, which has in turn put him in (fictitious) danger.
“I’ve been getting threats on my life from my homeboys and homegirls back at home, ’cause every time they see something [written about me] it says that I’m from Orangeburg, South Carolina,” he began. “I’m from St. Matthews, South Carolina – St. Matthews. Alright? So I don’t need my friends calling me saying, ‘Man, you changed, man. Now you trying to say you’re from Orangeburg.’”
He also discussed his decision to leave Texas and head coach Charlie Strong after just one season. Though Strong was disappointed in his departure, the former Florida assistant understood what Rumph was after in leaving Austin for Gainesville.
“I think initially it was a shock. I don’t want to sound conceded or anything, but he definitely didn’t want to lose a coach to not only Florida to any university,” Rumph said of Strong. “But he knew the tradition here. He knows what can be done here and he knows it’s closer to home for me, my family. He was a little disappointed, but after he thought about it and knew where I was going, he could understand it.”
Where Rumph was going was back to the Southeastern Conference, in which he he played (South Carolina) and last coached (three seasons under Nick Saban at Alabama) before taking the Texas. The opportunity to go back to the big leagues with McElwain and the Gators was simply too great to pass up.
“Ain’t nothing like it. There’s nothing like the SEC,” he said.
“I can say that playing in it and coaching in it before, and I had a chance to go to another conference and then getting the chance, the opportunity to come back, it’s very competitive, man. Every week you got to be on your game. As a coach, you love the challenge of every week it’s on the line. Not to knock any other conferences or any other schools, but it’s just different, man. It’s different when you go to Tennessee and you have 100,000, you play here you got 90,000, Alabama and those other places. The passion in the South is just different. It’s just different.”
It’s that Southern style that Rumph went back to on Friday near the end of his first session with the media. Having informed and entertained those in attendance, including mentioning off-hand that he calls Bryan the “Wyoming wildman,” Rumph was asked if he could disclose some of his other nicknames for Florida’s defensive lineman.
He shook is head.
“Not yet. I can’t share,” he said. “We got ladies in the house.”