Florida set to promote Russ Callaway into co-offensive coordinator role, per report

By OnlyGators.com Staff
February 24, 2024
Florida set to promote Russ Callaway into co-offensive coordinator role, per report

Image Credit: GatorsFB / Twitter

The Florida Gators coaching staff has undergone a significant shakeup entering Year 3 under head coach Billy Napier, though to this point, most changes had come to the defensive side of the ball. Florida’s primary adjustment on offense now looks to be made via promotion with Napier set to name tight ends coach Russ Callaway his co-offensive coordinator, according to 247Sports.

This would mark Callaway’s second promotion is as many offseasons. He was initially hired by Napier ahead of the 2022 season as a defensive intern helping scout opposing offenses only to be promoted in March 2023 to an on-field coaching position.

Callaway previously spent five seasons at Samford where he served as offensive coordinator (2017-19) while helming one of the best offenses in the FCS. He then gained experience at higher levels of the sport, working as an offensive assistant at LSU (2020) and the New York Giants (2021) before joining the Gators.

Rob Sale has served as Napier’s offensive coordinator, by title, over the last two seasons, though his primary responsibility was to lead coaching of the offensive line with Napier calling plays himself. Sale’s assistant OL coach, Darnell Stapleton, left Florida for an NFL opportunity this offseason, and his vacant on-field coaching position remains open with spring practice set to begin March 7.

There have been calls over the last two years for Napier to give up offensive play calling duties, not due to lack of production (though it was hardly superior) but rather amid flaws in his situational play calling and struggles with overall game management.

Florida finished the 2023 season ranked 46th nationally in total offense, 57th in scoring offense and 85th in third-down conversion rate (though it was 16th in red-zone offense). The Gators were more successful and consistent moving down the field as the season progressed, but untimely play calls, shifting away from the run late in games, mind-numbing decisions on third down and inconsistency with the unit on a week-to-week basis were indications the program needed a change.

Many prominent play calling head coaches have ultimately realized that doing so affects their ability to manage their entire team and make important decisions in key situations. Ohio State’s Ryan Day, who is 56-8 with the Buckeyes having never lost more than two games in a season, hired Bill O’Brien and then Chip Kelly — the latter an incumbent head coach at UCLA — to handle his offense. Offensively talented coaches Eli Drinkwitz of Missouri and Gus Malzahn of UCF made similar decisions last season; the Tigers flourished with Drinkwitz being given the space to improve markedly as an in-game coach, while the Knights finished eighth in total offense.

It remains to be seen how much play calling responsibility, if any, Callaway will be given during games. Napier will likely address the promotion, once it is finalized, during spring practice next month. Among the curiousities are whether Callaway will call plays and why it took three months to make an in-house promotion.

Napier said earlier this month that “there’ll be different responsibilities to some degree” on offense, noting later that week that he plans to “hand off some tasks.” In both cases, he was vague providing details. Napier then specified to Sean Kelley during a podcast interview that he intended to retain play calling duties.

“Big-picture wise, we’re taking the group of people that we have and we’re trying to develop some people, groom some people. We’ve done a ton of work in the offseason to kind of evaluate that in terms of what that looks like,” Napier said on the show.

Napier was recently forced to replace newly hired strength & conditioning coordinator Craig Fitzgerald, who joined Florida’s staff as director of football performance with a vote of confidence from former boss Steve Spurrier, when Fitzgerald decided to leave the Gators after just five weeks to take the same position at Boston College. He chose to promote Tyler Miles, who was already on staff yet does not have prior experience leading a program at this level; however, continuity at this point in the offseason likely outweighed Miles’ lack of experience.

Despite the offensive assistant vacancy, do not expect Napier to hire an on-field special teams coordinator. He already decided to double up hiring former New England Patriots assistant Joe Houston as an additional off-field coach. Houston now oversees “GameChanger” coordinator Chris Couch, who himself remains on staff despite his unit’s immense issues over the last two seasons. (Also still at Florida is former strength coach Mark Hocke, who now has a player development role after being panned for his work across Napier’s two years.)

Defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong, hired as a 30-year-old last offseason after joining Alabama as linebackers coach just two weeks earlier, has similarly been hired over. Veteran assistant Ron Roberts joined the Gators in a role Napier described as head coach of the defense; he also holds the defensive coordinator title and will oversee Armstrong, now a co-coordinator who will continue calling plays. Roberts and Armstrong had an extensive prior working relationship.

“Part of the evaluation was just that we need to play better on that side of the ball,” Napier explained earlier this month. “… Sometimes that’s new leadership, a new voice, a new teacher, a different approach in recruiting, whatever the case may be.” 

That was the most significant change among three defensive staff adjustments with Gerald Chatman joining from Tulane as defensive line coach and Will Harris jumping aboard from the San Diego Chargers as secondary coach.

In total, Florida will enter the 2024 campaign with four new on-field assistants, co-coordinators on both offense and defense, and a second new strength & conditioning coach in one offseason.

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