Florida hiring second OL coach, again: Jonathan DeCoster set to join Gators as assistant, per reports

By OnlyGators.com Staff
March 3, 2024
Florida hiring second OL coach, again: Jonathan DeCoster set to join Gators as assistant, per reports

Image Credit: Maddie Washburn, UAA

Following the unexpected departure of Darnell Stapleton, a decision was presented to Florida Gators head coach Billy Napier: directly fill the position with another offensive line coach or take the opportunity to reorganize his coaching staff. Napier has apparently decided to do the former with Cleveland Browns offensive assistant Jonathan DeCoster expected to join the program as the Gators’ second offensive line coach, according to 247Sports among multiple reports.

DeCoster will serve under co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Rob Sale, who has held that role for the last two seasons. Despite having two offensive line coaches for the entirety of Napier’s tenure, Florida neither played well at the position last season nor found much success recruiting top-tier prospects across the last three offseasons.

Spring practice is set to begin Thursday.

On the Browns staff since 2021, DeCoster was part of a coaching group that has helmed one of the NFL’s best rushing attacks. A former four-year starter at Louisiana and a Florida native, DeCoster is a familiar face being given his highest-profile coaching position to date as an on-field assistant. That continues a trend seen frequently in Napier’s hiring process.

Prior to joining the Browns, he spent three seasons as a graduate assistant tight ends coach at LSU, previously coaching tight ends at Old Dominion and offensive line at West Virginia State. He also served as a graduate assistant at Nevada.

The move will likely be made alongside the announcement of tight ends coach Russ Callaway being promoted to co-offensive coordinator, as reported by 247Sports. That 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.

Though DeCoster seems capable of taking Callaway’s tight end coaching duties, which would allow Callaway to focus more on the overall offense, Napier believes having two OL coaches is a better usage of the staff position.

Callaway previously spent five seasons at Samford where he served as offensive coordinator (2017-19) while helming one of the best units 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.

Sale has been Napier’s offensive coordinator, by title, over the last two seasons, though his primary responsibility was lead the offensive line with Napier calling plays himself. 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.

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. Napier 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 that point in the offseason likely outweighed Miles’ lack of experience.

Napier also chose to hire a second OL coach over an on-field special teams coordinator. He already doubled up hiring former New England Patriots assistant Joe Houston as an additional off-field coach. Houston now oversees “GameChanger” coordinator Chris Couch, who 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.)

Defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong, brought in as a 30-year-old last offseason after joining Alabama as linebackers coach just two weeks earlier, was similarly 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.

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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