Florida football rehires Billy Gonzales, promotes Russ Callaway as offensive assistant coaches

By OnlyGators.com Staff
March 14, 2023
Florida football rehires Billy Gonzales, promotes Russ Callaway as offensive assistant coaches

Image Credit: UAA

As spring practice was about to get underway for the Florida Gators, head coach Billy Napier suddenly found himself forced to replace three assistants in a couple weeks time. This as co-defensive coordinator Patrick Toney, wide receivers coach Keary Colbert and tight ends coach William Peagler all took jobs in the NFL.

After hiring Austin Armstrong as defensive coordinator on Feb. 27, Napier has decided to rehire Billy Gonzales as wide receivers coach, according to multiple reports, and promote Russ Callaway to tight ends coach.

Gonzales, previously the Gators’ WR coach from 2005-09 and 2018-21, also served as a passing game coordinator under former head coach Dan Mullen in his latter stint at Florida. He spent the 2022 season coaching wideouts at FAU and agreed to join Marshall as tight ends coach just six weeks ago.

Napier reportedly interviewed more than a half dozen assistants before landing on Gonzales, with whom he has not worked previously. While Gonzales certainly has experience both at the position and within the program, he is a bit of a surprising hire given he has not historically been a plus recruiter, which the Gators lost when Colbert departed for the NFL.

Callaway spent five seasons at Samford where he served as offensive coordinator (2017-19) while helming one of the best offenses in the FCS. He has since been gaining experience at higher levels of the sport, serving as an offensive assistant at LSU (2020) and the New York Giants (2021) before joining Florida last season as a defensive intern helping scout opposing offenses.

One benefit of promoting Callaway is that he began working with the tight ends at the onset of spring practice, and Napier has been able to evaluate his ability while working alongside him for the last 15 months. Perhaps his notable success as a play caller will come in handy, though that would require Napier seeking input for what has been his game day task to date.

Uninspired hires?

While Gonzales and Callaway both have enough experience to hold their respective positions, their hirings leave much to be desired. Napier is operating with a $7.5 million budget for assistants yet lost his top lieutenant (Toney) and two more Year 1 hires only to replace them with coaches who were either at the Group of Five level (Gonzales) or receiving significant title bumps (Armstrong, Callaway).

Timing was certainly part of the issue. With the NFL delaying its offseason schedule by a week, numerous college teams lost assistants shortly before the start of spring practice. The Gators were hardly the only team affected by this development.

Furthermore, college football’s hiring cycle was largely completed by mid-February with recruiting classes settled and preparation beginning for the 2023 season. Assistants who had already changed jobs and were starting with new teams would likely have been hesitant to burn bridges by leaving so quickly (unless receiving a significant promotion like Armstrong), while others (especially those with children) might prefer to plan ahead of making a lateral move (by title) rather than uprooting their lives with the spring semester underway.

Still, Florida had options out there with ties to the program and clear recruiting chops. Dallas Baker, a Sunshine State native, has been working his way up the college ranks taking his fourth WR coach job with Baylor last season. Ike Hilliard coached at Auburn last year after serving as a WR coach with four NFL franchises over the prior decade.

The question is whether Gonzales will pull his weight as a recruiter given Napier will be far more demanding of him in that regard than Mullen was previously. If he is willing to hit the trail hard, coupling an improved recruiting acumen with his ability to develop players at the position could be quite a boon for the team.

Of course, this is just the latest obstacle the Gators have faced this offseason following a significant roster shakeup (including significant questions at quarterback). And Napier’s make-or-break Year 2 has only gotten more complicated. Particularly if these hires do not work out.

Join The

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux