Greg Knox is stepping in for Dan Mullen for the second time in five years. A 27-year veteran of Southeastern Conference football and a winner in his only game as an interim head coach, Knox knows how to handle a staff. He knows how to handle players. He knows how to handle himself.
One thing he won’t handle: Mullen’s former Florida office.
“I walked by there and looked in, but that’s about it,” Knox said Monday.
Knox has the daunting task of pulling together Florida following a tumultuous few weeks that saw the Gators (5-6) fire Mullen, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and offensive line coach/run game coordinator John Hevesy.
Florida, which has lost nine of its last 11 games against Power Five teams, will try to end the regular season on a positive note when it hosts rival Florida State (5-6) on Saturday. The winner will become bowl eligible.
No one would be surprised to see the Gators stumble again in the Swamp after all they’ve been through. Then again, Knox is confident enough to believe he has a chance to get a program that’s been in a nosedive for a month turned around in days.
It probably helps that he beat Louisville and star quarterback Lamar Jackson as Mississippi State’s interim coach for the 2017 TaxSlayer Bowl.
“I can’t even tell you the number of text messages, Twitter messages, Facebook messages I got from former players that saw that I was in his position,” Knox said. “They know, and they were like, ‘Hey, I know you’ll get the job done. I know you’ll do a great job.’ It’s confidence. It’s relaxation. I’m relaxed in this situation.”
Knox won’t make any wholesale changes in Gainesville. He said quarterback Emory Jones remains the starter, and backup Anthony Richardson has a chance to play for the first time getting knocked out of the game against Georgia last month.
“If he’s healthy and available, we’ll get him in the game,” Knox said.
First-year quarterbacks coach Garrick McGee will call plays for Florida, and Christian Robinson will handle the defense for the third consecutive week. And quality control assistant Dean Kennedy was promoted to an on-the-field role to help on offense.
“I’m going to be me. I’m not Dan, I’m me. So I’ve got to be me. I can’t be anything to the players that I haven’t been all year long,” said Knox, the team’s running backs coach and special teams coordinator. “So they understand who I am and they understand how I approach everything and the direction I’m coming from. There may be a slight change here and there, but almost unnoticeable.”
Florida fired Mullen on Sunday, a day after a 24-23 loss in overtime at Missouri and just a year removed from being in contention for a spot in the College Football Playoff. The move had been brewing since Florida followed a blowout loss at South Carolina with a lackluster performance against lower-division Samford.
“It was kind of shocking,” running back Dameon Pierce said. “We at least thought we could finish the season and whatever happens in the offseason happens in the offseason. But for it to happen so suddenly, it was definitely a shock.”
Pierce said Mullen’s departure left the team with extra motivation to end an otherwise dismal year with a much-needed victory against a rival.
“The valley teaches you lessons that the mountaintop doesn’t,” Pierce said. “I would rather go through a low time and learn so when I get to my highest point I’ll be ready.”
Knox could be the guy to help the Gators get through the valley.
“Coach Knox brings great energy every day,” defensive end Zach Carter said. “He’s always motivating guys. I feel like he’s going to do great for us this week, bring the juice. Guys are going to be fired up. He spoke with us this morning and had a great message for us: send the seniors off the right way and just talking to us about how important this game is, big rivalry. So I’m excited for that.”
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