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Friday, January 21, 2022

Drayton's departure surprising; ground game may benefit in long run

For a couple of months now, there has been a lot of buzz about UF assistant coaches possibly leaving town, but I never thought Stan Drayton would be the first to go.

Drayton, formerly the Gators' running backs coach before bolting this week to fill the same position with the Tennessee Volunteers, was arguably the least heralded of UF's position coaches. To say that the Gators' running backs have failed to impress during Drayton's tenure would be a huge understatement.

Not surprisingly, Drayton was also the lowest paid UF position coach by a fairly decent margin.

In fairness to Drayton, the Gators' personnel at running back has been called into question since Urban Meyer took the reins of the program in 2005, and it's difficult to discern how much of UF's problems at tailback can be attributed to players and how much can be credited to coaching.

It's interesting to note that Drayton was the running backs coach at Mississippi State when Jerious Norwood ran former UF coach Ron Zook out of Gainesville with a 174-yard rushing performance in the Bulldogs' infamous 38-31 upset win against the Gators.

From a purely speculative standpoint, though, I think Drayton was on the hot seat anyway. With former Pacific-10 Conference Freshman of the Year Emmanuel Moody set to take over at tailback next season and Mon Williams likely returning from injury, expectations for UF's running game should skyrocket. Another disappointing performance out of the unit may have spelled the end of Drayton's tenure at UF, anyway.

But where the Gators will take a hit from Drayton leaving is in the recruiting race. Drayton was one of UF's younger assistants and was one of two African-American coaches on the staff.

His ability to relate with the players helped in Rivals.com's naming him to its top 25 recruiters last year as UF reeled in the nation's top class.

But the fact that Drayton ended up with one of the Gators' biggest rivals is interesting. He appears to be getting a sweeter deal in Knoxville, Tenn., as he'll get to coach a team who commits to a more traditional running game, and I'm sure he'll be better compensated as well. But there has got to be unease among the UF coaches and players when one of their own leaves to take the same position at a rival school. I have to wonder if UF's trip to Knoxville in September will be a particularly friendly reunion.

Time will tell whether this will prove to be a major coup for the Volunteers or if they simply lifted a dead weight off the Gators' shoulders.

If you're looking for an early indication, score round one to the Gators.

They may not have anyone to coach him yet, but the Gators added running back Jeffrey Demps - rated the No. 6 all-purpose back in the nation by Rivals.com and considered one of the fastest players in the nation - to its 2008 recruiting class Wednesday. Demps chose UF over Tennessee.

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