Standing O Sports

Florida Gators: Chris Leak is Ready for his Newest Challenge

Chris Leak

Before I jump in, I’d like to briefly introduce myself to those who may not know me.

Hi, I’m Neil. I’m the creator and founder of In All Kinds Of Weather, which is a Florida Gators blog that focuses on Florida football, basketball, baseball and recruiting. Before that, I wrote for SB Nation’s Florida blog, Alligator Army, and before that, for Bleacher Report. It’s fair to say that I’ve been around the block a bit. I’m 20, which makes me young, but it doesn’t make me dumb, and having written about sports since I was 16 gives me a fair bit of experience- which I now plan to use at Standing O Sports.

I’m grateful to Mike Lucas for giving me the job as Standing O’s featured college football writer, and I’m very excited to be covering general college football for the first time in my life. So I’m going to inaugurate my tenure here at SOS with a story that directly involves the Florida Gators, but is quite interesting on a national level, too.

There’s a saying that Florida coach Will Muschamp likes to use when one of his players goes down: one man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity. The same goes with his coaching staff, apparently.

A few days ago, Florida’s receivers coach, Joker Phillips, was turned in by an assistant coach at Miami. Yes, the same school made famous for swinging helmets and crutches, letting a convicted Ponzi schemer recruit for them by offering boat rides and prostitutes to recruits, and just generally behaving so badly that the NCAA’s anti taunting rules are named directly after their school turned Florida’s wide receivers coach in for a violation they probably commit more than Florida. So naturally, as both a Florida fan and a general college football fan, I wasn’t happy about that, and fired this shot:

That tweet was nothing more than a harmless reference to my college tennis recruitment (though to be truthful, Miami never even looked at me), but it didn’t totally represent my anger and hurt for Joker Phillips, the former Kentucky coach who doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. I will always believe he got a bad deal, but as Muschamp says, when somebody gets a bad deal, somebody else gets a good deal. And in this case, that somebody else is Florida’s all time winningest QB and passing king, Chris Leak.

As a player, Leak had a very up and down career. Thrown into the fire as a freshman, Leak led Florida into Death Valley and guided the unranked Gators to a 19-7 upset over 5th ranked (and eventual national champion) LSU. That sparked a five game winning streak for Florida, who was 3-3 before the LSU game. One of those wins was over their most hated SEC rival, Georgia, and that win ruined the favored Bulldogs’ chances at a national championship. But a regular season ending loss to Florida State in the Swamp began a downward spiral that he couldn’t pull out of for three years.

After the 38-34 loss to FSU, Leak’s stock went up and down for the next two years with each week, and sometimes with every play. On one hand, there were huge wins, such as the one in Tallahassee in 2004 that cost FSU a shot at a BCS Bowl, and the ensuing year’s sweep of the Gators’ three rivals (Tennessee, Georgia and FSU). But on the other hand, there were some bad losses that he was directly responsible for, including an embarrassing defeat to a Mississippi State team that finished 3-8 that year and a 31-3 beatdown at the hands of Alabama the following year. Throwing the game ending interception against MSU and failing to lead the Gators into the end zone even once against Alabama stuck with the fans, and heading into 2006- his senior season- many fans wondered what they had in Leak.

Even in 2006, there were times when fans didn’t quite believe in Leak. They would cheer when then freshman Tim Tebow would enter the game, and then boo when he left in favor of Leak. But as the Gators began winning big game after big game, Leak’s confidence- and thus his passing yards- slowly increased, the boos died down, and suddenly, Florida was a national championship contender. With a 38-28 win over Arkansas in the SEC Championship, all they needed was a little bit of help- and they got it when UCLA upset USC to vault the Gators into the BCS Championship Game against Ohio State. There, Leak cemented his legacy as he led the Gators to a more than convincing 41-14 win over the Buckeyes.

Leak led the Gators to the National Championship in his senior season. (courtesy: CBS Sports)

Leak led the Gators to the National Championship in his senior season.
(courtesy: CBS Sports)

And now, eight years after guiding Florida to a national championship and becoming the Gators’ all time wins and passing yards leader, Leak has his first coaching job- at Florida. Of course.

But as he did during his playing days, Leak is walking into a very difficult mess to fix with his first coaching job. As the receivers coach, Leak will be working with a talented, yet vastly underachieving group, including Andre Debose, arguably

Joker Phillips resigned for personal reasons as Florida's WR coach. (courtesy:

Joker Phillips resigned for personal reasons as Florida’s WR coach.

the most hyped receiver recruit in the country since Percy Harvin. There’s no doubting his physical talent- Debose has four kick return touchdowns in his career- but a combination of bad coaches and ineffective quarterback play has severely limited his offensive production throughout his first three years in Gainesville. Leak’s first task as a paid position coach will be to wring some production out of him, along with Quinton Dunbar, DeMarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fulwood- guys nobody other than Gators fans have heard of in a long time due to their disappearance from the spotlight since they signed to play for Florida.

This has been a position that has been considered a weakness since 2009, and Florida’s previous four receivers coaches (Zach Azzani, Aubrey Hill, Bush Hamdan and Joker Phillips) all failed to get anything out of them. But Leak has something going for him that none of those guys did- Leak was a quarterback, and he knows better than anybody else what a quarterback

wants from his receivers. I would expect very few of the miscommunications that Florida experienced last year to happen this year, and if they do happen at all, I expect them to get solved very quickly. If nothing else, Leak could play a great mediator between his receivers and quarterback Jeff Driskel.

Leak knows he has a tough task ahead of him, but he’s not going to back down from a challenge. His playing days are pretty solid proof of that. And if he succeeds, as his proven knowledge of the game and what it takes to win suggest he will? He may have a bright coaching future ahead of him.

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