There will come a time, perhaps sooner rather than later, when Todd Grantham moves on to a new job. The Florida Gators defensive coordinator flirted with the NFL last season when the Cincinnati Bengels were in need of a DC, before electing to return to Florida. More recently multiple reports revealed Grantham was in discussion for the Mississippi State head coaching job before it eventually went to Mike Leach.
And when Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports revealed Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente was speaking with Baylor officials about the open Bears job, it wasn’t a far stretch to wonder if Grantham would return to Virginia Tech, where he played in college and began his coaching career?
Grantham has spoken on more than one occasion about his desire to stay at Florida with the defense he’s building under head coach Dan Mullen. But to be the man in charge is the ultimate goal for many in the profession. Fuente stayed at Tech, but the conversation arose once again on what sort of domino effect would come from Grantham moving on to a new job.
When that time does come, Mullen will likely be tasked with replacing more than just the coordinator position. Some head coaches, like Nick Saban revealed in a recent HBO documentary, ask that when coaches accept new jobs that they refrain from taking a load of position coaches and support staff members with them. Mullen has a different school of thought. Well, as long as it’s not a lateral move.
“For our guys, they get the opportunity to go be a head coach, one, I encourage them. We do everything we can to help put them in that situation to become a head coach. And then I certainly hope if it’s an advancement for somebody on our staff that they take people with them and it would advance their careers.”
Knowing that this situation is on the horizon means Dan Mullen has a window of time to convince one of his most promising coaches that Florida and this staff is where he belongs.
Much of Christian Robinson’s coaching career has been in relation to Grantham. Robinson played linebacker for Grantham at the University of Georgia before joining the staff as a graduate assistant. After a year in the same role at Ole Miss, Grantham brought Robinson on as a G.A. at Mississippi State. When Grantham followed Mullen to Gainesville, he made a case for Robinson to do the same, something that Mullen admits concerned him at first given his age (Robinson was in his late 20’s at the time).
“I said, ‘Great.’ And I know Christian’s worked for it, but I want to sit down and meet with him. Just talk to him then about my standards and expectations,” recalls Mullen. His age though has quickly proven to be an advantage, not a deterrent.
“One thing I think you see with Christian too, to me, is despite being young, he’s a very mature guy in a lot of ways. I look at a guy in similar ways. I was 32 years old and I was the offensive coordinator here at the University of Florida. That’s a pretty young guy at that position. But I was with a guy that trusted me and with a guy that would help mentor me and say ‘Hey, here’s some things and decisions you need to do along the way, and here’s some things you’ve done well and poorly.’ I want to try to help Christian the same way, and I think he has a maturity about him that makes him a good coach. I think having played in the defense helps him to coach it. Having played in the league, looks at the guys and says ‘I’ve made those plays. I’ve done it.’ They can relate to him well. And being a young guy certainly doesn’t hurt in recruiting.”
Doesn’t hurt is somewhat of an understatement. Since being hired full time as the linebackers coach, Robinson has helped sign Lloyd Summerall III, Mohamoud Diabate and Ty’Ron Hopper in the 2019 class, along with 5-star Derek Wingo in the still unfinished 2020 class.
He’s also been able to make an impact with those players that were in place before his arrival. In 2018, he coached Vosean Joseph to a career-high 93 tackles, nine tackles-for-loss, four sacks, five pass breakups and one fumble recovered last season. Joseph was drafted in the 5th round of the NFL Draft to the Buffalo Bills.
“I never had somebody in my corner so hard as him,” said Joseph of Robinson this past spring.
“He just kept pushing us every day. He a great leader, like I wanna look at him as like a dad role just by teaching us different things and just making us become better men."
And David Reese II finished his senior season with 94 tackles, six and a half for loss. Reese has played under multiple defensive coordinators and is credited by his teammates as being “the professor” of the group who knows the defense inside and out. Reese credits Robinson for that.
“He taught me everything I know. He’s like a facilitator. He’s a great coach. He’s a guy I feel personable, and he’s been in my shoes. So we like to do things together and if I mess up on something he’ll tell me right away—and I’m a coachable guy. I just look to get what their vision is and put it out here on the field.”
The unit as a whole accounted for 371 tackles this season (45% of the defensive stat) and remained strong even as freshmen and sophomores like Amari Burney and Mohamoud Diabate were rotated through multiple positions.
So much of Robinson’s quick ascension had to do with his aptitude for the game being well beyond his years while his actual age created an instant connection with recruits and players. If this is the difference he can make in just two years as a full time coach, the ceiling is high and he, like Mullen at the time, could easily find himself in a coordinator position within a couple of years.
The time will eventually come when Todd Grantham says goodbye to Gainesville and takes a step up on the coaching ladder. If history is any indication, he will want to bring Christian Robinson along. At that point, Robinson could write any obscene number on a Post-it note, walk into Dan Mullen’s office, slap it on the desk and say “let’s talk.” Because the future of the Florida Gators and the future of Christian Robinson’s coaching career could find themselves intertwined.