Florida making changes to special teams staff with Joe Houston joining as senior analyst, per reports

By OnlyGators.com Staff
January 29, 2024
Florida making changes to special teams staff with Joe Houston joining as senior analyst, per reports

Image Credit: Alex de la Osa / UAA

The Florida Gators will remain one of a handful of FBS teams without an on-field special teams coordinator entering the 2024 season. However, head coach Billy Napier will be shaking up the staff tasked with coaching those players as New England Patriots assistant Joe Houston is set to join the program.

Houston will lead Florida’s special teams and situational football efforts as a senior analyst, according to 247Sports’ Jacob Rudner (among multiple reports). Current “GameChanger” coordinator Chris Couch will remain with the program working under the new leadership.

Houston has been the third special teams coach for the Patriots since 2020 — this past season behind Joe Judge and Cam Achord (not to mention Bill Belichick himself) — largely working with the specialists. He previously cycled between being special teams coordinator and quality control coach at Iowa State.

At one point, Houston as expected to become Nick Saban’s on-field special teams coach at Alabama ahead of the 2020 season, but he took the job under Belichick instead.

The Gators have played exceedingly poor on special teams across Napier’s first two seasons. While Houston is seemingly respected in coaching circles, this will be a significant step up in responsibility for him.

In making this move, Napier continues to neither commit an on-field coaching role nor the salary that comes with it to special teams. This despite every national champion over the last 20 years (since USC in 2004) — and every SEC team last season — having an on-field special teams coach as part of its staff.

Creating further intrigue is the “situational football” responsibility that comes with this position. That’s another area in which Napier has struggled significantly at Florida. Generally, when young coaches seek to improve situationally, they hire veterans with extensive experience (beyond special teams).

Interestingly, this is the third significant staffing hire of the offseason for Napier in which coaches with similar responsibilities last year are remaining with the program in other positions.

Ron Roberts took a staff position vacated by a departed assistant Jay Bateman yet joins the Gators as co-defensive coordinator (as part of a lengthy title); Austin Armstrong remains with the team as co-defensive coordinator. Craig Fitzgerald stepped in as Florida’s new strength & conditioning coach; Mark Hocke remains with the team in an unspecified staff role.

Napier’s other coaching changes this offseason include hiring Gerald Chatman (defensive line) and Will Harris (secondary) as respective replacements for fired assistant coaches Sean Spencer and Corey Raymond.

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