Florida loses third assistant to NFL before spring practice as Keary Colbert departs for Broncos

By OnlyGators.com Staff
February 23, 2023
Florida loses third assistant to NFL before spring practice as Keary Colbert departs for Broncos

Image Credit: @GatorsFB / Twitter

With less than 10 days until the Florida Gators open spring practice, head coach Billy Napier will be faced with the tall task of hiring three new assistant coaches. Wide receiver coach Keary Colbert will be departing Florida for the same position with the NFL’s Denver Broncos, according to multiple reports.

Colbert is the third Gators assistant to leave for the NFL this week with co-defensive coordinator Patrick Toney and tight ends coach William Peagler set to take assistant jobs with the Arizona Cardinals.

Napier has already hired Alabama inside linebackers coach Austin Armstrong as Toney’s replacement, according to multiple reports. Armstrong, who previously served under Napier at Louisiana and got hired by the Crimson Tide just last month, spent the prior to seasons at Southern Miss as the youngest defensive coordinator in the FBS. He is 29 years old.

Colbert was considered a significant part of Napier’s inaugural Florida staff due to his NFL experience, track record of developing receivers for the next level and recruiting chops that paid off with the Gators acquiring some top-tier playmaking talent this cycle. As such, he is the most significant loss to date despite Toney being Napier’s lead assistant hire upon him taking over the UF program.

Though he spent parts of seven seasons in the NFL, Colbert has only coached at the collegiate level to this point in his career, spending the four years prior to joining Florida in a similar role at USC, his alma mater.

Returning to the NFL and serving under Super Bowl-winning head coach Sean Payton, who just took over the Broncos, is a tremendous opportunity for Colbert, though it obviously leaves the Gators with a significant hole on their coaching staff.

How Napier responds to these departures will be telling. While it is not unusual for college coaches to be plucked by NFL teams, three assistants leaving so close to the start of spring practice creates an exceedingly tough situation for a coach. For example: Assistants at other programs who may have otherwise been keen to join Florida may feel a duty to stick it out with their current programs over fear of burning bridges.

While finding someone to step in for Peagler should be relatively simple, Colbert brought a lot more to the Gators than his on-field coaching. A successful NFL player with a track record of developing prospects at the position and clear recruiting chops is not easily replaced.

One target for Napier could be Jeff Scott. The longtime Clemson WR coach (2008-19) and co-offensive coordinator (2015-19) was recently fired as head coach of South Florida. Napier has a relationship with Scott’s family that dates back two decades as Scott’s father served as one of Napier’s mentors. They also coached together on the Tigers under Dabo Swinney.

While Scott does not have the NFL chops that Colbert brought to the table, he would be an experienced, talented addition to the staff who brings a national championship ring and a strong history of recruiting high-caliber athletes. He could also take some pressure off Napier from an offensive playcalling standpoint as another experienced voice in the room.

Whether Napier chooses to hire Scott or look elsewhere, losing two assistants on the offensive side of the ball gives him a chance to reshape his coaching staff. The question that stands is whether he will take that opportunity and make the most of it.

Napier last season chose to not only serve as the playcaller but also the quarterbacks coach with Rob Sale holding a co-offensive coordinator title as the offensive line coach, a move questioned from the day Napier filled out his staff. Bringing in a full-fledged offensive coordinator — one who actually calls plays — could do wonders for Napier, allowing him to spend more time focusing on game management.

The Gators could also use the other open position to add an on-field special teams coordinator after splitting the duties among the coaching staff with an off-field coach overseeing the unit.

While the coaching departures are untimely, Napier does have an opportunity to fix some of the problems that appeared to arise given how his inaugural staff was constructed last season.

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