GAINESVILLE — With 15 years of collegiate coaching experience on his resume, the expectation when Will Muschamp became the Florida football coach in December was that he'd look to the collegiate ranks to fill his coordinator positions, most likely at Texas, where he had been an assistant.
But Muschamp's brief tenure in the NFL led him to other ideas. He went searching among the pros instead.
Florida's top two assistants, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, are former NFL assistants and part of a growing trend of veteran NFL coaches migrating to the college ranks.
"I had the opportunity to meet some excellent coaches in the NFL, and I knew when I got my opportunity to be a head coach, I wanted to hire Dan," said Muschamp, who was on the Dolphins' staff in 2005. "He's as good a front coach as I've ever been around."
Along with Weis — whose resume includes Super Bowl championships and coaching one of the NFL's great quarterbacks, the Patriots' Tom Brady — Muschamp's staff also includes offensive line coach Frank Verducci, who was an assistant with four NFL teams over eight seasons and for one year at Notre Dame; and defensive line coach Bryant Young, a four-time 49ers Pro Bowl player.
And the Gators aren't alone. Miami, Illinois, Oklahoma State and Boston College have hired former NFL assistants for the upcoming season.
There was a time when an NFL assistant leaving for the collegiate level was unusual. But NFL labor issues and rising salaries for college assistants have turned the tables.
For Weis, who first left the NFL to become Notre Dame's head coach in 2005, it was ultimately family and love of the college game that prompted his return after serving as Chiefs offensive coordinator in 2010.
"I really like this age group," Weis, 55, said. "I've got a kid who is going to be a freshman in college. I think I've been around this age group for quite some time. I think I get it. … I really like recruiting, and I think that the one thing you need to understand is an 18-year-old kid is not the same as a 22- or 23-year-old walking out the door. As any parent would know, probably the No. 1 thing that happens when your kid goes to college is they grow up. An 18-year-old kid is not like a rookie in the NFL."
Motivating Quinn, 40, was that he and Muschamp had worked together with the Dolphins and a desire to try his hand at the collegiate level again.
"When it came to an opportunity to come to a place like this, it really was easy for me," said Quinn, who left the Seahawks, where he coached the defensive line.
The lure may be even greater for schools in the SEC, which has become known as an NFL training ground. In April's NFL draft, 38 players (15 percent of the 254 selected) were from SEC schools. Last year 49 players were from the SEC. In total this year, the SEC had 10 of its players taken among the first 32 selections, including five of the first six picks of the draft.
Mississippi's new offensive coordinator is former NFL quarterbacks coach David Lee. LSU's new special teams coach is former Giants assistant Thomas McGaughey, who was with New York when it won the Super Bowl.
SEC talent is ensuring the league is getting top-level assistants, not just guys trying to escape a bad NFL situation.
"When I got the job and announced Dan as the defensive coordinator, I got a text message from (Pro Bowl defensive end) Jason Taylor, and he said, 'How in the world did you pull this off?' " Muschamp said. "Jason told me on the text, 'He's the best D-line coach I've ever had.' "
For years Georgia coach Mark Richt wouldn't even entertain the idea of hiring an NFL assistant — until last year when he was contacted by Todd Grantham, who had been in the NFL more than a decade, about the Bulldogs' defensive coordinator job.
"I normally don't hire from the NFL," Richt said. "A lot of times those guys are on two-year contracts. If they get fired after a year, they're looking to come back (to college) for a year, and the next year a job comes up (back in the NFL), and they are gone. (Grantham) convinced me he wanted to be coaching in college ball again."
It worked so well, Richt has added Kirk Olivadotti as linebackers coach. Olivadotti spent a decade as an assistant with the Redskins but has also coached at the college level.
Muschamp agrees that having prior college experience is important. "All of these guys have college backgrounds," he said. "They're not just pro guys."
Although his college background doesn't include the SEC, Quinn said he believes the experience gained from the NFL can't be underestimated in making the transition.
"I don't know if anything can prepare you for being a coordinator in the SEC without having done it," Quinn said. "But my experience the last 10 years certainly prepared me to play in big games and be involved in that way."
Which is what Muschamp and a lot of other college coaches are banking on.
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]