Why Todd Grantham turned down the Bengals to stay with the Gators

Grantham says you never say never about the NFL, but his decision to stay at Florida for another year was easy.
MONICA HERNDON   |   TimesDefensive Coordinator Todd Grantham arrives for Gator Walk before the game against the Kentucky Wildcats on September 8, 2018 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla.
MONICA HERNDON | TimesDefensive Coordinator Todd Grantham arrives for Gator Walk before the game against the Kentucky Wildcats on September 8, 2018 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla.
Published March 21

GAINESVILLE — Eight days after the Gators cemented a top-10 recruiting class, they secured what might have been their biggest commitment of all when Todd Grantham turned an offer to be the Cincinnati Bengals’ defensive coordinator to remain in that role at Florida.

Looking back a month later, Grantham said his choice wasn’t that hard.

“You’ve always got to factor in everything,” Grantham said. “And when you do that, it was a pretty easy decision to stay.”

Grantham ticked through those factors after spring practice Thursday night in his first interview since shooting down the NFL.

He likes the family atmosphere fostered by athletic director Scott Stricklin. His philosophies are aligned with coach Dan Mullen. The community has been great to his wife and children, including his son, Corbin, a talented football/baseball prospect who will be a high school senior next year.

“There’s a lot of things that you kind of look forward to,” Grantham said. “I certainly look forward to the challenge of the SEC schedule, looking to continue to develop and get us back to where Gator Nation should be, and I want to be part of that.”

Grantham did his part last year by overhauling a defense that was coming off its worst season since World War II.

His defense gave up only 20 points per game (No. 20 nationally). That’s 7.3 points down from the year before — the seventh-best year-over-year drop among Power Five programs.

UF allowed more than half a yard less per play than the year before. Among Power Five schools, only Cal, Mississippi State, Colorado and Arizona State improved more.

Aside from the statistics, Grantham’s risk-taking mentality was crucial to the team’s six-win improvement and top-10 finish; the Gators sealed their biggest road win of the year with Grantham’s gutsy safety blitz at Mississippi State.

Mullen and the UF administration saw all of that up close, so they knew other teams would try to poach him.

“You’re always concerned when you have good coaches,” Mullen said. “I think Todd’s one of the best defensive coaches in America. A lot of people want him.”

That’s why the Gators acted proactively to try to keep him.

A month before the Bengals requested to interview him, UF gave Grantham a $300,000 annual raise to $1.8 million — which would have made him the fifth highest paid assistant in the country last year. It’s also more than UF’s entire 2005 assistant coaching staff made in Mullen’s first season as offensive coordinator ($1.77 million, adjusted for inflation).

But Grantham’s revamped contract comes with a common but important caveat: He won’t owe UF a penny if he leaves to become an NFL head coach or coordinator.

“I don’t think you ever say never,” Grantham said of the league. “I just look at, I’m the defensive coordinator at the University of Florida right now.”

And that’s a premier job filled with challenges and potential.

Grantham loses his leader in tackles (Vosean Joseph), sacks (Jachai Polite) and interceptions (Chauncey Gardner-Johnson) to the NFL draft. But almost every other key contributor is returning, and standout defensive back Marco Wilson will be back from the torn ACL that sidelined him for the final 11 games.

Factor all those things together, and Grantham’s players thought the same thing he did: Why would he leave?

“It’s the NFL,” defensive lineman Adam Shuler said, “but we have a chance to do something special here.”

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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