For those who wanted Florida to move on from Patrick Toney, it looks like they’re going to get their wish. (Photo credit: Stephen McDowell, Orlando Sentinel.)
UPDATE: Florida has announced the hiring of Austin Armstrong as the Gators’ new defensive coordinator.
(Original story begins below.)
Earth-shattering news has broken overnight regarding the Gator football staff, as a seismic shakeup appears to be in progress.
As first reported by ESPN’s Chris Low, the Arizona Cardinals are in negotiations with defensive coordinator- and defensive play-caller- Patrick Toney about joining the franchise as a defensive assistant. The Cardinals fired Kliff Kingsbury after a paltry 4-13 record, and replaced him with Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon.
Low also reports that Florida is looking westward for its replacement- Tuscaloosa, to be exact. Billy Napier has reportedly zeroed in on new Alabama defensive assistant Austin Armstrong. Just ten days ago, Alabama poached Armstrong away from Southern Miss.
Additionally, according to multiple sources and reports, tight ends coach William Peagler will be joining Toney in Arizona.
Toney, who Napier brought along from Louisiana, is widely regarded as one of the brightest young minds in the game of football, but his defense’s output did not match this theory. Statistically, Florida’s defense was the worst it had been in any season since World War II. The Gators entered the bowl game against Oregon State ranked 102nd in total defense out of 131 teams, and worst of all, finished the year with a third down efficiency of 50.3%, meaning they allowed opponents to convert third downs 49.7% of the time. That latter stat qualified for 129th out of 131 FBS teams, ahead of only South Florida and Colorado.
It feels as though the move is in the best interest of both parties.
Though young and bright, Patrick Toney has always had his eyes set on the NFL. Any college job he ever took would always be a mere stepping stone for him as he worked his way up. This job with the Cardinals seems to be a step closer toward him fulfilling his dream- even though he’s going from a defensive coordinator to a defensive assistant role.
And for all the great things that have been said about Toney as a defensive mind, the results simply weren’t there in 2022. Florida’s defense was, well, the worst in most of our lifetimes. The 2020 Gator defense was thought to be rock bottom for how low a Florida defense could sink, and this 2022 defense sank nearly twenty spots lower in the FBS rankings, thanks to a cocktail of missed tackles, busted assignments, and third-and-long conversions that lost them at least three of their games last year.
In replacing Patrick Toney, Napier appears set on hiring someone even younger. Armstrong was the youngest defensive coordinator in the country in 2022 at Southern Miss, and his Eagles did well. USM ranked #42 in total defense, allowing 385.5 yards a game, and ranked in the top ten nationally in several other statistical categories, including fumbles recovered, first downs allowed, red zone efficiency, and defensive efficiency. USM also forced 22 turnovers, or 1.7 turnovers per game, which sat them in a logjam tied for 25th in the country in that statistic.
Under Armstrong’s guidance, four Eagle defenders earned All-Conference USA honorable mention honors in 2022: defensive lineman Josh Carr, linebacker Santrell Latham, linebacker Hayes Maples and defensive back Malik Shorts.
Armstrong’s young coaching career started at Louisiana under Napier as a grad assistant, after which he joined Kirby Smart’s staff for the same role at Georgia. Napier gave him his first role as a position coach at Louisiana as the Cajuns’ linebacker coach.