Posted: 6:00 pm Thursday, January 6th, 2011
By Matt Porter
The Florida Gators saved face by replacing one familiar face with another.
New coach Will Muschamp chose not to retain wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni, the program’s lead recruiter for Palm Beach County. But Muschamp brought on Aubrey Hill, who was Miami’s wide receivers coach and has plenty of contacts in the area.
It’s unclear if Hill will be assigned to Palm Beach County, but he spent time here this fall scouting players of interest to the ‘Canes. With national signing day — Feb. 2 — less than a month away, Hill replacing Azzanni gives the Gators some measure of continuity.
For now, though, Muschamp has taken the reins as lead evangelist for all things Gators. Wednesday, he visited a couple spots in Palm Beach County as part of a statewide recruiting tour. He also plans to send assistant coaches, like new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, to meet individual prospects.
While some recruiters — area coaches pointed to Marshall’s Doc Holliday and Florida State’s James Coley — connect with kids because of their eccentric personalities, Azzanni, 34, was remembered as a “nice guy” and an energetic representative of Florida who did his job well.
“As well as anybody,” Pahokee coach Blaze Thompson said. “You know, they’re real personable with the players they’re interested in. There wasn’t anybody on our team they were interested in this year, so our kids didn’t get a chance to spend time with him. He was just as friendly and personable as any of them, no more so or less so than anyone else.”
Dwyer coach Jack Daniels is a fan of Azzanni’s, and due in part to the Gators’ interest in prize recruits Jacoby Brissett, Curt Maggitt and Nick O’Leary, the admiration is mutual. The two spent time on Dwyer’s campus this fall, including an Oct. 22 visit with then-Gators coach Urban Meyer.
“I actually knew him before he took the job at Florida. Really liked him,” Daniels said of Azzanni. “Thought he was a really good evaluator of talent. I think he did a great job up at Florida, so I’m sad to see him leave.”
This year, Azzanni visited Dwyer’s top three, plus Glades Central senior wideout Kelvin Benjamin, junior running back/linebacker Dominique Gibson and junior receiver Jaime Wilson.
Daniels, who played at UF, is very familiar with Azzanni’s replacement. Hill, 38, played at Florida under Steve Spurrier from 1991-94, and the two speak regularly.
“I talked to him about it [Sunday],” said Daniels, who was a walk-on cornerback for the Gators from 1986-90. “He was just excited. He obviously played there and has a lot of ties there, and excited to get an opportunity with Charlie Weis. He’s really pumped. They’ve got a group of good receivers there. He’s just pumped. I think it’s his dream job.”
Dwyer coach Jack Daniels said he and Hill had “been speaking a lot over the break” because of Miami’s interest in Brissett. When asked if the Gators were going to make a push for the quarterback, Daniels said, “they’d be crazy not to,” adding that he and Muschamp have had discussions about Brissett.
Miami tight ends coach Joe Pannunzio had also scouted Dwyer because of the Canes’ interest in senior Nick O’Leary. Miami was expected to name its new recruiting coordinator Thursday.
Florida State has one thing to offer top area recruits: stability. Coley, 37, has been FSU’s tight ends coach for three seasons and became its offensive coordinator. Over the past year, Coley has targeted players at Dwyer, Glades Central, and Palm Beach Gardens, among other locales.
By the way, if you’re a Florida State fan and want a jolt of energy, Coley’s Twitter account is a must-follow. He tweets like he just pounded a quadruple-shot of Cuban coffee.