Former Gators QB Leak seeks to make an impact as UF’s receivers coach
Chris Leak arrived at UF 11 years ago as the nation's No. 1-rated prep quarterback. He started his career under Ron Zook and finished it by helping Urban Meyer win a national title in his second season at Florida.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As Florida’s coaching staff scattered in recent weeks for a final opportunity to relax and vacation before fall camp starts, there were days when the new guy had the office nearly to himself.
It wasn’t unusual to see Chris Leak anchored behind his desk flipping through notebooks or other materials related to his new job.
The former Gators quarterback seeks to make an impact as UF’s receivers coach the way he did as a player, leading Florida to the national title in 2006 and earning MVP honors in the Gators’ victory over Ohio State in the championship game.
In fact, in his new role Leak is using a motto he used as a player from 2003-06.
"We’re on a mission to win a national title," Leak used to say.
As a coach: "We’re on another mission. That’s the goal."
Leak returned to UF in May 2013 to join head coach Will Muschamp’s staff as a quality control assistant.
He needed no introductions to Florida fans.
Leak started for four seasons and remains the school’s all-time leader in passing yards (11,213). Following a professional career that included stints in the NFL, CFL and AFL, Leak was ready to pursue a coaching career.
He contacted Muschamp, who offered him a spot far from the spotlight he once enjoyed around campus. He was set to return as a graduate assistant this season when veteran receivers coach Joker Phillips resigned in June.
Muschamp didn’t need to look far for Phillips’ replacement. Leak was a few yards down the hallway.
"I’m really excited about Chris Leak,” Muschamp said Monday at SEC Media Days. "What a great opportunity for him. A guy that obviously has some leadership qualities. He is very familiar with our players and our system."
Leak worked closely with first-year offensive coordinator Kurt Roper during the spring, learning the nuances and primary components of Roper’s no-huddle up-tempo attack the Gators installed.
Muschamp said Roper is in charge of the passing game. Leak’s focus is teaching the receivers about the offense and developing them into threats on game day.
"All that support is great to have moving forward,” Leak said. "You have to have great support around you and great wisdom for you to continue to succeed. That’s what I feel with this staff."
Leak’s quick rise is not lost on the guy whose final season as No. 12 was only eight years ago.
"It’s an excellent opportunity at my alma mater,” Leak said. "It’s a great responsibility to have and I welcome it. I just want to do everything in my power to help Will Muschamp win a championship.
"It’s close to my heart. That just makes it that much more humbling. I guess when I’m old and gray I will reflect on how special it is. I just know that now it’s a blessing. That’s the only way I can really see it. I’m taking it all in stride and doing everything in my power to be the best wide receivers coach I can."
The 29-year-old Leak arrived at UF 11 years ago as the nation’s No. 1-rated prep quarterback. He started his career under Ron Zook and finished it by helping Urban Meyer win a national title in his second season at Florida.
Leak can still throw that tight spiral that ranks as one of the prettiest passes in UF football history.
However, he has moved comfortably past his playing days. His wife is expecting the family’s second child and Leak wants to make his mark as a coach the way he did as a player.
He views his background as a quarterback as one of his greatest strengths. He can also relate to UF’s receivers entering the season with another receivers coach than a year ago.
"My playing experience, and the preparation of what it takes to be a quarterback here, is definitely going to help me with the transition,” he said. "Being a player has helped me with the transition into coaching from Day 1. I had three offensive coordinators when I was here. Two different quarterback coaches. You have to have the ability to adapt as a coach and as a player. Some of these players have gone through that."
Leak’s background as a receiver goes back to when he first started playing football. His father, Curtis, was drafted as a receiver by Green Bay in 1976 and later carved out a career in the CFL. As Leak got older, coaches realized he was too good at throwing to receivers to have him play one.
Once he got to UF as a player, Leak’s football IQ was evident when he took over as the starter his freshman season.
"As a quarterback, you have to be well rounded,” he said. "You have to understand every position on the field. That has helped me learn the full realm of what it’s like to be a receiver, a running back, an offensive lineman."
Leak hopes to take advantage of the opportunity and help the Gators quickly move up the SEC standings after a 4-8 season in 2013. Unlike others on the coaching staff, Leak is young enough that most of the players remember him as a player.
Next is for them to get to know him as a coach.
He is ready. He wants them to be too.
"I definitely have high expectations," Leak said. "You come to Florida to get a great education and win a championship. I was fortunate enough to do both. The standard has been set here for a long time. That’s what we’re going to demand out of our players."