Nord has high expectations for Gators’ special teams, tight ends

Gators assistant coach Greg Nord is hoping for big things in his first year.

Mike Dinovo/Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Greg Nord is in full recruiting mode, where he and the rest of Florida’s coaching staff will spend much of their time the next two weeks leading up to National Signing Day on Feb. 4.

As Nord settled into his new office last week and started to meet players as Florida’s new special teams/tight ends coach, the recruiter in Nord was turned to maximum level. It didn’t matter that the players he was trying to recruit were already Gators.

In fact, at least one was a former Gator who appeared to Nord like he would be a great addition to Florida’s special-team units next season.

According to Nord the exchange with former UF receiver Frankie Hammond, who recently finished his second season in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs, went something like this when Nord saw the speedy Hammond walk through the office.

"My eyes kind of lit up,” Nord said. "Hey, what teams were you on last year?"

"What do you mean, Coach?" Hammond replied.

"Special teams, which ones did you play?"

"I played them all,” Hammond shot back.

That’s when Nord really got excited.

"That’s great!" he said.

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And then Hammond delivered a deflating blow that left Nord to imagine what could have been.

"Yeah, but I’m with Kansas City now," Hammond said.

While Hammond is unavailable, Nord’s mission is to revamp a pair of areas that could use more production than the past couple of seasons.

As Florida head coach Jim McElwain assembled his coaching staff, he hired Nord away from Western Kentucky to rekindle a working relationship from more than a decade ago when both were assistants at Louisville together from 2000-02 under John L. Smith.

When Smith went to Michigan State in 2003, McElwain followed him. A Louisville native, Nord stayed home where from 1995-2009 he served as a Cardinals assistant.

He viewed the opportunity to leave Western Kentucky after one season and rejoin McElwain at Florida as a chance to win at the highest level.

"You get a chance to come into a premiere program that has not only won national championships in football, but basketball and several other sports,” he said. "We’re talking about an organization that is seen throughout the country as one of the top programs in the whole United States."

The 58-year-old Nord played center and tight end at Kentucky in the late 1970s and began his coaching career as a graduate assistant there in 1979. He uses a folksy and enthusiastic style to get the most out of his players.

Gators offensive line coach Mike Summers worked with Nord for four seasons at Louisville on Bobby Petrino’s staff and the two helped the Cardinals’ offense shatter a lot of school records during that span.

Summers was impressed by Nord’s ability to connect instantly with his position groups.

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"He is a veteran coach of a lot of different experiences and he’s got a way about his coaching style that connects with players,” Summers said. "He can get the most out of them. He can reach inside them and connect with those guys and they play hard for him. I’ve seen it for years and years."

Nord inherits a group of young tight ends that is unproven but talented. The Gators lose their two most productive tight ends from last season in Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook. There is still hope that transfer Jake McGee, who suffered a season-ending leg injury in the first half of his first UF game, will be granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA.

Meanwhile, true freshmen DeAndre Goolsby, C’yontai Lewis and Moral Stephens give Nord a starting point in developing the position along with any potential players in the 2015 signing class.

As for special teams, Nord’s goal is to get the units playing at a level he remembers facing when at Kentucky. The Gators lose kick return specialist Andre Debose and have blocked just one kick in the last two years.

"I want to get us back to playing University of Florida special teams," Nord said. "They had an aura about them of having great special teams. I’ve coached against this university at several other stops in my career and you used to have to hold your eyes with the cats they had back there deep [on kick returns]. You used to cringe when you had to protect the guys getting ready to rush the punter. When you were returning a kick, you hoped they kicked it for a touchback because they were going to tackle you on the 10.

"That’s what we’re going to work to try to get."

Nord will have to wait until spring camp opens to start the on-field portion of his rebuild.

For now he is focused on recruiting. He can’t get Hammond, but you never know who else is out there.

"In the meantime we’re getting out there trying to look for the next Ben Troupe to come in here next year," he said.