If the folks in Washington, D.C. really want to save taxpayer money and streamline the government, maybe they should talk to former Florida outside linebackers coach/special teams coordinator Dwight “Hoss” Adams. If he could do for Washington what he did for special teams back in the early 1980s, it would probably take a chunk out of the federal deficit.
Charley Pell was Florida’s head coach when Adams approached him about a radical change in the way special teams were coached at Florida.
“Back in those days, special teams were really more of an afterthought than anything else,” Adams said from his home in Arkansas Saturday. He’s semi-retired from football but still does some scouting for the Buffalo Bills in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. “They had different coaches assigned to different areas and what it generated was this great big ole waste of time.
“So I went to Charley and said let’s do this. You turn all the special teams over to me and give me one graduate assistant to help me out. That way when you want to chew somebody’s ass out for screwing up, you won’t have to go very far and you won’t have to call a convention. You can just chew me out. It’ll save you a bunch of time. Besides that, none of the other coaches enjoy it.”
Pell agreed and allowed Adams the freedom to implement a radical new design for Florida special teams. He had a long distance punter in Ray Criswell (still holds the UF record for a career 44.4 average) and a punter for pinning teams inside the 20 in David Nardone. He utilized a long distance field goal kicker (Chris Perkins had a 60-yard field goal) and one for shorter distances. Depending on how he wanted to kick off, Adams had a kicker who could boom it out of the end zone and one who could kick it high and allow the coverage to run under. For coverage, he liked using linebackers like Patrick Miller, who were fast enough enough to run down under kicks and strong enough that they weren’t going to get knocked off stride.
Adams convinced Pell that special teams would also be a way to give his players experience while they were working their way up the depth chart. That sounds a lot like Urban Meyer, who is considered one of the real gurus of special teams play in this era, doesn’t it? At the time that Adams implemented this at Florida, it was brand new.
“I took a bunch of walk-ons and a bunch of scholarship guys that weren’t really playing but kind of waiting a chance to play,” Adams said. “This was a chance for these kids to get some experience, to learn to play on Saturday when the stadiums were full and keep kids that might get frustrated waiting their turn involved in the game. The only starters I asked for were Ricky Nattiel to run back punts and Lorenzo (Hamton), Ricky and Neal Anderson to run back kickoffs.”
The graduate assistant that Adams commandeered was this bright young kid who had played his college football at the University of Central Arkansas. Over the next 30 years his name would become ever so familiar to Florida football fans – Charlie Strong.
“I still talk to him a bunch,” Adams said. “I tell him every time I talk to him, ‘I knew you back when you didn’t have a coat and pair of pants to match and you thought white socks went with everything!’ We get a good laugh out of that.”
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In addition to coaching the special teams, Adams coached Florida’s outside linebackers on a defensive staff that included Joe Kines and Mickey Andrews. Adams is the coach who transformed tight end Wilber Marshall into the more feared defensive player in the nation and a two-time winner of the national defensive player of the year award.
“Wilber’s the greatest college football player I’ve ever seen,” Adams said. “He thought his world was over when he got changed from tight end to linebacker but we had plenty of talented tight ends like Chris Faulkner and Mike Mularkey and James Jones. We moved James to running back and that turned out pretty good. Moving Wilber to linebacker was the best thing for him. He didn’t know it when it happened but it was the best thing that could have ever happened to him.”
He was also in charge of team discipline when it came to class attendance and study hall. Miss a class or skip study hall and that meant “banker’s hours,” punishment that began by running stadium steps among other things at 3 a.m. on Friday mornings.
“Skip class, skip study hall, which was mandatory Monday through Thursday night and you’re doing banker's hours with me at 3 a.m. and I don’t like being up that early,” Adams said. “Well, we had this one ole boy – not gonna name him by name – and he said ‘I ain’t doing this, this is stupid.’ Well, I told him you are one lucky dude because you are determining your own future, but if you refuse you will be off scholarship at the University of Florida at 8 o’clock. Well, he said ‘I ain’t doing that’ and at 8 o’clock I took his name off scholarship. Well, his mama calls me and tells me to get a lawyer, she’s suing. I told her you better get a bunch of them and they better be good because he will never play at the University of Florida. I told her the reason he has the privilege of playing is because we have tutoring and study hall and he’s here to get an education. Football ain’t the only reason he’s here. Let’s say a lot of things started falling in line after that.”
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Adams coached at Florida until the end of the 1984 season. Pell was fired for NCAA violations three games into 1984 and Galen Hall, who was Florida’s offensive coordinator, took over as the interim head coach. To this day, Adams is convinced that where Pell went wrong was in trusting the wrong people.
Adams won’t name names, but he says, “Charley Pell made one mistake and I’m not second guessing him but I told him you’re putting your trust in two people that’s going to be a problem. I called their names and said these guys are trouble and they’ll get you in trouble. Boy he got irritated because he trusted these guys. He shouldn’t have.”
When the NCAA came down hard on the Gators, forcing Pell to resign and levying some of the harshest sanctions ever in college football history, Adams says that Pell took responsibility for everything because it happened on his watch.
“Charley fell on the sword for everybody,” Adams said. “It happened on his watch and he wasn’t going to blame anybody else, but believe me, most of what happened was because Charley trusted people he shouldn’t have and they did the stuff that got us in trouble.”
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Upon leaving Florida, Adams went to work for the Buffalo Bills , a career move that saw him rise to the position of vice president for player personnel. He’s semi-retired now and living in Arkansas but he still dabbles in football. Adams looks back on his years at Florida with a lot of pride because even though it wasn’t a happy ending, a lot of good things were accomplished.
“We hired Terry Don Phillips and Wright Waters to start up the Office of Student Life,” Adams said. “That was the first one that there ever was in the country and it’s the model everybody used to start their own. We had drug problems and discipline problems that we inherited. We cleaned that up. Charley got the boosters organized and we went from the worst facilities in the SEC to some of the best. We had great coaches like Mike Shanahan, Mike Heimerdinger, Mickey Andrews and Joe Kines and Zaven Yaralian and Galen Hall. We changed Florida football.
“It didn’t end the way we wanted it but it was still the start of something great. I look back on those years and I’m proud I was a Gator. Hell, I still am a Gator. I’ll always be a Gator.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks to a partnership between Gator Bait and the Florida Player’s Network, this will be an ongoing series of stories about former Gators and where they are now.