Jim Donnan couldn’t remember the player’s name at first, but he remembered the play.
His Georgia Bulldogs led Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators 17-9 late in the second quarter of that 1999 game, and the Bulldogs were driving. Donnan called a play that had gone for a big gain on the previous series, and Quincy Carter fired to a crossing Terrence Edwards at the 12-yard line. Instead of extending Georgia’s momentum, though, it started a Gators comeback because Lito Sheppard stepped in front of the pass and returned it 61 yards.
Florida’s defensive coordinator that day was Jon Hoke. Donnan remembers that, too.
“Turned that whole game around,” said Donnan, who coached the Bulldogs from 1996-2000. “They did a really good job of making adjustments during that game. I thought he did a good job of coaching the team and getting them ready. He’ll have a significant impact on their defense.”
Hoke was hired again by Spurrier in January, this time as South Carolina’s co-defensive coordinator, and Donnan believes he’ll have as big an impact as the more publicized hires of Will Muschamp at Auburn and John Chavis at Texas A&M.
“I think Hoke will be really big for Steve,” Donnan said. “Steve has always been a really good guy of analyzing what his team needs. The fact that he kept (Lorenzo Ward) shows he’s got a lot of confidence in him, but bringing in a guy like Hoke who has a history with him was a smart move because those two guys will mesh well with him.”
Hoke spent the last 13 years as an NFL assistant coach, but Donnan doesn’t think the transition from professional to college football is as daunting as it used to be.
“I have always thought it was difficult to make the jump from one league to another, it’s probably a little easier now because a lot of teams in the NFL are running the fast tempo stuff,” he said. “It’s not near the adjustment it would have been before Chip Kelly and those guys started doing that stuff in the NFL. He’s used to that, and he’s been around two premier guys in Dom Capers and Lovie Smith.”
Hoke coordinated Florida’s defense from 1999-2001, topping Donnan’s Dogs 30-14 in 1999 and 34-23 in 2000.