EXCLUSIVE: In-depth interview with Coach Art Link

Coach Art Link is the newest of the coaches on staff at the University of Florida. If you haven't heard the name, its probably because he is the rookie defensive graduate assistant on the Gators' staff. Graduate assistants live in relative obscurity but are a vital cog in the collegiate game. Coach Link was kind enough to sit down with us and tell us how he got here, what he does, and what we can expect from him.

Link grew up in Gainesville and started his football career at Gainesville High School. After two lackluster seasons and a coaching change, he transferred to a private school in Jacksonville. The Bolles School went 15-0 his senior year and had 6 Division I signees. In his high school career he always played on both sides of the ball, but as a senior he mainly played tight end and linebacker.

His first year in college was at UCF and when they went through a coaching change he transferred to UF where he really wanted to be. His first year as a Gator walk-on was 1996 and he was happy to do so. "I grew up around UF my previous 18 years of my life , and I knew that I always compared everything to Gainesville and it was my true love. The starting linebackers that first year were James Bates, Johnny Rutledge, Jevon Kearse, Mike Peterson. I did all the scout team work and was just happy trying to make everyone else happy. In 1997, I got to play in a couple of the early games, started on punt block and return teams," said Link. "When Coach Wilson was let go, we got a new special teams coach and didn't play as much my senior year. I stuck it out because I know I wanted to get into coaching. My favorite moment was senior day, growing up in Gainesville and taking my parents out there on the field and being in front of all those people was really neat."

After graduation, he went and did a couple of odd jobs before realizing that his true love was football and he just had to get back in it any way he could. "I went off to Missouri Western about 2 years after graduation for about $5,000 a year. It was a Division II school. I was a linebacker coach and did all the linebacker drills. I did the equipment, did the video work. On game day we set out the jerseys and programs for the players. We kind of did everything." Link did this for a year and realized that he really wanted to get back to the state of Florida. He applied to a few places, "I ended up getting a video coordinator and assistant strength and conditioning position at Florida Atlantic University. Coach Schnellenberger called and he's a guy that has been around the block or two. When he called I packed up my Civic and headed down." That ended up being a good move for Coach Link as he learned a lot with the diversity of the jobs that he had. He received a lot of basic fundamental knowledge of the behind the scenes stuff involved in college football. "I was active in all facets of the game, from video coordinating to film break down to strength and conditioning. I just tried to learn as much as I could from some coaches that had been around and coached national championship teams."

His opportunity at Florida Atlantic University did not allow him to coach on the field, and he next realized that was where he wanted to be. "I ended up with an ex-Gainesville guy in Coach Rick Swain at Spanish River HS. I was a coordinator there for the spring and was successful. Coach Swain ended up transferring that spring to Boca HS and I went with him. They brought a new coordinator there and I stepped down as a defensive line coach and did that for a year."

Then he got one of the breaks he has been looking for. He found out that the Gators had an opening as a defensive graduate assistant. The eventual stack of applications for the position was some 2 inches thick as people from all over the country applied for the position. During the recruiting process he had many chances to talk to Gators' linebacker Coach Bill Miller. That relationship would pay dividends as Coach Miller was certainly impressed with Coach Link. He got the job.

He got started for spring of this year. "I was officially hired on the second day of spring football. My duties in spring included prepping installs, getting notebooks and any information ready for the players, anything I could do to assist the coaches. I specifically assisted Coach Miller during his meetings and also in practice. Toward the end of spring, I would assist with the Sam linebacker as Coach Miller handled the Mike and Will linebackers. That way we can get more done."

He was also thrown into the fire with recruiting. "I was assigned to gathering up information on midwest players and when we spot a player I turn the player over to Coach Disch. From that point on we kind of combo those guys and make sure we keep in touch with the ones we feel we need to. I do assist all the coaches with recruiting efforts any way they need me."

In June, the Gators held their football camp. Coach Link was thrown into the fire once more as he was assigned coordinator duties for the Junior campers. Two hundred 8-13 year olds for three days and 2 nights is a lot for anyone to be in charge of. "That was eventful; you really have your hands full with the camp." After three days with the little guys, Coach Link stepped back into coaching mode rather than counselor mode and helped work with the linebackers and special teams. Another 5 days of camping with the older kids.

Now the time has come for Coach Link to do what he came here for. The season will be upon us shortly and his duties change quite a bit, especially in volume. "We started preparation for the first opponent, they include breakdowns of the game film, we have to get our installations set up and make sure the players are ready again for the fall. We have a tough task in getting some of the linebackers ready in a hurry, so we have to get all of their installation and paperwork out to them as soon as we can. Then, when practice starts I go back to helping with the Sam backers a lot while Coach Miller works with the Mikes and Wills. With all of that, I am also helping Coach Zook with special teams this year and those duties will increase as the season gets closer. So, I will kind of bounce back and forth between Coach Miller and the linebackers and Coach Zook and special teams. I should also be running the scout team offense against our defense every week."

Coach Link's ultimate goal is to become a position coach in Division I college football and hopefully here at Florida. "I have aspirations of being a coordinator at some point in my career. I have 2 or 3 years here and we want to win big and I can move on and progress in my career in college coaching."

The graduate assistant job at any university is not necessarily all fun and games. Coaches and assistants are paid pretty well for their positions but graduate assistants are not. They get a general scholarship for all living expenses, etc. and some supplemental income in the form of camps. However, they have to do much of the work of the coaches on staff and at the same time they have to attend classes at a graduate school level. They have to attend enough classes to keep eligible, much like the players on the team. I think I can speak for Coach Link and say there are not enough hours in the day for graduate assistants at the college level.

Coach Link will be a credit to the University of Florida. He already has been as a player and a preseason coach. He has already accumulated a wealth of knowledge for his new position. He will bring this added knowledge to a young team and to a position that needs it.

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