When Florida and Miami last played in 2008, the rivalry wasn’t as big for UF recruiting as it had been in the early 2000s and previous millennium.
The Gators had the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, a 2006 national championship and another one on the way, while the Hurricanes were seven years removed from a title and trying to replace the coach who got them to the top.
The disparity between the two football programs not only still exists five years later, but Miami’s NCAA probe and self-imposed sanctions have widened the gap. Florida is also coming off an 11-2 season, a record UM hasn’t reached in a decade.
But there’s another reason Saturday’s matchup at Sun Life Stadium won’t mean much for the Gators in regards to recruiting — UF defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson.
He is currently ranked No. 1 in 247Sports’ recruiter rankings for the 2014 class and was the primary recruiter for seven of Florida’s 15 verbal commitments. His biggest catches have come from the pool of prospects in South Florida.
Robinson, who was born and raised in Miami, raided three surrounding counties for Miami Central running back Dalvin Cook (Miami-Dade), Homestead receiver Ermon Lane (Miami-Dade), Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna defensive tackle Khairi Clark (Broward), Plantation cornerback Chris Lammons (Broward), Fort Lauderdale University School cornerback Quincy Wilson (Broward) and Immokalee athlete J.C. Jackson (Collier).
Of the six, the biggest steal from Miami was Clark. The ‘Canes had been the long-time leader for the Army All-American before his surprising pledge to the Gators.
“My relationship with coach T-Rob had a huge impact on my decision to go to Florida,” Clark said. “When you talk to him, it’s like you’re talking to a teenager. He can connect with you and talk about anything like he was one of your homeboys or teammates. It’s great to have a coach like that.”
Clark believes the connection Robinson has built with him and other South Florida products makes the outcome of this weekend’s game meaningless.
“Even if Florida ends up losing to Miami, I don’t feel like it’s going to have any impact on me or other players from here because of our relationship with coach T-Rob.”
“The fact that he’s from Miami, he understands where we’re coming from, how we view things differently, how the slang is down here, how we operate and how we want to be treated. I think it really helps and matters more to us than a game.”
It certainly helped UF in flipping Cook from Clemson at the Orange & Blue Debut. The Under Armour All-American, who is No. 1 in The Sun’s list of Florida’s Top 50 seniors, will be the first recruit from Miami to sign with the Gators since safety Jabari Gorman 2011.
“His loyalty is outstanding,” Cook said of Robinson. “He’s a man of his word, and that’s what really made us bond. By me and him being so close, it caused me to change my mind.
“He can relate to people like me. He came up the exact same way that I did, so he understands everything I go through on and off the field.”
Robinson also flipped Jackson from Florida State after months of heavy pursuit. He had been — and would still be — the highest-ranked commit for the ‘Noles according to ESPN.
“I like the way he coaches the secondary,” Jackson said. “It motivates me. He has fun with them, but he teaches you a lot at the same time. The Florida players told me they learn quick from him because of how he breaks things down.”
Robinson’s recruiting skills were evident shortly after he was hired by UF coach Will Muschamp in January of 2011. After just one month on the job, he was able to land the nation’s No. 2 cornerback, Marcus Roberson, on signing day. The Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas standout had committed to Auburn just two days earlier.
“He helped me grow as a person before he taught me anything on the field,” Roberson said. “He’s more like a father figure than anything. He told me I had an opportunity to play and everything turned out that way. He’s straight forward. He tells you exactly what it is instead of beating around the bush.”
After three years in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Robinson got his coaching career started in 2006 at Auburn, his alma mater. He spent his first year as a student assistant while he completed his bachelor’s degree in Communications.
He became a graduate assistant the following season and served under Auburn’s defensive coordinator at the time — Will Muschamp.
“I knew it as a GA,” Muschamp said of Robinson’s coaching abilities. “I gave more responsibility to him than I ever gave anybody as a young coach as far as a graduate assistant position is concerned. He did a fantastic job then and you saw it coming.”
After one-year stops at Western Kentucky, Southern Miss and Texas Tech, Robinson rejoined Muschamp at Florida and has become of the top secondary coaches in the nation.
“He’s a really, really good football coach,” Muschamp said. “He does a great job with our secondary as far as teaching and coaching the way we want it to be done at Florida. He understands what we want done and how we want it done.
“Certainly has helped me as far as being a head coach and being able to know that you’re going to walk out of the room and it’s going to get done the right way.”
UF defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin hasn’t seen a better defensive backs coach in his 12 years of coaching.
“T-Rob is the best. He really is,” Durkin said of Robinson, who turns 32 on Sept. 21. “He’s the best I’ve been around. He has an unbelievable motor on the field. He coaches those guys with high energy. He has great knowledge for the defense and for what we do.
“He’s an unbelievable recruiter, as you all can see. The guy works relentlessly at it. I’ve been around a lot of good coaches, luckily, in my career, and I don’t know one better than him at what he does. There’s no doubt he’s a star.”
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Muschamp told five-star linebacker Raekwon McMillan that Robinson would probably replace Durkin as coordinator if he were to get a head coaching job. Durkin thinks his possible successor won’t last long as an assistant.
“T-Rob’s going to be a head coach one day,” Durkin said. “There’s no reason he wouldn’t be. He has all the skills, all the ability to do that. The sky’s the limit for him.”