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Saturday June 14, 2014Deacon Fits the Young and 31 Profile for Gators Coaches

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- J.C. Deacon is 31 years old. That’s a significant digit when it comes to new coaches at the University of Florida.
Rhonda Faehn was 31 when UF hired her as gymnastics coach in 2002. So was Roland Thornqvist when he took over women’s tennis in 2001.  
Heck, Billy Donovan turned 31 just two months after he was hired in 1996. And Tim Walton was 32 when the Gators went looking for a softball coach in 2005. For argument’s sake, we’ll say those count, too.
So four coaches, all of whom started their Florida careers at the age of 31. Together, they’ve won eight national championships.
That’s exactly the kind of expectation -- and, yes, pressure -- that the youthful and bubbly Deacon, an assistant at Nevada-Las Vegas the last four seasons, craves as he takes over the UF men’s golf program.
“When I got down there and met all those people I could be working with and sensed the competitiveness, that was the biggest draw for me,” Deacon said Saturday afternoon, mere hours after accepting the post to succeed icon Buddy Alexander, who retired in April after 27 years. “I just loved the edge that everyone has there. The expectations are so high that you have to a certain level of values and work ethic. To be a part of that culture of winning and excellence is an amazing opportunity for me.”
A native of Toronto who grew up playing both hockey and golf, Deacon was a standout at UNLV from 2001-2005 and reached the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur after his senior year before embarking on a professional career that included runs through the Gateway and Canadian tours.
In 2011, Deacon returned to his alma mater to work for his mentor, longtime UNLV coach Dwaine Knight, and over the last four years was knee-deep in day-to-day operations of the program -- from recruiting to organize travel to compliance -- while helping the Rebels extend their mark for consecutive NCAA berths to 26 straight.
UF, meanwhile, is coming off its first season without qualifying for the NCAAs since 2000. Last time before that was 1982.
“Everybody he met here he blew away with his passion, enthusiasm and his plan,” Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said. “We loved his background as a competitor. He played hockey, so you know he has a toughness about him. We talk a lot about fit around here and we think he’s a great fit at this time.”
Foley and his search committee not only reached out to UNLV, but also spoke with coaches around the country and repeatedly heard phases such as “rising star” and “it factor” when talking about Deacon.
Rebel golfer Carl Johnson, a junior, submitted a letter to the committee on Deacon’s behalf.
“I’m so thankful for having a role model, coach and great friend who has guided me the last three years. The amount of time and passion he has put into not only my career, but also all of my teammates’ stands second to none. He has an extraordinary ability to build strong relationships with every one of his players and I am grateful I have been one of them.”
Now, Deacon has a program all his own.
“Obviously, it’s his first [head] job and there will be a learning curve, but I’m not overly concerned about that,” Foley said. “We’re here to help him navigate that stuff. At the end of the tunnel, I believe we’ll have a great program under his leadership.”
Foley isn’t the only one.
“I really like J.C. Deacon,” said Alexander, who won two NCAA titles during his Hall of Fame career. “ Florida is an awesome place and he has an opportunity of a lifetime.”
Deacon cannot wait to get started on redirecting the program’s path. The notion of working with the Gators brand backing him is something he said makes this a “dream” job.
“After I was in there for my interview, I left with chills,” said Deacon, who immediately phoned his fiance in Vegas and told her how badly he wanted to be a part of the UF culture. “Now, it’s about finding the right players.”
As such, his first orders of business in the new post?
“Recruiting, recruiting and then recruiting,” Deacon said.
He has built-in Florida ties, having transferred from high school in Canada to the IMG Academy in Bradenton. From there, he grew as a player and began down a path that landed him in the coaching profession, something he never envisioned for himself because of his thirst for competition.
“I’m as much a competitor now as coach than I ever was as a player,” Deacon said. “So it’s really, really exciting to have this chance.”
He’ll bring with him a list of core values the players in the program will be expected to adhere to. He wants them to be gracious, respectful, pro-active, loyal and (of course) competitive.
Sounds like a good foundation to start with.
“There’s no greater platform in college golf to achieve the results I want to achieve than at the University of Florida,” Deacon said. “Having the Gator Nation behind me is going to be an easy sell and is going to give me the opportunity to create a program that contends every year.”
Hey, it’s good to be a Gator at 31.
“He’s not even here yet, so maybe it’s unfair to talk about J.C. in the same conversation with those other [coaches], but I see a lot of the same attributes as far as conveying excitement -- and you can see it in his smile,” Foley said. “He’s excited and that excites all of us.”


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