Following in the footsteps of Buddy Alexander as the University of Florida men’s golf coach can prove to be a herculean task but no better a successor could there be but J.C. Deacon – a determined, uber-competitive man who caught the coaching bug not long after turning professional. That determination and competitiveness stems from his start in golf when he was five years old in Unionville, Ontario.
“My dad took my older brother and I out to a local 18-hold par-3 course. My brother and I were super-competitive, and I wanted to beat him at whatever he tried. I remember skulling a 5-wood to two feet to make a birdie and that made me fall in love with the game.”
With the course eventually making way for housing, Deacon began playing out of York Downs then Beacon Hall GC in Aurora where he began entering tournaments at age 11; winning the Ontario Bantam in 1996 and 1997 followed by the Ontario Juvenile in 1999 against stiff competition. He credits Keir Smith, Euan Dougall, Tom Jackson, and “everyone at York Downs” with his early development saying the OGA events were a big marker of how good your game was.
His increasing success caught the eye of recruits and especially when he opened the U.S. Junior Amateur with a 65 that flooded his mailbox with college letters before selecting UNLV.
“Aside from my dad, it was obvious I wanted Dwaine to be my mentor and it was probably one of the best decisions I have made. He reminded me a lot of my dad; they’re both very humble and kind. They won the national championship in 1998 and had Adam Scott, Charley Hoffmann, and Ryan Moore – who was my roommate for three of four years.”
Deacon finished tied for second individually at the 2002 Mountain West Championships and helped the Rebels advance through the NCAA West Regional to the NCAA Championship. Graduating with a communications degree in 2005, he advanced to the semi-finals of the U.S. Amateur where he lost on the penultimate hole.
Turning pro and moving to Florida with fellow Torontonian Peter Laws, Deacon played the mini tours before earning Canadian Tour status for the 2008 through 2010 seasons with a career high T4 at the 2008 Saskatchewan Open.
“It was hard playing professional golf on the mini-tours and then the Canadian Tour, but I absolutely loved it,” he says, and those years really helped shape the person I am today.” After three Canadian Tour seasons followed by missing the final stage of PGA Tour q-school by one spot in late 2010, Deacon’s career detoured in February 2011 when Dwaine Knight unexpectedly offered him the assistant coach position at UNLV.
“I was gearing up for the Canadian Tour and thought he was crazy when he offered it to me,” said Deacon, with a laugh, “but it turned out to be a great experience and I learned so much under Coach Knight. Deacon declined to get into the details but says he saw a different side of the game – especially when, along with Coach Knight, he helped some players overcome serious personal issues. “You have these players’ lives in your hands, and it forced me to grow up fast, which is something I needed at that time,” he says.
During his time as assistant coach, the Rebels finished as high as fifth in the NCAA Championship and on the personal side and to give him an even greater understanding of those less fortunate, Deacon also participated in a program mimicking SNAP (“food stamps”) to see what it was like living on a weekly grocery budget of $18.
His rapid maturity and ability to manage difficult situations was instrumental in securing him the head coaching job at Florida when Buddy Alexander retired in 2014.
“I had never been a head coach but even though I figured I may be too young; I wanted the job, so I went for it; saying and doing all the right things. When I went to Gainesville for the interviews, it just felt right because not only was everything done first-class, everyone was super competitive like me. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about how Jerry Foley – the former athletic director – saw my vision, energy and passion and gave me the chance. I always want to make him proud.
Stepping into big shoes, Deacon’s first campaign, the 2014-2015 season, saw the Florida Gators finish fourth at the NCAA Regional Championship, qualifying for the NCAA Championships and returning to the NCAA’s a year later.
Helping him along the way is a who’s who of alumni – including Coach Alexander, Billy Horschel, Gary Koch and Chris DiMarco – that keep in touch with Deacon, and he goes to for advice. “Once you’re a Florida Gator, you are always a Florida Gator.
Now in year seven and carrying the high expectations of Gator Nation, Deacon is excited about this year’s crop of players, feeling this may be their year. “It’s a long process to win a national title,” he says, “but we have some players here who will go a long way in golf and I’m proud to be part of it all.”
When he’s not leading and bleeding the Blue and Orange, J.C. Deacon, now 36, loves spending time with wife Jessi and daughters Dylan, age six, and Sydney, age seven months.
“I was in Las Vegas and lucky enough to meet my wife one night through mutual friends and she has been the best decision I have ever made. I’ve kind of dragged her all over the country but she has a great attitude and always makes the best of wherever we are,” he says. Those three are the most important people in my life and bring me the most joy – they are just incredible and live with so much passion and energy. I grew up in a close family and being a husband father is the best thing that has ever happened to me.”