The Florida Gators will likely be looking for a new head football coach in the near future. That’s what happens when your once-proud program, which hadn’t had a losing season since 1979, goes 4-8 in 2013. That’s what happens when a college football powerhouse, one that boasts 2006 and 2008 national titles, loses to teams like FCS Georgia Southern at home. That’s what happens when your team gives up a fumble return for a touchdown, an interception return for a touchdown, a kickoff return for a touchdown, and a punt return for a touchdown — in the same game. To put that stat in perspective: Only twice in the last 10 years has a team allowed less than 120 yards of total offense and lost. Both times, the culprit was Muschamp’s Gators. (Florida fell behind 42-0 in the process Saturday night against Missouri. On Homecoming, no less!)
Although Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley has said that Muschamp will definitely be coaching the team’s next game (November 1 versus Georgia), it seems to be a matter of when, not if, the Gators ultimately go in a different direction. While we’d love to see an out-of-the-box name attached to the coaching search, like perhaps Marshall’s Doc Holliday (unbeaten in 2014 and UF associate head coach from 2005-2007) or former Heisman winner Tim Tebow (yes, he has no coaching experience, but he’s beloved in Gainesville, known for motivating players to succeed, would galvanize the fan base, and hey, last time the Gators brought back a Heisman QB as head coach it worked out well), we understand the realities of the situation here.
The Florida job is big enough and enticing enough that Foley will have his pick of big-name coaches willing to jump ship from other top-tier FBS programs. Here, then, is a list of five names Foley should have in the back of his mind — alright, after how Saturday went, perhaps in the front of his mind — as he starts to think about who he wants to lead the Gators’ program into 2015 and beyond.
Baylor coach Art Briles is on pace for his third double-digit win season in the last four years, and has proven in Waco that he can build a program. Briles’ Bears are rolling up 579 yards of offense per game, best in the nation, and his high-flying, entertaining offense would be a welcome change in the Swamp. Briles has a Heisman Trophy winner on his resume (Robert Griffin III in 2011) and would undoubtedly fare well recruiting the best athletes from a talent-laden state like Florida. Baylor just opened a beautiful new on-campus stadium, and who knows if Briles would be willing to leave all that for Florida? Still, there’s only one way to find out.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze has proven that he can win at NAIA Lambuth University, at Arkansas State, and now at Ole Miss against the best competition in the country (his Rebels are one of four programs in the top five of the AP poll that hail from the same division). Would he be open to taking his talents to Gainesville? Freeze is in his third year at Ole Miss and in the midst of what will be his third straight winning season, and has already shown his immense skill as a recruiter: The Rebels came out of nowhere to sign a top-five class in 2013, which has a lot to do with their success this fall. Freeze will be a hot name for every big job opening, but most would be a step down from Ole Miss. Florida would not.
Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen has to be the most popular name tossed around as a potential successor to Muschamp. Mullen, who currently leads the nation’s No. 1 program, is already the subject of websites like HireDanMullen.com, which encourage the Gators to look toward Starkville for an answer to the Muschamp problem. Mullen was the offensive coordinator for the Gators’ title-winning teams in 2006 and 2008 (working for Urban Meyer and calling plays for Tim Tebow), so his ties to Gainesville make him a logical candidate. However, he’s not impressed by the fans’ clamoring. “I coached at Florida, and I remember they wanted to fire Dan Mullen,” the MSU coach said last week about the apparently fickle public.
If Foley has a chance to hire a coach who’s already proven he can win 10 games a year as the head man in Gainesville, he has to take it, right? South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier, a Florida grad and former Gators coach, went 122-27-1 in a dozen years with the orange and blue before leaving for the NFL. Spurrier eventually ended up back in the SEC with South Carolina, where he hasn’t had a losing season in a decade at the helm, but hasn’t broken through to a BCS-level bowl game either. Is there a chance that Spurrier could be called on to rescue his alma mater and institute Fun ‘n Gun 2.0? It’s an intriguing possibility, to say the least.
A home run hire possibility for the Gators could be Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops — if he’s willing to listen. Stoops, the Florida defensive coordinator and assistant head coach from 1996-1998 under Spurrier, has made quite a name for himself in Norman. Stoops is headed for his 16th bowl game in 16 years at OU, and owns a national title (2000) and eight league crowns during that span. The Sooners haven’t lost back-to-back regular season games under Stoops this millennium, and Florida would be hard-pressed to find a better fit or more successful coach than Stoops, if he were to decide that he’s open to a new and different challenge in the SEC.