Urban Meyer is resigning for health reasons, something the author of his biography, Buddy Martin, predicted would happen rather than him leaving Florida for the NFL or another college. Alligator Army has all the breaking news covered, so if you need up-to-the-minute information, hop on over there. But now comes the speculation time: who's next?
Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley is known to always keep a list of candidates around in case of emergency, so he's likely already on the hunt. It's unlikely that after the Ron Zook experiment that the new head coach will have no prior head coaching experience. Beyond that, here's my guesses at what the process will entail.
UNDER ANY OTHER CIRCUMSTANCES
Brian Kelly: Of all the hot coaching names this off season, Kelly's profile is closest to that of Meyer's before he went to Florida. He turned Central Michigan and Cincinnati into instant winners just like Meyer did with Bowling Green and Utah. However, this time Notre Dame acted first and won his services.
Charlie Strong: He is the only person with no head coaching experience who would have had a chance at the job since he had become Meyer's right hand man and a huge influence in the decision-making process. It would be very tough to leave Louisville after being there less than a month though. No one would blame him for jumping most likely, but that would be career suicide if something didn't work out in Gainesville as the head man.
Rich Rodriguez: If he was still at West Virginia, he'd be a natural top choice. However, two bad years at Michigan has tarnished his star enough that he's unlikely to be a serious candidate. Plus, Michigan is a destination job.
Bobby Petrino: He was reportedly a finalist last time around when Meyer was hired, but he can't leave Arkansas after two years. Not after how he left the Falcons. Yes, Florida is a step up in the coaching hierarchy, but leaving Fayetteville would be as much a career suicide move as it would be for Strong to renege on Louisville. Besides, I don't know that Foley would want to bring in a guy with that much baggage.
WILL PROBABLY GET A CALL BUT DECLINE
Bob Stoops and Mike Shanahan: These two guys with past Florida connections were reportedly the first two called when Steve Spurrier resigned, and I'd say it's likely they'd still be on Foley's list if for no other reason than to hear them say no. Stoops has no reason to leave Oklahoma, even after a down year, and Shanahan is an NFL guy through and through.
BCS SCHOOL CANDIDATES
Chip Kelly: Florida's best two head coaches have been innovative offensive minds, and Kelly fits that persona. He had a great first season after his tough first game, and his tenure as Oregon offensive coordinator was fantastic. He has no ties to the southeast, but he had no ties to the northwest after leaving New Hampshire for Eugene. Florida can outbid just about anyone, but can it outbid Phil Knight? Also, one year of head coaching with the previous )and successful) guy as the athletics director is not extensive experience.
Mike Leach: Leach has that same offensive wizard aura that Kelly does. His personality is a bit unique of course, but Spurrier in his prime was a shoot-from-the-lip type too. Florida's current defensive staff (with someone like Dan McCarney promoted to coordinator) would be good enough to make up for Leach's historical deficiencies on that side of the ball if they were willing to stay. The catch though is that Leach is not known as much of a recruiter, and you have to be a great one to compete in the SEC.
Dan Mullen: He would represent the most continuity with the Meyer regime, but he's had just one year as a head coach. He'd be a known quantity for sure, but Foley might be looking for more experience.
NON-BCS SCHOOL CANDIDATES
Chris Petersen: It's hard to find schools that win more than Boise State has lately, and two BCS bids is a big deal. As far as non-BCS school head coaches go, he's a very safe choice. Petersen has turned down other schools' advances, but none of them have had the stature of Florida.
Kyle Wittingham: Wittingham was Meyer's defensive coordinator at Utah, so he has both ties to the former coach and to UF president Bernie Machen (who was also at Utah when Meyer was). He seems pretty entrenched at Utah, but again, Florida is an A+ job in terms of money, prestige, money, recruiting grounds, and money. If Foley wants him and Meyer leans on his friend, it could happen.
Kevin Sumlin: He turned down Cincinnati's advances, but you can believe he listens if it's UF on the other end of the phone. He has only been at Houston for two seasons, but he's had great success there and, as a former Oklahoma offensive coordinator, he has ties to Foley's good friend Stoops. Sumlin has the same defensive questions that Leach would have, but you can get better defensive assistants at Florida than you can at Houston.
My guess at the finalists would be Petersen, Wittingham, Chip Kelly, and Mullen. I would imagine that one of the first two will decline to stay put (Petersen more likely than Wittingham), and it might be somewhat difficult to get Kelly out of a good situation at a school flush with cash. If I had to guess, I'd say Wittingham holds an edge over Mullen thanks to his 13-0 season in 2008, but I'm not Jeremy Foley.