With Will Muschamp out as head coach at Florida, the question inevitably turns to who might replace him. The short answer is: I don't know. No one runs a tighter ship when it comes to these things than Jeremy Foley. Muschamp's name never leaked last time until the hire was basically done.
Certain coaches are going to come up in discussions around the Internet. They are not going to be leaving their current situations, with the possible exception of taking an NFL job in some cases, for anything:
- Brian Kelly
- Urban Meyer
- Steve Spurrier
- Bob Stoops
- Kevin Sumlin
Also, Chip Kelly is not leaving his NFL gig to return to college. He's a no. Jim Harbaugh might be leaving San Francisco, but I really think it's going to be either for another NFL job or Michigan. I don't see him as a realistic candidate for Florida.
Beyond that, Foley has a very clear preference for hiring young coaches on the upswing of their careers. Every current UF coach in every sport was younger than 50 at their time of hiring. Only three of them—track and cross country coach Mike Holloway, swimming and diving coach Gregg Troy, and volleyball coach Mary Wise—are older than 50 now (note: Wise was a hire that predates Foley’s time). Many of the coaches were even younger than 40 when Foley hired them.
For that reason, I think it’s safe to cross off the list anyone who is at least half a century old. Even if Foley decided to pull an Arkansas-hiring-Bielema deal and wanted to try getting a big name coach from a seemingly comfortable situation by offering tons of money for assistants, it won’t be for any of these guys (who might have their own reasons not to leave anyway):
- Art Briles (age 58)
- Mark Dantonio (58)
- Mike Leach (53)
- Jim McElwain (52)
- Ruffin McNeill (55)
Bob Stoops and Charlie Strong are also older than 50, by the way.
Rich Rodriguez (age 51) might be the exception that proves the rule: he's built great things twice now at West Virginia and Arizona, and his situation at Michigan was pretty similar in retrospect to the one Muschamp walked into at Florida: a seemingly good program on the outside that had rotten on the inside. Things were going in the right direction there when he was fired, and they've gone back downhill since he left. RichRod is the only coach older than 50 I can imagine Foley hiring.
Updated to add: ESPN's Travis Haney, who has good sources throughout the SEC, says Florida is not likely to pursue Rodriguez due to his past NCAA issues. Michigan was found to have major violations during his time there due largely to failures to properly account for practice time and non-coaches doing coaching tasks.
I think we can also rule out all coordinators. There is nothing inherently wrong with hiring a coordinator as a head coach. Plenty have been just fine, such as Bob Stoops at Oklahoma and Mark Richt at Georgia.
However, the last two guys with no head coaching experience hired at Florida were Muschamp and Ron Zook. With them not having worked out, Gator fans will revolt if the next guy doesn’t have prior head coaching experience. Winning would soothe any rancor, of course, but it would be a toxic situation for a while. That’s not ideal.
While hiring a coordinator can work well, I don’t think this particular hire will be anyone without prior head coaching experience.
There is one guy who must be named, of course. With Dan Mullen finally having his breakthrough year in Starkville, it feels like this might be his best chance to hop to a bigger school. Florida would count, and I do think he’s going to be someone that Foley considers for the job.
I personally think it’s best for both Mullen and Florida if he doesn’t get the job. In hiring Urban Meyer’s former right hand man, it sets up expectations to be at the level where they were at the height of the Meyer era. If Mullen isn’t winning at least SEC championships within two years, a lot of people will be unhappy. That’s just the nature of Mullen having that connection to Meyer. It may very well take longer than that to fix the offense, though. Besides, even in the Meyer-Mullen offense's breakthrough season in 2007, Florida fans were still rough on him. I don't know if he would want to come back to that.
I don’t want Florida to end up like USC, which is on its second Pete Carroll assistant in its quest to re-create the Carroll era that is long gone by now. Florida’s Zook hire was partially an attempt to keep a piece of the Spurrier era in place after Spurrier had left. That pinnacle that Meyer reached was something even he couldn’t sustain, and it will always hang over Mullen’s head if he returns to Gainesville. That’s not good for either Florida or Mullen.
I would welcome Mullen back and root for him as a fan, no question. I may be overthinking things, but I just don’t know that it’s the right move for the coach or the school.
So anyway, every list you see will include names like Mullen, Hugh Freeze, Mike Gundy, and Dabo Swinney. One to look out for is Mark Stoops, as he checks off a lot of boxes: head coaching experience, SEC ties (Kentucky), ties to the state of Florida (former FSU and Miami assistant), ace recruiter, and someone who should continue the good defense but—as a Stoops brother—is a guy who believes in good offense through the Air Raid.
Ultimately, this isn't a great year to be searching for a head coach. There aren't any big obvious hires out there like when Foley nabbed Urban Meyer in 2004. I don't know who it's going to be, and neither do you.
UPDATE, 11/17: Brett McMurphy, a guy with arguably the best sources in the business, reports that Mullen and Rodriguez will not be candidates for the job.