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More Names to Eliminate from the Florida Coaching Search and One to Watch

Cross a few other guys off of the list.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun put out a list of names who won't be the next head coach at Florida. Two names on it are Dan Mullen and Rich Rodriguez, who we already knew aren't real candidates. Here are the rest, along with the reasons I personally think they're not potential replacements for Will Muschamp:

  • Lane Kiffin: This should be obvious, but he failed in another high profile job at USC. If he couldn't get it done there, he's not likely to get it done in Gainesville. And that's to say nothing of the off-field drama the guy has generated.
  • Mike Shanahan: Dooley says Shanahan doesn't want to coach again. Beyond that, Jeremy Foley's not going to hire someone older than 60 (probably not even 50, I say), and Shanahan largely hasn't won anything since last century.
  • Dana Holgorsen: For one thing, he went 4-8 in 2013. So did Muschamp. Besides that, he definitely doesn't fit Foley's vision of a "high character, high integrity" guy.
  • Tim Tebow: Like all fan bases, Florida's has its share of crazies. Clearly, they've been sending Dooley some mail.
  • Butch Davis: He did nothing at UNC, and he has the stink of NCAA issues and scandal from being there too.
  • Jon Gruden: Just, no. C'mon.
  • Kerwin Bell: For the uninitiated, Bell is a Gator quarterback from the 1980s who has seen some success at I-AA Jacksonville University since 2007. I can't see Foley hiring someone from I-AA, and JU doesn't even do scholarships. He's not qualified.
  • Sonny Dykes: Dooley accidentally listed Sonny's father Spike, but he meant Sonny. Anyway, he's not impressed at Cal that much, and he has shown no ability to develop a defense.
  • Chad Morris: After Ron Zook and Muschamp, no one expects Foley to hire someone without head coaching experience.
  • Jim McElwain: Dooley said on his podcast that Florida won't do McElwain's $7.5 million buyout. UF is already on the hook for about $6.4 million in buyout cash for Muschamp alone, so that would be awfully expensive even before the new salaries for McElwain and his staff.
  • Jim Harbaugh: I don't know that he wants to go back to the college level, and if he does, I think it's to his alma mater Michigan.

UPDATE, 12/1: Dooley says he and his source was wrong about McElwain. He says the buyout being negotiable makes McElwain a candidate.

As Dooley says, it's far easier to eliminate names than to pick them out. One other from the podcast was Steve Spurrier, who Dooley says doesn't want the job back.

Big names who are conspicuous in their absence include Chip Kelly, Bob Stoops, Mike Gundy, Gary Patterson, and Hugh Freeze.

Kelly has said he hates recruiting and loves that NFL coaching is all about coaching. Plus, he actually once made a check out to a street agent. He's out.

For his part, Dooley thought Stoops would be worth a call back in October. I don't think he's leaving OU for anything but an NFL job, though. The Sooners are a part of college football royalty, so they won't have a problem making the playoff with a one- or zero-loss team even with the Big 12 in a diminished state. Does he really want to give up a program that's already built in his own image to go rebuild another program? I doubt it. He's had three other chances to take the Florida job and declined every time.

I see two potential roadblocks for Gundy. The first is, ironically, the reason he might leave his alma mater in the first place. Gundy doesn't have that great a relationship with the power brokers at OSU anymore, so he might actually jump ship. That said, why would an AD volunteer to take another AD's headache? The other is the the residue from the big SI report on OSU from a while back. While the joint investigation from the school and the NCAA determined most of the reporting to be unfounded, it did turn up three Level II violations. In the new violation scheme, those are more serious than the old secondary violations. The word on why RichRod isn't a candidate is his NCAA baggage, so that might be enough to eliminate Gundy as well.

According to those who think they know, wealthy TCU boosters from the oil and gas industry are taking care of Patterson financially. Nothing has been reported so I couldn't tell you any of the supposed details, but this story is one that is told far and wide that I've heard of for years. Patterson would need motivation beyond money, but potentially being left out of the playoff this year despite having an 11-1 team could provide it. Beyond that, the big drug bust at TCU a couple of years ago might scare Foley off. One of Muschamp's tasks as head coach—one he seems to have succeeded at—was clamping down on the drug usage that had become too common under the Urban Meyer regime. If Patterson and Foley end up speaking seriously, which is a big if, that will be a major point of conversation.

Finally with Freeze, I am not sure he wants to leave Mississippi. He was born there, went to Southern Miss, and has never coached more than about an hour and a half's drive from the state's border. Plus fair or not, Freeze has a reputation of being a dirty recruiter. I am not connected to the recruiting scene, so I can't tell you the precise mix that created that reputation out of pure speculation derived from his blockbuster 2013 class, photos of money posted online, and general whispers from the recruiting world. I just know it's out there, and with Florida having had to get rid of two assistants during the Muschamp era (Aubrey Hill and Joker Phillips) for recruiting reasons, that reputation might be enough to keep Foley away.

The more I think about it, only one name surfaces for me in terms of both being a candidate who fits Foley's usual parameters and someone who would absolutely come: Louisiana-Lafayette's Mark Hudspeth. He fits the profile as a young (46) guy who nonetheless has more head coaching experience than you might realize. None of it is on the Power 5 level, but he was head coach at North Alabama for seven years and now has run ULL for four. Between those jobs, he got some SEC experience on Mullen's staff at Mississippi State in 2009-10.

His first three teams at Lafayette each went 9-4, the first nine-win seasons there since 1976. The program had only one eight-win season in between. While this year's team had three bad non-conference losses to Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss, and Boise State, the Ragin' Cajuns are wins over App State and Troy from finishing the regular season 9-3 with an unblemished conference record. Three consecutive nine-win seasons at ULL is a real accomplishment, but getting a fourth would be just that much more impressive.

Hudspeth is an offensive coach, and his offenses have been among the best in the Sun Belt during his tenure. For instance, his program has had the highest passing efficiency rating in Sun Belt play in all but one year (2011201220132014), with the only exception being in 2012 when he finished second to Gus Malzahn's Arkansas State. His defenses have largely been improving over his time there as well, and he'd ostensibly have the option to retain Muschamp's excellent defensive staff should they want to stay.

Hudspeth's buyout is manageable (for the likes of UF) at $1.25 million, and he fits Foley's preferred archetype of a young up-and-comer. The only potential problem could be on the character/NCAA front. I have seen a few scattered fans around the web suggest that Hudspeth might have issues there. Other than being on Mullen's staff during the Cam Newton affair—during which no one accused MSU of doing anything wrong, mind you—I don't know what they are referring to. I don't have sources and don't live in the recruiting world. No one is squeaky clean in this regard on the top level anyway, and the character/NCAA caveat applies to all potential hires.

It's very early in the process still, and I don't have any reason to think that Foley will break his promise not to contact any coaches before their regular seasons end. Right now is the time for researching and revising the candidate list. There won't be any real news for a while other than possibly more name eliminations.

I think Foley will want a splashier hire, and his people will eventually put out feelers to some of those bigger names like Stoops to gauge interest. But if the big names all say no, I would expect Hudspeth to be one of the top guys. I know better than to put money on a Jeremy Foley coaching search—in 2010, I didn't even consider Muschamp until the hire was being reported—but if I had to right now, I'd put it on Hudspeth. We'll see.