Ranking Florida’s perceived coaching candidates for fit, feasibility as search continues

GAINESVILLE, Fla.  — The caveat here is important. Only Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin knows what his rankings list looks like, and his matters a whole lot more than this one.

But a week into the Gators’ coaching search, let’s take stock of who is generating the most buzz, how fans seem to be reacting to each rumored name and who looks from an outside perspective to be the best potential hires for Florida.

Of course, this is all up for debate as everyone seems to have a strong opinion.

1. UCF’s Scott Frost

Scott Frost makes too much sense. There are those who worry about hiring another coach from a smaller conference, especially one in just his second year running a program. But it’s mind-blowing what Frost has done in two years, taking over a winless UCF program that had the lowest-ranked offense in the country and turning it into an 8-0 team with the highest-scoring offense nationally. It’s not clear if Frost will indeed leave after this season and he’ll have plenty of other suitors, likely including his alma mater Nebraska, but it’s fun to imagine what Frost could do to Florida’s long-floundering offense while moving just a couple hours up the road.

2. Former Oregon and NFL coach Chip Kelly

Chip Kelly, Frost’s former boss at Oregon, is interesting for several reasons. Obviously, he engineered some of the most exciting offenses in recent college football history and won at an incredible rate (46-7) with the Ducks. He’s also available now, like right now. With Kelly being out of coaching this season following his short stint with the San Francisco 49ers, Stricklin wouldn’t have to wait until the end of the month to talk to him or hire him if he decided, which would help get a jump-start on salvaging this 2018 recruiting class. Also, there’s no hefty buyout to be paid, unlike some other candidates. Those are among the reasons Kelly is so high on this list. But there are some other hurdles. Kelly’s former show-cause penalty handed down by the NCAA would have to be discussed with SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and may be a red flag that steers Florida elsewhere. Or Kelly may simply decide he doesn’t want to return to the college ranks and deal with recruiting, preferring to wait for another NFL opportunity.

3. Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente

This where the candidates start coming with even more perceived obstacles. Justin Fuente would be a terrific hire, but it’s not clear if or why he’d want to leave Virginia Tech after only two seasons. He has been totally embraced by the fan base there and lauded for how smoothly he’s handled the transition in replacing legendary Hokies coach Frank Beamer. And he’s winning  — a lot. After a 10-win debut, he has the Hokies off to a 7-2 start following a tough loss to Miami. One reason he might consider it is money, as he’s due to make $3.4 million next season. Florida could surely top that. But his buyout should he leave after this season is reportedly $6 million. That’s steep when Florida will still be paying some portion to former coach Jim McElwain and his staff once the dust settles. He’d be a great fit coaching-wise, but it’s not that simple.

4. Memphis’ Mike Norvell

Mike Norvell is a prime candidate to make a jump to a bigger job with his Tigers off to an 8-1 start and scoring the sixth-most points in the country (42.3 per game). He’s making just $1.86 million this season, and though there are no buyout figures available, he would seemingly come cheaper than some other names on this list. The hesitation would be that he’s only in his second season as a head coach and that he took over an already successful program built up by Fuente. Norvell was previously a successful offensive coordinator at Arizona State from 2012-15 and would be an interesting hire for the offense-starved Gators, but there would seem to be some risk here as well not knowing how he’d fare in the pressures of the SEC.

5. Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen

Dan Mullen has done a commendable job at a tough place to win and has Mississippi State off to a 7-2 start this fall. He has ties to Florida from his time as the Gators’ offensive coordinator from 2005-08, and ties to Stricklin from the AD’s time at Mississippi State. That said, it’s not clear what interest either side actually has in the other. Stricklin addressed their relationship in his news conference last week, praising Mullen’s performance while also hinting that they may have butted heads at times. Meanwhile, Mullen’s wife Megan didn’t seem to enjoy her time in Gainesville, as she indicated in a Mississippi State podcast recently. Also, Mullen is already making $4.5 million a year, so it’s not as if needs to go anywhere for financial reasons.

6. Iowa State’s Matt Campbell

Campbell would be way higher on this list if not for one reason: his reported $9.4 million buyout. Again, Florida already has dead money tied up in McElwain and his coaching staff. One has to wonder how much more they can take on before even negotiating a contract with a new head coach. Purely from a football standpoint, though, Campbell is highly intriguing. He has led Iowa State, a perennial afterthought in the college football landscape, to two wins over top-5 teams this season and has a track record of offensive success from his time as coordinator and head coach at Toledo. He’s a young up-and-comer will be at a bigger program one day. That day just might not come after this season.

7. USF’s Charlie Strong

The only defensive coach on this list, Strong’s ties to Florida at least put him in the conversation. He was a graduate assistant for the Gators from 1983-84, and a linebackers coach at Florida from 1988-89. He returned again two years later to coach the defensive line for a few seasons and came back to Gainesville yet again from 2003-09 as defensive coordinator. He led Louisville to 11- and 12-win seasons in the final two years of a four-year tenure before posting a losing record over three seasons at Texas. That’s hard to ignore when determining if Strong could deliver on the immense expectations at Florida. He’s presently got his Bulls off to an 8-1 start in his first season, though, and will eventually land back in a Power 5 program. But despite his clear connections to Florida and in-state recruiting ties, he looks like a longshot for the Florida job, especially if Stricklin prioritizes hiring an offensive-minded coach.

8. Oregon’s Willie Taggart

Early reports linked Taggart as a top candidate for the Florida job, though Stricklin warned to take any news coming out with a grain of salt, and that would seem to be good advice in this case. Taggart can obviously recruit Florida. He’s from the state, spent four years coaching USF and recruited some Florida prospects to join him in Oregon. That would be the appeal here, but the fact remains that Taggart has a losing record (45-50) over eight seasons as a head coach at Western Kentucky, USF and now Oregon. He’s 5-5 in his first season with the Ducks and just 2-5 in conference. That would be a hard sell to Gators fans looking for a program-changer.

The post Ranking Florida’s perceived coaching candidates for fit, feasibility as search continues appeared first on SEC Country.

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