It’s finally over. Will Muschamp has been Zookered.
He’s a lame duck, a dead man walking, a laughingstock. Call him what you want, but the fact of the matter is that he will not be the Gators’ head coach in 2015. So the obvious next question is: well, who will be?
Throughout the week, I’ll be unveiling my top choices to succeed Muschamp at Florida. I’ve whittled it down to 20 guys I think have at least the faintest glimmer of a possibility of taking the job, and I’ll be unveiling them in increments of five. The order I have them in is the order in which I would make the phone call to. It takes several things into account: how much I want them, how quickly I think they can have success, and how likely I think they are to take the job.
So here we go, starting with 20-16 (the rest of the list is linked at the bottom):
20) Mike Gundy
Current job: Oklahoma State Cowboys
Current age: 47
Overview: Gundy has been consistently winning at Oklahoma State for a decade now, and has developed several NFL players along the way. Before being named the head coach, he served as Les Miles’ offensive coordinator from 2001-2004. Most notably, Gundy got the Pokes to #3 in the country in 2011 after winning the Big 12, but was shut out of the national championship game thanks to LSU and Alabama’s statuses as SEC powerhouses. Overall, he’s 82-43 at Oklahoma State. But the Cowboys are 5-5 this year, and it very well may be time for him to go.
Pros: Gundy is very young to have had the success that he’s had so far. He’s developed several notable QB’s, including Brandon Weeden and Zac Robinson, which makes me feel good about putting Treon Harris in his hands. And his teams are always where they’re supposed to be offensively, which means that he could win right away with the offensive talent that’s been wasted but will still be there if he comes to Florida next year. And he’s a very good recruiter
Cons: My problem with Gundy is that other than two or three years, his teams have disappointed in the end. He’s just 1-8 against Oklahoma, the Pokes’ biggest rival, and has only won what’s usually a good but not great Big 12 conference once. He is almost like the Big 12’s Mark Richt- consistently decent, sometimes good and occasionally great. Is that what we’re willing to accept at Florida? I know I wouldn’t accept Mark Richt’s 14 years at Georgia as a 14 year period of results at Florida, and I’m afraid that’s what we’d get with Gundy. Also, he’s never been in the SEC.
Chance he’d take the job: 60%. I think his patience for mediocrity is dwindling at Oklahoma State, even though he’s dug his roots there (played QB and coached for a total of 20 years). Steve Spurrier dug his roots at Florida and left after a decade; why should we think Gundy wouldn’t? But he may be waiting for a different job that he won’t publicly admit he’s waiting for, like Michigan.
Overall Grade: 76%. I’d be able to make peace with having Gundy as the next Florida coach because of the higher ceiling, but not until Jeremy Foley has made a good faith effort at every single person ahead of him on this list with the possible exception of the next guy on it (flip a coin between #19 and 20).
19) Dan Quinn
Current Job: Seattle Seahawks (Defensive Coordinator)
Current age: 44
Overview: Quinn was Muschamp’s defensive coordinator in his first two years at Florida, and he may have the only really good hire Muschamp ever made in terms of assistant coaches throughout his four years (it’s hard to tell about Kurt Roper either way). Quinn has plenty of NFL experience, including a Super Bowl ring last year with Seattle, and that made him exceptional at developing NFL caliber players during his two years at Florida. Having said that, he has no head coaching experience, which is why he’s way, way, way down on this list.
Pros: He’s definitely one of the nation’s top defensive minds. He directly worked with Dante Fowler, Josh Evans, Matt Elam, Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins, and many, many more Gators who are now or who will be in the NFL. The question is when he will be a head coach, not if. And given his time at Florida, and the way he recruited alongside Muschamp, I have no doubt he wouldn’t miss a beat in terms of continuing to throw out nasty defenses.
Cons: He’s never been a head coach. Period. That’s the only negative I see with him, but it is a BIG one. In a way, he would be a very similar hire to Muschamp, and that would certainly make me think twice. At least Muschamp was the head coach in waiting at Texas. Quinn has always been working for a higher up coach.
Chance he takes the job: 93%. This isn’t my concern with him. Considering that he’s never been a head coach, and that all coaches someday dream of being head coaches, I have no doubt he’d take the job.
Overall Grade: 72%: If Quinn would learn from Muschamp’s biggest mistake- hire a good, young offensive coordinator and then get the hell out of the way and let him do his job- I think he could be successful beyond our wildest dreams. But there’s no indication that he knows how to do that, and even though it’s worked with Mark Richt and Jimbo Fisher, I am very, very leery of hiring somebody who has never been a head coach before. I think there’s tremendous upside, but not one I’m willing to take a chance on without having exhausted all my other options first.
18) Larry Fedora
Current job: North Carolina Tar Heels
Current age: 52
Overview: Fedora is one of many, many guys on this list that have busted through the ceilings the college football world has set for him wherever he goes. First he took a Southern Miss team to a Conference USA Championship Game- where they out dueled Kevin Sumlin’s Case Keenum led Houston squad. Then he took over a sanction riddled UNC team and has guided them to consecutive bowl games in his first two years- and one more win will get them to a third. And before he became a head coach, he was… wait for it… Ron Zook’s offensive coordinator at Florida.
Pros: He was responsible for tutoring Rex Grossman in his final year at Florida and then beginning the development of Chris Leak; I’d love to see him work with Treon Harris. But he developed more than just QB’s. He called the plays for some of the biggest upsets in Florida history (Georgia in 2002, LSU in 2003 and FSU in 2004). Despite his history at Florida, he’s appealing for other reasons: he runs an offense that has a chance to be successful right away, and he’s very young, meaning he might stay for awhile if he’s successful.
Cons: His team’s defenses have never been overly impressive, for one. And on a bigger picture level… granted, the ceiling isn’t very high at either Southern Miss or North Carolina. But while he has exceeded their expectations, he hasn’t done it by as much as some of the coaches ahead of him on this list have other than winning Conference USA in 2011 with USM. His teams have been successful, relative to their overall prestige, but not in the eye popping way some other guys have been. This year, he’s 5-5 against an ACC schedule that doesn’t include FSU. Here’s the best was I can put it. He’s appealing… but there are plenty of better candidates.
Chance he takes the job: 86%. I’m willing to bet anything reasonable he takes the job if bluntly offered it. SEC school, easy to recruit, he’s been at Florida before, etc.
Overall Grade: 82%. I’d be fine with having Fedora as our next head coach as long as all the options ahead of him were given a legitimate offer from Foley first.
17) Jim McElwain
Current Job: Colorado State Rams
Current age: 52
Overview: McElwain called the shots at Alabama from 2008 to 2011 under Nick Saban, and had a great deal of success on a number of fronts. Particularly in his play calling. But he also did a great job in developing star players at the skill position (Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Trent Richardson, and Eddy Lacy to an extent). Now as the head man at Colorado State, McElwain has quietly built the Rams into a legitimate threat to beat you up if you mess around. CSU is 7-1 in the Mountain West, including wins over Boston College and Colorado. And they score points. Lots of them.
Pros: I’ll be honest. There’s something about McElwain that I can’t quite put my finger on that makes him very attractive. Aside from the impressive job he’s done at traditional cellar dweller Colorado State, that is. Maybe it’s the fact that he comes from the same conference that Urban Meyer came from. Maybe it’s his familiarity with the SEC. Or maybe it’s the fact that he’s had head coaching success, but he hasn’t been to the highest level yet, which means that if he’s successful at Florida, he’d stay awhile. (Of course, I realize that’s a double edged sword.)
Cons: Like I just said, he hasn’t been to the highest level of the game yet as a head coach. And while it worked with Urban Meyer, lots of things have worked with Meyer that didn’t work for others. You can’t bank on something because of Urban.
Chance he takes the job: 65%. I think there’s a strong likelihood he accepts the job at Florida, but he may be scared off by the rebuilding job that lays ahead. Of course, anybody else on this list may be too, but that’s really the only reason I can see McElwain declining.
Overall Grade: 83%. McElwain would be a good hire. He’s a solid backup plan. Meaning, I’d be OK with him, but let’s try the guys ahead of him on this list first. And if they all say no, then so be it. I’d have no problem with him as the next head coach.
16) Dabo Swinney
Current job: Clemson Tigers
Current age: 44
Overview: Swinney has done pretty much all he can do at Clemson. He’s guided the Tigers out of the hole Tommy Bowden dug for them and has turned them into a legitimate ACC contender (58-26 overall at Clemson). The rise of FSU in recent years has proven something, though: Swinney will never win a national championship at Clemson. He can recruit well enough, he can coach well enough and he can game plan well enough, but things will just never work out for him in terms of winning it all.
Pros: He’s an SEC man by nature (played at Alabama and coached there for four years). He’s developed explosive players in Tajh Boyd, CJ Spiller and Sammy Watkins. His offenses have always been dynamic at Clemson. He can recruit like a gangbuster (in fact, he frequently beats Florida out for top players). Put simply, this is as impressive a resume as one can possibly build at Clemson in this day and age.
Cons: Swinney hasn’t ever really won the big game other than last year’s Orange Bowl. He can’t beat FSU or South Carolina, his Tigers got clobbered in the Orange Bowl a few years ago, and they got clobbered in the final game of the dying Clemson-Georgia rivalry (though they did beat them the year before). After seeing Muschamp go a combined 2-5 against Georgia and FSU, not to mention the Sugar Bowl debacle a few years ago, this makes me suck in my breath a little.
Chance he takes the job: 80%. Our own NWB put it best in our long ago podcast when he said that Swinney would probably crash into a tree getting out of Clemson so fast. Clemson is little league as a non FSU/Miami ACC school. Florida is the big time as an SEC school with three national championships in the last 20 years. If Jeremy Foley makes the offer, I’m willing to bet he takes it.
Overall Grade: 83%: I’ll essentially say the same thing I said about McElwain. Swinney would be a very good hire, but he’s not the best Florida can do. There are plenty of better guys I would target first, and if they all say no, then sure, I’d welcome him with open arms.
Now, for the rest of the list: