Before talking about the individuals that make up the list, we need to discuss the parameters of the list in terms of what we think Foley is looking for. We can start with a lot of the things he talked about on Monday when the official media engagement happened to announce the dismissal of Will Muschamp and to talk about the new job opening.
In essence Foley said he was looking for a proven coach, one with integrity (a term he used several times), and one who has a history of overseeing a high profile and high octane offense. He mentioned Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer and their offenses, but made sure to note that the coach didn’t have to be weaned offense, just a proven track record of having a big time offense, under his leadership.
Foley wants the next coach to be hired by sometime in December. He pretty much limited it to before Christmas which likely rules out any NFL coaches that aren’t willing to quit their current position before that point in time.
We also know through various sources that Foley is looking for a “big splash” or a “wow” type hire, something that will make a huge statement and turn the squashed feeling of Gator Nation around in a big way. Of course we are talking about a subjective view of things, but some of the hires of the past are not what he is looking for in this instance.
By process of elimination, we can knock off coaching prospects that have had issues with the NCAA or have made moves that would be considered or unethical, or lack integrity as he would put it. This isn’t a place to drop those names. We are just interested in the names that will be on the list. And here is where we will begin.
The following is the list of coaches we feel would fit the criterion above and that we have heard something about in terms of this coaching search. The percentages of landing that coach follow the name of the coach and are of course subjective based on our thoughts of everything going on.
Bob Stoops (Oklahoma HC) (30%): Stoops has been the front runner from the very beginning. It seems like he is always the first one to call when the Gators are looking for a new coach. It just seems like such a natural time for him to come back to Florida from the time he was the defensive coordinator from 1996-98 and was the DC to put Steve Spurrier over the top for the first National Championship in Florida history. Stoops fits all the criteria above as a high profile big splash with a big history of winning. There is nothing in Stoops past that shows any issues with his integrity.
On top of that we have quality relationships with Foley and Stoops and others including high dollar boosters that have known Stoops since he coached at Florida in the past.
There is also the timeliness factor of him having been in Norman, Oklahoma for 16 years already. A national Championship in year two is 14 years gone now. He’s won eight Big-12 Championships, but there won’t be one this year.
There has been a lot of talk already in Gainesville that Stoops is already the guy, which Foley quite clearly says he won’t make any kind of deals until after the season. Even if it were true, there is nothing done until things are signed. If I had to pick a coach right now, Stoops would be that guy, but as it stands, things can change for a myriad of reasons.
That takes us to the next coach on the list…
Brian Kelly (Notre Dame HC) (15%): Kelly is to my lists, but he is actually a really good fit for all the criteria listed above. He is an offensive coach and he is used to having high flying productive offenses. He is coaching on the biggest stage now and has played for titles.
We have seen recently that Kelly’s agent is Gator Great 1980’s defensive end Trace Armstrong who also lives in Gainesville now. The convenience of which Foley could communicate with Kelly or his representatives can’t be overstated.
There is talk that he might be frustrated at the admission standards at Notre dame, standards that aren’t quite as tough at Florida. There is also talk about him wanting to try the NFL at some point so that is a bridge to cross.
The only thing that could possibly be considered an integrity strike would be when he left Cincinnati for Notre Dame without finishing the Bowl month and coaching the bowl game. However, I would believe Foley would want the same thing from him in this instance if an agreement would be reached between the two.
Jim Mora (UCLA HC) (10%): When things started going south earlier in the season this was a name that came right to mind. There was talk four years ago that he was interested and since then I have kind of watched from afar to see how Mora has done at UCLA. He also turned down Texas a year ago, a bold move and a sign of a big time player in the coaching business.
Mora is in his third year at UCLA who had just three seasons in the previous 20 with nine wins or more. He is about to have his third 9+ win season in a row and has changed the whole perception of the program in a very short time.
The Bruins have two commitments in the state of Florida for the 2015 class and so he and his staff can recruit all the way across the country and have been making headway in the state for a while now.
He was a head coach in the NFL for seven years albeit unsuccessful at that, but Mora has shown the ability to do it in a big way at the college level with high octane offenses and he runs his program with integrity as well.
Like Kelly, the NFL is the place that most believe he wants to end up again. The locals also say that he really wants to stay in southern California. We have heard there is early interest in the Florida job, but also understand that it might take a great deal to get him to move. We believe Foley is ready to spend that kind of money.
Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss HC) (9%): Freeze is the hottest new guy in the SEC after a terrific season and a coach that has shown to be able to recruit the biggest names in America to a little ole school in Mississippi. It really raises eyebrows about his recruiting prowess.
There would likely be a knock on his ability to produce a high flying offense, which has knocked him down a little bit on the list. I also believe that Foley is looking for someone with a little more of a sustained success as a head coach.
Still, he is a hot name and would certainly command a lot of attention pulling him away from his beloved Ole Miss. He’s young and the recruiting cannot be denied, neither can his defense which is the best in the SEC.
Gary Patterson (TCU HC) (8%): Patterson is a coach I would likely have higher if not for current circumstance, that circumstance being that the Horned Frogs are fighting for a spot in the new college football playoffs. Making those playoffs would likely keep Patterson from making a move, at least until; after he competes for it all.
Then again, could it be a point that a one loss TCU doesn’t make the playoff and it upset Patterson knowing that if he does the same thing in the SEC, he would be in the mix. Currently they are fifth and one spot away from making it behind two SEC teams in the Final Four.
Patterson is a defensive genius type, but his offenses have been dynamic and big time. A sure fire fit for what Foley is looking for in a coach.
The talk in these parts is that he is a little frustrated at the issues he faces in recruiting to such a small school, something he just wouldn’t have at Florida. There is no doubt he has been at TCU a while and it is a part of his makeup, but like Stoops sometimes being at a place so long could be a bad thing.
Mike Gundy (Oklahoma State HC) (7%): His stock has dropped after really paying attention to what is currently happening in Stillwater. There is already a five loss season going on at OSU and it could get worse this year.
Still, Gundy is regarded as an offensive guru and has had a few former offensive coordinators go on to become big time head coaches with high octane offenses of their own.
OSU is a different animal than what you get at Florida. They will never be top dog in their state, where as Florida should be top dog especially given the conference affiliation with the SEC.
There is also the booster situation. You just don’t get the pressure issues with boosters at Florida that you get elsewhere. Instead you have Foley that deals with the boosters while he continually supports his coaches in order for them to make the moves to be successful.
At the end of the day, this current season is weighing heavy now and the percentages keep dropping. We will look at this one carefully as we finish up the year and especially that killer last game with Oklahoma on December 6.
Gus Malzahn (Auburn HC) (5%): Malzahn is another near perfect fit for Florida. An offensive mastermind, Malzahn coached in the national championship a year ago and won one two years earlier as the offensive coordinator at Auburn.
He’s a quick riser up the charts as an elite coach, but make no mistake about it, he is that. He does need to work on his defense, but Foley would make sure he gets what he needs in a defensive coordinator and won’t settle for anything but the best of what is available.
What does Florida offer that Auburn doesn’t? We are talking about a talent rich state that is on par with any in the country. The types of athletes you find in Florida are perfect for what Malzahn wants to do on offense. He is getting Florida prospects to play there already, but the numbers would multiply if he was right in the middle of all of them.
But, he has a good thing going, and it appears it would take a great deal to get him away from the grips of Auburn University.
Other (16%): With everything said above there is the realization that maybe any of the above might not be able to walk away from their current situation, but also that Foley may choose to go in a different direction altogether, even if it means one or two above reject any offer he may present. As of now, Stoops is the only one I am willing to believe has a better chance than any of the others including anyone else not on the list.