Four possible surprises for the Gators job

We were going to talk about dark horses for the Gators vacant football head coaching position starting in 2015, but dark horse probably isn’t the right term for all of the guys listed. Instead, here are four coaching candidates that some might know, but might be surprises as we head to the negotiation period for the position.

At this point in time, it is safe to say that no one has been signed to the vacant position, but gauging interest between parties is something that happens even when it isn’t proper to really court a particular coaching prospect.

This list means nothing in terms of knowing that these candidates have been approached, it is just a list of prospects that are hot or have recently been hot as head coaches. They are listed below in order of current salary.

Charlie Strong (Texas; $5,000,000) He really is the most different of any in this group. An established coach at one of, if not the top job in the country already, Strong has a lot of the off-the-field qualities of Will Muschamp in terms of running a clean program and willing to do what it takes to clean out the program. He’s had to do so at Texas in his first year. The things he did at Louisville in his first coaching gig at Louisville were very impressive, including going 23-3 in his final two years. In his first season at Texas this year, he had to clean out the roster from trouble makers and lost his starting quarterback at the beginning of the season. They started rough, but are on a three game winning streak (4 out of last 5) with a tough game against #5 TCU on Thanksgiving Day.

Strong is a defensive coach by trade but his offense has scored 48, 34, 33, and 28 in the last four wins. At Louisville he always had a high flying offense. There is little doubt he fits all the criteria of what Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley is looking for in a new coach. The fact that he has had five different stops at Florida during his coaching career.

Kyle Whittingham (Utah, $2,500,000) As a member of the Mountain West Conference, the Utes won 7, 8, 9, 13, 10, and 10 games under Whittingham’s watch including the 13-0 season in 2008 in which they finished 2nd in the AP poll behind Florida and also won the Sugar Bowl over Alabama. It has been a little tougher since Utah made the jump up to the Pac-12 four years ago, where his team has won 8, 5, 5, and 7 games so far this year.

He was at Utah for nine years before Urban Meyer ever arrived and was the defensive coordinator for the last eight years of the time before assuming the head coaching role after Meyer left. He was reported to have turned down the head coaching vacancy at Tennessee in 2010.

One nugget with Whittingham is that his offensive coordinator is Dave Christensen. Christensen left the Wyoming head coaching job where he was the leader of a high flying offense in 2013 that finished 22nd in the country playing teams much better than they were. Christensen was the offensive coordinator at Missouri as well before Wyoming and in his last year there (2008) the Tigers finished 8th in the country in total offense.

As a defensive coach Whittingham’s teams have finished in the top 3-4 in the Pac-12 since their arrival four years ago. Realizing that going to a higher level of competition than what he faced week to week and a high octane offensive conference in the Pac-12, that isn’t an easy achievement.

Larry Fedora (North Carolina, $2,000,000) I know his name has come up a lot in the last few days, so calling him a surprise to the people on our site isn’t really fair, but Fedora’s body of work is something that can’t be denied in my opinion.

First of all, he was the offensive coordinator at Florida in 2004. With a team full of sophomores, he led the Gators to the top offense in the SEC that year. His offense is a spread, wide open and he likes to throw the ball with a downhill running game incorporated. I can tell you having worked with the man for three years very closely, he is one of the best in the business as a mentor of people, a communicator, and an offensive mind. He absolutely knows his stuff.

After leaving Florida he was the offensive coordinator under Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State for three years where he went from the 96th rated offense in the country in 2005, to the 17th in 2006, to the 5th rated offense in 2007 racking up 486 yards a game in total offense.

From OSU, he left for the head coaching job at Southern Miss. The Eagles finished 18th in total offense in 2008, 26th in 2009, 18th in 2010, and 9th overall in total offense in 2011. His defenses at Southern Miss started at 92nd in the country and improved 20 spots and more over the next three years. He built Southern Miss to a non-Power-5 conference type power and finished ranked 18th in the coaches’ poll in his final year there.

Fedora became the head coach at North Carolina in 2012 and is still the current coach there. Taking the job under a huge NCAA cloud and finally a ton of sanctions, Fedora led his first Tarheel team to an 8-4 record and first place finish in his division of the ACC.

The Tarheel offense was 29th in the country in his first year in 2012 jumping 20 spots over the offense that was run under previous coach Butch Davis and his staff. There was a dip in 2013 to 47th in the country. So far in 2014, they are back up again to 36th in the country averaging 444 yards and 36.2 points a game.

The Tarheel defense was 39th in the country in total defense in 2012, they dropped to 82nd in the country in 2013, and they are struggling mightily on defense where the sanctions have really hit home and ranked last in the country (124) on defense so far this season.

The Tarheels currently have just 67 total scholarship players, 18 under the NCAA allowed 85 because of the sanctions, yet they have won four of their last five games and are currently 6-5 and bowl eligible with a game against NC State this weekend.

Mark Helfrich (Oregon, $2,000,000) He’s 21-3 as the head coach at Oregon so far. He is likely in the college football playoffs with a win this Saturday with a win over state rival Oregon State. There is no denying how prolific the offense is that he directs that is currently 2nd in the country with 537 yards per game.

This is only his second year as head coach but he has been the offensive coordinator at Oregon since 2009.

His defenses struggle in the stat category and a lot of that has to do with the high octane and fast moving offense constantly putting the defense back on the field. They are currently ranked 93rd in the country in total defense.

He’s really a coach that doesn’t get much mention and he doesn’t have a great salary, although winning it all this year could change that a great deal. The big obstacle with hiring a Helfrich is also that he will likely be playing in the College Football Playoff and therefore not a guy that would want to deal with job hunting until after that.

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