Gator job open… start the clock

The season is over for Florida and so is the tenure of head coach Will Muschamp. Now it’s time for the coaching search at Florida to start in earnest and Jeremy Foley to go get his guy.

However, the complete board of candidates isn’t wide open to talk with Foley at this point. Several coaching prospects who we feel should be on the board still have to play a regular season game a week from now or are in their conference championship game, or maybe even still coaching in the NFL at this point.

Here are a handful of coaches that are “on the clock” so to speak and available for Foley to go make a move for if he wants. This week is pivotal for these candidates and one would have to believe if any of these guys are not signed on in the next week to be the Florida coach, then they likely won’t be the Florida coach. These are in alphabetical order.

Hugh Freeze (Head Coach Ole Miss) Freeze had a great end to the regular season today, polishing off arch rival and #4 ranked Mississippi State 31-17 in Oxford. The Rebels, playing one of the toughest schedules in the country finished 9-3 and handed Alabama their only loss of the season.

Freeze went 10-2 in his one year at Arkansas State and is now 24-14 at Ole Miss in three years.

Ole Miss is now waiting their bowl fate, and Freeze is being talked about more and more for the Florida job. There is no doubt he loves the place he is at, but could he turn down the chance to recruit at a place like Florida the way he recruits and the level and number of top prospects he could bring in much easier? That is to be seen.

I will say that my sources on this have been pretty steadfast that Freeze has not been offered the job at Florida. A few weeks ago they thought there was no way he would take, not even a miniscule of a chance. These guys are as close as it gets to the coach at Ole Miss and they now have changed their tune about the situation at Florida, but also have backed of the no way saying that is 98% chance he stays in Oxford. That doesn’t sound like much of a change, but to me it really was.

Todd Graham (Head Coach Arizona State) Graham and the Sun Devils ended their season on a sour note tonight losing a seven point game to arch rival Arizona. The Sun Devils finished 9-3 on the year with the worst loss coming against Oregon State two weeks earlier.

Graham fits the bill for hat Foley is looking for in a candidate as a coach with a high flying offense, even though he is a defensive coach by trade. His offenses are annually some of the more prolific in the game. In three years at Arizona State and his team has finished 2nd, 1st, and 2nd in the South Division of the Pac-12.

There is little doubt that the offenses he is in charge of would lure some of the best athletes around, and the big question mark for Foley would be the integrity issue with the way he left his two previous jobs. Nobody but Foley would understand how much that means in the case for this job at Florida. I would imagine he would come to Gainesville in a heartbeat if given the chance, but have heard no rumblings that it is in the works.

Gus Malzahn (Head Coach Auburn) Like we said from the beginning, this is a coach that needs to get a call and let him say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. His Tigers just fell to #1 Alabama on Saturday to the tune of 55-44 and were losers of three out of their last four games.

Malzahn has a prolific offense and his team struggled on defense, so he would need some help in that department. He coached in the national championship game a year ago and came close to pulling that one off in his first year as the head coach at Auburn.

He seems to fit everything Foley is looking for and the time is right now to make the call and see if there is any thought on his part about coming to Florida. All I have heard is that questions were asked a bit ago and he said thanks but no thanks, but we shall see.

Jim Mora (Head Coach UCLA) Mora’s Bruins were smacked by the unranked Stanford Cardinal on Saturday and they finished the regular season at 9-3. The Bruins finished second in their division.

Owner of a 28-3 record at UCLA in his three years, Mora has the Bruins succeeding annually at a rate better than any period of time in the last 30 years at the historic school. He is an exceptional recruiter.

The main drawback for Mora is that most believe he wants to re-enter the NFL as a coach eventually and that he really likes the west coast. I heard some initial noise on Mora a couple of weeks ago, but since then it has died down. Again, he is freed up to make a move now as he is done until his Bruins play in a bowl game.

Two Non-College Coaches

Since Muschamp is done as the head coach at Florida and there is a vacancy, now would be the time to announce his replacement even if it could have been done before hand. Here are a couple of candidates that shouldn’t be totally ruled out.

Jon Gruden (ESPN Analyst) The rumors popped up earlier in the week from a message board elsewhere. I am hesitant to say this, but I have it from two pretty good places that the rumor posted actually happened, at least to some extent. The rumor being that Foley met Gruden in Tampa somewhere and they discussed the possibility of coming on board.

Understand that I wasn’t there, but I have no reason to disbelieve the two people that told me. Also understand that there aren’t many candidates that fit the criteria for what Foley is looking for and what he has stated he is looking for than Gruden. He is also a guy that could have been talked to for weeks now without any issues and supposedly has a pretty good relationship already with Jeremy Foley.

In his 11 years as a head coach with the Raiders and the Buccaneers in the NFL, Gruden’s teams won their division five times and he was the 2002 Super Bowl Champion in his first year of a seven year span with the Bucs.

He only coached one year at the highest college level and that was a season with Pittsburgh as the wide receivers coach in 1991, so the recruiting game might be a bit different for him. That said, his overall profile and all the time on ESPN and TV in general would be such a great attraction for recruits, that wouldn’t likely be an issue.

He was thought to have left Tennessee at the alter a couple of yers ago and before that Miami, but I am not sure that can ever be verified. Still, he is almost like this mythical creature in these coaching searches and a guy that just seems a little strange to believe he would enter the college game.

Mike Shanahan (unemployed)

Another one that would have been easy to talk to for the last few weeks and not have any issues with an employer. Shanahan has three Super Bowl rings in his illustrious NFL career.

The big knocks on him would be his age (62) and the fact that he hasn’t coached in college since his stint at Florida in the early 80’s.

The offensive background fits what Foley wants and he is another one that has an affiliation with the Gators and with Foley. Still, this one seems maybe the least likely of this list, but I feel like he needs to be included at this time.

The Timeline…

The bottom line for this group of coaches is that they are all pretty much available right now. These aren’t necessarily the most likely candidates, but they are candidates that should be able to give an answer one way or another in the next 3-5 days.

Furthermore, it isn’t 100% a certainty, but we could pretty much assume that if none of these candidates are hired in the next 3-5 days, that the likelihood of them taking or getting the job drops dramatically. After next weekend, a larger group of possibilities opens up for the spot.

Isn’t this fun?

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