It began with Jeremy Foley issuing a statement through the University Athletic Association. To paraphrase, Foley said he hasn’t offered anyone a contract to become the next football coach at the University of Florida. Of course, that sent a tsunami-sized ripple through the Twitterverse because it flat out denied the claim of one media outlet that Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze had been offered the job. And then Monday night came reports from the Tupelo-based Northeast Mississippi Journal that Freeze has agreed to a deal that will keep him in Oxford.
So ended day two of the post-Will Muschamp era at the University of Florida. About the only thing we can know for sure as dawn breaks on a Wednesday morning is that the curtain has finally dropped on the notion that Hugh Freeze will be a Gator. Since he’s the only prominent name for whom a contract was rumored in the works during the last 10 days, everything else concerning the Florida coach search is pure speculation, which is exactly the way Jeremy Foley wants it. Foley has a close group of advisers that he relies on and they have a list they’re working on. We don’t know how many are on the list, which ones are Plan A candidates and which ones are Plan B, and we certainly don’t know for sure if Foley already has his guy in mind and is just biding time until all the planets and stars are aligned.
For the moment, let’s forget about Plan A and Plan B. Foley has never leaked out the details of what he’s done during any coach search. Although there are an infinite number of rumors and folks claiming they know the inside skinny on what’s gone on in the coach searches that brought Ron Zook, Urban Meyer and Will Muschamp to Florida, Foley has steadfastly maintained in each case that he made only one offer and it was accepted each time. He has also said on numerous occasions that he always has a list of coaches that he keeps track of in every sport that’s offered at UF to ensure that he’s always ready to start the hunt for the next coach.
If Foley is to be believed that he only made one offer each time, it tells us that he already had his guy in mind from the moment the job came open so it was just a matter of zoning in, getting the lawyers to work out the details and then announce the choice to the Gator Nation. This would lead us to believe that Foley already has a reasonably good idea who is going to be Florida’s next football coach.
And, the only thing we know for sure is that Hugh Freeze won’t be the coach. There is always that possibility that Freeze was the initial target but he wasn’t going to depart Oxford without Ole Miss attempting to make the proverbial offer he couldn’t refuse. Remember, this is a guy who was born in Oxford and who grew up on a dairy farm 30 minutes from the Ole Miss campus. There is no way he would have accepted a Florida offer without giving Ole Miss a chance to put its cards on the table. What we can surmise from Foley’s statement that there was no offer made to Freeze is that Ole Miss felt the Florida threat was serious enough that it put together a pre-emptive strike contract that is probably going to in the $4-4.5 million range for Freeze and another $1 million a year to spread among his assistants.
Now back to the possibility that Foley already has his guy in mind and is just pacing the floor, waiting for the time to be right. We could speculate that the candidate list could include some or all of a list that includes Bob Stoops (Oklahoma), Rich Rodriguez (Arizona), Gary Patterson (TCU), Gary Anderson (Wisconsin), Josh McDaniels (New England Patriots offensive coordinator) or Jim Harbaugh (San Francisco 49ers head coach) since all six of those coaches will be occupied this weekend. To be sure, Foley already knows all six of those names, their strengths and weaknesses and above all else, which ones would be receptive to a chance to coach the Gators. Any one of the six would be considered an outstanding hire.
UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr. is rumored to be interested but for everyone who says he’s interested in Florida there are two who say he wants to try the NFL once again. There is a report from Pat Forde, who has built a reputation for reliability as a reporter, that there is mutual interest between Florida and Jim McElwain (Colorado State). He won’t be engaged this weekend but he has taken Colorado State from the Mountain West septic tank to 10-2 in three short years. Before that he called the plays for two Alabama national champions and made a reputation for himself as a teacher of quarterbacks who don’t make mistakes. He’s got a $7.5 million buyout, which might be too much to cover for all but about five Division I schools, one of which is Florida.
There is also the elusive Jon Gruden, whose name emerges every time a big time job opens up whether college or pro. With Brady Hoke’s job just hours from termination, Gruden’s name has already been mentioned in conjunction with Michigan. Why there are even stories that Michigan is one of those places Gruden had on his long term wish list when he began his coaching career. It’s only natural that Gruden’s name would be associated with the Florida opening and there are reports from reliable people that he’s had a meeting with Foley. But what about? Was it a chance to gauge Gruden’s interest in the Florida job? Or was it a chance for Foley to pick his brain … give him a short list of candidates and listen to Gruden assess each one’s strengths and weaknesses? Could it be to discuss the possibility of hiring McDaniels, who was once Denver’s head coach and who calls the plays for Tom Brady, or possibly Harbaugh, who the 49ers are willing to trade for a #1 draft pick?
The answer is simple. We don’t know. And once again, that’s the way Foley wants it.
Like everyone else, Foley wants a head coach in place sooner and not later. He understands the ramifications of this hire on Florida recruiting. Understand this about Foley: there might not be an athletic director in the country more keenly aware of what’s going on with recruiting so he’s not going to dawdle at the expense of killing recruiting or turning the coaching search into a send in the clowns affair like the last three searches at Tennessee.
Chances are, Foley has already made his decision. He’s not going to offer any hints and he’s going to spring it on us when he feels the timing will provide maximum impact. Max impact would say nothing before next Wednesday since the final four for the college football playoff will dominate the sports news next Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
After that, anything is possible.
The chatter around Auburn is that Will Muschamp is coming home … soon. Ever since the word got out that Ellis Johnson had been fired as the defensive coordinator, there has been constant chatter that Muschamp was the guy and now several sources confirm that not only has there been contact but the conversations are serious enough that it’s Muschamp’s job to turn down. Expectations are a contract in the $1-1.5 million range.
Muschamp would be a great fit at Auburn for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is head coach Malzahn would give him total control of the defense. Put a Muschamp defense on the field with what Malzahn can do with an offense and the Tigers will be instant contenders. It’s almost a given that if Muschamp takes the Auburn gig he will bring Travaris Robinson with him. Robinson was a grad assistant for Muschamp at Auburn in 2006-07 when Muschamp was the Auburn DC. It’s hard to argue with Robinson’s results coaching corners plus he’s one of the best recruiting assistants in the Southeastern Conference.
Should Muschamp say no – not likely but anything is possible – the top two candidates for the job are expected to be former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini and Georgia Tech defensive coordinator and former Duke head coach Ted Roof.
1. Tulsa IS OPEN: Being the good Presbyterians that they are, the folks at Tulsa waited until Monday to announce what everyone knew was coming – Bill Blankenship is out after four years. Blank did well when he had other people’s talent to work (19-8) with but bombed the last two years working with his own guys (5-19). His replacement is likely one of these two guys – Mike Norvell, the offensive coordinator at Arizona State, who used to work for Todd Graham when he was TU’s head coach, or Jake Spavital, the QB coach at Texas A&M who is a high school legend in Tulsa. Could Will Muschamp be the mystery candidate that is being whispered in Tulsa?
2. THE GREEN MILE AWAITS BRADY HOKE: : He meets with interim (soon to be permanent) AD Jim Hackett tomorrow and then there is a 3 p.m. press conference scheduled. The only way Hoke keeps his job is if the president is still embarrassed for making false statements about Hoke and the academics of the Michigan football team. When (notice not a case of if) it is official that Hoke is walking the green mile, expect these three names to dominate the conversation – Jim Harbaugh, Les Miles and Dan Mullen.
3. Buffalo PICKS DIII COACH: : Buffalo, which isn’t exactly the garden spot of the earth, has hired Lance Leipold, the head coach at DIII Wisconsin-Whitewater. He has won five DIII national championships in the last seven years and is 12-0 this year. Career record: 106-6. After coaching in Wisconsin, Buffalo will seem like a resort but now that he’s coaching scholarship guys can he have anything close to the same kind of success he had in DIII?
4. NEBRASKA COACHING SEARCH: : Nebraska isn’t expected to waste any time hiring a head coach. Apparently, the two coaches who seem to be most in contention both have serious Nebraska roots – Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl and Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost. Bohl was an assistant for both Dr. Tom Osborne and Frank Solich before going to North Dakota State where he won three consecutive D1AA titles. Frost quarterbacked Nebraska to the 1997 national title and after playing in the NFL for seven years came back to Nebraska as a grad assistant. For the past two years he has been Marcus Mariota’s position coach. Bohl has a buyout at Wyoming, where he’s been head coach only one year. Frost has no buyout.
5. THE HARBAUGH WATCH: : There are reports that the San Francisco 49ers plan to trade head coach Jim Harbaugh for future draft picks. Harbaugh’s rah-rah doesn’t work well in the NFL where people are paid. It does work well at the collegiate level. Mama’s calling Jim. The Big Blue Nation wants you back in the worst way. He would probably leave the 49ers high and dry right now to take over Michigan immediately.
Jameis Winston goes before the Student Disciplinary Committee at Florida State today where he will have a chance to face allegations that he sexually assaulted a student a couple of years ago. Winston will go into the hearing, which could take as many as two full days, armed with attorney David Cornwell, whose clients in the past have included Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez. There are two obvious questions that are being glossed over here by the mainstream media: (1) How can Jameis Winston afford an attorney of Cornwell’s stature (and price, said to be $1000 an hour); and (2) if Winston is as innocent as he claims then why does he have to bring in heavy artillery such as Cornwell, who has spent the last six months or so engaging in a character assault on the woman that Winston allegedly assaulted?
With Hugh Freeze officially off the board, who do you think are the top three candidates that Jeremy Foley is seriously considering?
Today’s music is by Texas legend Jerry Jeff Walker, whose song writing skills and lifestyle provided the inspiration for Jimmy Buffett. The song is “Jaded Lover” which is dedicated to a friend of mine who is in a constant state of confounded by his attachment to a girlfriend who spends her life with one foot out his front door.