New UF Staff Should Take Shape In Next Two Days

Let the scramble begin for assistant coaches now that Urban Meyer has accepted the position as head football coach at the University of Florida. Meyer is the first of many dominos that should tumble in the next 24 to 48 hours as not just the Florida staff, but the staffs at Utah and the University of Illinois begin to take shape.

Meyer was named as Florida's head coach officially on Saturday, and either Monday or Tuesday, former Gator Coach Ron Zook should be named head coach at the University of Illinois. Those are the big names, but two more staff changes will also impact both UF and Illinois.

Meyer's offensive coordinator, Mike Sanford, was named the head coach at UNLV on Sunday. Until he accepted the job at UNLV to follow in the footsteps of his college coach, retiring John Robinson, Sanford was also a candidate to replace Meyer at Utah.

With Sanford taking the UNLV job, it is likely that Utah Athletic Director Chris Hill will move quickly on Monday to name defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham as the new coach of the Utes. Whittingham is also considered the front runner to be the new head coach at Brigham Young University, Utah's chief rival. Whittingham, who was defensive coordinator at Utah under Ron McBride prior to Meyer, is a former BYU player who grew up in Provo where his dad was an assistant coach at BYU under LaVell Edwards. It is highly unlikely that Hill would allow the Utes to lose both Sanford and Whittingham, and it would be particularly devastating to lose Whittingham to BYU since he is considered the Utes best recruiter. Even if BYU were to offer Whittingham the job, it is likely he would choose Utah over his alma mater for financial reasons. BYU is notorious for underpaying coaches, a reason why Southern Cal offensive coordinator Norm Chow, a former BYU offensive coordinator under Edwards, has reportedly turned the job down. Chow is making $600,000 at USC. Fired BYU coach Gary Crowton was making only $250,000 and apparently BYU has balked at raising the coach's pay package significantly higher than that. At Utah, Hill is expected to hire Whittingham with a salary in the $450,000-500,000 range. Meyer was making $500,000.

Whittingham would likely want to retain quarterback coach Dan Mullen as his offensive coordinator, particularly to work with Alex Smith, Utah's standout junior quarterback who will be one of the favorites for the Heisman Trophy in 2005. Mullen was on Meyer's staff both at Bowling Green and Utah.

If Meyer follows the same pattern he has shown in his two previous stops at Bowling Green and Utah, expect wide receivers coach Billy Gonzalez and offensive line coach John Hevesy to Gainesville. Another coach from Utah who could be coming to Gainesville is linebackers coach Kurt Barber, although there are reports in Utah that both Whittingham and Sanford will ask him to join their staffs. In both his previous stops, Meyer has maintained a certain level of continuity in the staff by keeping a few of the former coach's assistants.

While no names have been specifically mentioned, it is known that Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley has talked to Meyer about the abilities of the Coach Ron Zook's assistants.

"We've talked about those things, but that's a little premature at this point in time," said Foley at Saturday's press conference in Gainesville where the hiring of Meyer was made official. "He (Meyer) has asked me honest and open questions about the current staff, and I've shared my assessments with him. At the end of the day, like any coach here, they get to hire their assistants, and that's what we're doing here. He will be bringing a few of his people from Utah."

The coaches most likely to be considered for positions on the Meyer staff will be offensive coordinator Larry Fedora, running backs coach Mike Locksley, offensive line coach Joe Wickline, linebackers coach Bill Miller, tight end coach Dwayne Dixon and defensive coordinator Charlie Strong. Strong and Meyer worked together at Notre Dame on the staffs of Lou Holtz and Bob Davie. They have maintained a good friendship over the year since they worked together.

On a Meyer staff, Fedora would probably coach the quarterbacks and serve as offensive coordinator. Although Meyer runs a fairly unique offense that he brings with him wherever he goes, he is not the coordinator nor does he call the offensive plays. Because he has shown a penchant for using two offensive line coaches --- one to coach tackles and tight ends, the other to coach centers and guards --- Wickline would have an excellent chance to be retained. Locksley would coach running backs on a Meyer staff. If Meyer chose to go with one offensive line coach, then Dixon would have a good shot at coaching the tight ends.

Fedora, Wickline and Locksley are considered three of Florida's best recruiters, so the likelihood that they will be retained is very high.

Miller might be leaving for Illinois with Coach Ron Zook. In that Miller was the defensive coordinator at Michigan State of the Big Ten prior to coming to Florida, his familiarity with the conference might make him a very good fit on the Zook staff as the DC. Secondary coach Dan Disch is also expected to be offered a position with Zook at Illinois.

Miller is an excellent recruiter in south Florida, which is another reason he could be offered a chance to stay on the Florida staff for Meyer, but also a key reason Zook would want him on the Illinois staff. Illinois, like many Big Ten schools, has long made efforts to recruit south Florida heavily. Disch is considered an exceptional recruiter in the Jacksonville area.

Meyer has agreed to coach Utah in its Fiesta Bowl game against Pitt, so none of the Utah coaches will be coming to Florida just yet. That increases the chances that four or perhaps five of the current Florida assistants will be named to the new staff.

It is unclear if Coach Zook will be coaching Florida in the Peach Bowl against Miami on December 31. Zook has been told he will be afforded the opportunity to coach the Gators in the bowl game, but no answer is expected until Monday or Tuesday.

Who will be going where and who will be on whose staff should all be abundantly clear by Tuesday evening. Until then, there will be more than a few anxious moments for a number of assistant coaches.

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