Foley under the Microscope

With Urban Meyer's stunning announcement Saturday that he would step down as Florida's football coach after the Sugar Bowl, all eyes turn to Jeremy Foley. Florida's AD has handled two previous searches for a football coach, but neither of them really parallel this one. Given Meyer's incredible success in his 5-year Florida run, it's possible no one has had to deal with this set of circumstances.

It's hard to find a similar situation to Florida's current one during the modern era of college football. Miami has probably come the closest to experiencing it. Jimmy Johnson left the Canes after a sensational five-year stretch that saw him go 52-9 with a national title in his fourth season. Meyer is 56-10 with national titles in his second and fourth seasons. Johnson's departure to Dallas wasn't a surprise though - it was well known that he was the man Jerry Jones wanted to run his newly purchased team. Six years later Dennis Erickson's departure was likewise rumored long before it happened, despite his two national championships. Urban Meyer's exit was completely unexpected.  

At a time when schools including even powerhouse Texas have taken to naming coaches in waiting long before it seemed necessary just to avoid the anxiety of going on the open market to find a coach, Foley has to find someone to fill the shoes of a legend for the second time in eight years. One major difference from his first search is that Urban Meyer will be involved in the process while Steve Spurrier stayed removed from the quest to find his replacement. Some may view Meyer's expected continued presence at UF in some role as potentially intimidating, but he should be a huge asset for three reasons:  

1. Meyer has proven an outsider can come to Florida and win, eliminating the idea that no one could ever be good enough for UF fans after Steve Spurrier from any candidate's thought process.   

2. Ray Perkins, who was selected to replace Bear Bryant at Alabama in 1983, has said he would likely not have left the NFL's New York Giants to take the job had he known that Bryant would not be there to provide support when the fans were frustrated. Meyer should be able to promise that support to whomever takes over his old post.  

3. Since Meyer has no other job agenda, he'll be able to offer honest assessments of all aspects of the program to his replacement and be there as a resource for any concerns they have as they begin to put their stamp on it.  

Foley's first search never extended off of his Christmas card list. Bob Stoops and Mike Shanahan said no, and then he turned to Ron Zook who was certain to say yes. The quest to find Zook's replacement had one clear choice as top candidate from the beginning in Meyer, thanks to Utah's success as well as his prior relationship with Bernie Machen. Knowing it was no sure thing he could land Meyer, Foley reached out to other candidates to gauge their interest during that search through an emissary not connected to the UF athletic department. If this hire ends up coming from "outside the family", I'm sure he will use that approach again.  

What kind of candidate is Foley likely to target if it's not one of the Mullen/Strong/Stoops grouping that he may judge differently based on firsthand knowledge? Based on his history of hires in all sports including football, the coach will almost certainly be under 50, meaning a guy like Tommy Tuberville isn't likely to come up (Zook was 47 at the time of his hiring, Meyer 40). The coach will either have an impressive offensive background himself or a clear track record of having successful offenses - all of the candidates informally contacted in the last search were known for their offensive prowess. Foley clearly values coaches who are physically fit as well - Mark Mangino need not apply.  

Experience as a head coach is likely a prerequisite for the UF job after Zook's failure, but don't view having lots of it as essential. Meyer had just four years as a head coach when he was hired, and the other two candidates contacted in 2004 had less than that. Names like Houston's Kevin Sumlin and Stanford's Jim Harbaugh would be the potential outside candidates closest to that type of profile this year.  

Foley doesn't have the luxury of spending weeks on this search the way he did on landing Meyer. While his history gives us some guidelines on what to expect, it should be fascinating to see whether the AD chooses to have the first truly open football search of his tenure and talk to multiple candidates or zeroes in on one guy from the start.


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