It didn’t take long for the rumor mill to start churning after the Florida Gators were embarrassed last Saturday by the Georgia Bulldogs to the tune of 42-7. And the proverbial mill churned out some grade A pasteurized rumor butter quick, fast, and in a hurry.
Jim McElwain was let go as head coach Sunday afternoon, as first reported by FootballScoop.com, which sent the college football coaching search world into quite the shit storm. The reason behind McElwain’s firing is not important here; what is quite imperative as far as Ole Miss fans go is how this affects the Rebs’ own coaching search that has essentially been going on since July.
There are a few variables that should have Rebel fans concerned and one particular candidate that most would like to see get his chance in Gainesville. Let’s take a look at just what exactly all this mess entails.
The Florida job is a good one.
Jim McElwain won 22 games and two SEC East division titles in three years, but it apparently wasn’t enough. But, that won’t scare anyone off. The Gators’ program sits in arguably the best recruiting ground in the country and Florida, when winning, is one of the most dangerous programs to deal with on the recruiting trail. Jim’s classes finished 21st, 12th, and 11th and included two five-stars and 21 four-stars. Florida puts out incredible amounts of talent year in and year out and with Florida State’s struggles in 2017, a new coach will create excitement and could potentially win some recruiting battles against Jimbo Fisher because of it.
Despite recent struggles on offense, there is still plenty to work with in Gainesville to right the ship. A new coach could come in, rejuvenate a roster full of talent and turn things around rather quickly. The East has been bad for years it seems, and with Kirby Smart’s resurgence in Athens and Will Muschamp quietly having the Gamecocks in second place and sitting at 6-2 overall, the rest of the conference is pretty bad. This should be incredibly enticing for someone to take a stab at this vacancy and try to return Florida to its 1990s golden years when they were feared and made routine trips to Atlanta.
Ole Miss recruits in Florida a lot and even though they haven’t beat out McElwain for any targets in the last three years, if a successful coach can get in there and start winning and doing well on the crootin trail, it could really hamper the Rebels’ recruiting in the Sunshine State.
Who will Florida go after first?
Personally, I think the obvious first call you make if you’re Scott Stricklin is to your old pal Dan Mullen at Mississippi State. Scott’s golfing buddy has been nothing short of great in Starkville, currently holding a career win-loss record of 67-44, five bowl wins, and a No. 1 ranking in 2014. Now, his record against ranked opponents isn’t great (5-31), but he knows how to develop quarterbacks into Terminators in his multiple spread option offense that he perfected at, you guessed it, Florida.
Before turning Dak Prescott into a starting quarterback in the NFL and Nick Fitzgerald into a human dump truck, he was at Utah as Urban Meyer’s quarterbacks coach and then followed him to Gainesville and was also his offensive coordinator. During those stints, Mullen was able to develop Alex Smith into a No. 1 overall pick, recruited and developed Brian Johnson into an undefeated signal caller, coached Chris Leak to a national championship, and then recruited and developed and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. And did I mention his offense helped the Gators to two national titles? Not a bad resume.
Mullen worked under Stricklin in Starkville and the two have almost certainly exchanged pleasantries since McElwain was let go. One would venture to think that Mullen would be intrigued to take this job because it’s in a fertile recruiting territory and you’re not in the same division as Nick Saban. Dan hired sports agent superman Jimmy Sexton and as I like to tell people, “you don’t hire Jimmy to keep a job.”
Who else is on their radar?
Right down the road from Gainesville is Orlando and UCF’s upstart young hot shot coach Scott Frost. He is arguably THE hottest name on the market right now for just about anyone looking to make a hire and Florida will more than likely give him a call, too. What has he done to earn this title? He turned around a cellar-dweller program that was 0-12 three years ago into an undefeated and No. 15 team in the country. His offense is a fascinating new-school option attack that has shredded every single person on their schedule. The pay raise, Power 5 program, and recruiting opportunities alone would be enough for me and could be enough for Scott.
Next, I would have to think Florida gives Justin Fuente another call. Back before he left Memphis and went to Virginia Tech, he was coming off a 10-3 season at Memphis and found himself on the opposite end of phone calls from lots of athletic directors. Florida could come calling again now that Fuente is in Blacksburg and churning out more wins (17 in two years). He’s got a really nice thing going at VT so he may give them a “nah” but it certainly never hurts to ask, especially when you’re Florida.
Speaking of Memphis, the next name I believe to almost assuredly be on Florida’s list is Tigers head coach Mike Norvell. The former Arizona State offensive coordinator has picked up where Fuente left off, and then some, going 15-6 in two years and being one of the hottest names on the trail this year after big wins over UCLA and Navy this season. He’s young (37 years-old), developed former Tennessee signee Riley Ferguson into a video game QB, and has the nation’s 10th ranked offense.
What outside the box name should you watch out for?
It’s called “outside the box” for a reason, but if I’m going to get weird with it, I’m going to say TCU’s Gary Patterson should be on Stricklin’s list. Personally, he is MY “outside the box” hire that I would want Ole Miss to make. He has been at the head of the Horned Frogs’ program since 2000 and has helped guide them from the WAC to Conference USA to the Mountain West and now to the Big 12.
Gary has six combined conference titles, nine bowl wins, 156-55 career record, and three access bowl appearances. Defense has never been the problem for Florida, but you can never have enough defense in football. Patterson’s teams have been stout as can be consistently and he also sports an offense ranked 36th in the S&P+ rankings.
Would he entertain the idea of leaving Fort Worth for Gainesville? Probably not. He’s making close to $5 million and has been there for 17 years. But, coaches do love a challenge and can get a hankering for something to test them. But, again, I doubt it.
So how does all of this affect Ole Miss’ search?
Well, first things first, if Mullen leaves State for Florida, it impacts recruiting in the Magnolia State tremendously. And it puts Mississippi State in quite the bind to replace a guy who has lifted their program up from the doldrums and has guided them to impressive recruiting classes and postseason play. Ole Miss would greatly benefit from Mullen leaving and depending on who State hires, the Rebels could seize some momentum on and off the field.
Elsewhere, several of Florida’s top targets are more than likely going to be Ole Miss coaching targets as well. One would assume that Ole Miss will make Scott Frost say no and will most definitely get in Mike Norvell’s ear as soon as they can, if not already. Next name on the list is Iowa State’s Matt Campbell. He doesn’t have the connections to the Southeast like the other candidates do, but he does own wins over Oklahoma and TCU this season and his name might be hotter than Frost’s at the moment. Ole Miss will almost certainly call him and see what it would take to get him from Ames to Oxford.
Overall this search can impact Ole Miss’ search in a big way or it could do nothing to it at all. It all depends on who the Gators go after. If they call Dan Mullen and he takes the gig, then it clearly won’t affect the search for Ross Bjork one bit. But, if they kick the tires on Scott Frost, Mike Norvell, or Matt Campbell, then Ole Miss will be moved to the back of the line and to the bottom of the pecking order.
Florida will watch how other coaches do and how their seasons end, but with Ole Miss going after some of the same names and having a four-month head start, they better hurry. Bjork and the gang will reportedly begin the search in earnest as soon as Wednesday. The Gators will be able to make up ground quickly because Florida is undoubtedly a better job and they’ll have a fat wallet to work with, but this is something for y’all to keep an eye on.