High-Profile Vacancy Exists in Meyer's Wake
When Urban Meyer, once again, decided to close the door on his championship coaching reign at Florida, he effectively opened another for one of the highest-profile jobs in all of college sports. Because of the success and prestige Meyer established in Gainesville -- seemingly at his own personal expense -- his successor will be expected, if not demanded, to maintain the same level of excellence.
Quite literally, it'sl not be a job for the faint of heart.
As a search ensues, there is a short list of attractive prospects. In truth, the number of possible coaches who should be considered is musch shorter.
In the hours following Meyer's resignation, Dan Mullen (Mississippi State), Bob Stoops (Oklahoma), Charlie Strong (Louisville), Kyle Whittingham (Utah), Jon Gruden (formerly of the Tampa Bay Bucs), and Bobby Petrino (Arkansas) have all immediately surfaced as potential candidates. There is talk of Jim Harbaugh (Stanford), and Gary Patterson (TCU) being contacted, too. All, at different points, have proven themselves outstanding head coaches in their own rank. But this is not a job for any "outstanding head coach". It's a lot more specific.
First, the potential coach must understand the landscape of the SEC, and realize there is not a weak team out there. He must be a talented, relentless recruiter who, even more importantly, surrounds himself with men of the same strength. The candidate should have a proven record of undeniable success, either as a head coach, or a top coordinator. Finally, he has to possess an exciting and enthusiastic approach to motivating and teaching the game to young men.
But most importantly-- most importantly, for both the sake of his job, and the state of the program, the next head coach of the Gators must be able to win NOW.
With that precedent, the next head football coach at The University of Florida should be Dan Mullen.
Stoops is a big-name coach, with past ties to Florida, who would certainly make a "splash". Yet, to a degree, he represents "old" Gator football, and a style of play seen less and less these days in the conference. What Steve Spurrier and Stoops did together in Gainesville was dominant, but it's a new day in the SEC, and the brand of winning football is ever-evolving.
Today, Charlie Strong was named Co-Big East Coach of the Year. A solid defensive coordinator from 2003 to 2009 at UF, Strong witnessed first-hand what it's like trying to replace unprecedented success. At Louisville, Strong has already proven his chances of being the first "Charlie Strong" instead of the "next Ron Zook" are much greater.
Petrino? He won in the Big East. Then, bee-lined to the NFL where two-thirds of the way through his first season, he promptly, and somewhat clandestinely dove at the Arkansas offer. His offenses are intriguing, but I wouldn't invest in him if my life depended on it.
For the sake of the argument, I think Whittingham and Patterson are to be respected for what they've done and, yes, they would essentially travel the same path Meyer did to Gainesville (especially Whittingham). However, realistically, both illustrate the "blindfolded bull's eye throw" more than anyone else. Meyer had the luxury of correcting what had occurred under Zook. Even after a lackluster, 7-5 season (to date), these two would not.
Gruden, I do believe, is an alluring prospect. He knows the game, has an affinity for the state, and could certainly grab the ear of many a recruit with an interest in playing the game beyond college. But Gruden is a life-long Cleveland Browns fan, just 2 years removed from his head job in Tampa. Currently 5-7 in Year 2 under Eric Mangini, if Browns' ownership think they could do better with "alternate leadership" Gruden's phone could be reading "Incoming Call: Mike Holmgren" before we hit 2011.
Chris Petersen is a big-time coach in a small-time conference. By choice. He is as outstanding a college coach as there is in America. When Petersen finally takes the bait and leaves Boise, he will be successful wherever he goes. I do believe he would be an excellent choice to follow Meyer. His offenses are famously innovative. His ability to recruit now has Boise State annually dipping into the California talent pool. He runs an up-standing, clean program. He beat Stoops in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Clearly, he gets it. I believe, sensibly, he's the second best candidate for the job. The measure of certainty -- again, with the emphasis on immediate success -- falls short only to this guy...
Championship pedigree-- Check.
Young and innovative-- Check.
Proven success recruiting-- Check.
Ability to teach and motivate young athletes-- Check.
Head coaching experience in the SEC-- Check, albeit brief.
Knowledge of program, existing coaches, and players-- Check, Check, and Check.
In 2 years at Mississippi State, his first job as a head coach, Mullen's gone 13-11 with talent other coaches would laugh (or gag) at. His team improved remarkably between last season and the current (see: "Beating Florida 10-7 in The Swamp" and "Date with Michigan in Gator Bowl"), and his players love him. Mullen won a BCS bowl game as offensive coordinator at Utah, and 2 more with the same job for the Gators. If he can be lured back from Starkville, Mullen represents the most realistic option for a seamless continuance.
Urban Meyer's departure signals a new era in football at Florida.
The state of the Gator Nation is best entrusted in Mullen's hands.