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What not to do when hiring Florida's next football coach

Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin, shown here in an  April 2, 2012 file photo, faces one of the biggest decisions of his career in hiring the next Gators football coach. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin, shown here in an April 2, 2012 file photo, faces one of the biggest decisions of his career in hiring the next Gators football coach. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Published Nov. 2, 2017

Dear Scott Stricklin,

Guess being athletic director at Florida isn't always such a fun job, huh?

You're coming off a pretty rough week, firing Jim McElwain as your football coach and all. You did the right thing, but it wasn't easy handing a pink slip to a guy who was respectable 22-12 in less than three seasons. That took guts.

Now comes the really hard part: Finding a replacement

I'm sure you're getting lots of advice on what to do next. Hire this guy. Hire that guy.

But instead of telling you what you should do, I'm here to suggest what you shouldn't do.

DON'T reminisce with a walk down memory lane.

It's easy to remember the good old days of a man such as Steve Spurrier. Second acts are rarely a good idea. Once a guy has his name on the stadium, probably be best to leave him there instead of putting him in the sidelines.

DON'T get caught up in the jet stream.

What does that mean, exactly? One coach becomes the hot name in the rumor mill. Everybody gets excited about that name. And then you start to get eyes only for that candidate. Right now, that coach is UCF's Scott Frost. You can't find anyone to say anything bad about Frost. And maybe there is nothing bad about him. In fact, he might your next coach. But don't lock in on him. Keep your options open. The first name to pop into your head isn't always the best name.

DON'T be fooled by small success.

There are some good-looking, bright young coaches out there. Frost, for example. And Mike Norvell at Memphis. Don't overestimate their accomplishments.

Norvell is 15-6 as a head coach. That's a nice record. Nice, not excellent. And that 15-6 has been at Memphis. Let's be honest, it's the AAC, not the ACC. He's beating up on Navy, UConn and Tulane.

Frost? Same thing. AAC competition. And the record hasn't been that great. Frost is 13-7 and his best win in a year and a half has been against ... uh, it's hard to find a best win. Unless you count a blowout of Memphis, that same Memphis from the AAC.

This isn't to say good coaches can't come from smaller schools. Urban Meyer was one of those guys. So was Brian Kelly.

But know who else was one of those guys? Skip Holtz. He tore it up at East Carolina and was a mess at USF. Now he's back where he belongs at a mid-major.

DON'T be fooled by limited success.

It's easy to be attracted to a coach who suddenly has a couple of good victories against traditional powers. For example, Iowa State's Matt Campbell. He looks like he might have the chops to be a big-time coach, but he's the hot name right now because his Cyclones beat Oklahoma, which was No. 3 at the time, and TCU, which was No. 4.

How about you let the dust settle on the season before determining if those really were good victories. Maybe Oklahoma and TCU will turn out be not that good and those victories won't be as impressive as first thought.

Campbell's Cyclones were 3-9 a season ago and have lost two games this season, to mediocre Texas and Iowa. Which means everyone has placed heavy emphasis on those victories against Oklahoma and TCU.

It's always dangerous to look at victories in a vacuum.

DON'T like a guy just because you know him.

Mississippi State's Dan Mullen is a former Florida assistant. USF's Charlie Strong is a former Florida assistant. Just because you don't have to give a guy directions on how to the get to the stadium doesn't mean he will make a great coach. I boiled a hot dog once. I know how to get to the kitchen. Doesn't mean I'm a good chef.

Also, fitting into this category is Willie Taggart, the former USF coach. But just because he used to live a couple of area codes away doesn't mean he can develop a quarterback and be able to be Georgia and Tennessee every year.

DON'T fall for a coach just because he's a name.

Jon Gruden is a name. Everyone knows him. Everyone knows Chip Kelly, too. They were once great coaches — emphasis on the word "were.'' Ask yourself why they aren't coaching now before deciding if they should coach again.

Look, Scott, your next head coach might be one the names listed above. I'm on record as really liking Kelly. Many think Mullen or Frost would be an excellent choice. And no matter who you pick, we won't know until he actually takes over.

So good luck.

Only the future of the program rests on your decision.

Sincerely,

Tom Jones

P.S. Better you than me making this call.

Contact Tom Jones at tjones@tampabay.com. Follow @tomwjones.