As Florida continues to look for Dan Mullen’s replacement, here are four thoughts on the Gators’ coaching search and the national landscape:
Billy Napier is the name to watch
There’s a lot of chatter around the Louisiana coach. The 42-year-old Tennessee native was an assistant at Clemson under Dabo Swinney and at Alabama under Nick Saban. He’s 38-12 in four years with the Ragin’ Cajuns and 31-5 in the past three. Napier has also signed the Sun Belt’s top recruiting class three years in a row.
Cross James Franklin off the list
The Penn State coach (and former coach at Vanderbilt) agreed to a 10-year deal Tuesday that will pay him $7 million annually in base salary, plus a $500,000 bonus each year. His name came up during the Florida State search two years ago, and he could have been in the mix at Florida or USC this cycle. Not anymore. That means an already shallow candidate pool is down another coach.
But Franklin still matters
His new contract is part of the yearslong escalation of coaching salaries. It’s not just Franklin, who has won a Big Ten title at a big-name program. Michigan State gave Mel Tucker a new 10-year, $95 million contract. Tucker’s career record: 16-14 (11-7 with the Spartans).
Seven years ago, the Gators hired Jim McElwain for an average salary of $3.5 million. Four years ago, they hired Dan Mullen for $6 million, then boosted that to more than $7.5 million last offseason. We’ll see how much the Franklin and Tucker offers reset the marketplace as Florida finds Mullen’s replacement.
It’s also worth remembering that Miami could have an opening, too. The ACC does not bring in anywhere near the money that SEC and Big Ten programs do. The revenue gap will make it harder for the Hurricanes and Seminoles to hire (or retain) successful coaches.
Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said the university will move as quickly as possible, but keep this in mind: Coaches rarely leave a job before the end of their regular season (or conference championship). Jimbo Fisher leaving Florida State for Texas A&M the day before the Seminoles’ finale in 2017 was the exception, not the rule.
When Stricklin hired Mullen away from Mississippi State, they didn’t talk on the phone until the Friday of Thanksgiving week — a day after Mullen’s regular season had ended. Mike Norvell met with FSU brass during Memphis’ open date but didn’t officially take the job until after his Tigers beat Cincinnati to win the AAC championship. Nebraska introduced Scott Frost a day after he led UCF to the 2017 AAC title. Mississippi didn’t confirm Lane Kiffin’s hiring until soon after he coached Florida Atlantic to the Conference USA crown.
Is it possible that Florida hires a coach this week? Yes. Kiffin’s regular season ends Thursday night at Mississippi State. If he’s the Gators’ top target (and if the interest is reciprocal), a move could happen quickly. The same is true if UF wants Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, whose season ends Friday against TCU. Retired Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops could also start immediately, but the former Florida assistant under Steve Spurrier told an Oklahoma radio station Wednesday that he was not interested.
But what if Florida picks Napier or Oregon coach Mario Cristobal? Napier’s team has qualified for next week’s Sun Belt title game, and Cristobal’s No. 11 Ducks will play for the Pac-12 championship next week if they beat Oregon State. If there’s a recent precedent for a sitting head coach leaving his team before it plays in a conference championship, we don’t know about it.
The Dec. 15 early signing day means schools want to hire someone as soon as possible. But it’s possible the best candidates won’t be available this week.
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