Looking back at Jim McElwain
I want to like Jim McElwain, but the way he handled the issue with death threats against him has made me question his integrity and his dedication to the University of Florida football program. I get it– being head coach of the University of Florida is hard, stressful, and often thankless. I also understand that these conditions may not be worth $12.9 million, and fans like me will never understand the issues with being head coach at Florida. That being said, I can think of a few people who might be willing to accept the challenges that come with being the head ball coach in Gainesville, and who might provide a fresh perspective for $4 million per year.
Who should follow Coach Mac?
Whoever follows Mac needs to resurrect the glory of offense that has been missing from Gainesville since Dan Mullen left.
The most qualified candidates for the illustrious position of Head Ball Coach should have some coaching experience in Hogtown as an assistant, head coaching experience in the SEC or a Power-5, and background in coaching offense (or access to a good offensive coordinator).
Charlie Strong gets $2.75M from Texas in 2017 and 2018, then $2.5M from USF in 2019, 2020, and 2021. UF would only need to pay USF $2.5M for three years due to the Texas offset. Bringing Charlie home is my favorite fantasy option. He is affordable, competent, and poachable. Charlie has been around the University of Florida since the early 1980s, knows how to recruit the state, and is well respected by athletes and administrators alike in Gainesville. Charlie also has his own coaching tree to bring to Gainesville, but I am curious what kind of offense he would bring. On a side note, if there really are racial tensions in Alachua County, Charlie Strong would be the right man to address those issues–assuming Jim McElwain was sincere about his racially-charged, death threat accusations.
Dan Mullen earns $4.5M from Mississippi State in 2017 with a maximum bonus payout of $1M. Due to Mississippi law, the maximum contract length is four years, so this extends his nine-year term another four years. Dan was Urban Meyer’s right-hand man as far as offense goes, and his MSU Bulldogs do hold a victory over Urban Meyer’s Gators when both are running the same offense. Detractors are uncertain as to whether Mullen’s limited success with recruiting and winning at MSU are due to his skills or the limitations on the Starkville market. Mullen also was head coach at Mississippi State when current Florida athletic director, Scott Stricklin, was in that same position at State. Mullen also happens to have a few assistant coaches on his staff that were on the staff with Urban Meyer, so there is familiarity there.
Casual fans will want the hottest hand in college football, no matter how realistic it would be to bring that coach to Gainesville. Here is my middle tier of potential coaches.
Mike Leach (Washington State) is on contract through 2019 at $2M per year with a clause that requires the school to pay $1.2M per year (60%) if he were fired. Florida is one of the few schools that could afford to pay $4.8M to Washington State, plus another $4M per year. Leach would bring some offense to Florida, but his lack of experience recruiting the area might hurt him.
Kliff Kingsbury (Texas Tech) is on contract through 2020 at $3M per year increasing to $4M in 2020, but he loves Texas Tech and it would not be realistic to expect him to come to Hogtown. Like Leach, he would bring offense to the Gators, but his lack of experience recruiting the area would hurt him. Granted, either offense might look better with talent from Florida high schools.
Scott Frost (UCF) is on contract through 2021 at $1.7M, with a $3M buyout. He knows how to recruit and develop the state of Florida. Rumor has it that Nebraska has dibs, but he has the qualities to at least attempt bringing his winning formula to Hogtown.
Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech) is on contract through 2023 at $4M per year and has an expensive buyout at this time. Florida would need to fire McElwain without paying him $12.9M in order to afford Fuente at $20M+. Fuente is just a fantasy pick at the moment, but it is important to examine the characteristics that make him appealing. He knows how restore glory and hope to a traditional program, and he knows how to balance managing all the pieces of a program.
Mark Hudspeth (University of Louisiana Lafayette) is on contract through 2020 with a salary of $1M and a very affordable buyout. He is an up-and-comer to consider, but at higher risk.
Gary Patterson (TCU) is on contract through 2022 at $4.7M per year. His name had been appearing on Gators fans’ fantasy lists since Urban Meyer left town. I like his complete approach to building and sustaining a program, and his innovative way of using schemes to maximize weakness and amplify strengths of personnel, e.g. 3-3-5 defense.
Chip Kelly collects $1M from the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017 and $6M per year from San Francisco in 2017-2019, with a portion of that offset by ESPN. He would be affordable due to the ESPN offset, but he does not like college recruiting. Kelly’s name pops up on Gator fan fantasy lists just about every year, but this would be a good time to make it a real pursuit now that his NCAA show cause is a more distant memory, and he is affordable due to the 49ers and maybe ESPN offsetting cost.
I will not even bother to list the likes of Urban Meyer (he is not coming back), or Steve Spurrier (he is retired). Nor will I argue that Bobby Stoops should come out of retirement. There are plenty of other names out there, but I would rather not waste time listing them out. If I were Scott Stricklin, I would only look at the two names in the top tier–Charlie Strong and Dan Mullen.
If I were king, I would be calling up Charlie Strong right now, but I would build into his contract enough room to hire offensive genius coaches to complement his defensive coaches. I know that Scott Frost is the overwhelming favorite on various fan boards, and I would not object to his hiring, but I prefer Charlie Strong. Dan Mullen is my next favorite.
I do not know Jim McElwain personally, but he seems to be a good person who does not deserve to be fired over some mis-steps with handling death threats and his inability to fix a potentially troubled football program, but I think this is the time to give someone else an opportunity to fix the program. I think that person should be Charlie Strong.