Florida fired coach Dan Mullen on Sunday as the Gators’ disappointing 2021 season nears its end.
ESPN first reported the move on the heels of a 24-23 loss to Missouri on Saturday, Mullen’s fifth straight loss to a Power 5 opponent. Florida is 5-6 and will need to beat rival Florida State in Week 13 in order to salvage bowl eligibility. A loss to FSU would mark the Gators’ first bowl miss since 2017.
Mullen led the Gators to New Year’s Day Six bowls in his first three seasons, and that included a SEC championship game appearance in 2020. But a series of bad losses and bizarre press conferences led to another unraveling in Gainesville, including surrendering 52 points in a near upset by FCS Stamford.
Now Florida will be searching for its fourth different coach since Urban Meyer left after the 2010 season. That is going to attract some interesting candidates in the search for stability.
To do that, Florida might want to do what the other competitive programs in the SEC are doing. Why not target a former Nick Saban assistant? Several are enjoying big success as head coaches in the 2021 season. Four of the seven candidates on this list fit worked for Saban.
Bill O’Brien, Alabama offensive coordinator
Saban assistants Kirby Smart, Jimbo Fisher and Lane Kiffin have built successful programs in the SEC. O’Brien has thrived in the role of offensive coordinator at Alabama this season, and he was instrumental in guiding Penn State through ugly NCAA sanctions. He had a 15-9 record in two seasons with the Nittany Lions. Smart, Fisher and Kiffin were with Saban longer, but O’Brien seems on the fast track to coaching in the FBS again.
Todd Monken, Georgia offensive coordinator
The Florida-Georgia rivalry has picked up since Smart took over, and the Gators could make the bold play to take his offensive coordinator. Monken spent four years as an NFL OC with Tampa Bay and Cleveland from 2016-19, and he’s maintained a balanced offense with the Bulldogs. He does have one stint as a FBS coach, a somewhat-forgettable three-year run with Southern Mississippi that produced a 13-25 record from 2013-15.
Matt Campbell, Iowa State coach
Forget about the disappointing season at Iowa State. Campbell is a master culture builder. There are not too many coaches who could lead the Cyclones to five straight bowl appearances. He has the highest winning percentage in school history and led the Cyclones to a top 10 finish in 2020. Campbell has been in the mix for other vacancies the last few seasons, and Florida would be a nice bump up for the soon-to-be 42 year old. Campbell is a better fit than it seems, and it would be interesting to see what he does with more resources.
Billy Napier, Louisiana coach
Napier is going to take a job with an SEC school at some point. He continues to win with the Ragin’ Cajuns with a 36-12 record, and he’s clearly learned from stints as an assistant with Clemson (2006-10) and Alabama (2013-16). Napier, 42, played quarterback at Furman, too. Levi Lewis has been one of the most-efficient quarterbacks in the FBS the last two seasons. Napier would have success at Florida, even if he isn’t the flashiest name on this list.
Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss coach
Can you imagine the viral repercussions on social media? Kiffin had a successful three-year stint at FAU before taking the Ole Miss job, and he’s a brilliant offensive mind. Kiffin’s career has changed trajectories since he served as an offensive coordinator from Alabama, and he’s aggressive play-calling is cut from the same cloth as legendary Florida coach Steve Spurrier.
James Franklin, Penn State coach
Why would Florida dump Mullen for Franklin, who has the same record at Penn State and is no stranger to the bizarre press conference? Franklin had two nine-win seasons at Vanderbilt (2012-13), and he’s enjoyed steady success with the Nittany Lions. Franklin also recruits at a high level, one that could play out well in the SEC. Franklin is 90-47 between stops at Vanderbilt and Penn State since 2011. Florida is 86-50 in the same stretch. Is that enough of an improvement?
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