Head Coach Hot Board: 15 Initial Names to Know

Nov 22, 2021 | 0 comments


Unlike the last go-around when three names – Scott Frost, Chip Kelly, and Dan Mullen – quickly separated themselves from the pack as the favorites become Florida’s new head coach – this time around the field feels a bit more open.

We'll of course update our board several times as names fall off, but here are 15 initial names to know as Gators’ Athletic Director Scott Stricklin begins the search for a new head football coach.

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DAVE ARANDA

Current: Baylor | Age: 45 | Record: 11-9


The Reason Why: After helping lead LSU to the 2019 National Championship, Aranda left the Tigers to take over a Baylor program that has been scandal-ridden for years. A 2-7 start during the Covid-19 effected 2020 season had turned into a 9-2 record this year with upsets over No. 14 Iowa State and No. 8 Oklahoma. He is an up-and-coming young coach who will likely jump to a better job if his career trajectory continues on its current path.

The Reason Why Not: Besides his four-year stay in Baton Rouge as LSU's defensive coordinator, he doesn't have a background that includes stops or recruiting in the south. Certainly not in the state of Florida.

Initial Reaction:  Though he has a defensive background, he isn't in the Will Muschamp, play for a 17-14 win, mold. He hired Jeff Grimes (who helped develop Zach Wilson) and in turn, Baylor plays an exciting style of offense. Having said that, I just don't see it. Not at this stage in his career.

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Jamey Chadwell

Current: Coastal Carolina | Age: 44 | Record: 88-54

The Reason Why: He is 44 years old, but has already been a head coach for over 10 years. After finishing 2020 ranked No. 14 in the nation, Chadwell has had the Chanticleers ranked once again for most of this season. He's a young, offensive mastermind who has a small school in the Carolinas playing well above their lot in life. Who does that remind you of?

The Reason Why Not: He has done a damn good job building programs at his stops over the years, but they have been smaller programs. Also, the biggest black mark against him are the recruiting violations while he was at Charleston Southern, which resulted in the program vacating football wins.

Initial Reaction:  Yes, he has the Chanticleers playing above their head and has one of the more entertaining offensive styles in college football, where they light up the scoreboard at will, but it would seem like he would need to make the jump to a lesser program before stepping into the spotlight at a place like Florida.

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Mario Cristobal

Current: Oregon | Age: 51 | Record: 61-59

The Reason Why: Cristobal was born and played his college football in the state of Florida – even though it was in Miami – making it a homecoming of sorts if he was hired by the Gators. After failing at FIU, he spent several seasons on Nick Saban's staff, which doesn't exactly hurt in the resume department. If everyone on the list was ranked according to their ability to successfully recruit at UF, he would be in the top two at the very least, perhaps even No. 1 overall.

The Reason Why Not: Struggling at Florida International (27-47 in six seasons) isn't unexpected, so that doesn't get held against him. He has done much better at Oregon, but despite his overall record, much like Dan Mullen, his teams have a tendency to play down to their competition level at times. Included is a loss in their rivalry game to a terrible Oregon State team last year and an equally bad Stanford team this season.

Initial Reaction: If we are throwing 2020 out the window because of how it was impacted by Covid-19 (Oregon actually had a no-contest with Colorado because of it), that makes Cristobal 30-10 and what should be two top 10 finishes in three full seasons with the Ducks. That is commendable and not terribly far behind what Chip Kelly did in his first three seasons.

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Luke Fickell

Current: Cincinnati | Age: 48 | Record: 52-21

The Reason Why: There's no doubting his coaching bonafides. After going 6-7 as the interim head coach at Ohio State back in 2011, he stuck with the Buckeyes as their defensive coordinator for five more seasons before taking over at Cincinnati. He is 46-14 in five seasons with the Bearcats, where after a 4-8 first season, he is averaging over 10 wins a season the last four years and currently, has UC sitting inside the top five.

The Reason Why Not: All of that is incredibly impressive and should make him a top-tier candidate for any opening. However, when it comes to Florida, not only has he never been out of the midwest, hell, he's never coached outside the state of Ohio. What are his ties to Florida's primary – and even secondary recruiting areas? The only real question is how would his experience to this point translate on the recruiting trail in the south. Then again, you could have said the same thing about Urban Meyer coming in back in 2010.

Initial Reaction: If Gainesville were located somewhere up north, this would be about as big of a homerun hire of a young coach with a high ceiling as the Gators could possibly make. And it still might be, but as it stands right now, something about it just doesn't pass the taste test.

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James Franklin

Current: Penn State | Age: 49 | Record: 91-47

The Reason Why: First and foremost, recruiting wouldn't be an issue if he were the head coach of the Florida Gators. He is one of the top recruiters on this list. On the field, I would be willing to bet there aren't five other coaches who could do what Franklin did at Vanderbilt. Period. Like with everyone else, we'll throw last year's Covid-19 impacted season and his 4-5 record out the door. With that being the case, He's had a semi-strong run with the Nittany Lions with three top 10 finishes in a four-year span and that's with PSU being part of one of the toughest divisions in college football.

The Reason Why Not: The only real knock on Franklin is that after a fast start, this season has quickly gone south. After making their way into the top five in the rankings, they have lost four of their last six games and have fallen out of the top 25 altogether.

Initial Reaction:  Having built him up above, it's time to mix some reality in the results here below. He has done an outstanding job, and it's clear to see why he's so highly thought of, however, as just a coach, is he that much of an upgrade over Mullen? At a premiere program such as PSU, he went 31-15 in the same time span that Mullen went 34-15. Yes, he is a better recruiter, but is he a better or potentially a better overall head coach for Florida?

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Brian Johnson

Current: Philadelphia Eagles | Age: 34 | Record: NA

The Reason Why: There likely wouldn't be a more popular hire among the current players and perhaps even administration. Johnson is one of the up-and-coming coaching stars in the game of football, evidenced not only by what he did in college, but the improvement Jalen Hurts has shown under his direction this season in Philadephia. A plus, plus recruiter who relates well to prospects and players, he has a bright future ahead of him.

The Reason Why Not: While Johnson is on the fast track to a head coaching position, starting out with your first job at a place like Florida isn't likely in the cards.

Initial Reaction:  No, I don't think he is a serious candidate, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was at least given a call, if for no other reason than to get some feedback on what he thinks Florida should be looking for in a new coach.

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Lane Kiffin

Current: Ole Miss | Age: 46 | Record: 75-41

The Reason Why: It's not hard to understand the love affair so many in the Gator Nation have with him (look at the poll on our front page that has him as the preferred candidate). They see a brash, young offensive mind and immediately think Steve Spurrier. He is without question one of the top play-callers in the college game and I think he would do well recruiting in-state because his persona plays to that age range.

The Reason Why Not: Take away the name and just focus on the resume and there's nothing there that would lead you to believe that he should be a top-tier candidate. He failed miserably in his one season at Tennessee. Completely flamed out at Southern Cal (though he had two top-five recruiting classes). Had an up-and-down stay in South Florida, where he followed up a very good first season with a dismal second season and then rebounded in his third season. He is 14-7 at Ole Miss, and has the Rebels in the top 10 this season, but that is with a potential NFL first-round quarterback, which he inherited.

Initial Reaction: The volatility that has caused him to go off track several times in his career could potentially follow him to Florida. It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if he had a superstar type of run where he turned the Gators into a perennial CFP contender. However, it would be as equally unsurprising if he fell flat on his face. Do you want to take that kind of gamble? Is he worth it?

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Todd Monken

Current: UGA (offensive coordinator) | Age: 55 | Record: 13-25

The Reason Why: His resume is a strong mixture of college and the NFL, including stops with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Plus, playing with walk-on quarterback Stetson Bennett, and without George Pickens – at worst a top 10 receiver in the nation when healthy – he has Georgia sitting in the top 10 in scoring offense this season after the Bulldogs have mostly struggled offensively through the Kirby Smart years. Thus, his addition would also hurt UGA.

The Reason Why Not: Though he could potentially get a head coaching position after what looks like the Bulldogs' march to a national championship, Florida seems a bit out of reach. Especially when you consider his age, his previous stint as a head coach at Southern Miss, and lack of name recognition outside of diehard fans.

Initial Reaction:  As I did more research into his resume, I started to wonder why I included him on my initial list. He might be mentioned by some as a name thrown in the mix, but he won’t be a serious candidate.

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Billy Napier

Current: Louisana | Age: 42 | Record: 38-12

The Reason Why: After spending five combined years on Nick Saban's staff at Alabama, he moved on to be the offensive coordinator at Arizona State for one season before taking the head coaching position with Louisana. In 49 years of existence, UL has had three 10 win seasons, all three coming with Napier as the head coach. The Ragin' Cajuns have appeared in eight bowl games, three (will be four this season) have been under Napier. The only time the program has been ranked in the AP Top 25, has been with Napier as the head coach. By this time you get the point that he has worked miracles in Lafayette including upsetting two ranked teams as the coach of a Sun Belt Conference member. You have to like that he has turned down SEC programs in the past while waiting for the right fit. That gives a glimpse into how measured he is and how intent he is on building a program for the long haul.

The Reason Why Not: The one thing that would be of concern is the lights are much brighter going from Louisana to Florida. He has however seen what it is like coaching under the spotlight due to his time at Clemson and Alabama. 

Initial Reaction: Of all the candidates on this list, you get the feeling that -other than Lincoln Riley below – Napier has the highest ceiling for bringing continual success to Florida over many years. Just off the jump, I would say he is probably one of the top two or three candidates, and if he has the right answers for questions about how he would structure his football organization and who he has in mind to add to his staff, he might just hold down the top spot.

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Bill O'Brien

Current: Alabama (offensive coordinator) | Age: 52 | Record: 15-9

The Reason Why: While his resume NFL and college, isn't exactly eye-popping, he did do a decent job at Penn State considering the circumstances. There isn't much to write home about other than that – except that he did spend time at Georgia Tech, so he knows the lay of the land in the south and his name might still carry some weight in Texas recruiting circles. We can always debate how much of Alabama's success is due to the coordinators and how much is due to Nick Saban stacking talent. The answer here might be that they lose coaches each year, but the machine never breaks down.

The Reason Why Not: I'm not sure that he is or should be considered a top-tier candidate. Nothing about him would make this an exciting hire for the fan base. Yes, his time in the NFL could be appealing to prospects, but having seen him on NFL Hard Knocks when he was the head coach of the Texans, I don't see him as being someone who would be a top-end recruiting head coach.

Initial Reaction:  His name is out there, as is the case most of the time when it comes to Saban's coordinators, but this doesn't feel like a good fit – culturally or from a recruiting standpoint.

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Dan Quinn

Current: Dallas Cowboys (defensive coordinator) | Age: 51 | Record: NA

The Reason Why: There are some obvious pluses here. During his time as Florida's defensive coordinator, he had mixed results. His first season, 2011, was rough, but the next year his defense pitched two shutouts and didn't allow more than 20 points until the last two games of the year. After that season he was hired away by the NFL to be Seattle's defensive coordinator and spent two years with the Seahawks before being hired as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. After a Super Bowl loss to New England in his second season, things began to go downhill quickly until he was fired by the Falcons and caught on as the Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator this season. His name recognition in the south and in Texas could be a big plus.

The Reason Why Not: Out of his last 20 years of coaching, only two of them have been spent at the collegiate level. He has no college head coaching experience. While it isn't written in stone that UF has to hire an offensive-minded coach, certainly it is a plus.

Initial Reaction:  He has some ties to Florida, but not the overall resume to justify being hired as the head coach of the Florida Gators.

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Lincoln Riley

Current: Oklahoma | Age: 38 | Record: 55-9

The Reason Why: This is incredibly easy to write. He is 55-9 in five seasons as the head coach at Oklahoma, has never finished worst than ranked 7th in the nation, has produced Heisman Trophy winners and a high flying offense, and on top of that is considered to be a top-end recruiting head coach.

The Reason Why Not: There is no reason why not. Nothing at all comes to mind. Seriously. Nothing.

Initial Reaction:  If he is at least entertaining an offer to become LSU's next head coach, you would think that he would at least listen to what Florida has to say as well. It would probably take $10 million a year at the very bottom end, but this would be by far and away the biggest home run hire imaginable and would give the Gators a place at the CFP table on a yearly basis and vault the program into the Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma (see what I did there) stratosphere.

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Bob Stoops

Current: Retired | Age: 61 | Record: 190-48

The Reason Why: On Sunday Scott Stricklin said that Florida is looking for a head coach that can achieve at a high level for a sustained period of time. Enter Bob Stoops, who led Oklahoma to 10 or more wins in 14 of his 18 seasons in Norman. Yes, he is the oldest candidate on this list, but he is still a decade younger than Nick Saban. Remember, Stoops didn't retire because of a decline on the field (OU went 22-4 in his last two seasons), or in recruiting, he was just ready to walk away. Has this five-year hiatus recharged his battery?

The Reason Why Not: Age may be of concern to some, and his 9-9 bowl game record isn't the greatest. However, that's it.

Initial Reaction:  Yes, he wouldn't be the long-term solution, but then again none of the hires since Steve Spurrier moved on have been. If you could cut a 4-to-6 year deal that allows him to put in place his successor as he did at Oklahoma with Riley (we see how that has worked out), this would be a home-run type of hire. With the transfer portal and renewed hope along the recruiting trail, he would slow down the momentum of Georgia and have UF at the CFP level by 2023. Keep them there a year or two and then turn the program over to a protege.

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Mark Stoops

Current: Kentucky | Age: 54 | Record: 57-53

The Reason Why: He has built Kentucky into a program that can potentially contend for second and third in the SEC East, which is better than you would historically expect from the Wildcats. He has also beaten Florida in two of the last four years. Stoops does a very good job evaluating and developing talent but isn't seen as a top-end recruiter – which sounds like a certain someone else.

The Reason Why Not: Out of everyone on the list, he would be the least 'sexy' hire. The resume – four games above .500 and just one 10 win season in the first eight years – just doesn't scream out that he would be deserving of this type of job.

Initial Reaction:  To me, the one thing that sticks out most about Stoops is that as a defensive-minded coach he lost a game to Florida he should have won because not once, but twice a receiver went completely uncovered. To me, and it's only an opinion, you don't fire Dan Mullen to hire Mark Stoops.

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Mel Tucker

Current: Michigan State | Age: 49 | Record: 16-14

The Reason Why: Despite his age, he is seen as one of the top up-and-coming college coaches mostly due to his mixture of college and NFL coaching experience, that has included stops at Ohio State, Alabama, and Georgia on the collegiate level and the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars on the NFL level. He is considered a very good recruiter and would have UF competing for top classes again.

The Reason Why Not: His resume reads a lot better than his actual record. Yes, he has Michigan State rolling along (well at least before last weekend's drilling at the hands of OSU), but his overall record is 16-14 and this is the first time he has had a winning record in three seasons as a head coach spanning two stops.

Initial Reaction: Let's be honest here, to get him a program would likely need to go above and beyond the 10-year, $95-million contract offered by MSU. Given his record and level of experience, why would anyone do that?

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