A look at 10 outside-the-box coaching candidates for Florida
The Grand Introduction
FOX Sports South takes a whimsical look at 10 outside-the-box candidates for the vacancy at Florida -- a program that, over the last 25 years, enjoyed absurd success with Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, but struggled with Ron Zook and Will Muschamp. Point of order: We're omitting big names like Bob Stoops (Oklahoma), Jim Harbaugh (San Francisco 49ers), Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss), Kyle Whittingham (Utah), Dan Mullen (Mississippi State) and Rich Rodriguez (Arizona) -- the consensus top-6 candidates among national pundits -- and focusing on these radical and perhaps long-shot coaching hires. Our general criteria: We'll try to focus on program-builders with head-coaching experience and offensive backgrounds. However, we couldn't resist including two noted defensive tacticians. (Photos: Kevin Jairaj/Jamie Rhodes/Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)
Candidate #1: Kirby Smart
CURRENT JOB: Defensive coordinator, Alabama ... SEC/FLORIDA TIES: Defensive back at Georgia (2005-08), 11 total seasons at SEC programs (Georgia, LSU, Alabama) ... REASONS TO BE THE MAN IN GAINESVILLE: 1) The 38-year-old Smart has already been one of college football's most sought-after candidates. But he has remained with the Crimson Tide at every turn. 2) Smart, the 2012 Assistant Coach Of The Year, has been a big part of Alabama's dynastic recruiting hold during the Nick Saban era, especially among defensive linemen and linebackers. 3) Saban can't stay at Alabama forever ... and Smart may be the wink-wink heir apparent. But it bears asking: Would Smart be comfortable handling the absurd task of following in Saban's considerably large footsteps? He might actually feel less pressure in Gainesville.
Paul Abell-USA TODAY SportsPaul Abell-USA TODAY Sports
Candidate #2: Josh McDaniels
CURRENT JOB: Offensive coordinator, New England Patriots ... SEC/FLORIDA TIES: None ... REASONS TO BE THE MAN IN GAINESVILLE: 1) McDaniels has worn many hats in his 11 seasons with the Patriots (two tours of duty). 2) Future Hall of Famer Tom Brady (above) has enjoyed his greatest pro success -- victories- and numbers-wise -- with McDaniels as New England's QBs coach or O-coordinator. 3) McDaniels has head-coaching experience at the NFL level, leading the Broncos for 2009-10. In his first season, Denver started out 6-0. 4) McDaniels' magnetic personally would appeal to prospective Florida recruits -- especially on the offensive end. Of course, it could be argued the Gators program sells itself (hello, sunshine) ... regardless of who's patrolling the sidelines on Saturdays.
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY SportsWinslow Townson
Candidate #3: Adam Gase
CURRENT JOB: Offensive coordinator, Denver Broncos ... SEC/FLORIDA TIES: Assistant with LSU (2000-02) ... REASONS TO BE THE MAN IN GAINESVILLE: 1) Gase's rapid ascension up the NFL ladder recently caught the eye of the Cleveland Browns, who pursued Gase for the head-coaching vacancy last winter, before opting for Mike Pettine. As such, Gase will likely be a coveted NFL commodity again this offseason. 2) QB Peyton Manning has been quick to credit Gase for much of his record-setting success with the Broncos (2012-14). 3) Gase has worked for three NFL franchises (Broncos, 49ers, Lions) and boasts a strong track record with developing QBs. 4) At 36, Gase would bring new cool to a Gators program that's long on defensive blue-chippers ... but in need of a progressive offensive direction.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY SportsRon Chenoy
Candidate #4: Mike Shanahan
CURRENT JOB: Unemployed, but collecting mega-sized checks from the Redskins ... SEC/FLORIDA TIES: Florida's O-coordinator from 1980-83 ... REASONS TO BE THE MAN IN GAINESVILLE: 1) Shanahan (two Super Bowl rings as a head coach) would bring instant stability to the Gators. 2) Shanahan's vast NFL experience would hold great appeal to blue-chip recruits. 3) Shanahan has a solid rapport with Florida AD Jeremy Foley. 4) At 62, Shanahan presumably has the drive and energy to build Florida's program for the long term. What's more, his hiring might buy the Gators time to tap a so-called coach-in-waiting. (Note: ESPN's Adam Schefter says Shanahan prefers to focus on NFL opportunities ... but things can always change. Money talks.)
Brad Penner-USA TODAY SportsBrad Penner
Candidate #5: John 'Doc' Holliday
CURRENT JOB: Marshall head coach ... SEC/FLORIDA TIES: Florida's associate head coach (2005-07) ... REASONS TO BE THE MAN IN GAINESVILLE: 1) Under Holliday's direction, the Marshall offense currently ranks 2nd nationally -- 47.1 points per game. 2) QB Rakeem Cato (2,613 yards passing, 32 total TDs) remains a viable Heisman candidate. 3) Undefeated Marshall (10-0) has gone 16-1 in its last 17 games. 4) At age 57, Holliday is in his relative prime as a potential renowned coach. 5) A rock-solid recruiter, Holliday would likely help Florida maintain its lofty standing with blue-chip prospects. 6) Holliday's vast offensive background would be an immediate boon for the Gators. 7) How's this for loyalty: In his 35-year coaching career, Holliday has only been with four schools (Marshall, West Virginia, Florida, North Carolina State).
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY SportsSteve Mitchell
Candidate #6: Jim McElwain
CURRENT JOB: Colorado State head coach ... SEC/FLORIDA TIES: Alabama's QB coach/offensive coordinator (2008-11) ... REASONS TO BE THE MAN IN GAINESVILLE: 1) Colorado State (9-1 overall) remains in cotention for the Mountain West championship and a place in a prominent bowl. 2) The Rams currently hold top-40 rankings nationally with passing (13th), points scored (30th) and points allowed (38th). 3) Before Colorado State, McElwain (21-15 as a FBS head coach) enjoyed offensive success at six other college stops, including Louisville, Michigan State and Alabama. He was also the Oakland Raiders' QB coach in 2006. 4) McElwain would be enticing to Florida recruits, particularly the offensive personnel. He also has intimate knowledge of the dog-eat-dog mini-universe of SEC recruiting.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY SporIsaiah J. Downing
Candidate #7: Bobby Petrino
CURRENT JOB: Louisville head coach ... SEC/FLORIDA TIES: Auburn O-coordinator (2002), Arkansas head coach (2008-11) ... REASONS TO BE THE MAN IN GAINESVILLE: 1) Petrino may be a lightning rod of media attention, but he's also one of the most respected offensive visionaries in modern-day football. 2) Petrino (90-33 lifetime record) has plenty of high-level experience building college programs. 3) Petrino would most likely maximize the existing talent at Florida, especially on the offensive end. 4) On the other side of the ball, wouldn't it be funny if Petrino brought Todd Grantham (his D-coordinator at Louisville) with him to Gainesville? Grantham, the former coordinator at Georgia, has plenty of experience with big-time recruiting in the SEC.
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY SportsJamie Rhodes
Candidate #8: Gary Patterson
CURRENT JOB: TCU head coach ... SEC/FLORIDA TIES: None ... REASONS TO BE THE MAN IN GAINESVILLE: 1) Patterson has the 9-1 Horned Frogs (No. 4 ranking) positioned to reach the inaugural College Football Playoff and compete for a national title. 2) Patterson has been a godsend for TCU, leading the program to 129 wins (eight 10-victory campaigns) and seven bowl triumphs over 15 seasons. 3) Patterson is on the short list of the nation's most prolific defensive minds, garnering fame with his spin on a 4-2-5 base alignment. 4) At age 54, Patterson could easily lead the Gators program for 10, 12 seasons. 5) If hired, Patterson would likely have a stronghold on recruiting in Florida and Texas -- two talent-rich states for prep all-stars.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY SportsMatthew Emmons
Candidate #9: Kliff Kingsbury
CURRENT JOB: Texas Tech head coach ... SEC/FLORIDA TIES: None ... REASONS TO BE THE MAN IN GAINESVILLE: 1) If Florida's looking for a whiz-kid coach/matinee idol to lead the program for 10, 20 seasons, Kingsbury would be the easy choice. Of course, enduring two decades in the Gainesville pressure cooker could age a guy. It's the college-football equivalent of a two-term U.S. president. 2) The Kingsbury-inspired Red Raiders currently rank 7th nationally in passing -- at 328 yards per game. 3) With Houston (2011) and Texas Tech (2012), Kingsbury was cited as "College Coordinator Of The Year" (source: FootballScoop.com). 4) A tireless recruiter and charismatic program salesman, Kingsbury would own the room at SEC Media Days -- assuming such trivialities matter.
Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY SpoMichael C. Johnson
Candidate #10: Dana Holgorsen
CURRENT JOB: West Virginia head coach ... SEC/FLORIDA TIES: None ... REASONS TO BE THE MAN IN GAINESVILLE: 1) The followers of Gator Nation would love Holgorsen's confidence and gusto for aggressive play-calling ... reminiscent of a certain Florida head coach from 1990-2001. 2) West Virginia knocked off No. 4 Baylor; the Mountaineers also have three narrow losses to Alabama, Oklahoma and TCU this year -- all top-7 teams at the time. 3) Holgorsen's offense at WVU has averaged 500 total yards per game this season. The Mountaineers have also tallied 30-plus points eight times. 4) At age 43, Holgorsen would be an ideal long-term hire for the Gators. He would instantly transform that offense. 5) Like Gary Patterson, Holgorsen -- a former Texas Tech assistant -- has intimate knowledge of the Texas recruiting scene.