December 08, 2010
Urban Meyer is walking away from Florida to shower his neglected children with fatherly love while they're still in their volleyball-spiking prime. Even after this season's disappointing slide to 7-5, he leaves behind one of the few programs in the country that can legitimately lay claim to the "dynasty" tag, a towering achievement in just five years – and, now, one that leaves his successor in the unenviable role of grabbing the controls and keeping the speeding train on track.
The last time Florida was in this position, after Steve Spurrier's jump to the Washington Redskins in 2002, athletic director Jeremy Foley bombed by tabbing first-time head coach Ron Zook, a hire that will go down in infamy as one of the worst of the last decade. This time, the first qualification to replace Meyer will be "proven head-coaching experience." No rookies allowed.
Which brings us to the early short list, cobbled together from assorted tweets, informal chatter and dead obviousness:
• The Legacy, Door A: Dan Mullen. It was easy to take Mullen for granted with Tim Tebow in the shotgun and Meyer getting most of the credit as the offensive mastermind, but the dominant attack that led the SEC in total and scoring offense in 2007-08 clearly began to nosedive after Mullen's exit to Mississippi State in '09, and that was with Tebow still on board. The entire operation cratered this fall, finishing 10th in the SEC in yards per game and failing to score a single meaningful offensive touchdown in blowout losses to Alabama, South Carolina and Florida State.
In the meantime, Mullen was fielding the best Mississippi State squad in a decade, propelled by an upset over the master in the Swamp in October. Mullen worked with Meyer for a decade and can offer continuity as well as (unlike last year) a proven track record of turning around a downtrodden program. He's already been heavily rumored for the openings at Minnesota and Miami. Even Mississippi State fans can read the writing on the wall.
• The Mercenary: Bobby Petrino. The neo-Spurrier turned Louisville into a top-10, BCS-caliber program behind a high-powered passing game, and now has done exactly the same thing at Arkansas. He's also due for a raise and has never remained at a job for more than four years – 13 times, in fact, he's moved on to the next paycheck in less than two years, including his stint with the Atlanta Falcons, which didn't even last a full season.
With three years under his belt in Fayetteville and franchise quarterback Ryan Mallett almost certainly moving on to an actual franchise in the NFL, it's about time for Petrino to begin feeling the itch again if the opportunity presents itself.
• The Legacy, Door B: Charlie Strong. Mullen's defensive counterpart in the championship years turned in three top-10 units in 2006 and 2008-09, and just snapped a three-year bowl drought in his first season as the boss at Louisville. With a little momentum, though, he's not likely to bail on the school that gave him his first shot at a head coaching gig after years of fruitless interviews.
• The Legacy, Door C: Kyle Whittingham. Meyer's defensive coordinator at Utah was promoted as his successor in 2005, turned in an undefeated season in 2008 and successfully parlayed the trajectory Meyer began in 2003 into an invitation to join the new Pac-12 next year. Like Meyer, Whittingham has a Salt Lake City connection with Florida president Bernie Machen, who was president at Utah from 1998-2004 and is obviously willing to look to his old stomping grounds for a candidate.
• The New Urban: Chris Petersen. Meyer won 83 percent of his games in four years as a young head coach at Bowling Green and Utah, with two conference championships and an undefeated season punctuated by a BCS win in the Fiesta Bowl. Petersen has won more than 90 percent of his games in five years at Boise State, an absurd number that includes two undefeated seasons, five conference championships and two undefeated seasons punctuated by Fiesta Bowl wins. He's given no indication to previous suitors that he's willing to leave the ascendent powerhouse he's built at Boise State, but he's never been courted by the likes of Florida, either.
• The Usual Suspects. No serious coaching search speculation would be complete without token nods to Bob Stoops, Jim Harbaugh, Gus Malzahn and, in this case, a very special shout out to Steve Spurrier. Acknoweldged, acknowledged.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.