Following a 42-7 loss to Georgia on Saturday, Florida has decided to fire head coach Jim McElwain. During his 34 games with the Gators, McElwain went 22-12 and claimed back-to-back SEC East titles. Prior to Florida, McElwain worked under Nick Saban at Alabama as the program’s offensive coordinator and went 22-15 in three years as Colorado State’s head coach from 2012-14.
Although McElwain (a former offensive coordinator) had a winning record and won the East in back-to-back years, Florida’s offense struggled to make progress and failed to develop a quarterback under his watch. Additionally, the Gators slipped in recruiting and watched as rival Georgia emerged as a national title contender in coach Kirby Smart’s second season. The split between McElwain and Florida culminated after a bad week of PR surrounding the former coach’s comments in a press conference prior to the Georgia game.
Who could replace McElwain in Gainesville? Here are 12 candidates.
12 Candidates to Replace Jim McElwain at Florida
Neal Brown, head coach, Troy
Brown is in his third season at Troy, guiding the program to a 20-13 record since 2015. He had big shoes to fill in replacing Larry Blakeney at Troy but led the Trojans to a 10-win season in 2016 and beat LSU in Baton Rouge this year. The Kentucky native has previous experience in the SEC from a two-year run as Mark Stoops’ offensive coordinator with the Wildcats from 2013-14. Additionally, he called the plays at Texas Tech (2010-12) and Troy (2008-09). Brown is a young, up-and-coming coach who has a strong background on offense.
Scott Frost, head coach, UCF
Frost is a rising star in the head coaching ranks and has UCF ranked as the top Group of 5 team in just his second year at the helm. In Frost’s two years in Orlando, the Knights are 13-7 and 8-4 in AAC play. UCF made a six-game improvement in the win column in Frost’s debut and doubled last year’s total (six) to 12 in 2017. Another reason Frost would be enticing to Florida: Offense. The former Nebraska quarterback worked under Chip Kelly at Oregon from 2009-12 and called the plays for the Ducks from 2013-15. At UCF, Frost’s offense is averaging 51 points a game in 2017, up from 28.8 in 2016.
Chip Kelly, ESPN analyst, former Oregon/NFL coach
Could Florida convince Kelly to return to the college sidelines? In addition to being an offensive innovator, Kelly went 46-7 as Oregon’s head coach from 2009-12. The Ducks won at least 10 games in every year in that span and played for the national championship in the 2010 season. Kelly left Eugene for the NFL in 2013 and spent three seasons with the Eagles, accumulating a 26-21 record. He was dismissed from Philadelphia just before the 2015 season ended and was hired as San Francisco’s head coach for 2016, where he finished 2-14. Life as a head coach in the SEC isn’t easy. Would Kelly prefer to stay in the studio with ESPN or potentially look for a job with less scrutiny out in the Pac-12? Florida at least has to call and find out.
Joe Moorhead, offensive coordinator, Penn State
It’s only a matter of time before Moorhead takes over as a head coach at a Power 5 program. As the head coach at Fordham from 2012-15, Moorhead accumulated a 38-13 record and went to the FCS playoffs in three seasons. He was hired as Penn State’s offensive coordinator prior to the 2016 campaign and brought immediate improvement to Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions ranked 11th in the Big Ten in scoring in 2015 but improved to third in Moorhead’s first year and rank second after eight games in 2017. Prior to his last two jobs, Moorhead was an offensive coordinator and assistant at UConn from 2009-11 and also worked at Akron from 2004-08.
Chad Morris, head coach, SMU
Morris is a coach with extensive ties to the state of Texas, so he could be a prime candidate for any openings (Texas A&M?) in the Lone Star State this offseason. After spending from 1994-09 in the high school ranks, he was hired to call the plays at Tulsa in 2010. Under Morris’ watch, the Golden Hurricane averaged 41.4 points a game that season. Morris became Clemson’s play-caller in 2011 and remained in Death Valley through 2014. His hire and development of the offense was a big reason why the Tigers won 42 games from 2011-14. Morris inherited a struggling SMU program in 2015 but has brought steady improvement to Dallas. The Mustangs are 13-19 over the last three years but finished 5-7 last season and are 6-2 through eight games in 2017.
Dan Mullen, head coach, Mississippi State
Mullen already has a connection to this job. Former Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin was hired in the same role at Florida last September. Whether or not that plays any role (good or bad) in this hire is uncertain, but Mullen would be an outstanding hire for the Gators. Mississippi State is the toughest job in the SEC West, yet the Bulldogs have been to seven consecutive bowl games and posted winning records in six out of the last seven years. Additionally, this program won 10 games, ranked No. 1 in the first CFB Playoff rankings and earned a trip to the Orange Bowl in 2014. The Pennsylvania native worked under Urban Meyer in Gainesville from 2005-08 and also has stops on his resume from stints at Utah, Bowling Green and Notre Dame. Mullen has a strong background on offense and a track record of developing quarterbacks. That’s a huge need in Gainesville right now.
Mike Norvell, head coach, Memphis
Norvell picked up where Justin Fuente left off and has Memphis poised to finish in the top 25 this season. The Tigers went 8-5 in Norvell’s debut and are off to a 7-1 start in 2017. Overall, Memphis is 15-6 under Norvell and is the frontrunner to win the AAC’s West Division this season. Prior to taking over as the head coach at Memphis, Norvell worked under Todd Graham at Arizona State as the offensive coordinator from 2012-15 and also at Pitt (2011) and Tulsa (2007-10). Norvell is one of college football’s youngest coaches at age 36. And he’s also one of the nation’s top minds on offense.
Charlie Strong, head coach, USF
Strong has ties to Florida from previous stints in 1991-94 and again from 2003-09. The Arkansas native inherited a Louisville program in need of repair and guided the Cardinals to a 37-15 record from 2010-13. During that span, the Cardinals went to four bowl games and won 23 contests over the final two seasons. Strong was hired at Texas in 2014 and went 16-21 over three years. While Strong was a bad fit in Austin, he’s a proven head coach at Louisville and is 7-1 through eight games at USF. He’s also a good recruiter and has extensive connections to the state of Florida.
Longshots…But Worth a Mention
Dino Babers, head coach, Syracuse
Babers is one of college football’s top minds on offense and has brought steady improvement to Syracuse in his two seasons at the helm. The Orange are 8-12 under Babers and have already matched last year’s win total (four) through eight contests in 2017. Prior to Syracuse, Babers went 18-9 at Bowling Green and 19-7 at Eastern Illinois. While there may be some interest from Florida, it seems unlikely he will leave after this year.
Matt Campbell, head coach, Iowa State
Iowa State has showed marked improvement under Campbell’s watch. After a successful stint at Toledo, Campbell went 3-9 in his debut at Iowa State in 2016 and is off to a 6-2 start in 2017. He’s a good recruiter and has a track record of success on offense, which would be appealing to Florida. However, it seems like a longshot Campbell will leave Iowa State.
Justin Fuente, head coach, Virginia Tech
It’s probably a safe bet to assume Fuente’s name will come up in connection with openings this offseason. After all, he’s 43-28 as a head coach since 2012 and is 17-5 through two years at Virginia Tech. However, Fuente is comfortable in Blacksburg and not likely to leave anytime soon.
Bob Stoops, former Oklahoma head coach
Stoops retired as Oklahoma’s head coach prior to the 2017 season. He appears to have no interest in a return to the sidelines, but Florida has to at least check.