Updated on Dec. 23 at 10:00 a.m.
It was no surprise on Sunday afternoon when the Florida Gators fired offensive coordinator Brent Pease after his unit averaged just 18.8 points and 316.7 yards per game in 2013. But who head coach Will Muschamp will hire to replace Pease – and become Florida’s fifth offensive coordinator in a seven-year span – remains a huge unknown. OnlyGators.com has compiled a list of potential candidates:
Interim head coach / offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach – USC
Update II added on Dec. 23 at 10 a.m.
Hire him: Pete Roussel of CoachingSearch.com floated Helton’s name on Sunday because he fits with Muschamp’s core beliefs of “ball control and an emphasis on running the ball.” Helton also has a family coaching connection with current Western Kentucky offensive line coach Neil Callaway, who has been rumored to be Muschamp’s top choice to replace Tim Davis. Callaway, a 33-year coaching veteran and the former head coach at UAB, hired Clay’s father Kim Helton as his offensive coordinator in 2007. Kim was a Gators offensive lineman from 1967-69 and UF offensive line coach from 1973-78. Clay was born in Gainesville, FL.
Update: Helton has committed to remain at USC through its bowl game and serve as interim head coach following the departure of Ed Orgeron. Florida leaked Tuesday that it may not make a hire until after the bowl season.
Update II: Helton was retained as offensive coordinator and tight ends coach. However, he has not officially signed a new contract and UF has not hired anyone just yet.
Hold up: There does not seem to be much of a solid connection specifically to Muschamp, and the hire would be curious because Florida’s head coach supposedly wants to go in a different direction with his offense. The Trojans may also retain Ed Orgeron as head coach, and Orgeron could certainly make an offer to Helton in hopes that he sticks around to help lead the offense for the foreseeable future. He would probably be the least-exciting hire, which probably makes him the most likely one.
Co-offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach – Texas
Added on Dec. 7 at 5 p.m.
Hire him: At just 35 years old, the former Longhorns quarterback has spent the last six years with his alma mater after stints at Syracuse, Rice and Alabama. On the same staff as Muschamp from 2008-10, the Gators’ head coach saw Applewhite co-coordinate an offense that finished 11th, 11th…and then 74th in total offense during his three years with the program. Things have not been better over the last few years with Applewhite’s unit finishing 50th, 37th and 64th, respectively, though Mack Brown has shouldered much of the blame for Texas’s problems. The familiarity is undoubtedly there.
Hold up: OnlyGators.com erroneously reported that Applewhite would be Florida’s offensive coordinator in 2011 after Muschamp was hired. A source close to the program explained that he was the top candidate on the new coach’s list at the time. Instead, out of nowhere, Charlie Weis was hired. One year later, after Weis left, Muschamp had a second chance to hire Applewhite away from Texas but instead linked up with Pease. He has now had two opportunities to bring him aboard but chosen not to do so. Why would it be different this time? Just because he could potentially lose his job due to a staff change?
Offensive coordinator, Nebraska
Added on Dec. 20 at 1:15 p.m.
Hire him: A lifelong offensive assistant from the same hometown as Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin (Youngstown, OH), Beck could find himself unemployed if the Cornhuskers make a head coaching change. The Central Florida graduate is in the process of finishing his sixth season in Nebraska, third as offensive coordinator. The Huskers averaged nearly 30 points per game in his first season at the helm of the offense, 34.8 points per game in 2012 (28th nationally) and 32.6 points per game in 2013 (46th nationally). At Kansas in 2007, Beck served as wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator; the Jayhawks ranked 17th in passing (291.0 yards per game) and second in scoring offense (42.8 points per game).
Hold up: Beck is still employed and quite well paid after receiving a bump in salary to $700,000 in 2013. Though Bo Pelini’s future at Nebraska is certainly murky at best, if he is actually kept on as coach in 2014, Beck would likely be in the same position there as he would be at Florida under Muschamp. The difference, of course, being that the Huskers’ offense is already his while he’d be reworking the Gators’ offense from scratch. Beck was one of the highest paid assistants in college football last season and does not appear to have a direct connection to anyone on UF’s staff.
Offensive coordinator – UCLA
Added on Dec. 3 at 11 a.m.
Hire him: Mazzone brings experience, talent and recruiting chops to the table as a coach with 33 years of coaching under his belt. He has spent nine years coaching in the SEC (all as an offensive coordinator) and most recently helped create and direct high-powered attacks at Arizona State (2010-11) and UCLA (2012-13). Mazzone gave Muschamp’s defense at LSU fits when the two squared off in 2004, and he also has some NFL coaching experience, which Muschamp values. With Jim Mora, the Bruins’ current head coach, a legitimate candidate for a possible move to Washington (where he played in college), Mazzone could be in play.
Update: Mora committed to return to UCLA, signing a new six-year contract. Though it was reported Tuesday that Muschamp had reached out to Mazzone, it would be a surprise if he did not stay alongside Mora. Then again, anything can happen, especially if UF offers a big payday.
Hold up: Though he has never served as a head coach, Mazzone is apparently being considered for a number of top jobs including the vacancy at Wake Forest. He also has no connection to Muschamp or the Florida program and has lived and coached on the West Coast most of his career (aside from his stints in the SEC).
Assistant head coach, offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach – Duke
Hire him: Muschamp likes to hire coaches with whom he is familiar, and he coached against Roper thrice from 2001-03 while Roper was offensive coordinator at Ole Miss and Muschamp (who won two of three close games) was defensive coordinator at LSU. Currently in his sixth year with the Blue Devils, Roper’s unit has been humming the last two seasons, ranking top-60 nationally in scoring and total offense each year. He has helped push Duke to the ACC Championship game for the first time in program history.
Hold up: Roper has family with him at his current position as his brother Zac is the Blue Devils’ tight ends coach, assistant special teams coach and recruiting coordinator, all positions currently filled on the Gators’ staff. And while his offense has undoubtedly been successful at Duke, it is not world-beating by any means.
Unemployed – former head coach at Wyoming
Updated on Dec. 20 at 1:15 p.m.
Hire him: A longtime offensive coordinator under Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel (he spent 19 years on his staffs at Toledo and Mizzou), Christensen was Wyoming’s head coach for the last five seasons before being fired on Sunday. His offenses are high-octane and would certainly be a welcome change at Florida.
Update: Christensen was hired to run Utah’s offense.
Hold up: Christensen has no known ties to the Gators, and his pass-first spread-style offense would be quite a departure from what UF has run under Muschamp over the last three seasons. Though a source close to the program told OnlyGators.com that Muschamp is interested in going with a more up-tempo style, Christensen may be too far out of his comfort zone…but maybe that is exactly what Florida needs. Also, this happened in October, though its doubtful Muschamp would shy away from someone with passion, intensity and anger…he may even go so far as to embrace it.
Offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach – Arizona State
Updated on Dec. 18 at 6:30 p.m.
Hire him: A young up-and-comer in his second season leading ASU’s offense, Norvell prides himself on running a balanced yet explosive offense. The Sun Devils will likely finish the season ranked top 15 in scoring offense and top 25 in total offense for the second-straight year. Also a quarterback coach, his quick-strike style has already resulted in numerous school records being set
Update: Norvell has been promoted to deputy head coach.
Hold up: Norvell has had great success under Todd Graham at Tulsa, Pittsburgh and now Arizona State for the last seven seasons and may not necessarily be ready to move on. He also has no known connections to the Florida program and would be one of the youngest members of the coaching staff.
Co-offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach – Texas A&M
Added on Dec. 7 at 5 p.m.
Updated on Dec. 18 at 6:30 p.m.
Hire him: Considered a top up-and-coming assistant, Spavital has worked his way up from quality control coach at Tulsa in 2008 to graduate assistant at Houston (2009) and Oklahoma State (2010), quarterback coach at West Virginia (2011-12) and his current position at Texas A&M. Though he has only been coaching for six years and is just 28 years old, Spavital has learned from some of the brightest offensive minds in the game including Gus Malzahn, Todd Graham, Kevin Sumlin, Mike Gundy and Dana Holgorsen. The Orlando Sentinel also points out that he has also coached names like Case Keenum, Brandon Weeden, Geno Smith and Johnny Manziel.
Update: Spavital has been promoted to play caller at Texas A&M.
Hold up: There are plenty of reasons to get excited about Spavital, but his lack of experience as a playcaller and age are obvious concerns. The Sentinel notes that former Florida offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan was also 28 when he became Florida’s offensive coordinator…but that was 1980 and this is 2013. The SEC is a different animal these days. That’s not to say Spavital is not capable or a legitimate candidate. It would, however, be a gutsy move for Muschamp to hire such a young and inexperienced coach to coordinate the offense of one of the top programs in the nation on his own when he’s never done it by himself before.
Offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach – North Carolina
Updated on Dec. 18 at 6:30 p.m.
Hire him: A disciple of Larry Fedora – and his current offensive coordinator – Anderson is in just his second year at UNC but helped turn the program around in a major way last season. According to the school’s website, the Tar Heels offense “established more than 35 school records” under Anderson in 2012. This season, North Carolina is ranked in the top 50 of scoring offense and total offense despite recruiting players nowhere near the caliber of those at Florida. Anderson has no ties to the Gators or Muschamp, but radio host Frank Frangie of 1010 XL out of Jacksonville, FL, reported Friday that he has been “contacted,” has interest and would “want to bring” offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic with him. UF is also in the need of a new coach for that position group.
Update: Anderson was hired as the head coach at Arkansas State.
Hold up: When it comes to pedigree and top-level experience, Anderson simply does not have it. Teams he has coached include Baylor and Sam Houston State in the 1980s; Eastern New Mexico, Howard and Trinity Valley Community College in the 1990s; and New Mexico, Middle Tennessee, Louisiana-Lafayette, Southern Mississippi and now North Carolina over the last 13 years. The know-how is obviously there but would Anderson really be the choice with more exciting candidates potentially available?
Co-offensive coordinator – Auburn
Hire him: He’s coached under Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher and Gus Malzahan and even holds an American football record for registering 611 passing yards in a single game while playing in NFL Europe for the Scottish Claymores. Craig coached with Muschamp at LSU in 2004 (as a graduate assistant) and Miami in 2005 (as a special teams assistant) but leapt up the coaching ranks starting in 2010 when Fisher hired him as his quarterbacks coach. Malzahn picked him up for the 2013 season, and he has done nothing but help Auburn’s offense run smooth all year long.
Hold up: Though he is undoubtedly helping with the game plans and playbooks, Craig is not really calling the plays for the Tigers (that is a responsibility Malzahn keeps for himself). He has also never served as an offensive coordinator before this year, which means he is a bit wet behind the ears as far as being tasked with running a big-time offense is concerned.
Unemployed – former head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars
Hire him: A tight end at Florida from 1980-82, Mularkey has been out of work this season and would be able to step in immediately if hired. He has been coaching in the NFL since 1994, serving as an offensive coordinator with the Pittsburgh Steelers (2001-03) Dolphins (2006) and Atlanta Falcons (2008-11). He did not cross paths with Muschamp in Miami but did work under Saban for a year. Mularkey is a creative offensive play caller but believes in having a physically punishing offense, which undoubtedly fits one of Muschamp’s ideals. He really hit his stride with Atlanta, which earned him the Jacksonville head coaching job in 2012.
Hold up: Mularkey has never truly coached or recruited in college, serving just one year as an offensive and defensive line coach at Concordia University in 1993. His ties to Florida and Saban give his candidacy legitimacy, but Muschamp would have to wonder if he is committed to coaching on the college level or just trying to earn some stripes for another NFL opportunity.
Wide receivers coach – Dallas Cowboys
Hire him: A former member of Nick Saban’s staff at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins, Dooley’s ties to Muschamp go way back and make him a legitimate contender for the position. He flamed out of his head coaching gig at Tennessee, which many will argue he did not deserve in the first place, but has proven to be a solid assistant on both levels. He would also be someone who Muschamp trusts and would likely be on the same page with, a trait that may not have been the case the last two years.
Hold up: Dooley has actually never served as an offensive coordinator before despite having coached nearly every position on that side of the ball except quarterback. He went from being the Dolphins’ tight ends coach to head coach of Louisiana Tech and skipped a step on the coaching ladder. The opportunity to get back into the college game would be attractive to Dooley but would Muschamp, with his job on the line, take that kind of risk even for a presumed friend?
Unemployed – former head coach at USC
Hire him: Scoff if you want, but Kiffin was a part of a record-setting offense when he was an assistant with the Trojans and improved Tennessee’s offensive output by 60 percent during the one season he was head coach of and play caller for the Volunteers. His USC offenses – after he returned as head coach – were top-25 in 2010 and 2011 and top-40 in 2012. He is also a hell of a recruiter, even if some of his methods may irk rival fans and turn off some recruits.
Hold up: Kiffin publicly trashed the Gators and then-head coach Urban Meyer, though he later claimed that was just competitive recruiting. Florida fans would be enraged at first, which is not the type of response the athletic department wants to elicit from a hire that is supposed to be a program-saver. He would also not have much benefit of the doubt overall and is not necessarily the type of person you want to bring in for the long haul as his eyes are always on the next opportunity.
Head coach – Jacksonville
Updated on Dec. 7 at 5 p.m.
Hire him: Bell possesses a lot of the attributes Muschamp is looking for in an offensive coordinator. He’s obviously talented, runs a pro-style set and has professional experience as a NFL and CFL player. He is also an alumnus who played quarterback for the Gators from 1983-87. His JU team features a strong down-field passing attack balanced with a solid running game, and he is one of very few true Steve Spurrier disciples in the game today. OnlyGators.com has reported previously that Bell would jump at the chance to run UF’s offense.
Update: Numerous reports came out during the week noting that Bell is not in contention for the job. A source close to Bell confirmed to OnlyGators.com that he has not bee contacted yet in the Gators’ search.
Hold up: Despite all of his success, Bell has never coached in the FBS and would certainly require complete control of the offense in order to run it without interference. Though he was interviewed by Muschamp two years ago before he eventually hired Pease, Bell was not a top candidate for the position. It seems unlikely that he will get a chance to run Florida’s offense while Muschamp is in charge even though the two get along perfectly fine, a source tells OnlyGators.com.
Joker Phillips and Brian White
Wide receivers coach and running backs coach – Florida Gators
Hire (one of) them: Two of the most experienced coaches on the staff, both Phillips and White are former offensive coordinators who have called plays at previous stops and done quite well in that charge. UF’s players are big fans of both men (as are incoming recruits). Phillips is relatively new to the program, but White has been around since 2009 and OnlyGators.com learned he was the runner-up to Pease when Muschamp hired a new offensive coordinator in 2012.
Hold up: Muschamp’s goal in hiring a new offensive coordinator is to inject some life into the Gators on that side of the ball. Though Phillips and White have their own ideas and offensive philosophies, players, recruits and fans would likely view the promotion of one of them as “much of the same.” That may not be fair to either of the men, but perception is sometimes reality. But if Florida strikes out while trying to bring in a hot name (whether due to Muschamp’s rocky start as a head coach or any number of other reasons), the Gators could do much worse than to fall back to one of these two options.