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Updated on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
For the third time in the last eight offseasons, the Florida Gators are seeing a defensive coordinator depart for a promotion to a head coaching job. Following in the footsteps of Charlie Strong and Dan Quinn is Geoff Collins, who will be introduced Wednesday as the new head coach at Temple.
With that, head coach Jim McElwain will be forced to make his second coaching change since taking over Florida ahead of the 2015 season. That may be as simple as promoting from within and hiring a new position coach, or it may be finding someone else to take on the primary responsibility of coordinating the defense.
These are just eight options McElwain has to fill his open coaching position.
Randy Shannon — co-coordinator and linebackers coach, Florida: McElwain convinced the Gators to pony up enough money to incentivize Shannon to dump Arkansas for Florida as Shannon is not only a good defensive coach but solid South Florida recruiter. Shannon spent 12 of the first 15 years of his coaching career with the Miami Hurricanes, serving as defensive coordinator from 2001-06 before being elevated to head coach. (The other three years were spent with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.) As a coordinator with the Canes, he put forward a top-five defense nearly every season; of course, Miami was also loaded with NFL talent. Since being fired as the Canes’ coach, though, Shannon has not called defensive plays as a linebackers coach at TCU (2012) and Arkansas (2013-14) before receiving his three-pronged title (associate head coach, co-coordinator, linebackers coach) at Florida.
Hiring Shannon would be promoting from within, and it would make his former position — or something like it — available. The title and pay increase could be attractive to the other five candidates below. But of course, the defensive coordinator title and salary that comes with it would be even better.
Lance Thompson — assistant head coach defense and defensive line coach, South Carolina: A former linebackers coach, Thompson joined Will Muschamp’s staff this season after previously taking over for him at Auburn calling defense in the 2015 bowl game after Muschamp left the Tigers for the Gamecocks. A former assistant at Alabama under Saban while McElwain was on staff, Thompson is one of the nation’s best recruiters and was put at the head of Saban’s recruiting efforts while with the Crimson Tide. He was expected to be promoted by Auburn to replace Muschamp permanently until Kevin Steele became available. Thompson is currently making $500,000 at South Carolina and can max out at $650,000 per season with bonuses.
Tosh Lupoi — linebackers coach, Alabama: This would be a quick promotion for the 34-year-old Lupoi, whose first SEC coaching role was as a defensive analyst under Nick Saban in 2014; he remains the youngest member of Alabama’s coaching staff. He actually started his career in a major role at age 26 coaching Cal’s defensive line and moved on to a similar position at Washington, seeing massive success at both stops. He would not come without some baggage, however, as Lupoi was accused three years ago of paying for online classes and tutoring for a defensive line recruit. He denied the allegations, and the NCAA decided not to charge him with a violation, but he did not receive a job at USC he was out to get and wound up dropping down to the analyst role with the Tide. Where Lupoi would be a boon for the Gators is as a recruiter, which is why an enhanced role, even if not defensive coordinator, may be enough to bring him on board.
Sal Sunseri — linebackers coach, Oakland Raiders: McElwain’s ties to the Raiders are not relevant here, but he does have ties to Sunseri as both were members of Saban’s national title-winning staff at Alabama. Sunseri did not have much success in one year as a coordinator at Tennessee, but no one there was successful under Derek Dooley. After two years with Jimbo Fisher at Florida State — he was a member of the 2012 title-winning staff there, too — Sunseri left for the NFL to link up with good friend Jack Del Rio. He has always been known as a strong recruiter and was responsible for many of FSU’s top defensive commitments during his two years with the Seminoles. The ties are strong here, and the money may be right no matter which position McElwain is looking to fill.
Kevin Steele — defensive coordinator, Auburn: The 10th-highest paid assistant in the nation, Steele made as much at Auburn as Collins did at Florida this season. Though it would be tough to pull Steele away from the Tigers, he does have a prior relationship with McElwain from their time at Alabama. One issue with Steele is that he has jumped jobs plenty over the last nine seasons, working at four different stops with two separate stints on the Crimson Tide. He’s coordinated defenses for Alabama, Clemson, LSU and now Auburn all since 2007 but may be looking for another head coaching gig after previously leading Baylor from 1999-2002. Seeing as the Gators have been a springboard for many coaches to a head coaching gig, that could be an attractive proposition. Unlike others on this list, the only shot at landing Steele would be as a defensive coordinator, likely with a raise making him the highest-paid assistant in program history.
Tim Skipper — running backs coach, Florida: Skipper’s versatility has been used as a weapon by McElwain, who’s had Skipper coach running backs and linebackers on his staffs and watched from afar as he’s coached defensive backs and coordinated defenses at other stops. Though Skipper is unlikely to be elevated to defensive coordinator, his experience coaching both sides of the ball could be utilized by McElwain if he promotes Shannon, finds a tremendous fit at running backs coach and has an open spot on the defensive side of the ball. Chances are Skipper will stick with running backs as he’s done a great job developing the position over the last two seasons, but he should not be discounted as a candidate for change on the staff.
Pete Kwiatkowski — defensive coordinator, Washington: A longtime assistant under Chris Petersen, Kwiatkowski is leading one of the top 10 defenses in the nation this season. Though he has never coached East of the Mississippi, Kwiatkowski and McElwain are likely very familiar with each other as two crossed paths and know many of the same people as former coaches in the Big Sky Conference. McElwain coached at Eastern Washington from 1985-94 with Kwiatkowski working there in 1998-99. McElwain then moved over to Montana State (1995-99) only to be followed by Kwiatkowski (2000-05). Whether Kwiatkowski would want to leave Petersen’s side is unknown, but a jump to the SEC and a program like Florida would certainly be an attractive proposition.
Charlie Partridge — unemployed: Coming off three seasons as head coach at Florida Atlantic, Partridge is a Sunshine State native who is well known as a great defensive mind and tremendous recruiter. Partridge worked at Pittsburgh from 2003-07 coaching linebackers and the defensive line before being hired by Bret Bielema at Wisconsin in 2008. He beacme co-defensive coordinator for the Huskies in 2011 and moved with Bielema to Arkansas as assistant head coach in 2013 before taking the FAU gig. Not only was Partridge the lead recruiter for Florida while at Wisconsin, he pulled five-star running back Alex Collins out of Fort Lauderdale right under the Gators’ nose on National Signing Day in 2013, his one season with the Razorbacks. The defensive coordinator position would not likely be right for him, but if Shannon is promoted, Partridge could slide in as linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator.
It’s important to note that Collins may not be the only change coming to the Gators’ staff this offseason. While it does not look like offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is in danger of losing his job — he was praised both by McElwain and Saban for the job he did this season — McElwain may decide to replace other coaches, such as how he brought in defensive backs coach Torrian Gray in place of Kirk Callahan following the 2015 campaign. Such a change, combined with a potential promotion for Shannon and Skipper’s flexibility, could result in a coaching staff shake-up.