The Florida Gators head-coaching search has begun. Monday, athletic director Jeremy Foley said the school needs to have a coach who “has a proven track record of success on the offensive side of the ball,” and given the options out there, I’ll take a look at the possible coaches that may fit the mold.
As you’ll see, NFL coaches Jim Harbaugh and Chip Kelly aren’t on the list. I don’t see Florida being able to lure those guys away from successful pro careers. My list does have some risky picks, but could be possible depending on what Florida is offering.
Here my five top offensive-minded coaches:
Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England Patriots:
McDaniels has been part of great offensive teams in the NFL, serving as offensive coordinator on the 2007 New England Patriots team that almost was the second team to go undefeated in league history. That season, the Patriots lit the scoreboard up, averaging around 37 points per game. New England also had four occasions where they scored 48 points or more in their games. While McDaniels did have lower offensive numbers during his two seasons as Denver’s head coach (21 points per game), the teams lacked the proper weapons for McDaniels’ scheme. Returning to the Patriots as offensive coordinator in 2012, New England has averaged 32.3 points per game this season.
While his head coaching record isn’t outstanding (11-17 in two seasons with the Broncos), and he has experience leading a team before. Yes, college football is different from the pros, but McDaniels also has shown an interest in developing quarterbacks. In the 2010 NFL Draft, the then-Denver head coach traded back into the first round to get Tim Tebow with the hopes of developing his game. When McDaniels was named the St. Louis Rams’ offensive coordinator the following year, he worked extensively with quarterback Sam Bradford, who looked strong in the preseason but was hindered by injuries through the year. McDaniels is a coach who could put a lot of points on the board for the Gators, and his work with Tom Brady could be a selling point to top quarterbacks on the recruiting trail.
Art Briles, head coach, Baylor:
The possibility of this actually happening is up in the air. Baylor has experienced a resurgence under Briles, including high-profile bowl appearances and a new stadium. It remains to be seen if the native Texan would want to continue to build upon what he’s done with the program, or leave it in the much-improved condition it is in.
If Foley wants an offensive-minded head coach, it would be hard to find a better choice than Briles. Last year, the Bears set a NCAA record for most points in a season with 684 (52.4 per game). Baylor also led the nation in total offense with 618.8 yards per game. He’s shown to have success developing quarterbacks, with Case Keenum, Heisman-winner Robert Griffin III and Bryce Petty having great success in their college careers.
If Briles decided to leave for Gainesville, he has the opportunity to put an offense on Florida Field akin to the days of Steve Spurrier’s Fun ‘N Gun system. Utilizing speedy receivers and a quarterback who has a big arm, Briles’ offense would have success even in the defensive-minded SEC. It would also be the type of offense the fans would want to see. Since Urban Meyer left after the 2010 season, there has been a void among Gator Nation for exciting ways to put points up, and Briles would fill that desire.
Mike Gundy, head coach, Oklahoma State:
He’s a man, he’s now 47, and he has an offensive background that can help Florida return back to the offensive success they used to have. In Oklahoma State’s five wins this season, the Cowboys have averaged 38.4 points per game and have averaged 432 yards per game. The Cowboys have been able to show the ability to run and pass equally, and with the players Florida have on offense, Gundy could achieve even more success.
However, like Briles, Florida could run into similar issues of luring Gundy away from Oklahoma State. Having played at the school, his heartstrings may be too tight to pull him away from Stillwater.
Mark Hudspeth, head coach, Louisiana-Lafayette:
His offensive abilities aren’t as heralded as the names above, but if Foley is looking to go with a younger, successful college coach who still can put points on the board, Hudspeth is a good choice. Louisiana-Lafayette is currently 25th in the NCAA in rushing, averaging 229.8 yards per game. The Ragin’ Cajuns have also averaged 30.9 points per game this season, scoring 34 or more points six out of the ten games played thus far. In 2012, Florida struggled with the Cajuns, defeating them in the final minutes.
Florida has previously shown their willingness to hire coaches that have had success at smaller programs. Urban Meyer had successful years at Bowling Green and Utah before coming to Florida and while Steve Spurrier had a storied playing career with the Gators, his ability to have success at a basketball school like Duke showed his abilities as a college head coach. Hudspeth has an offense that can get it done via the ground or air, and would have enough big plays to keep defenses on their toes and fans happy.
Dabo Swinney, head coach, Clemson:
Dabo’s name has continued to come up in talks about the open position, and with good reason- he’s had consistent success at one of the nation’s top programs. His offenses have been some of the nation’s best and he can recruit throughout Florida. Many players, such as Lake Butler-native C.J. Spiller, have opted to play under Swinney, rather than stay in the state. The Tigers have consistently have had the speed that could (and has) competed with the SEC.
Swinney also has SEC experience to go along with his offense knownledge. The head coach played wide receiver at Alabama, and later served as a graduate assistant, then a wide receivers/tight ends coach. Swinney would know what is expected of Florida and the style of play in the conference. Of the names on here, this is probably the most feasible.