Gators Head Coaching Hot Board

Now that Dan Mullen is no longer employed at Florida, it’s time to take a look at some of the possible candidates to be the Gators’ next head coach.

Here are six names to keep an eye on, presented in alphabetical order. Of course, some of these coaches are more likely to be candidates than others.

Dave Aranda

Current Job: Head coach, Baylor

Career Record: 11-9

Pros: Aranda oversaw terrific defenses at Wisconsin from 2013-15 and at LSU from 2016-19. He was part of LSU’s 2019 national championship team before bolting for the head coaching job at Baylor.

His success on the defensive side of the ball makes him an attractive candidate, as does his reputation as a solid recruiter.

Cons: Aranda doesn’t have much experience. He’s in only his second season as a head coach, and he didn’t hold a full-time assistant coaching job at a Power Five school until 2013.

His career record is only slightly above .500. The year prior to his arrival in Waco, the Bears went 11-1 and played in the Sugar Bowl. They fell all the way to 2-7 in Aranda’s first year, though they have rebounded with a 9-2 record and a No. 11 ranking this season.

Aranda has the looks of a potential future star, but there are way less risky options available.

Mario Cristobal

Current Job: Head coach, Oregon

Career Record: 61-59

Pros: Cristobal is regarded as one of the best recruiters in the country, as he was named 247Sports’ National Recruiter of the Year for the 2015 cycle and the runner-up for the 2016 cycle when he was Alabama’s offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator. A Miami native and a former University of Miami player, he would help the Gators keep some of those top South Florida recruits from going out of state to schools like Alabama, Georgia, Clemson and Ohio State.

As a former offensive lineman and offensive line coach, he should be able to improve one of the Gators’ biggest weaknesses.

Cristobal has done a nice job with the Ducks, posting a 34-12 record and winning back-to-back Pac-12 championships.

Cons: Because Cristobal isn’t an offensive guru and is more of a CEO type of coach, his success at Florida would be more dependent on who he hires as his coordinators than some of the other names on this list.

Despite having the most talented team in the Pac-12 on a regular basis, his teams have found ways to lose one or two games every year that they shouldn’t have lost, the most recent example coming on Saturday when they lost 38-7 to Utah. That pattern of underachieving is a major red flag. If he can’t make the playoff in a conference where his team is more talented than everyone else, how is he going to do so when he has Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M to contend with?

Then there’s his bad six-year stint as the head coach at Florida International that saw him post a 27-47 record before getting fired. Yes, he’ll be able to recruit far better players at Florida, but he’ll also have to compete against far better players. How much has he grown since his FIU days?

Luke Fickell

Current Job: Head coach, Cincinnati

Career Record: 46-14

Pros: Fickell worked for 15 years at Ohio State under three head coaches, a rarity in the modern college football landscape. He was part of two national championship teams, including one as a co-defensive coordinator.

He’s considered one of the top defensive minds in the sport, which Florida could desperately use right now given how the defense has played the last two years. He’s also a solid recruiter.

He led the Bearcats to an undefeated regular season in 2020 and nearly pulled off an upset of Georgia in the Peach Bowl. His 2021 team is undefeated and is in line to become the first Group of Five team to make the College Football Playoff.

Cons: Fickell has never coached outside the state of Ohio, so who knows how he would fit in culturally at Florida or if he has the necessary recruiting connections in the state of Florida.

Any time a school hires a defensive guy as their head coach, there are always concerns about whether he’ll be able to put together a quality offensive staff and give them the freedom they need to put up enough points. Fickell has done that at Cincinnati, but will he be able to do that at a larger program?

Lane Kiffin

Current Job: Head coach, Ole Miss

Career Record: 75-41

Pros: Kiffin is one of the top offensive coaches in the game, as the Rebels rank fifth in the country in total yards, 18th in scoring, 20th in passing and sixth in rushing this season. His quarterback, Matt Corral, is considered one of the frontrunners for the Heisman Trophy.

He also helped transform Nick Saban’s Alabama offense from a run-heavy, ball-control type of team into a modern offense with spread formations, lots of downfield passing and quick tempo.

Kiffin won two Conference USA championships at Florida Atlantic in 2017 and 2019.

Cons: Kiffin shares a lot of similarities with Mullen. He’s a terrific offensive tactician and play-caller, but it’s unknown if he’ll be able to assemble a quality defensive staff or recruit at a high enough level to have success at Florida. He also has a quirky personality that the fans will love when he’s winning and get annoyed with when he’s not.

He also had some immaturity issues earlier in his career, such as when he publicly accused Urban Meyer of violating NCAA recruiting rules in 2009 as the new head coach at Tennessee. He has cleaned up his reputation in recent years, though.

The last time he was the head coach at a powerhouse program, he got fired at USC after posting a 28-15 record in 3 ½ years, though he did have to navigate some severe NCAA restrictions that were imposed after it was discovered that Reggie Bush had accepted impermissible benefits from sports agents while he was still in college. Would he do better at a similar type of program on the East Coast?

Billy Napier

Current Job: Head coach, Louisiana

Career Record: 38-12

Pros: A quarterback at Furman in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Napier possesses a solid knowledge of the offensive side of the ball.

He’s also regarded as a terrific recruiter, as he was one of Alabama’s lead recruiters during his stint as wide receivers coach from 2013-16. His last three recruiting classes at Louisiana have ranked first in the Sun Belt.

He’s a young and energetic coach that the players should be willing to run through a brick wall for. He has a penchant for making aggressive decisions when it comes to going for it on fourth downs, going for two-point conversions and dialing up trick plays. He’s earned national recognition for his catchphrase: “Scared money don’t make money.”

He spent three years working for Dabo Swinney at Clemson from 2008-10, and his personality and coaching style is reminiscent of Swinney.

Perhaps most significantly, he’s a winner. He’s won four consecutive division titles, and his Ragin’ Cajuns are favored to win their second straight Sun Belt Championship. They’ve only lost two games over the past two seasons, and one of them came against a much more talented Texas team.

Cons: Napier is a former Saban assistant with no prior Power Five head coaching experience. That formula hasn’t worked out well for Florida in the past.

As a younger coach, does Napier have the CEO skills to assemble a quality staff at a place like Florida? If things don’t go well early on, will he have the mental strength to persevere and get things back on track, or will he wear down like the last three UF coaches?

Bob Stoops

Current Job: Analyst, Fox Sports

Career Record: 190-48

Pros: Coaches with 190 career wins and a national championship on their resume aren’t on the market very often, which would make Stoops a home run hire for the Gators if they can convince him to come out of retirement.

Stoops is the perfect CEO type of coach. His background is on defense, but his Oklahoma teams were more known for their record-breaking offensive performances. He did a terrific job of hiring assistant coaches at Oklahoma, as Mike Leach, Bo Pelini, Kevin Sumlin, Kevin Wilson, Lincoln Riley and Josh Heupel all went on to become Power Five head coaches.

He knows what it takes to win at this level, and it’s clear from his work with Fox Sports that his passion for the game is still there.

Cons: He retired in June 2017 for a reason. Sure, he still loves the game, but does he still have that burning desire to win inside of him? If things go wrong, will he have the will power to fix things, or will he just say “Forget this” and retire again?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, if Stoops is successful, there’s a chance that he could retire again in 3-4 years, and the Gators will be right back where they started.

Ethan was born in Gainesville and has lived in the Starke, Florida, area his entire life. He played basketball for five years and knew he wanted to be a sportswriter when he was in middle school. He’s attended countless Gators athletic events since his early childhood, with baseball being his favorite sport to attend. He’s a proud 2019 graduate of the University of Florida and a 2017 graduate of Santa Fe College. He interned with the University Athletic Association’s communications department for 1 ½ years as a student and has spent the last two football seasons writing for InsideTheGators.com. He is a long-suffering fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tampa Bay Rays. You can follow him on Twitter @ehughes97.