New Gators coach? Keep an eye on these names to replace Dan Mullen

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Florida Gators are in the business of finding a new head football coach after firing Dan Mullen on Sunday.

Who could the Gators consider?

Here is a list of six names likely to be on the Gators’ shortlist and a couple of familiar names to throw out as wild card picks.

Mario Cristobal

In his four years as the head coach at Oregon, Cristobal has led the Ducks to a 34-12 record. In 2019, he took Oregon to the Rose Bowl and last year, to the Fiesta Bowl. He knows the state of Florida, having spent six years as the head coach at FIU and before that as an assistant at his alma mater, Miami. He’s known as an outstanding recruiter and he’s had success in a Power Five conference, the Pac-12.

Luke Fickell

The former Ohio State interim head coach has led Cincinnati to its greatest success on the football field, including winning 11 games three times in the past four years. The outlier was a 9-1 season during the pandemic that included a trip to the Peach Bowl. At Cincinnati, Fickell has gone 46-14 and this season has the Bearcats in contention for a spot in the College Football Playoffs as a non-Power 5 team. Would he want to come south? That’s a big question, but the upgrade of Florida over Cincinnati is clear.

Bob Stoops

Will the former Gators defensive coordinator and former Oklahoma head coach come out of retirement? The talk is that he would consider it. Stoops was a highly successful head coach, leading Oklahoma to the 2000 national championship and winning 10 conference titles in the Big 10 in 18 seasons.

He retired from coaching in 2016 only to come out of retirement in 2020 to coach the Dallas Renegades of the XFL. The league never got going and closed down during the pandemic.

Lane Kiffin

Another coach with history in Florida. Kiffin, now the head coach at Ole Miss, was the head coach at FAU from 2017-2019 and spent one season as the offensive quality control coach for the Jaguars in 2000. He doesn’t have a strong track record of staying put. He was the head coach of the Oakland Raiders from 2007-2008 before he was fired after 20 games as head coach.

He spent one season as the head coach at Tennessee after he accused Urban Meyer, then at Florida, of recruiting violations. He was then lured away to USC in 2010, replacing Pete Carroll. He coached four seasons for the Trojans, going 28-15 and winning the Pac-12 South in 2011. They did not go to a bowl game because they were ineligible to do so. Kiffin was fired five games into the 2013 season. He then took over at FAU. He’s a controversial figure who has some past beef with Florida. But he’s also a top offensive mind. Kiffin would be a high-risk-high-reward selection.

PJ Fleck

Currently the head coach at Minnesota where he has compiled a 33-23 record, including an 11-2 record in 2019 when he took the Gophers to a Big 10 West championship and an appearance in the Outback Bowl. Prior to Minnesota, he went 30-22 at Western Michigan, including taking the Broncos to a 13-1 record and an appearance in the Cotton Bowl. Is he ready to handle an SEC job? That will be a big question. He also doesn’t have experience in the south, which could cast doubt on his ability to recruit in the area.

Billy Napier

The head coach at Louisiana is considered a rising star in the profession. Napier, 42, has posted a 38-12 record as a head coach of the Sun Belt team. He has spent most of his career in the south. He played quarterback at Furman, then was a graduate assistant at Clemson.

After a year as the quarterbacks’ coach at South Carolina State, he returned to Clemson as the tight ends coach and then as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach (where he coached former Bartram Trail star Kyle Parker as well as Tahj Boyd). He also spent a season as an analyst at Alabama before serving as the assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach at Colorado State in 2012 for Jim McElwain. After that, he returned to Alabama to coach wide receivers from 2013-2016 before one season at Arizona State as the offensive coordinator.

Wild cards

Shane Matthews and Kerwin Bell

Would these two former Gators’ quarterbacks find themselves in the mix? Matthews has never coached in college or professional football, but he spent two seasons as the head coach at Nease High School and could be considered because of his history at Florida, where he was a three-time All-SEC quarterback in the early 90s.

Bell’s coaching resume is more robust. He was the head coach at Jacksonville University from 2007-2015, then won a Division II national championship at Valdosta State. After a year as the offensive coordinator at USF, he took the head coaching job at Western Carolina where he is 3-6 this season.

Both Matthews and Bell would be surprises, but schools, not only Florida, tend to value familiarity with the program’s culture when making coaching moves.

Who you got?

Now that we have thrown some names out there, who would you like to see take over? Feel free to add to the discussion if the coach you want wasn’t listed.

About the Author:

Cole joined News4Jax full-time in January 2017, but he has been a part of the team since he began filling in as a sports anchor in 2005.