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Chomp: Mullen is out. Here’s a look at Napier, Kiffin & other potential Florida coaching candidates

Florida head coach Dan Mullen watches his team warm up before the start of an NCAA college football game against Missouri Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson) (L.G. Patterson, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

This story first appeared in Chomp, our Gators football newsletter. Subscribe here.


I hope you all have one of those flight-tracking websites bookmarked in your browser because it’s time for another Gators football coaching search.

A day after the 24-23 overtime loss at Missouri on Saturday, Florida announced that it had parted ways with coach Dan Mullen following nearly four seasons.

Mullen led the Gators to three consecutive New Year’s Six bowls, but, looking back, his tenure seemingly began to unravel last year when, amid an ominous fog in the Swamp, Florida lost to LSU 37-34 after Marco Wilson threw a shoe and was flagged, with the 15-yard penalty leading to the Tigers’ game-winning field goal.

The Gators then put up a fight but were unable to defeat Alabama in the 2020 SEC Championship. The team went on to the Cotton Bowl and was blown out by Oklahoma.

With the loss of their quarterback and two first-round NFL draft selections, this season was destined to be somewhat of a rebuilding year for the Gators. They even went toe-to-toe with the Crimson Tide again. But the losses didn’t stop there, with the Gators falling to Kentucky, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri for a total of six in the last nine games. Mullen has been called a quarterback whisperer, yet even play at that position was inconsistent this year.

Mullen’s downfall was almost as fast as his predecessor Jim McElwain’s. Mullen finished his time in Gainesville with a 34-15 record, and six of those losses came in the nine games. McElwain was 22-12 in less than three seasons at Florida, while the head coach before him, Will Muschamp, was 28-21 over four years.

In a tweet, Mullen expressed his thanks for the “privilege” of coaching the Gators.

“I will always cherish the two National Championships we won during my time at UF, along with the past three New Year’s Six Bowls to name a few. The program has a bright future ahead with the young talent on the team and the new football facility that will be finished next spring,” Mullen said.

You can read his full statement here.

How did it all go so wrong so quickly for Mullen?

“I don’t know,” Athletic director Scott Stricklin said at a news conference Sunday afternoon. “I have some thoughts, but I’m going to keep those to myself.”

READ MORE: Florida fires Mullen as struggles mount

Mullen had just signed a five-year contract extension last summer that was set to go into effect next year. Stricklin said that the school would honor Mullen’s contract, which includes a $12 million buyout. The buyout will be spread over seven installments, with a $6 million payout coming within 30 days. Mullen will then get $1 million every July 15 through 2027.

“There’s no timetable. We want to take the time we need to get the right coach, we’d love to have one tomorrow but that’s probably not realistic,” Stricklin said. “But we’re going to move as quickly as we can. We’re going to use every available resource at our disposal.”

You can read more of Stricklin’s comments here or watch his remarks here.

And you can hear Gators Breakdown host David Waters’ reaction to the firing in this episode.

The Gators are now in the market for a coach for the fourth time since Urban Meyer with two national titles on his resume following the 2010 season. And they aren’t the only ones. This year’s coaching carousel already included USC and LSU.

👀 A look at potential candidates

Now the focus is on who will become Mullen’s successor.

Here’s a look at some of the names that News4Jax sports anchor and reporter Cole Pepper says are likely to be on Florida’s shortlist.

Billy Napier: There has been a lot of buzz surrounding Napier’s name these last two days. Napier, the head coach of Louisiana, 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 and 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. 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 McElwain. After that, he returned to Alabama to coach wide receivers from 2013 to 2016 before one season at Arizona State as the offensive coordinator. In a Gators Breakdown episode, Josh from the Ragin Review Podcast details what Napier would bring as a head coach.

Lane Kiffin: Kiffin, who’s in his second year as the Ole Miss head coach, is certainly one of the more controversial candidates, but he’s also a top offensive mind with an extensive resume. He was the head coach of the Oakland Raiders from 2007 to 2008 before he was fired after 20 games. He spent one season with Tennessee before heading to the West Coast to replace Pete Carroll at USC. He coached four seasons for the Trojans, going 28-15 before his infamous firing on an airport tarmac five games into the 2013 season. Then came his time at the “Nick Saban coaching rehabilitation program” in Alabama, which led to him becoming a head coach again — for three seasons at Florida Atlantic and now for the Rebels and Heisman Trophy candidate and former Gators commit Matt Corral.

Bob Stoops: Of course it wouldn’t be a Florida football coaching if his name wasn’t on this list. Stoops was the defensive coordinator under Steve Spurrier when the Gators won their first national championship and won another NC as the head coach of Oklahoma. Stoops retired from college football coaching in 2016 and is currently serving as an analyst for Fox Sports. Could he be lured back into coaching and, if so, for how long?

NEW GATORS COACH? Keep an eye on these names to replace Mullen

Luke Fickell: Fickell is currently at Cincinnati, trying to make the Bearcats team from outside the Power Five conferences to reach the playoff. During his time at Cincinnati, he has gone 46-14, winning 11 games in three of the past four years. The outlier was a 9-1 season during the pandemic that included a trip to the Peach Bowl, where the Bearcats nearly defeated Georgia. Would Fickell, who played at Ohio State and was the Buckeyes interim head coach in 2011, want to come south? That’s the big question.

Mario Cristobal: In his four years as the head coach at Oregon, Cristobal has led the Ducks to a 34-12 record. He’s known as an outstanding recruiter and he knows the state of Florida, having spent six years as the head coach at Florida International and before that as an assistant at his alma mater, Miami. Would he rather go there if that job opens? He also served as an Alabama assistant under Saban.

To view more potential candidates, which include two beloved former Gators, click here.

You can also share who you’d like to see take over the program here.

No matter who is chosen, David says it starts with recruiting for Florida’s next coach. In the latest episode of Gators Breakdown, David is joined by former cohost Bill Sikes to take a look back, and look ahead, at recruiting at Florida.

Knox to serve as interim for FSU game

In the meantime, running backs coach and special teams coordinator Greg Knox, a 27-year veteran of Southeastern Conference football, will serve as interim head coach when Florida (5-6, 2-6 SEC) hosts Florida State (5-6, 4-4 Atlanta Coast Conference) on Saturday in the final game of the 2021 season.

It’s the second time Knox will step in for Mullen in five years. After Mullen was named Florida’s head coach in 2017, Knox served as Mississippi State’s interim coach for the Bulldogs’ win in the TaxSlayer Bowl that year.

Knox said that quarterback Emory Jones remains the starter and that Anthony Richardson has a chance to play, too.

“If he’s healthy and available, we’ll get him in the game,” Knox said.

READ MORE: Florida turns to Knox amid transition

You can read more of Knox’s comments here.

First-year quarterbacks coach Garrick McGee will call plays for Florida, and linebackers coach Christian Robinson will handle the defense — which will be his third straight week doing so since the firing of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.

Even with only one game remaining on the schedule this season AND that game being against your in-state rival, Stricklin said Sunday that he thought the time was best for the program and Mullen to move on immediately. Stricklin said that he offered Mullen the opportunity to coach Florida’s game against Florida State, but he declined, saying it would be a distraction.

While Florida has been on a downward trajectory, Florida State, led by Mike Norvell, has been on an upward one, including two consecutive wins: a 31-28 victory over Miami at home and then a 26-23 road win over Boston College. Saturday’s game will determine whether the Gators or the Seminoles will become bowl eligible.

Running back Dameon Pierce said Mullen’s departure, which he described as a “shock,” left the team with extra motivation to end the season year with win against their rival.

“The valley teaches you lessons that the mountaintop doesn’t,” Pierce said. “I would rather go through a low time and learn so when I get to my highest point I’ll be ready.”

Defensive end Zachary Carter said Knox had a message for the team Monday morning.

“Send the seniors off the right way and just talking to us about how important this game is, big rivalry,” Carter said. “So I’m excited for that.”

Saturday’s game kicks off at noon and will be televised on ESPN.

🏟️ It’s rivalry week

Since the new CFP rankings don’t come out until Tuesday evening and we already have the new Associated Press top 25 poll, here’s who all of those teams are playing in Week 13 aka RIVALRY WEEK (all games are on Saturday unless noted otherwise):

  • No. 1 Georgia at Georgia Tech — Noon
  • No. 2 Ohio State at No. 6 Michigan — Noon
  • No. 3 Alabama at Auburn — 3:30 p.m.
  • No. 5 Cincinnati at East Carolina — 3:30 p.m. Friday
  • No. 5 Notre Dame at Stanford — 8 p.m.
  • No. 10 Oklahoma at No. 7 Oklahoma State — 7:30 p.m.
  • No. 8 Ole Miss at Mississippi State — 7:30 p.m.
  • Texas Tech at No. 9 Baylor — Noon
  • Oregon State at No. 11 Oregon — 3:30 p.m.
  • Penn State at No. 12 Michigan State — 3:30 p.m.
  • No. 13 BYU at USC — 10:30 p.m.
  • No. 14 Texas A&M at LSU — 7 p.m.
  • No. 15 UTSA at North Texas — 2 p.m.
  • Colorado at No. 16 Utah — 4 p.m. Friday
  • No. 17 Iowa at Nebraska — 1:30 p.m.
  • No. 18 Wisconsin at Minnesota — 4 p.m.
  • No. 19 Houston at Connecticut — Noon
  • No. 20 Pittsburgh at Syracuse — 7:30 p.m.
  • No. 21 Wake Forest at Boston College — Noon
  • Boise State at No. 22 San Diego State — Noon
  • UL Monroe at No. 23 Louisiana — 4 p.m.
  • North Carolina at No. 24 NC State — 7 p.m.
  • Missouri at No. 25 Arkansas — 3:30 p.m.

🏀 Florida men’s basketball team beats Cal

The Gators men’s basketball team remains undefeated.

Florida on Monday evening beat California 80-60 in the opening round of the Fort Myers Tip-Off to become 4-0 for the first time in four years.

Next up is Ohio State. Tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.

✉️ Send us your Gators thoughts & questions

David and I want to hear from you. Do you have any thoughts or questions about the Gators football program? Agree or disagree with something we’ve said? Let us know here, and we’ll share our responses to your questions.

🎙️ Listen to more Gators Breakdown

You can catch up on previous episodes of Gators Breakdown at news4jax.com/gatorsbreakdown or click one of the following to tune in: Megaphone | Apple Podcasts | YouTube | Google Podcasts | Stitcher


About the Author:

Jacksonville native and proud University of Florida graduate who joined News4Jax in March 2016.