Florida has an opening for a head football coach, and AD Scott Stricklin will spend the next month feeling out agents, talking to his friends within the industry and studying the pool of available candidates. And while a month is an eternity of time to study a coach’s record, his Xs and Os and his philosophy, it still doesn’t get you any closer to answering the essential question: You may be able to coach, but can you coach at Florida?
What does it mean to coach at Florida?
It means to coach at a place where football essentially did not exist before 1990. And since 1990, Florida has employed two kinds of coaches: College Football Hall of Famers who competed for SEC and national championships with regularity, and guys who got run off.
Ron Zook never had a losing season — heck, Ron Zook never had a season where he finished outside the Top 25 — and lasted three seasons. Will Muschamp was let go two seasons after reaching the Sugar Bowl. And on Sunday Jim McElwain was allowed-slash-encouraged to walk after two-and-a-half seasons. Which means McElwain never coached a complete season in which he did not win the SEC East and still didn’t last three seasons.
The other group, of course, is a club that includes Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer. They collected seven SEC championships and three national titles in 18 combined seasons.
You’re either in one group or the other, and the next Florida coach needs to understand that going in. These are expectations, by the way, that Stricklin explicitly embraced on Sunday evening.
So on Sunday Stricklin was asked how he can gauge a candidate’s ability to coach at Florida — to have people calling for his head over the crime of turning in a 10-3 season — from across a table.
“I think fans look at hiring coaches kind of like you and I might look at going to Best Buy and buying a new TV. You look on the side of the box and you read all the specs and when you open up the box, that’s what’s going to be in there. Personnel hirings are not like that. You may think you’re getting something, sometimes you don’t know until they get there,” Stricklin said.
“But what you can do is look for certain traits. I believe there are certain traits that lead to successful leaders. Whether it’s hard work, whether it’s character, whether it’s competitiveness, their ability to sell both to fans and recruits. These are figure-it-out kind of jobs. Every school is different. Every school is unique. Every school has its own set of strengths and challenges and there’s not a one size fits all approach, so you’ve got to get somebody who’s smart enough to come in and figure out the puzzle at your particular school.”
Stricklin didn’t box himself in to a certain type of search on Sunday. He may retain a search firm or he may not. He may hire a sitting head coach or he may not. He revealed one word that will guide his search: fun. In 25 years in the business of watching Florida from afar, Stricklin said, when Florida was rolling “it looked like they were having fun.”
Spurrier and Meyer were offensive innovators, and the only innovating Florida has done on that side of the ball since Meyer’s departure has been to devise new ways to send their fans to bed on Saturday nights with migraines. Consider that Florida has not finished in the top half nationally in yards per play since Tim Tebow left campus in 2009.
Florida’s Yards Per Play Rank in the Post-Tebow Era
2010: 5.17 — 84th
2011: 5.42 — 67th
2012: 5.25 — 92nd
2013: 4.79 — 110th
2014: 5.24 — 94th
2015: 5.11 — 102nd
2016: 5.19 — 105th
2017: 5.38 — 81st
FWIW, Scott Stricklin told me years ago the thing he values most in a HC winning in college is ability to identify and develop quarterbacks
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) October 29, 2017
Scott Stricklin won’t stroll down to Best Buy to pick out his new hire, but the next head football coach at Florida will come with a certain set of specs regardless: the ability to have fun, the ability to score points, and the ability to take down Nick Saban and rule the SEC and college football as a whole — or else.