Following Florida's 42-13 loss to Missouri Saturday, Gators athletics director Jeremy Foley released a statement Monday afternoon on the state of the football program and coaching staff, without ever mentioning head coach Will Muschamp by name.
“At the beginning of the season we said we would evaluate the season as it plays out,’’ Foley stated. “We will continue to do so. Our sole focus right now is supporting our coaching staff and players as they prepare for Georgia.”
Letting the season play out is a change in philosophy from the last time Foley had to fire a coach, dismissing Ron Zook on Oct. 26, 2004, three days after Florida lost to Mississippi State to drop to 4-3 on the season. (In a sign of how much things have changed in the decade since, Foley allowed Zook to finish out the season. The Gators won three of their last four, and closed the Zook era with a win over No. 10 Florida State in Tallahassee.)
Here is what Foley will have to evaluate: Florida sits at 3-3 on the season with close wins over Kentucky and Tennessee and blowout losses to Alabama and Missouri. The Gators' remaining schedule:
vs. No. 9 Georgia (in Jacksonville, Fla.) - Nov. 1
at Vanderbilt - Nov. 8
vs. South Carolina - Nov. 15
vs. Eastern Kentucky - Nov. 22
at No. 2 Florida State - Nov. 29
Florida will be a heavy underdog against Georgia and Florida State, and favored heavily to beat Vanderbilt and Eastern Kentucky, with the South Carolina game in Gainesville as the likely swing game between bowl eligibility and an empty December. Some have speculated that the cancellation of the Idaho game could inadvertently lead to Muschamp's dismissal if Florida finishes 5-6 and misses a bowl game, but we do not believe Foley will hold something so far outside Muschamp's control against him. And besides, debating the merits between 5-6 and 6-6 is a statement unto itself.
Many in the media have treated Muschamp's dismissal as an foregone conclusion. Matt Hayes of The Sporting News offered South Carolina head coach (and Florida legend) Steve Spurrier as a possible replacement. FOX Sports' Clay Travis suggested a number of head coaches including Briles, Gundy, Mullen, Stoops, Freeze, Petrino, Lane Kiffin and even Texas head coach Charlie Strong.
For Florida to regain their swag, their fan base and their perennial place among the Top 10, Florida needs to become an exciting place to play football again. The Florida identity under both Spurrier and Meyer was cutting-edge offense and, given the current state of the Florida offense, it seems Foley will want to fix that side of the ball should he decide to make a change.
Just a few words on the coaches mentioned by others:
Spurrier - Within the coaching profession, those we have spoken with believe that Steve would consider the opportunity if Jeremy Foley were to make him his first call. Spurrier isn't what anyone would define as a grinder and even at 69 still has years left in the tank, as long as he is enjoying himself. The question is, would Jeremy Foley look to Steve? With prior hires, Foley has typically looked to hire the up and coming coach who is going to make Foley look like the smartest guy in the room (when it works).
Briles - He turned Texas down to stay at Baylor. He's not leaving Waco for another college job.
Gundy - Mike doesn't want to leave Stillwater. Yes, he listened to Tennesee, but those that know him well believe that was largely to understand the market and for other strategic reasons. Perhaps there is something that we at FootballScoop don't know that would make Gundy want to move on to another challenge; but we've never heard that.
Mullen - The primary reason coaches cite when telling us that Dan won't be offered the Florida job is a purported poor relationship between Mullen and Foley. We don't have specific knowledge about this, but a number of coaches we have spoken with say that word is out there.
Stoops - Everything we have heard leads us to believe that Bob Stoops future is either in Norman or in the NFL.
Freeze - Hugh Freeze likes to be liked. If Hugh were to eschew Oxford for another SEC town he would be reviled. It's good to be the king in Oxford. We think Hugh will sign an extension in Oxford and remain there, happily, for quite some time.
Petrino - After selling his soul to get the Louisville job he just couldn't leave now, right? Oh, but goodness the internet would be a fun place if he did. In real life, Tom Jurich might have him taken out. Seriously; but hypothetically, of course. "You're not recording this, are you?"
Lane Kiffin - All he does is fall forward so you just can't rule this out. But I wouldn't bet my money on it.
Charlie Strong - Charlie does have next to no buyout (no defined amount, Charlie would only be on the hook for any assistants' salaries who he doesn't take with him or who don't quickly find jobs on their own) and word within the profession is that he isn't enjoying himself as much as he was at Louisville. Where this one doesn't line up for us is the offensive excitement angle that Florida wants needs. Charlie isn't going to leave Shawn Watson behind and Florida fans would have a hard time getting excited by that. I just don't see this one happening.
I'll share with you a name that I was surprised not to see in Clay's article, Rich Rodriguez. In the coaching circles, that's the whisper. Rodriguez has credibility as a program builder, decades of experience throughout the Eastern portion of the United States, and runs an offense embraced by Sunshine State recruits and Florida fans alike. Things are really coming together for Rich and his staff in Arizona and the future is bright there. He doesn't need to jump, but a phone call from Jeremy Foley would be one you'd have to take.
There is a lot of football to be played across the country between now and then (whenever "then" is). Things can, and will, change. We will certainly be keeping an eye on this one and will keep you posted on The Scoop.