A man who knows a lot about college football — he used to coach it, and he’s in the Hall of Fame — dropped me a note Sunday to point out something I’d missed. (I miss a lot, as we know.) Had Southern Cal beaten Notre Dame in the teams’ regular-season finale in 2012, Florida would have played Alabama — which would edge Georgia the next week for the SEC title — for the BCS title.
Yes, Florida. Yes, as coached by Will Muschamp.
The Gators had gone 11-1 in the regular season, losing only to Georgia. It was a weird 11-1 — Florida’s offense was, as per usual under Muschamp, terrible — but still: If you play for a national championship in January 2013, the odds of you getting shown the door in November 2014 are pretty long. (Here we insert the obligatory Gene Chizik reference, who was canned by Auburn two seasons after winning the BCS title.)
It’s fair to say that whatever the Gators did right in 2012 — lest we forget, they were routed by Louisville in the Sugar Bowl — wasn’t sustainable. They went 4-8 last season, losing at home to Georgia Southern. They’re 5-4 now, having lost three home games (to LSU, to Missouri and to South Carolina) that should never have been lost. On Sunday, it was announced that Muschamp wouldn’t return for the 2015 season.
Somehow the Gators beat Georgia, a loss that could well keep the Bulldogs from winning anything of consequence. But even that extraordinary result didn’t mask what had been apparent for more than a year: Muschamp wasn’t an SEC head coach. To Florida’s credit, it finally acknowledged as much. So now we ask: Who’s next?
The most obvious name would seem Dan Mullen, once Florida’s offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer and now Mississippi State’s head coach. But I’ve heard for years — I first heard it in 2011, when Mullen was being mentioned as a possible replacement for Mark Richt — that Florida folks were never crazy about Mullen. Sure enough, Brett McMurphy of ESPN has reported that Mullen isn’t on the Gators’ list.
Bob Stoops was Steve Spurrier’s defensive coordinator at Florida, but I’m not sure he’d leave Oklahoma for another college job. (Maybe the NFL, as noted earlier.) Charlie Strong was Meyer’s defensive coordinator in Gainesville, but he’s in Year 1 at Texas and Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley has said he’s leaning toward an offensive-minded man. (Muschamp was a career defensive coordinator.)
Some are lobbying for Spurrier — the ultimate offensive-minded man — to make a triumphant return to his alma mater, but Spurrier at 69 seems closer to retirement than to Fun ‘n’ Gun, Take 2. But there is a former Florida offensive coordinator available whose arrival would make a massive splash in The Swamp.
He’s Mike Shanahan, a winner of two Super Bowls with Denver but whose career was jump-started by his partnership with Charley Pell on the Run & Shoot Gators of the early ’80s. Georgia fans will recall that it was Florida, with Wayne Peace at quarterback and Cris Collinsworth and Tyrone Young as receivers, that led the 1980 national champions-to-be inside the final two minutes in Jacksonville, at which time Buck Belue threw to Lindsay Scott, who ran so fast and so far he induced Larry Munson to break his chair.
Shanahan is 62, and his four years with the Washington Redskins didn’t end well, but still: He’s Mike Shanahan. He’s a Big Name for a Big Program. If he has interest in coaching college football — he hasn’t since leaving Gainesville after the 1983 season — he’d be a man for Foley to interview. And maybe the man for Foley to hire.
One thing more: That guy I know who knows a lot about college football? He told me in September that Florida’s next coach would be Mike Shanahan. He said he’d heard it from a Gator booster — the same Gator booster who told him back in 2004 that Foley was about to fire Ron Zook and would hire Urban Meyer.