Unsightly Swamp: Florida’s next coach inherits daunting task
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s next coach will have quite a mess to clean up — on both sides of the ball.
The Gators don’t have a capable quarterback on the roster and now have the program’s worst scoring defense in more than 70 years.
Welcome to Gainesville, coach!
Whether the Gators end up with Central Florida’s Scott Frost, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Memphis’ Mike Norvell or someone else, the new guy will face a more daunting task than any Florida coach since Steve Spurrier in 1990.
Spurrier took over a program on NCAA probation and produced a Southeastern Conference juggernaut almost overnight. His successors — Ron Zook, Urban Meyer, Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain — inherited enough pieces to avoid a lengthy rebuild.
The next guy might not be so lucky.
“It’s probably still going to be one of the top programs in the nation because you’re able to go and recruit nationally,” said interim coach Randy Shannon, who spent four years as Miami’s head coach. “You all sit back and say, ‘Well, there’s no talent here.’ No, there’s a lot of talent still on this football team. It’s young talent.
“There are a lot of young players on this football team, and future-wise, it can be unbelievable.”
Maybe so. But Florida (3-5, 3-4 SEC) has depth issues across the board, lacks offensive playmakers and is so thin defensively that a former walk-on linebacker has been playing significant snaps.
Suspensions and injuries are partly to blame. But poor recruiting and a failure to develop youngsters — quarterback Feleipe Franks being a prime example — also played a role in Florida going from Eastern Division champion to a team hoping to sneak into a bottom-tier bowl.
The most telling numbers: The Gators rank 111th in offense — in triple digits for the third consecutive year — and 47th in defense. They finished in the top 15 in defense every year since 2007.
Scoring defense has been even more of a free fall. Florida ranks 77th nationally, giving up 28.4 points a game. It’s the program’s worst showing for that unit since 1946.
“In the NFL, you can trade for somebody, get somebody off the couch and sign them, waiver wire, you can do all those things,” said Shannon, whose team plays at South Carolina (6-3, 4-3) on Saturday and needs to win two of its final three to secure a postseason berth. “In college, whoever you’ve got, you’ve got to coach them. We’ve been up and down on defense. ... That’s the one thing about when you have a young team, you’re going to be on sometimes and sometimes it’s going to be tough.”
Florida and McElwain parted ways Oct. 29 following a strange falling out, and athletic director Scott Stricklin vowed to hire someone who will make the football program fun again. The safe assumption is that means Stricklin will hire a head coach with an offensive background.
Frost, Mullen and Norvell seem to be fits.
And despite some personnel concerns, Florida will be one of the more attractive jobs open in the next month.
The Gators have a fervent fan base, have one of the nation’s top operating budgets ($125 million in 2017-18) and have more than $100 million in facility upgrades planned, including breaking ground on a state-of-the-art structure to house the football program. Throw in being surrounded by some of the top recruiting strongholds in the country, and Florida could be a quick fix.
“This is a pretty good job,” said Stricklin, pointing to national titles in 1996, 2006 and 2008. “You look up out at that (stadium wall), it lists three pretty recent national championships. This is a place you can have a lot of success. Certainly the facility enhancements will be a really important part of our future, but I like the opportunity for somebody wanting to come in here and start building something in the present.”