Who’s next for Florida?

Urban Meyer is walking away from one of the most desirable programs in college football and every coach in the country must be wondering – even if only for a minute – what it would be like to be the next one at Florida. During Meyer’s five seasons, the Gators have become the most glamorous team in the most powerful conference, and the school sits smack in the heart of the nation’s most fertile recruiting area. Meyer decided to give up all that Saturday, citing health concerns. For athletic director Jeremy Foley, this means another coaching search, his third in the last 10 years. Will Bob Stoops get a call from Foley? Again. The Sooners’ coach was defensive coordinator at Florida under Steve Spurrier in the 1990s. When Spurrier left abruptly after the 2001 season, Foley reached out to Stoops, but the coach passed. Stoops already spent a few weeks this season beating back speculation about being a candidate for the Notre Dame job. The Sooners play Stanford in the Sun Bowl on New Year’s Eve and Stoops can expect more questions about his commitment to OU. Maybe one of Stoops’ former assistants will be on Foley’s list. Houston coach Kevin Sumlin was targeted by Cincinnati to replace Brian Kelly, who took the Notre Dame job. Sumlin passed and by being patient maybe he lands a much bigger prize. Boise State’s Chris Petersen and TCU’s Gary Patterson are mentioned when practically any job opens up at a school in the big six BCS conferences. Expect them to be mentioned again in this search. One of the reasons Florida wooed Meyer was because university president Bernie Machen was at Utah when Meyer coached there. Maybe because of those ties Florida will head West again. Coach Kyle Whittingham, who was an assistant to Meyer, led the Utes to a No. 2 final ranking last season and 10 wins this season. Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, then at Louisville, was considered to be Foley’s fallback plan if Meyer had decided against taking the Florida job back in 2004. Dan Mullen was Meyer’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Utah and Florida before he took the Mississippi State job last year. Mullen led a Bulldogs’ team that was thin on talent to five victories this season and they played close against LSU and Florida. Mullen could provide a certain amount of continuity to Florida’s latest transition. Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong would have been a prefect replacement, but he has already committed to become the next coach at Louisville; it’s doubtful Strong would want to back out on Cardinals athletic director Tom Jurich. Whoever takes the job will be walking into a gold mine, but it’s not without peril. Expectations at Florida are through the roof right now. One of the reasons why Spurrier left for the NFL was because 10 wins and a SEC title weren’t good enough for some Gators fans. As bad as things got for Florida during Ron Zook’s three messy seasons as coach in Gainesville, the Gators never won less than seven games. While Meyer has stocked Florida’s roster with enough talent to prevent a major drop-off, the Gators are facing a rebuilding year in 2010. Quarterback Tim Tebow is gone and if some of the Gators’ top-notch junior offensive linemen follow him to the NFL, Florida might have to replace eight or nine starters on that side of the ball. The defense could lose another eight starters if talented underclassmen such as Carlos Dunlap and Joe Haden leave early. As far as football programs are concerned, Florida is a Ferrari. Just about everybody will want to take the wheel, but that doesn’t mean it still can’t blow a gasket.

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