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Florida offensive coordinator candidates: The early, exhaustive guide

There are a lot of potential candidates for Florida's open offensive coordinator position. Here's a detailed rundown of many of those candidates.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Florida needs a new offensive coordinator after firing Brent Pease. And Florida will have many, many candidates to choose from, given the program's deep pockets, enticing situation (Florida doesn't need a great offense immediately, just a good one, and has tons of talent available in 2014 and down the road), and great risk-reward proposition.

Three of the last four Florida offensive coordinators have gotten head coaching jobs upon their departure; the fourth, Brent Pease, got a raise after Florida's 2012 season, and will get paid handsomely after being fired, with $1.2 million still due to him. Getting hired as Florida's offensive coordinator — even with the pressure to rescue an offense that became a Superfund site in a 4-8 season, even with Will Muschamp's hopes for an offense that controls the ball and the game present as restrictions, even with the Florida fan base's unslakable thirst for high-octane offense likely to earn even a good offense regular vitriol showers — is a ticket to either massive success or lucrative failure.

And with no obvious, shoo-in candidates available, we have long, long lists to parse.

The realistic group

Blake Anderson

Is he a candidate? Maybe. 247Sports's Thomas Goldkamp reports ($) that "there may be some interest" in the North Carolina offensive coordinator.

Why it makes sense: That title, "North Carolina's offensive coordinator," means that Anderson's been part of the staff that helped the Tar Heels score 80 points in three quarters against Old Dominion two weeks ago. (14 of those points came on returns, but still.) UNC ranks 50th in scoring offense this season despite losing Giovani Bernard to the NFL last year and losing Bryn Renner to injury with four games to go. And the 2012 Tar Heels were much better on offense, ranking eighth nationally in scoring offense and 14th in yards per play.

Anderson's been UNC coach Larry Fedora's offensive coordinator since Fedora's 2008 hiring at Southern Mississippi, and thus is within Fedora's halo. Being connected to Fedora, likely to be a fashionable candidate for any of many big-time head coaching positions in the near future, also gives Anderson a second-level connection to Florida: Fedora was the Gators' program from 2002 to 2004 under Ron Zook, and served as offensive coordinator in 2004.

Why it doesn't make sense: I had to look up all of that stuff about Blake Anderson for this post. His relatively low profile, especially compared to Fedora's, isn't necessarily a bad thing, nor a disqualifying factor — Pease had a relatively low profile at the time of his hiring, too — but Florida will likely see many higher-profile names. And being in a respected head coach's halo means there are also legitimate questions about how much of Anderson's success is actually Fedora's.

Dave Christensen

Is he a candidate? Yes. Christensen has been mentioned by Bruce Feldman as someone who would be considered and is on Only Gators' list of candidates.

Why it makes sense: Christensen runs an offense that is spread-based, features the quarterback running, and has worked wonders on offense at all of his stops. He's a disciple of Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, and worked with Pinkel from 1990 to 2008, before leaving for Wyoming, where he worked for five years as the head coach before being fired over the weekend.

Missouri's Pinkel/Christensen offenses were perpetually exciting, with Brad Smith and Chase Daniel leading the Tigers to great success (the Daniel-triggered 2007 offense finished fifth in total offense and eighth in scoring offense — Florida's 2007 offense was third in scoring offense and 14th in total offense with Tim Tebow at the helm, for perspective) and Christensen propped up a bad Wyoming program, which had one winning season since 2000 when he arrived, and made its offense spectacular at times in 2013, with the help of dynamic and mobile quarterback Brett Smith. Smith tallied 3,375 passing yards and 571 rushing yards on the season, and Wyoming currently sits 23rd in total offense (472.7 yards per game) after the completion of its season, though its scoring did not keep pace with its yardage tallies, as the Cowboys are just 52nd in scoring offense at 31.2 points per game.

Christensen's Wyoming teams have had horrific defenses, giving up at least 390 yards per game in all five of his seasons and getting worse in that total defense stat each year, but that would not be his concern at Florida.

Why it doesn't make sense: Well, Christensen did just get fired by Wyoming after the Cowboys went 3-9 in his fifth year, so he's on the rebound, not the rise. And his 2012 season was marred by a profane (if wildly entertaining) rant at Air Force coach Troy Calhoun after the Cowboys fell to the Falcons:

That's probably not a reason Florida wouldn't pursue Christensen — Will Muschamp is no stranger to profanities and ranting and YouTube — but it's a factor to consider. And the divergent paths of Wyoming's offense and defense are factors, too: Were the Cowboys racking up more yardage because they had to fight back from big deficits, or were turnovers (24 of them in 2013) hurting the defense significantly?

Clay Helton

Is he a candidate? Yes. Helton's name has shown up in Coaching Search's list of candidates, Only Gators' list of candidates, and on various message boards.

Why it makes sense: Helton's name is coming up too often to dismiss his candidacy, mostly, but he's also got a decent résumé: Eight years at Memphis spent overseeing running backs, receivers, and eventually the Tigers' offense, and four years at USC as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, including a stint as the full-fledged offensive coordinator this fall after Lane Kiffin's firing. The Trojans went 6-2 after jettisoning Kiffin, and Helton's offense was generally pretty good, though it vacillated between four games of 31 or more points and four games of 20 or fewer. Helton can put Memphis product DeAngelo Williams and USC's Matt Barkley on his list of NFL players produced, too.

Helton also seems like a better geographical, political, and philosophical fit for the South than USC, having been born in Gainesville, grown up in Texas, and spent his professional career up until his departure for USC. Silverstein also notes that Helton's father, Kim, was a Florida offensive lineman in the 1960s, Florida's offensive line coach under Doug Dickey, and Oh, and Helton and Muschamp share an agent — Jimmy Sexton. (There's plenty more backstory in this premium Inside the Gators post from Silverstein.)

USC's offense has certainly been more exciting of late than Florida's, but it also adheres to a lot of the run-first principles Muschamp has seemed to want, and if Helton's the brains behind some of that, he fits.

Why it doesn't make sense: Helton does not quite jibe with the growing sentiment that Florida's going to be speeding things up on offense and potentially spreading things out. USC plays slowly, too, and is currently 15th nationally in time of possession (Florida is fourth), and no one would mistake USC's offense for a spread-based attack.

Also, Helton's really only got five years of offensive coordinator experience. That's more than some of the candidates we'll see later, but, in a vacuum, it's not a ton of experience calling plays.

Mike Mularkey

Is he a candidate? Probably not. Mularkey's another Florida grad with football ties, having played for Charley Pell in the early 1980s, but he's more of a logical name than a legitimate candidate at this point, as 247Sports put him on its Hot Board and then reported Monday morning ($) that Florida has no apparent interest, even if Mularkey is, in fact, interested on his part.

Why it makes sense: Mularkey's a big name, having served as an NFL head coach and offensive coordinator, and his Florida ties are bona fide. He was also an excellent offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons from 2008 to 2011, helping the team grow into an offensive threat in the NFC with Matt Ryan, Roddy White, and Julio Jones. If he wants the job, he'd certainly be qualified enough for Florida to pursue if it wanted to do so.

Why it doesn't make sense: Mularkey's out of coaching this year for what reason, exactly? He piloted the Jacksonville Jaguars into a ditch in 2012, going 2-14, and has one winning season in three years as an NFL head coach, having gone 9-7 with Buffalo in 2004. And in his last game as Falcons OC, Atlanta scored just two points, losing 24-2 to the New York Giants in the Wild Card round of the 2011 NFL playoffs.

The pipe dreams

Jedd Fisch

Is he a candidate? Not really. Fisch's name has come up, and his Florida ties — he graduated from UF and was a graduate assistant under Steve Spurrier — are solid, but it's telling that Fisch "scoffed" at the idea of pulling up stakes and heading southwest last week.

Why it makes sense: Fisch is an excellent pro-style offensive coordinator and has done good work making skittish quarterbacks effective, both with Miami's Stephen Morris and the Jags' Chad Henne. And those Florida ties are valuable marketing tools.

Why it doesn't make sense: The Jaguars have gone from punchline to promising in the last few months, and, again, Fisch is making Chad Henne look like a competent NFL quarterback. With Gus Bradley turning the bus around and a likely stud QB on the way in the 2014 NFL Draft, Fisch dropping a level just to help out his alma mater would be a very strange decision.

Dana Holgorsen

Is he a candidate? He's still West Virginia's head coach. So that's a no — for now.

Why it makes sense: Holgorsen's from Mike Gundy's tree, and Mike Leach's tree, and there's nothing more like the Spurrier Fun 'n Gun offenses in college football right now than the Air Raid-derived offenses Leach acolytes run. Holgorsen's a big name, and he absolutely has the résumé necessary for the job — the tape of the 2012 Orange Bowl would suffice, really — and he would thrill many Florida fans.

Why it doesn't make sense: But he's still employed as West Virginia's head coach.

Holgorsen's Mountaineers have cratered without Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, and Stedman Bailey in 2013, going 4-8 with wins over William and Mary, Georgia State, Oklahoma State (figure that one out) and TCU, and embarrassing losses to Maryland, Kansas, and Iowa State. The offense is bad, with Clint Trickett and Paul Millard somewhere between bad and mediocre as the quarterbacks, and the defense is much worse.

And while Holgorsen has sounded miserable at times, West Virginia can't fire him without owing him eight digits, and he can't leave without forking over a couple millions of his own. Holgorsen might be well-served to spend a year or two as an offensive coordinator again, but that's not going to happen without someone swallowing some pride — and eating a loss in the millions.

Dan Mullen

Is he a candidate? He's still Mississippi State's head coach, somehow, so that's a no.

Why it makes sense: Mullen would probably be very, very good with Florida's personnel. Jeff Driskel could be the quarterback Tim Tebow was and more in Mullen's system — seriously — and there's enough speed on the roster to make the Gators dangerous in a hurry. And everyone in town and elsewhere remembers those Mullen offenses fondly.

Why it doesn't make sense: But Mullen's still employed as Mississippi State's head coach.

Mullen fits into the Charlie Weis/Brent Pease mold, too, as a guy who some will absolutely find abrasive, and he has a rep for arrogance that would definitely be a bad fit for the harmonious staff Muschamp is clearly trying to build. If Mullen gets fired, which is very unlikely, there would be pressure on Florida to give him an interview, but I think he would have a hard time stooping to take a job he previously had, much less convincing Muschamp to give him a chance.

Mike Norvell

Is he a candidate? I don't think so. Arizona State's offensive coordinator is tied pretty tightly to Todd Graham, and has followed him from Tulsa to Pittsburgh to the desert. Coaching Search threw his name out, but that's the only mention I've seen.

Why it makes sense: Norvell may be the best offensive coach on this list. Arizona State is eighth in scoring offense, 21st in total offense, and has put up at least 417 yards on all but two teams it's seen — and one of those teams is Utah, which has beaten Stanford and held BYU in check.

Norvell is a nominee for the Broyles Award, given to college football's best assistant coach, and he's incredibly young, just 32. He's got a bright, bright future, and if he wanted to leave the desert for a place with even more speed for his spread attack, there are few destinations better than Gainesville.

Why it doesn't make sense: Graham has something to do with Arizona State's offense, too, so it's hard to discern just how much of the Sun Devils' success is attributible to Norvell. His age and ambition make him a flight risk without even considering that a Graham protégé is probably a bigger flight risk than most. And he is pretty fully a spread coach, meaning that Florida might have to make a bigger switch than Muschamp wants.

The "Nah" pack

Kerwin Bell

Is he a candidate? No. Mark Long reported as much on Sunday.

Why it makes sense: Bell has been something of a white whale for Florida fans in recent times of famine on offense, with a reputation as a quarterback guru and a band of loyalists who sing his praises on message boards and elsewhere. He's a native son of Mayo, and was Florida's "Throwin' Mayoan" back in the day, and there aren't a lot of potential coaching candidates that reside very close to their alma mater, are currently coaching, and have the benefit of a connection to the school's most beloved coach — all things Bell, who is FCS Jacksonville University's head coach and was a graduate assistant under Spurrier, has.

Why it doesn't make sense: Bell has been the offensive coordinator of message board dreams at least three times now, and he's never seemed like more than a fringe candidate. Long noted "questions" about "how hard he's willing to work" on Sunday; Bell's name surfacing every time the OC position opens up suggests to me that his PR skills are great, but also that he's got his eyes on the next job while still coaching JU.

And Jacksonville's, um, not that good? Florida fans love to say that Bell's offenses have been great, and that's fact, especially if they're referring to the fantastic 2010 Jacksonville offense that was second in FCS in scoring. But the Pioneer League is tiny, with no schools having enrollments of greater than 10,000 students, and does not award athletic scholarships. Jacksonville finished as a fringe top 25 team in 2010 despite that offense, and did not make the FCS playoffs. And Bell is 48-31 through seven years at Jacksonville — not bad, certainly, but not great.

If Muschamp wants to risk his job as Florida's head coach on the chances of Bell coming to Florida from a tiny FCS school in a bad FCS league and making things go boom on offense, that's his prerogative, but it strikes me as a big risk, one that Muschamp wouldn't be inclined to take now if he wasn't inclined to take it in more hale times. Besides, Bell actually coming to Florida would make it far harder for lunatic fringe types to point to someone in a completely different situation having more success on offense than Florida, and where would the fun in that be?

James Coley

Is he a candidate? No. Muschamp and company saw the Miami offense Coley coordinates struggle to do much of anything against Florida despite short fields and as much momentum as you could ask for in Sun Life Stadium earlier this year. But Coley is on 247Sports' Hot Board ($).

Why it makes sense: Coley's got great ties to the state of Florida, as a former Miami high school coach and Florida State coach who is now at the Miami. Coley's also a relentless recruiter, and infamously peppered Twitter with full-throated arguments for FSU while he was in Tallahassee, and was a graduate assistant at LSU when Muschamp was a defensive coordinator there under Nick Saban.

Why it doesn't make sense: I mean, you watched Miami's offense against Florida, right?

Coley's not known as an excellent play-caller, or a good teacher, and is primarily regarded as a recruiter. He's similar to the next name, at least in that last regard — and in the sense that he's not a legitimate candidate.

Dameyune Craig

Is he a candidate? No. Auburn's SEC Championship Game and bowl game are going to make it hard to contact Craig in the near future, and Craig is likely more recruiter than coach at this point in his career, though he does have years under both Jimbo Fisher and Gus Malzahn to his credit. Again, he's on 247Sports' Hot Board ($).

Why it makes sense: Craig recruited Jameis Winston from the state of Alabama to Florida State, which should probably be the first line in large font and boldface on his résumé for a long, long time. He's renowned as a fantastic recruiter, is young at 39, and has that time under Fisher and Malzahn to his name — plus, he, like Coley, was a graduate assistant at LSU when Muschamp was Saban's DC.

Why it doesn't make sense: He doesn't have much other than those recruiting skills and some time under Fisher and Malzahn to his name. Craig played at Auburn and is now at his alma mater, and Auburn's offense has a lot more to do with Malzahn and play-caller Rhett Lashlee than Craig. And while Craig was the quarterbacks coach at Florida State under Fisher, Fisher's a micromanager and has served as FSU's de facto offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for his entire tenure. Florida needs a recruiter at offensive coordinator a lot less than it needs a smart, schematically-inclined coach.

Derek Dooley

Is he a candidate? Maybe. Being on the Hot Board and the Only Gators list of candidates counts for something, but I think Dooley's likely a backup plan at best.

Why it makes sense: Dooley and Muschamp know each other well from Saban's staff at LSU, and Dooley was in the SEC recently. Dooley's brief NFL tenure seems weird as it is — if you've seen him on the sideline with Dez Bryant this year, you've probably done the same quizzical head tilt that I've done — and the college game is probably more his style.

Why it doesn't make sense: Dooley's worked on offense extensively in his career, but never as an offensive coordinator. The spot that would seem to have been his most natural fit at Florida, wide receivers coach, got filled by Joker Phillips last year. Muschamp risking his career on an untested offensive coordinator just doesn't make a lot of sense, even if he's friendly with Dooley.

Bobby Petrino

Is he a candidate? No. Associated Press reporter Mark Long confirmed as much Sunday morning.

Why it makes sense: Petrino has more experience calling plays and winning games in the SEC than virtually any other theoretically available coach. His tenure at Arkansas ended poorly, but he's regarded as a master play-caller, and runs an aggressive offense that still predicates its successes on principles Muschamp prizes: Ball control and downhill running. And while he's a head coach now, at Western Kentucky, offensive coordinator at Florida's a higher-profile position.

Why it doesn't make sense: Um, literally every other reason?

Petrino's known as a difficult personality even more than he's known as a great offensive mind. He secretly interviewed to replace Tommy Tuberville at Auburn after just one year at Louisville, an incident that ended with Auburn's athletic director having to apologize to Tuberville. He left Louisville, where his best accomplishment was an Orange Bowl victory over Wake Forest to cap a 12-1 season, for the Atlanta Falcons ... six months after signing a 10-year contract with Louisville. He left the Falcons at the beginning of a game week to take the Arkansas job, notifying his players by ... identical notes in their lockers. He never won the SEC West in his four years at Arkansas, became the first SEC coach to lose to Ohio State in a BCS bowl in the 2011 Sugar Bowl, and then got fired from Arkansas after getting into a motorcycle accident with the student-athlete development coordinator he was having an extramarital affair with (and whose job he arranged), and lying about all of that before eventually being forced to come clean.

There will be a big-time school bold enough to roll the dice on rehabilitating Petrino enough to let his football acumen become the first thing mentioned about his career again. It won't be Florida, no matter how much sense it would make. Abandoning the principles that Jeremy Foley has baked into his athletics program for the sake of a brilliant offensive coordinator would be more than a shock, and would prompt more than a few crises of faith in Gator Nation — as it should.

So it's a good thing that Florida is out in front on saying no to Petrino, I would say.

Joker Phillips

Is he a candidate? Not yet. Florida probably won't seriously consider promoting from within unless it strikes out on hiring someone new. A fresh face and approach is pretty valuable at this point.

Why it makes sense: Phillips was deeply involved in the offense during his 10 season at Kentucky, which included that magical 2007 season in which Andre' Woodson made the Wildcats genuinely dangerous on offense. He's a Rich Brooks disciple with play-calling experience, and he's already around if Florida strikes out on other fronts.

Why it doesn't make sense: One good year at Kentucky, even if it admitted is a good year at Kentucky, does not a great offensive mind make.

Phillips is a pretty good coach, and he's done good things with Florida's receivers, who were much improved in 2013, but I'm not sure he's the best choice available for Muschamp to entrust with his future, and I think that, if Muschamp intended on promoting Phillips, we'd already have that promotion announced.

Brian White

Is he a candidate? Once again, not yet, for the same reasons as Phillips.

Why it makes sense: White coordinated Florida's offense for the 2012 Gator Bowl, and the Gators looked about as competent as they ever did on offense in the 2011 season against Ohio State in that game, though John Brantley being near full health certainly helped a lot with that.

Why it doesn't make sense: Apart from that game, White's out of practice as an offensive coordinator: He was Wisconsin's offensive coordinator from 1999 to 2006, and Syracuse's OC in 2006 and 2007, but he's been Florida's running backs coach under Muschamp, and is likely to stay in that role. I don't think White has all that much to fear about a new OC coming in if he wants to stay — and he likely does — but I don't think he really wants to be Florida's OC, either.

And the same "If Muschamp wanted to promote him, it would be done already" logic that applies to Phillips applies to White, too.

The "You are trolling your own fan base" choice

Lane Kiffin

Is he a candidate? Kinda? Sorta? Maybe? I hope not? He's only been mentioned in passing, and never without caveats.

Why it makes sense: On its face, this makes some sense: Kiffin had great success as an offensive coordinator for some USC teams that featured Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, and other great players before embarking on his dubious and lengthy second act of failing upwards with the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee, and USC. He's perhaps the first name that should come to mind when discussing pure "pro-style" offenses, because USC's offense was so reliably pro-style under Kiffin — running to set up the throw, lots of I-formation, few spread offense concepts — that its quarterback could give a full playcall out on Reddit without tipping much off. (I also remember USC throwing play-action passes to its tight ends on the first play of the game being such A Thing for a time that there was a YouTube video devoted to it, but I can't find that at the moment.)

Kiffin's also renowned as a relentless and effective recruiter, though there's certainly some question as to how much of his work on the recruiting trail happens on the right side of the line, given the NCAA violations that have followed him wherever he has gone.

Why it doesn't make sense: Kiffin's offense has also been marked by absurd brownouts (seven points against Georgia Tech last year, and seven against Washington State this year), hideous performances, bad blocking, and bad play-calling. And Kiffin is regarded as an abrasive personality — abrasive may be underselling it — who incensed Florida fans repeatedly in the year between his hiring at Tennessee and his departure from Knoxville, by snagging Nu'Keese Richardson out from under Urban Meyer's nose, incorrectly charging that Meyer violated NCAA rules in Richardson's recruitment (and committing his own NCAA violation in doing so), pledging to beat defending national champion Florida that fall, and then turning the game between the two teams into a football-like gruel that was by far the least enjoyable Florida game I've ever attended — even including the losses.

An abrasive offensive coordinator is something Florida probably ought to avoid this go-round, with Weis and Pease each getting a fair share of negative reviews for their sideline (or skybox) manner; an abrasive personality with Kiffin's baggage should really be more radioactive than he is.

Kiffin has Florida ties, if not ties to Muschamp: His wife, Layla, graduated from Florida, and her father is former Florida quarterback John Reaves. But those ties are of nebulous value, especially if Bell's ties aren't worth much, and Kiffin's unfavorables, to borrow a term from politics, are so, so bad. He is the choice Muschamp makes if and only if he is absolutely certain that the pluses will outweigh the minuses, and quickly.

I don't think they do, and I think Kiffin would be a failure so strongly that also feel safe in saying this: If Muschamp chooses Kiffin as his offensive coordinator, he will almost certainly be fired by the end of the 2014 season.