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Florida offensive coordinator candidates: Reorganizing the Gators' list

Florida's still got a bunch of possibilities for its vacant offensive coordinator position, but a week of speculation has produced what feels like a lead pack of front-runners.

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It's been a week, and Florida still doesn't have an offensive coordinator in place to replace the fired Brent Pease. It's almost like Will Muschamp, Jeremy Foley, and the rest of the Gators' brain trust are taking their time and coming up with the right hire instead of the quickest one!

But we have gotten some tidbits that make winnowing the list of Florida offensive coordinator candidates easier, and separating the wheat from the chaff more straightforward. Here's a revised list of candidates, updated from our exhaustive list published earlier this week — and with some new candidates added.

The lead pack

Mike Norvell, Arizona State offensive coordinator

Is he a candidate? It sure seems so. Arizona State's offensive coordinator was presumably too tied to Todd Graham to pry out of the desert, but his name has come up routinely, and Arizona State playing in a Pac-12 Championship Game might be delaying Florida getting to him.

Why it makes sense: Norvell's Arizona State offense is eighth in scoring offense and 21st in total offense, and the Sun Devils are playing for a Pac-12 title. Norvell is a nominee for the Broyles Award, given to college football's best assistant coach, and is just 32. If Florida wanted to go young and exciting with its hire, there are few better choices.

Earlier this week, I wrote "Graham has something to do with Arizona State's offense, too," but that's not really fair to Norvell: Graham's the head coach, but he's been pretty flexible on offense throughout his career, and hired Norvell after Gus Malzahn left his staff at Tulsa to head to Auburn. Arizona State's offense has a lot more to do with Norvell (and the talent on hand) than Graham.

Why it doesn't make sense: As I previously noted: "His age and ambition make him a flight risk without even considering that a Graham protégé is probably a bigger flight risk than most." Norvell's also simply out of commission for much of the next month unless Florida can woo him away from the desert after the Pac-12 title game, as Arizona State may end up in the Rose Bowl.

The logistics don't rule Norvell out, but it's hard to imagine Florida swooping in and plucking him from a Rose Bowl-bound team.

Jake Spavital, Texas A&M co-offensive coordinator

Is he a candidate? He might be getting a long look. This long Orlando Sentinel article touting Spavital without even insinuating that there's been contact is odd, mostly, but Sentinel beat writer Edgar Thompson, the author of the article, also called Spavital "a name to keep an eye on" on Twitter.

Why it makes sense: Spavital's been the offensive coordinator for the most exciting quarterback in college football for the past two years, and his relationship with Johnny Manziel is a great selling point for anyone who would want to join Florida's offense. A&M's offense has been fantastic since Spavital's arrival earlier this year, arguably even better than it was in 2012, and though Manziel's obviously got a ton to do with that, Spavital gets some credit for making Manziel more accurate, too.

And though Spavital's just 28, he has a pedigree many older coaches would kill for: He's worked for Malzahn, Dana Holgorsen, and Kevin Sumlin. It doesn't get much better than that.

Why it doesn't make sense: Is leaving Texas A&M, where Spavital would be poised to work under one of the masters of the spread with the cream of the crop of Texas talent for years to come, really all that likely? A&M lost offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury last year, but that was to a head coaching job at his alma mater; Spavital, who went to Missouri State, doesn't have that same lure available, but he might want to put down roots somewhere after holding five jobs since 2008.

I'd argue strenuously that Gainesville's a better place to do that than College Station, and Spavital would probably have a chance to do that if he stays — but there's a chance that Will Muschamp will be swept out of town in 2014 that any potential candidate for the Florida OC job must consider.

Clay Helton, USC offensive coordinator/interim coach

Is he a candidate? Yes. While Helton's name was the hottest one at the beginning of the week, it seems to have cooled a bit. The news that Florida's search would likely extend past bowl season came out conveniently swiftly after Helton was confirmed as USC's interim coach, though, and this long blog post from The Gainesville Sun's Robbie Andreu sure feels like it was done based on solid info, and wouldn't have been done on an unrealistic candidate.

Why it makes sense: Helton got a résumé with two big bullet points: Offensive coordinator at USC of late and at Memphis in the late 2000s, before Memphis cratered. USC hasn't been great on offense of late, but Helton drew a lot of praise for how his offense operated after Lane Kiffin's firing this year, and Memphis was good on offense for much of Helton's tenure as an assistant coach.

Helton's also the son of former Florida lineman and coach Kim Helton, was born in Gainesville, and calls Jimmy Sexton. (As mentioned before, there's plenty more backstory in this premium Inside the Gators post from Adam Silverstein.) Selling his connections to the area won't be hard, but...

Why it doesn't make sense: ...a closer examination of Helton's career makes it look less successful. Memphis never led Conference USA in total offense or scoring offense during Helton's time as OC, and it declined in both categories year over year from 2007 to 2009. Memphis ranked 23rd and 51st nationally in those stats, respectively, in 2007, but had fallen off a cliff by 2009, ending up at 63rd in total offense and 95th in scoring offense.

Helton's also simply less exciting than Norvell or Spavital, for whatever that's worth. He's young for an offensive coordinator who's held the position at a school as good as USC, at 40, but he's not so young that his youth itself is exciting.

And Helton's the most traditionally "pro-style" of the major names considered to be candidates at this time, which seems out of line with the mounting evidence that Muschamp's working to change Florida's offense ... unless Muschamp really wants a guy who can run both styles.

Dave Christensen, former Wyoming head coach

Is he a candidate? Yes. Christensen was mentioned by Bruce Feldman as someone who would be considered, and included on Only Gators' list of candidates, and there's no indication he's fallen off the list.

Why it makes sense: Christensen's offenses have made good use of spread concepts and running quarterbacks, something that Florida's offense could use in 2014 and beyond. And he's unemployed.

Why it doesn't make sense: Christensen being unemployed means it would be really easy to go out and get him if Florida wanted ... and really easy to slow-play him while feeling out the market and reaching out to other candidates. Christensen feels more like a fallback than a leader at this point.

The maybes

Robert Anae, BYU offensive coordinator

Is he a candidate? Maybe. Mark Long mentioned Anae on Tuesday, but only in passing.

Why it makes sense: Anae's BYU offense is a sort of hurry-up no-huddle run-first offense, but it's heavily predicated on pistol-based zone reads, and is thus less Auburn or Oregon and more what would happen if the San Francisco 49ers or Seattle Seahawks played college football. BYU was 10th nationally in rushing offense in 2013, and has run the ball 617 times in 12 games, and has produced 1,200-yard rushers at quarterback (Taysom Hill) and running back (Jamaal Williams), with each player averaging over five yards per carry.

Why it doesn't make sense: But BYU also threw the ball 397 times this year, and is third nationally in plays run, with 1,014 through 12 games.(Only Texas Tech and Cal, close to pure Air Raid teams, ran more plays.) It's fine, and probably good, for Muschamp to want a faster offense in 2014, but going from an approach that produced a plodding team ranked 98th in offensive plays run and fourth in time of possession to the one that BYU uses would be a blueprint for whiplash.

Major Applewhite, Texas co-offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach

Is he a candidate? It's hard to tell. Applewhite has been a candidate to be Muschamp's offensive coordinator twice before because of logic, but that logic hasn't gotten him hired at Florida yet. And he's yet to be mentioned by anyone worth trusting this week.

Why it makes sense: Muschamp knows Applewhite from their time at Texas, and Applewhite was once a very hot coaching candidate, back when Texas was, y'know, good. He runs a pro-style offense with some spread concepts, and has paid his dues — being the offensive coordinator at Texas, even as an alumnus and former quarterback, isn't nothing.

Why it doesn't make sense: As the Longhorns have returned to earth, though, the criticisms that used to fall on the long-fired Greg Davis now fall on Applewhite, and his star has cooled. Muschamp's passed on him twice when the opportunity to hire him has been available.

And Muschamp knowing Applewhite from Texas means that he knew Applewhite when he was sleeping with a student trainer on Texas's 2009 bowl trip. That's not an error in judgment quite on par with the ones a certain other pipe dream candidate made, but it definitely doesn't reflect well on Applewhite, and wouldn't reflect well on Florida, a program that Muschamp is trying to build to be strong and upstanding.

Joker Phillips, Florida wide receivers coach

Is he a candidate? Not yet, and Florida is unlikely to seriously consider promoting from within. Being willing to wait for weeks and stretch a search beyond bowl season is a clear indicator, to my mind, that Florida doesn't have its candidate in hand as of yet, and won't be promoting internally.

Why it makes sense: Phillips still has some chops from his time at Kentucky, and the players like him. He wouldn't be a terrible choice.

Why it doesn't make sense: He wouldn't be a particularly exciting choice, either, and Florida needs a little juice from its hire.

Brian White, Florida running backs coach

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

Why it makes sense: White is the longest-tenured member of Florida's offensive staff, and knows the personnel very well. He's also well-liked by both players and coaches within the program.

Why it doesn't make sense: White's experience as an offensive coordinator is from his time at Wisconsin from 1999 to 2006 and his time at Syracuse in 2006 and 2007. It's been a while.

Also, if you're into reading tea leaves for other tidbits, White was a little later to hit the recruiting trail this week than other offensive coaches, perhaps an indication that he isn't fully assured of returning in 2014 if a new offensive coordinator wants to bring along his own staff.

The never-gonna-happens

Noel Mazzone, UCLA offensive coordinator

Is he a candidate? Not anymore. Mazzone was mentioned earlier in the week, and should probably have been mentioned here on Monday, but he's recommitted to UCLA after Jim Mora Jr. decided to stay in Westwood.

Why it would have been nice: Mazzone's a career offensive coordinator with virtually no flight risk for head coaching positions (this was once said about Norm Chow, currently the head coach at Hawai'i, though), and he's worked wonders with UCLA's offense, making Brett Hundley a threat to throw or run and mauling teams on the ground with several different running backs and a pistol-based zone read attack.

Why it won't happen: Again, Mazzone re-upped. Florida's not prying him away from L.A., not at a price that would make any sense.

Jedd Fisch, Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator

Is he a candidate? No. Fisch's name popped up, but there's no way he's leaving Jacksonville and the NFL for Gainesville.

Why it would have been nice: Fisch is an excellent pro-style offensive coordinator and has shown a lot of his acumen this year with the Jaguars, who have rebounded from an awful start to being the AFC's hottest team.

Why it won't happen: Moving back to a college program would be a step down, even for a Florida alumnus.

Blake Anderson, North Carolina offensive coordinator

Is he a candidate? Nah. 247Sports's Thomas Goldkamp reported on Monday ($) that "there may be some interest" in UNC's OC but there's been nothing since

Why it would have been nice: Anderson's been under Larry Fedora for a while, and while getting Fedora as an OC isn't possible at this point, his lieutenant would have been a fine consolation prize.

Why it won't happen: I still don't really know who Blake Anderson is.

Kerwin Bell, Jacksonville head coach

Is he a candidate? No. Mark Long reported as much last Sunday; Andreu confirmed as much on Thursday.

Why it would have been nice: Bell would have satisified a lot of people who think a former Florida quarterback running a Steve Spurrier-ish offense is the solution to Florida's problems.

Why it won't happen: There are a slew of better candidates for the job than a coach who's never held a staff position above the FCS level, much less who would come to Florida and instantly be more popular than Muschamp. Muschamp was never going to take the chance that Bell would be an instant success at a level of football he's unfamiliar with. And coaching searches are not conducted to appease message boards, contrary to what message board denizens thinks.

Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia head coach

Is he a candidate? No. He's still West Virginia's head coach.

Why it would have been nice: Holgorsen's got more spread offense bona fides than hairs at this point, and would have excited a lot of fans who haven't watched West Virginia since the Mountaineers' beatdown of Clemson or their vivisection of Oklahoma.

Why it won't happen: West Virginia would have to eat a ton of money to get rid of Holgorsen; Holgorsen would have to eat seven digits to leave West Virginia.

Mike Mularkey, former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach

Is he a candidate? No. Andreu reported Florida has "no significant interest" in Mularkey.

Why it would have been nice: Mularkey's Bell without the excitement or Fisch with less recent success, a Florida grad with easily-sold ties who has a pedigree likely outstripping his acumen.

Why it won't happen: On the flip side of Muschamp not risking his future on Bell, he wouldn't risk it on Mularkey, who hasn't been in the college game since he was a Gator.

Dan Mullen, Mississippi State head coach

Is he a candidate? No.

Why it would have been nice: Mullen knows the spread and Gainesville, and Gators fans know Mullen and remember his time with Florida fondly. He could probably have done good work with Florida's talent on hand; hell, he might have been able to do good work with Andre Debose, who has been at Florida for so long that Mullen likely played a part in recruiting him.

Why it won't happen: Mullen's still employed as Mississippi State's head coach, and only a firing, which seems very unlikely, would free him up. Mullen's potential involvement in shadier dealings during Cam Newton's recruitment from junior college probably makes him persona non grata in Gainesville, too.

James Coley, Miami offensive coordinator

Is he a candidate? No. Coley was just on 247Sports' Hot Board ($). He hasn't been mentioned by any other source.

Why it would have been nice: Coley can recruit, I guess, and Miami made good use of freshman Stacy Coley this year, which makes recruiting young wide receivers who want to make instant splashes easier.

Why it won't happen: Coley's more recruiter than offensive coordinator, and he's got very little experience with calling plays.

Dameyune Craig, Auburn co-offensive coordinator

Is he a candidate? No. Another 247Sports Hot Board ($) special.

Why it would have been nice: Again, Craig recruited Jameis Winston to Florida State; he's an absolutely dynamite recruiter.

Why it won't happen: It's unclear if he's anything more than that.

Derek Dooley, Dallas Cowboys wide receivers coach

Is he a candidate? No. Another Hot Board candidate, Dooley also made the Only Gators list of candidates, but he's pretty clearly well down the list as it exists, if he's on it at all.

Why it would have been nice: Dooley has Muschamp connections, and would probably have worked harmoniously with other coaches? I guess? He's never coordinated an offense, so it would have been a fun experiment?

Why it won't happen: Dooley's never coordinated an offense.

Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky head coach

Is he a candidate? No. Mark Long confirmed as much Sunday morning. Petrino's scarcely been mentioned since.

Why it would have been nice: Petrino's got offensive know-how by the bucket.

Why it won't happen: Just go read what I wrote on Monday again.

Lane Kiffin, former USC head coach/general poopface

Is he a candidate? No. Thank goodness.

Why it would have been nice: Everyone knows Lane Kiffin's name, and he can recruit.

Why it won't happen: No one likes Lane Kiffin's name, and he can't really coach.