And as I thought about both candidates last night, considering their pros and cons, I realized that I'd be more or less fine with either one, given what I know now.
Freeze has had significant success in the SEC, is known as a tireless recruiter (and, despite some whispers about how he's done his work on the trail, I was told reassuring things about his recruiting last night), and has an offensive background. I'd have to get over my leeriness of Freeze's deep Christian faith and potential evangelizing, sure, but that's on me, and it's not like devout Christians and Florida football success are estranged.
McElwain has made Colorado State really good in a hurry, though I do wonder how good the Rams would be without serving as a pipeline for sloughed-off Power Five talent like Alabama's Dee Hart, and he's certainly got the Rams clicking on offense. Yeah, maybe he's ambitious, but ambition is a good thing at a top-five job.
Really, there are a lot of coaches I could talk myself into supporting. Hell, I wouldn't have even had to talk myself into supporting Will Muschamp had he been retained: I know my standards are maybe not quite as demanding as most Florida fans' standards.
However: There is, I realized, a trio of potential coaches — one considered a candidate at one point, two slightly further off the radar and maybe not candidates outside of Twitter — that I just couldn't approve of Florida hiring.
Kiffin's name has felt like the most popular joke for non-Florida fans on Twitter, and it's funny because it actually makes a lot of sense, looking only at Kiffin's career as it exists today. He's the coordinator of a prolific Alabama offense that has an outside shot at breaking the school record for points in a season — it's 542, and Alabama's at 440 with two or three games remaining — and has seemingly rehabilitated his image as a Nick Saban assistant. He's still incredibly young, at just 39, and he's had experience in the SEC. He's got a track record of offensive success. And the Florida angle, something that Florida loves to play up when it can, is obvious: He is married to Layla Kiffin, Florida alumna and daughter of Florida quarterback John Reaves, lest we forget.
But he's still the guy who flamed out at three head coaching jobs, and was all but chased out of town at all three stops. I can maybe give Kiffin a pass on his tenure with the Raiders, given the chronic instability in that situation (and the presence of proto-Jimbo Fisher quarterback/food eater JaMarcus Russell), but he was no better than decent in his year at Tennessee, and flailed with fantastic talent (if not the desired depth) at USC. And while Kiffin's clearly impressed people within the college football industry enough to keep getting plum gigs, he's always come of as off-puttingly arrogant to me, and I can't shake the feeling that he's eaten with a silver spoon all his life.
I can even add his success at Alabama to that suspicion. Kiffin recruited virtually none of the players on this Alabama roster, and has only been coaching the Crimson Tide offense for a year, so the baseline talent level — which is absurd — isn't to his credit. He's just coaching better players than anyone else has, and calling plays that get executed more effectively than anyone else's plays are. Who wouldn't look like a genius with Amari Cooper, T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry, an offensive line stocked with future NFL players, and all of the rest of Alabama's embarrassment of riches?
The greatest reason I couldn't get behind a Kiffin hire, though, is that hiring Kiffin would be received as Florida thumbing its nose at its fans by more than just me. Florida fans have only rarely wanted the Gators to beat an opposing coach as badly as they wanted Florida to whomp Kiffin's Vols in 2009, and those feelings largely haven't faded. (Some of us remember that a win over Notre Dame by Kiffin's Trojans in 2012 would have gotten Florida a BCS National Championship Game berth!)
If Jeremy Foley wants to take that risk, not to mention the ones that come with Kiffin's proximity to NCAA-flouting nefariousness at both USC (as a Pete Carroll assistant) and Tennessee, he's got more courage than I suspected. And, frankly, I'd consider the hire more foolhardy than courageous.
Declan Sullivan isn't alive today because he was up on a scissor lift at a Notre Dame practice that got windy, and tragedy struck. And while Brian Kelly wasn't entirely responsible for that, and hasn't been sued (nor will he be sued) for wrongful death or negligence, thanks to Sullivan's incredibly forgiving family, but it's pretty clear that sense could have prevailed and saved Sullivan's life. (A Notre Dame investigation cited "staff members’ lack of knowledge regarding on-the-field wind speeds" as one of four primary reasons for the accident.)
Lizzy Seeberg isn't alive today, and we don't know exactly why. Our best guess is that she became suicidal after allegedly being raped by Notre Dame linebacker Prince Shembo; certainly, her decision to take her own life seems connected to that alleged rape. Shembo — never identified in connection to the alleged crime while at Notre Dame, which used its status as a private school to help conceal his identity — was found "not responsible" in the matter, the result of a hearing held months after Seeberg's suicide.
That hearing was just one of many perceived miscarriages of justice and outrageous acts in Seeberg's case — Notre Dame police stonewalled her, and Seeberg was told "Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea" — and while Kelly is, again, not entirely responsible for the conduct in this case, he's also certainly responsible in large part for his school's football culture.
Add to the tremendously serious concerns I have about Kelly in regards to those twin tragedies my incredulity over whether Kelly and Notre Dame helped Manti Te'o deceive the nation in his decorated 2012 season and my general dismay at his sideline demeanor and churlishness — Kelly is, I suspect, the sort of yell-and-scream coach that people perceived Will Muschamp to be, except Kelly doesn't turn that intensity off — and you have a coach I don't want, for reasons that don't even have to do with football.
Oh, and Notre Dame is 1-5 in its last six games, and got all seven of its wins in 2014 over teams that have failed or will fail (in Navy's case) to win more than seven regular-season games. The football isn't a redeeming factor, either.
Bobby Petrino's a really good college football coach. He built a Louisville program that was briefly among the nation's top 10, then departed for the NFL, then flamed out, then put Arkansas on an upward trajectory in the brutal SEC West in four years despite replacing
a crazy person Houston Nutt. (Arkansas has three 10-win seasons since 1989; Petrino is responsible for two of them.) I have no doubts that Petrino would coach winning teams at Florida.
But Petrino was regarded as an awful human being even before the fantastic story of his boneheaded infidelity and nepotic abuse of power at Arkansas — Petrino first had an affair with an Arkansas fundraiser, then served on a hiring committed that hired her over qualified applicants for a position she was minimally qualified for, then gave her a $20,000 "gift" as a Christmas present, then lied to police and his athletic director about a motorcycle crash until moments before it was to be revealed that he was on said motorcycle with said mistress — came to light.
He departed Louisville for the Atlanta Falcons a year after signing a 10-year contract with the Cardinals; he departed the Falcons for Arkansas in December, with the Falcons sitting at 3-10, and informed his players of his departure via laminated note; he left his Western Kentucky pit stop after one season to return to Louisville this year. Just this past Saturday, he got into a shoving match with a Kentucky coach for ... well, some reason, anyway.
Louisville is 9-3, of course, making this the ninth of Petrino's 10 seasons as a college head coach in which his team has accrued at least nine wins. But, for me, Petrino's football acumen are not enough to excuse his misdeeds. Abuse of power is something I don't forgive, and hiring someone with this egregious an abuse of power in his past would signal that Florida cares about winning football games a lot more than it cares about doing things in ways that can be respected.
And I couldn't respect that.