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How Jim McElwain could remake Florida’s coaching staff for 2017

Jim McElwain seems to have options — but they won’t come cheap.

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NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Florida vs Iowa Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Florida’s coaching staff was the object of fans’ ire for long stretches of the Gators’ 2016 campaign, with coaches on both sides of the ball getting roasted on Twitter and elsewhere for perceived failings.

That staff could return largely intact for the 2017 season, despite the departure of defensive coordinator Geoff Collins to become Temple’s head coach.

Randy Shannon, who excelled as Collins’s interim replacement in an Outback Bowl that saw Florida’s defense set bowl and school records, has been seen as the likely successor at defensive coordinator, and the open position on Florida’s staff vacated by Collins is reportedly set to be filled by Alabama offensive analyst Mike Locksley, even though Locksley denied that he was offered the position of offensive coordinator after Alabama’s victory over Washington in the Peach Bowl.

Locksley’s hiring would probably primarily be for a role as an offensive position coach, and slotting him at running backs coach would allow for Florida to slide Tim Skipper over to linebackers coach, returning him to a role he held under Jim McElwain at Colorado State. That would give Florida nine on-field coaches, the maximum number permitted by the NCAA, and give the Gators the same configuration of position coaches they have had in their first two years under McElwain.

But Florida may see more attrition from or additions to its staff than Locksley — who is, of course, not formally an addition as of yet.

SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey reported on Monday that Florida offensive line coach Mike Summers interviewed with South Carolina for the same position.

Summers was hired by then-Florida coach Will Muschamp as the Gators’ offensive line coach in January 2014, and would be a logical choice for Muschamp as a replacement for outgoing line coach Shawn Elliott, who departed Columbia to become Georgia State‘s head coach. While Summers has generally done a good job of returning what was an undermanned and inexperienced offensive line to at least par over the last three years, he’s also been criticized for not doing more, and is not known as a stellar recruiter.

And while Summers was the only coach retained from Muschamp’s 2014 staff by McElwain, his two years with McElwain are the sum total of his history with the Gators’ current head coach, and his three years at Florida the whole of his time in Gainesville.

If Summers were to move on, McElwain’s primary targets at offensive line coach could be names with ties, given the two coaches that have been linked to the position.

Football Scoop reported on Wednesday that Alabama assistant head coach and offensive tackles and tight ends coach Mario Cristobal could be moving on from the Crimson Tide, and named Florida and Oregon as two schools that could pursue him, with the primary hook of the report being that Oregon head coach Willie Taggart has offered Cristobal a position on his Ducks staff, but that Cristobal has not accepted that position, and could also remain at Alabama.

Rumors have also held that Philadelphia Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland is a potential candidate to replace Summers, should he leave. Stoutland has extensive ties to Florida coaches, having worked with McElwain as Alabama’s offensive line coach in 2011, came to Tuscaloosa from Miami, where he was Shannon’s offensive line coach for the duration of his head coaching tenure, and replaced Shannon as interim head coach in 2010, and worked with McElwain on John L. Smith’s Michigan State staff from 2003 to 2005.

Cristobal is widely seen as one of college football’s best assistant coaches, and a fantastic recruiter, especially of his native South Florida. Stoutland has not coached at the collegiate level since leaving Alabama, but was credited by 247Sports as a recruiter of both Amari Cooper and Eddie Jackson — both South Florida prospects — to Alabama, and aided in the development of several talented Alabama linemen. Both coaches would be seen as upgrades over Summers as recruiters, at a minimum, and quite possibly as developers of talent as well.

And it’s also possible that Florida could get both Cristobal and Stoutland on staff, while also adding Locksley.

That would require removing another coach from Florida’s on-field coaching staff. But there’s an obvious candidate to be replaced: Tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Greg Nord, whose work with both that position group — especially in 2016, as DeAndre Goolsby and C’yontai Lewis struggled to step into a No. 1 tight end role that Jake McGee performed well in as a sixth-year senior in 2015 — and Florida’s special teams units has received scant praise over his two years in Gainesville.

Nord is also not seen as a dynamic recruiter, and is Florida’s oldest assistant coach, having turned 60 in April 2016 — two months before Summers did. (No other Florida coach is older than Shannon, who is 50.) He is not considered a candidate for any other positions at this time, but is also in the last year of his contract with Florida — allowing the Gators to cut ties with him without owing anything beyond the 2016-17 year — and could possibly be shifted to an off-field coaching role if McElwain so chooses.

If Nord and Summers were both to move on, however, Cristobal and Stoutland could conceivably share coaching duties on the offensive line and at tight end. The setup might mirror the one Cristobal has been a part of under Nick Saban at Alabama for the past year, in which he has been coaching offensive tackles while Brent Key has coached interior linemen.

This is all trickier to accomplish in reality than it is on paper, of course. If Florida is going to convince any of the three names linked to the program — or equivalent coaches we have yet to hear of — to ultimately come to Gainesville, it will almost certainly require substantial added compensation for those coaches over their current jobs.

Though that is relatively easy for Locksley, working only as a five-figure analyst at Alabama, it’s much harder for Cristobal, who is making $525,000 at Alabama, and Stoutland, who is likely in the mid-six-figure range with the Eagles.

Florida should clearly have some cash left over even after whatever raise it gives Shannon — who, again, has not officially been promoted as of yet. Collins made nearly $1 million in 2016, and even giving Shannon a raise to that exact level, something which might be a bit generous for a defensive coordinator with just one game of experience calling plays since 2010, would still allow for a new hire to make what Shannon made in 2016 without any change in the pool.

Adding Cristobal and Stoutland and keeping Nord while subtracting only Summers’s 2016 salary from the Florida compensation pool would obviously be far more difficult — or, quite simply, an impossibility that forces an increase in that compensation pool.

That increase would be part of the cost of doing business at the elite level in college football, and part and parcel with the public pressure McElwain has put on Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin by speaking of the “commitment from the administration” that Alabama and other schools receive in multiple press conferences since December.

And that expenditure might well be worth it, especially given that Florida adding those two esteemed coaches while also moving on from two 60-year-olds would be widely seen as a coup for Florida’s chances of developing and recruiting great players.

Given that Cristobal and Locksley, at minimum, will not be leaving the Alabama machine until the Crimson Tide have played their national championship game on January 9, Florida is unlikely to announce any staff changes formally until next week.

What happens behind the scenes between now and then may make all the difference when it comes to the construction of the Gators’ 2017 coaching staff.