Monday December 8th, 2008

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Still smiling Sunday night after hearing the official announcement that his team would face Oklahoma on Jan. 8 for the national title, Florida coach Urban Meyer addressed the elephant in the locker room. Someone asked if Gators defensive line coach Dan McCarney had interviewed for the head coaching job at New Mexico, and Meyer confirmed that McCarney had indeed met with Lobos athletic director Paul Krebs, who once hired Meyer at Bowling Green. Next, someone asked if Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen was a finalist for the head coaching job at Mississippi State. Meyer said that wasn't true, but he did acknowledge "conversations" about Mullen's future.

So how does Meyer handle the fact that as many as four of his assistants -- defensive coordinator Charlie Strong should get several looks, and unless Syracuse hires East Carolina's Skip Holtz on Monday, Florida offensive line coach Steve Addazio remains in play for that opening -- could conceivably land head-coaching jobs by the time the Sooners and Gators play in Miami?

"I take a sleeping pill when I go home," Meyer joked.

Meyer can take solace in the fact that his Oklahoma counterpart, Bob Stoops, may face a similar problem. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables reportedly interviewed for the Clemson and Washington jobs and likely will be named in connection with other openings. So might offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, whose unit has scored at least 60 points in a record five consecutive games. Wilson, like Florida's Strong, is a finalist for the Broyles Award, which is given annually to the nation's top assistant. As for McCarney, Meyer said that he hired the former Iowa State coach earlier this year with the knowledge that McCarney would likely earn another shot as a head coach.

"He's the kind of guy I would hire as a head coach," Meyer said. "The job he's done with our defensive line speaks for itself. Just watch those kids play."

Mullen spoke only about the Gators in interviews Sunday night. In interviews following Saturday's Big 12 title game, Wilson and Venables spoke only about the Sooners.

While it's highly unlikely all six assistants would land head-coaching jobs this time around, any moves could add wrinkles to an already intriguing matchup. With jobs open at Auburn, Mississippi State, Syracuse, New Mexico, San Diego State and Bowling Green and openings likely at East Carolina and Buffalo -- two reigning conference champs -- the assistants who helped their teams reach the BCS title game should be in high demand.

More than likely, any assistant who lands a job would remain with his current team through the title game. Historically, the results have been mixed when assistants have tried to serve two masters while preparing for the most important game of the season. In January, Bo Pelini's LSU defense shut down Ohio State, giving Pelini a hero's sendoff as he left to take over at Nebraska. But in January 2001 against Stoops' Oklahoma team, Florida State offensive coordinator Mark Richt -- who had accepted the Georgia job the previous month -- coached the Seminoles to zero offensive points in a 13-2 loss in the Orange Bowl. In the days leading up to the game, Richt had worked for both Georgia and FSU.

"I wouldn't recommend it," Richt told USA Today this past January. "I think I lost some of my ability to be creative as a coach because there were just so many things racing through my mind."

The Sooners have dealt with this issue before heading into the BCS title game. After the 2003 season, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops -- Bob's brother -- accepted the head-coaching job at Arizona. Mike Stoops went right to work, handing over the reins of the defense to Venables. But because the week of the BCS title game came during a recruiting dead period, Mike Stoops went to New Orleans and advised his former colleagues. The advice didn't help; the Sooners lost 21-14 to LSU.

Florida's Meyer has twice accepted jobs and stayed behind to coach in a bowl game. After Meyer took the head-coaching job at Bowling Green, he asked Notre Dame coach Bob Davie if he could stay on and coach the Fighting Irish receivers in the Fiesta Bowl. In December 2004, Meyer agreed to leave Utah for Florida, but he stayed in Salt Lake City for a month to coach the Utes -- the first team from a non-BCS conference to make a BCS bowl -- to a Fiesta Bowl win against Pittsburgh. "I really wanted to finish the right way," Meyer said Sunday.

Meyer and Stoops will have to hope their assistants will feel the same way if they take the next step on the professional ladder in the next few weeks. Sunday, after Meyer addressed a laundry list of questions about his in-demand assistants, someone asked how many he expected to lose. And while he wants his assistants to grow professionally, Meyer couldn't help feeling a little selfish for a moment.

"I'm hoping zero," he joked.

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