November 16, 2014

Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley has twice hired coaches with no head coaching experience to lead the Gators and it hasn't worked out.

Will Muschamp followed a similar path to Ron Zook at Florida. Zook was gone before the end of this third season. Muschamp's fourth season will be his last. He was forced out Sunday, with two games left.

Foley followed Zook with Urban Meyer, a coach with a track record for winning big with creative offenses. Conventional wisdom is that Foley will go that route again.

Here are some possible candidates:

-Rich Rodriguez, Arizona. His three terrible years at Michigan, where he was a bad fit from the start, are outweighed by all his success at West Virginia (60-26) and now the Wildcats (24-12). A spread offense pioneer who built recruiting ties to Florida while with the Mountaineers, the 51-year-old Rodriguez checks a lot of Florida's boxes. He also has a great relationship with his current boss, Arizona AD Greg Byrne, who showed nothing but faith in Rodriguez after the Michigan debacle. Is Byrne enough to make Arizona a destination job?

-Dan Mullen, Mississippi State. Meyer's former offensive coordinator is having his best season at Mississippi State, but he's not a one-hit wonder. He has steadily built a solid program in Starkville. Still, it's hard to expect any coach to churn out double-digit win seasons at Mississippi State, with one of the smallest athletic department budgets in the Southeastern Conference. After six years at Mississippi State, the time is probably right for the 42-year-old Mullen to upgrade, but as good as the Meyer era was at Florida, Foley might not want to go back to it.

-Bob Stoops, Oklahoma. Stoops was Steve Spurrier's defensive coordinator at Florida before going to Oklahoma and rebuilding the Sooners into one of the most consistent programs in the country. Foley tried to hire him when Spurrier left and again after Zook was let go. Stoops hasn't won a national championship since Year 2 in Norman (2000), and the Sooners seem stuck between good and great these days. The fan base is restless, but at 54 years old, Stoops doesn't appear to be the same.

-Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State. The 47-year-old Gundy has helped turn the Cowboys into consistent contenders in the Big 12 after years of mediocrity. It's his alma mater, but loyalty might not be an issue. He's been wooed before by the likes of Tennessee and Arkansas. He and athletic director Mike Holder haven't had the smoothest of working relationships. And recently mega-booster T. Boone Pickens made it pretty clear that he has no great allegiance to Gundy. ''I'm always going to be for OSU, I don't care who coaches `em,'' Pickens told the Austin American-Statesman.

-Hugh Freeze, Mississippi. Like Mullen, Freeze has done a brilliant job at a tough spot to contend for championships. The 45-year-old Oxford, Mississippi, native is in his third season with the Rebels. The program is set to be good for a few more years, but the ceiling is much higher at Florida.

From outside the Big Five conferences: Justin Fuente of Memphis; Doc Holliday of Marshall; Mark Hudspeth of Louisiana-Lafayette.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/RalphDrussoAP

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