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  • Jim McElwain is out at Florida, opening up a coaching search at one of the top-10 jobs in the country. Here are 10 names to keep an eye on.
By Bruce Feldman
October 29, 2017

After a bizarre week, Jim McElwain is out at Florida, meaning one of the top 10 jobs in college football is open. The move means there could be as many as a half-dozen new head coaches in the SEC in 2018. Let's examine 10 candidates UF may consider. I think the Gators' options fit into three categories: the connected guys, the upstarts and the big names they might be able to woo.

The Connected Guys with UF ties or local roots

Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: He's an obvious choice. First-year Florida AD Scott Stricklin was his boss in Starkville. Mullen is a terrific offensive coach and that's something that should play well at a place that has been dreadful pretty much since Mullen left Gainesville almost a decade ago. He's 67–44 at a program that is the toughest to win at in the SEC West, and the Bulldogs are 6–2 this year. It's hard to think he can do much better in Starkville than he already has, and that includes two top-20 finishes in his eight previous seasons. On two different occasions he tried to get the Miami job, but was unable. It's hard to think he'd pass if Florida came within reach. Word is former Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley wasn't a big fan of Mullen's, but would he try and stand in the way of him getting this job or still have the juice to do that?

Willie Taggart, Oregon: A South Florida native who is like the third Harbaugh brother, Taggart won at Western Kentucky and then won at USF, leaving Charlie Strong a stocked program, and he's done a very nice job pumping life back into the Ducks in his first year in Eugene. He and his staff are recruiting exceptionally well. Would he actually be tempted to come back home after moving his young family across the country for just one year? I'm not sure he could say no.

Scott Frost, UCF: A Chip Kelly protégé, he's tearing it up in year two at UCF, which at 7–0 is the Group of Five’s last unbeaten team. His name has come up often as a possible answer if his alma mater Nebraska pulls the plug on Mike Riley (I suspect it will). I'm told Frost might be more intrigued by a program with a stronger, much more fertile recruiting base than Nebraska—somewhere he can get tons of speed to fuel his system. A place like Florida would make a lot of sense. A question among some UF folks is whether the 42-year-old Frost is ready for this big stage. In retrospect, many realized, McElwain wasn't cut out for the job temperament-wise, and that figures to be something Florida will be mindful of in its search process.

Charlie Strong, USF: Another former Urban Meyer assistant, Strong fizzled at Texas after three tumultuous seasons. He's doing well again in his first season at USF and is very well-connected around the state. He played a vital role in Meyer building a powerhouse at Florida, and Gator brass knows how well-respected he was inside the program. That should count for something. Does UF want someone more drawn to the spotlight than Strong? It just got rid of a guy who was not very comfortable under constant media scrutiny. Would it bring in another to replace him?

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The Big Names

Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech: He's 17–5 with the Hokies after turning a downtrodden Memphis football program into a winner. That was impressive. Fuente is also not paid a fortune by FBS coaching standards, but has a very good situation in Blacksburg working for a well-regarded AD in Whit Babcock. He's got a good job now, but UF is an even better job. If you're the Gators, you've gotta kick the tires on this one.

Gary Patterson, TCU: One of the best defensive coaches in football, Patterson has the Horned Frogs rolling. He's done wonders there and they've upgraded the facilities dramatically for him. They've even built him a statue. Still, it's no secret that he'd listen if it's a program that he felt gave him a much better chance at winning national titles.

Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: His résumé and experience is better than most of the guys on this list. He's likely to be looking for another job this winter. He's proven he can recruit very well in the SEC against anyone. He's 49–24, has never done worse than 8–5 at A&M and did lead the Aggies to their first top-five finish in over 50 years.

Chip Kelly: The biggest free-agent name in coaching. Kelly is as sharp and innovative as any offensive mind in football. His offense would be scary with access to the speed you can recruit at Florida. At Oregon, he went 46–7 in four seasons and won three Pac-12 titles before leaving for the NFL. Would he want it? The hunch here is he'd be tempted. As for the fit, UF under Foley balked at pursuing Rich Rodriguez a few years ago due to him having some NCAA issues in his past, and Kelly had a show-cause. Will that matter to the new Gators regime? We'll see.

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The Upstarts

Matt Campbell, Iowa State: He's making a big run at national coach of the year honors, as the Cyclones are 2–0 against top-five teams this year. The Ohio native is longer on substance than style. He comes from the Mount Union tree and figures to also get consideration from Tennessee, among others.

Mike Norvell, Memphis: A Todd Graham disciple, Norvell is 15–6 in two seasons after taking over for Fuente. He's a rising star, but at 36 he's still very young, and there probably will be some concern about whether he's ready to make such a big jump now.

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