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Head Coaching Candidates for the Florida Gators to Replace Dan Mullen

Taking a look at eight options for the Florida Gators' head coaching vacancy following Dan Mullen's firing.

In a year like no other when it comes to in-season head coach firings, the Florida Gators entered the mix for a new leader of their program by relieving Dan Mullen of his duties on Sunday afternoon.

Athletic director Scott Stricklin has begun his research into qualified candidates for the vacancy, and although he has not established a timeline to make his second head football coaching hire at UF, he plans on Florida making a move "as quickly as we can" while utilizing every available resource.

RELATED: Scott Stricklin explains Dan Mullen's firing, expectations for next Gators' head coach

AllGators has broken down eight realistic options for the job below, in no particular order.

Lane Kiffin

Age: 46

Notable experience: Ole Miss HC (2020-present), Florida Atlantic HC (2017-19), Alabama OC/QBs (2014-16), USC HC (2010-13), Tennessee HC (2009), Oakland Raiders HC (2007-08) USC OC/WRs (2005-06), USC OC/WRs (2005-06), USC PGC/WRs (2004)

Head coaching record: 75-41 (college), 5-15 (NFL)

Lane Kiffin is one of the most interesting coaches that has been talked about in the ongoing coaching cycle this year. While he's had plenty of misses throughout his coaching career, at both levels, he's revitalized his career and has quickly become one of the top candidates for any job in the country.

Kiffin's career was originally revitalized at Alabama as the Crimson Tide's offensive coordinator, where he became a finalist for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation's top college football assistant coach. Alabama ranked 14th in 2014, 15th in 2015 and 15th in 2016 in yards per game during those respective seasons.

Landing another head coaching gig, this time with Florida Atlantic from 2017-19, Kiffin led the Owls to their first winning record since 2008 with an 11-3 record, first place in Conference USA, and a victory in the Boca Raton Bowl. He would take the Owls to the Boca Raton Bowl again in 2019 after an 11-3 finish.

Now at Ole Miss, Kiffin brought the Rebels out of a losing record over the past four seasons from 2016-19 to a bowl-game bid in 2020 at 5-5, making the trip to the Outback Bowl.  This year, Ole Miss is at a 9-2 record and is currently ranked at No. 12 in the CFP ranking.

Kiffin's recruiting résumé features multiple five stars throughout the year at both USC and Alabama. His class for the 2022 recruiting cycle was ranked at No. 25, according to SI All American as of Oct. thanks in part to running back Quinshon Judkins.  Previously, they ranked at No. 34 nationally in 2020.

Kiffin's penchant for bringing great offenses at every stop he's been in would be exciting for the Gators moving forward, and his affinity for recruiting would be another plus moving forward. Kiffin has also had his eyes on developments at Florida recently, even retweeting Florida redshirt freshman QB Anthony Richardson's comment on a potential transfer.

Finally, on Sunday, SI's Pat Forde wrote about several potential coaches that Florida could hire, including Kiffin. He reported that some UF boosters have already grown an affinity towards the Ole Miss head ball coach, "eager to ride the Lane Train," he states. The drawback, however, could be with Stricklin, who is not exactly the Kiffin type. 

Billy Napier

Age: 42

Notable experience: Louisiana HC (2018-present), Arizona State OC/QBs (2017), Alabama WRs (2013-16), Clemson OC/QBs/TEs/RC (2006-10)

Head coaching record: 38-12

Billy Napier has been one of the hottest head-coaching candidates to never hit the market in recent years, but there is growing suspicion that he could finally hop on the coaching carousel after the conclusion of the 2021 season.

If Napier is ready to make the jump from Louisiana to an SEC program, which he certainly seems to be, Florida should give him a call immediately.

A disciple of Alabama's Nick Saban and Clemson's Dabo Swinney, Napier has ascended up the coaching ranks as quickly as any coach in the FBS, earning his first coordinating job at age 26 and becoming a Power 5 OC at Clemson at 30 years old. 

Napier became Louisiana's head coach before turning 40 years old, his first gig as a head coach. His Rajin' Cajuns have since won the West Division of the Sun Belt Conference four times, and he earned Sun Belt Coach of the Year honors for Louisiana's performance in 2019.

An offensive-minded coach, Louisiana's offense has yet to rank below No. 41 in the nation in scoring under Napier's watch, finishing as high as No. 10 in 2019. The Rajin Cajun's defense has climbed from No. 105 in scoring in his first season to top-31 or higher every year since, currently peaking at No. 13 in the country this season.

Louisiana has also owned the Sun Belt's No. 1 recruiting class every year following Napier's transition class, and has jumped in the national rankings from No. 121 (out of 130) the year before he was hired to a peak of No. 69 last year, per the 247Sports Composite. That's a monumental rise, especially for a Sun Belt program.

Napier fits the CEO mold that Florida is looking for in its next head coach. Napier could be considered a risky hire due to his lack of Power 5 coaching experience, but his résumé and coaching connections (which would prove important as he compiles a staff) speak for themselves.

Mario Cristobal

Age: 51

Notable experience: Oregon HC (2018-present), Oregon Co-OC/OL (2017),, Alabama AHC/OL (2013-16), FIU HC (2007-12)

Head coaching record: 61-59

Mario Cristobal has been one of the nation's best coaches over the past few seasons, bringing life back to the Oregon Ducks after a down year under then HC Mark Helfrich, with the team going 4-8, and a mediocre year with Willie Taggart as a one-and-done coach at 7-6.

After Taggart's departure, Oregon would go 9-4, 12-2, 4-3 (COVID-19 and shortened season within the Pac-12) and now has Oregon at a 9-2 record, and currently coming off of a bad loss against Utah. But, Cristobal's efforts to bring the Ducks to the Rose Bowl in 2019 shouldn't go unnoticed.

Recruiting-wise, Oregon is one of the best in the country, currently ranked at No. 6, according to SI All-American. Here is what SI's John Garcia had to say about Oregon's current recruiting class:

Mario Cristobal and his staff bolstered the future of the linebacker corps in October with two additions, including Harrison Taggart and Devon Jackson. Each is in the 6'2", 200-pound range with modern traits relative to the position. The Ducks will run away with the Pac-12 recruiting crown again in 2022.

The program ranked No. 1 in the Pac-12 last season and looks to do the same for this year's cycle. In fact, since 2019, Oregon has ranked No. 1 in the Pac-12 in recruiting. They've held a National Rank of 13 or better since Cristobal was named the team's permanent HC.

Cristobal is a proven winner and his two Pac-12 Championships are a testament to that. They'll likely return to the championship game this season, too, something Florida saws just once under Mullen.

Dave Aranda

Age: 45

Notable experience: Baylor HC (2020-present), LSU AHC/DC/LBs (2016-19), Wisconsin DC/ILBs (2013-15)

Head coaching record: 11-9

The performance of LSU's defense during its 2019 national championship run earned Dave Aranda his first head coaching opportunity, as he took over for Matt Rhule at Baylor in 2020. Rhule had spent the past three seasons rebuilding a Baylor program in shambles, and the result of his departure was a down first season for Aranda on the job.

But in year two, Aranda put on his best Rhule impression and began piling up victories with the Bears. Baylor is 9-2 this season and the No. 9 team in the country, owning the nation's No. 17 scoring defense.

Aranda has also managed to keep recruiting on par with Rhule's upward trajectory, despite significant sanctions being handed down earlier this year from Art Briles' time as head coach.

He might not be the flashiest hire of the bunch, but Aranda would be a safe and sensical pick for the Gators' next head coach.

Bill O'Brien

Age: 52

Notable experience: Alabama OC/QBs (2021-present), Houston Texans HC (2014-20), Penn State HC (2012-13), New England Patriots OC/QBs (2011)

Head coaching record: 15-9 (college), 54-52 (NFL)

Bill O'Brien's head coaching tenure really jumps out due to his experience at the highest level of football with the Texans. While he ultimately would be let go from the organization, he was the man in charge of the organization basically from top to bottom.

While he did make plenty of questionable decisions, he got the Texans back on track after some abysmal years. The Texans would finish first in the AFC South four times (2015, 16, 18 and 19) under his guidance.

His background features two of the most winning programs, college (Alabama) or pros (Patriots). He currently has the Crimson Tide ranked No. 6 in the nation with 5,518 yards of total offense at 501.6 yards per game.

Perhaps his greatest achievement, O'Brien helped revive the Nittany Lions program following a child sex abuse scandal that occurred under former head coach Joe Paterno's guidance. O'Brien would be tasked with bringing some life into the program and was successful at doing so before making the leap to the NFL. 

Luke Fickell

Age: 48

Notable experience: Cincinnati HC (2017-present), OSU co-DC/LBs (2012-16), OSU Interim HC (2011), Ohio State Co-DC/LBs (2005-10)

Head coaching record: 52-21

Luke Fickell has quickly transformed the Bearcats into a force to be reckoned with not only within their own conference, the American Athletic Conference, but to a contender on the national stage, a potential College Football Playoff team this season.

The Bearcats are currently ranked fifth on the College Football Playoff rankings and are the only undefeated team that's ranked in the top aside from the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs and the UTSA Road Runners (No. 22). Fickell has been a major reason for the turnaround.

His roots come from a winning program with Ohio State under former Buckeyes and Gators HC Urban Meyer from 2012-16. He's got a penchant for acquiring talent. The Bearcats currently have the No. 35 ranked class in the country for 2022 and the No. 12 ranked class for 2023.

For some perspective, the Bearcats finished 74th in the country in 2016 before Fickell came into town.

Aside from his first year with the program (4-8), Fickell has posted a winning record with 11 or more wins each season, aside from last season under COVID restrictions, shortened to just 10 games. One of his top players, cornerback Ahmad 'Sauce' Gardner, could see himself selected in the top 10 of next year's draft.

Brian Johnson

Age: 34

Notable experience: Philadelphia Eagles QBs (2021-present), Florida OC/QBs (2018-20), Houston OC/QBs (2017), Mississippi State QBs (2014-16)

Head coaching record: N/A

Of all the candidates listed, Brian Johnson would present the biggest risk. He could also reap rewards as Florida's next head coach.

Johnson coached at UF for three years under Mullen, finishing his term as the Gators' offensive coordinator during the 2020 season. The results of his promotion from quarterbacks coach were a Heisman Trophy finalist in Kyle Trask, the highest-selected tight end in NFL Draft history and Kyle Pitts, another first-round pass-catcher in Kadarius Toney, two offensive linemen drafted as well, and one of the greatest offenses in school history.

Johnson has plenty of familiarity with and respect from the team due to his time at UF, particularly with the quarterbacks. He has great personal relationships with Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson, which is something to keep in mind should the transfer portal begin poaching Florida players.

The risk? This would be the first head coaching job of Johnson's young coaching career. 

Johnson is well-respected within the college and pro ranks and analysts have pegged him as a head coach to-be at some point. Florida could make that move now due to his ties to the program, but the university almost certainly would prefer a candidate with experience on the job.

Dan Quinn

Age: 51

Notable experience: Dallas Cowboys DC (2021-present), Atlanta Falcons HC (2015-20), Seattle Seahawks DC (2013-14) Florida Gators DC/DL (2011-12)

Head coaching record: 46-44 (NFL, including postseason)

Another potential reunion, the Gators could look to their former defensive coordinator under Will Muschamp in Dan Quinn as their next head coach. He has over five years of head coaching experience in the NFL with the Falcons, including a Super Bowl appearance in 2016.

During his time at UF, Quinn and Muschamp's defenses ranked No. 8 and No. 5 in yardage allowed and No. 21 and No. 5 in scoring in respective years. Quinn wasn't often a primary recruiter, but his staff managed to land signees in defensive linemen Jonathan Bullard and Caleb Brantley, linebackers Dante Fowler Jr. and Alex Anzalone, and defensive backs Vernon Hargreaves III, Keanu NealMarcus Maye, Brian Poole, and Marcell Harris in his with the program.

Now, Quinn serves as the defensive coordinator for the Cowboys, and has turned the unit around after a disastrous 2020 season before he took on the role. Dallas owns the No. 9 scoring defense in the NFL, while second-year cornerback Trevon Diggs leads the NFL with eight interceptions and two pick-sixes this year.

Quinn's work in Dallas could pave the way to a second chance as a head coach. If he'd prefer to do so in college, Florida would be an ideal spot given his experience as well as his familiarity with the program and recruiting in the region.

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