To the surprise of nobody, the Florida Gators coaching staff received a shakeup on Sunday—one day after closing out a 4-8 season with a 37-7 loss to the Florida State Seminoles in Gainesville.
According to Mark Long of the Associated Press, head coach Will Muschamp fired offensive coordinator Brent Pease after two seasons.
AP source: Florida fires offensive coordinator Brent Pease after losing season— Mark Long (@APMarkLong) December 1, 2013
Pease's dismissal—along with that of offensive line coach Tim Davis—was made official on Sunday afternoon in a release by the university.
"I am grateful for the opportunity to come to the University of Florida and work with a bunch of great coaches, administrative staff and players,'' Pease said in the release. "I know we came up short of our ultimate goal, but I will carry on knowing I gained valuable friendships and relationships during my time here."
Despite the Gators posting an 11-1 regular season in 2012 and earning a berth to the Sugar Bowl, they struggled offensively, finishing 12th in the SEC in total offense at 334 yards per game. Injuries and ineptitude caused further regression in 2013, as the Gators managed 316.7 yards per game—the worst mark in the conference and 113th nationally.
Muschamp got a vote of confidence from athletics director Jeremy Foley earlier this month, despite the program sputtering to its first sub-.500 record since 1979. Muschamp needed a fall guy, and Pease was the easy target.
Replacing Pease will be quite a challenge.
Despite being one of the highest-profile programs in the country—one that's willing to pay whatever it takes to secure talented coaches—Florida isn't a good job right now.
Any offensive coordinator taking this position would be taking a major risk. A coach would potentially uproot his family for one year of work where his job—and the status of the entire coaching staff—depends on the offensive coordinator's ability to turn things around in a hurry.
It's essentially the same situation former Auburn offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler stepped into in Gene Chizik's last season as Tigers head coach in 2012, and former Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri stepped into in Derek Dooley's last season as Vols head coach during the same year.
It isn't necessarily toxic right now, but it could become that way in a hurry.
So who would take this job?
Current wide receivers coach/recruiting coordinator Joker Phillips should be a leading candidate. The former Kentucky head coach (2010-12) was the Wildcats offensive coordinator from 2005 to '09. He's familiar with the roster, incoming recruits and pressure that goes along with coaching at Florida under Muschamp. He would be more welcoming to taking this risk since he's already in Gainesville.
If an in-house candidate doesn't move the meter, Florida needs to find somebody who would take the one-year risk and has a track record of turning programs around. Current Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee fits that bill.
The 30-year-old first-year coordinator of the Tigers has been a big part of Auburn's offensive turnaround from the SEC's worst offense a year ago into the second-best offense in the SEC (491.0 YPG). He's been head coach Gus Malzahn's right-hand man for the majority of his coaching career and could be looking to step out of Malzahn's shadow and go out on his own.
The wild card—and yes, it's a major wild card—is former USC and Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin. The personality conflicts between him and Muschamp could be too much to overcome, but Kiffin has proven in the past that he can coach competent offenses.
His USC offenses finished in the top five in the Pac-12 in three of his four years as head coach, and he runs a system similar to Pease's, so the transition wouldn't be incredibly difficult to navigate.
There are a lot of different directions in which Florida can go, but considering the situation any potential offensive coordinator would take over, those paths may be difficult to navigate.