Last time we were in this position, Steve Spurrier had just left us high and dry.
To this day, I'll never forgive him. He could have owned Gainesville. Instead, he let his ego get in the way as he changed course ("I'm just a college coach") and bolted for the N.F.L.
And we know how that worked out.
For him (lousy).
For us (lousy too. Remember "FireRonZook.com?")
And now with the stunning news that Urban Meyer has announced his sudden resignation, many of us are feeling the same uncertainty.
Where does this football program go? Who will the Gators turn to to lead the team forward?
Here are my thoughts on some of the more popular potential replacements:
1. Bob Stoops: a popular choice amongst the Gator Nation. He's one of "us" having coached under Steve Spurrier. Would leaving Oklahoma be nothing more than a "lateral" move for him?
2. Bobby Petrino: would open up the Spurrier wounds. He's got too much negative baggage having bolted from Louisville for the N.F.L. only to resurface in Arkansas. Not a good fit for Florida now. Or ever.
3. Dan Mullen: while he made his name as Meyer's offensive coordinator, he's still just getting his feet wet as a head coach. Let him finish cutting his teeth in Starkville. We're not in a position to ebb and flow with his growing pains.
4. Charlie Strong: the former defensive coordinator just "signed" on to coach at Louisville. While his contract status has apparently not been etched in stone, my sources tell me that UF is not yet ready for its first African-American coach. Sad, but perhaps true.
5. Gary Patterson: he just resigned a long-term deal with T.C.U. If Meyer's reasons for leaving are indeed true, i.e., health and family, those same reasons appear to be the reason why Patterson decided to recommit to the Horned Frogs; namely, quality of life.
6. Steve Spurrier: might be a sentimental choice, but I doubt it. While visions of him making "amends" to the Gator faithful who still feel jilted might sound like a good idea, the fact is he would not make a good long-term solution due to his age (64).
7. Rich Rodriquez: probably more of wishful thinking on the part of frustrated Wolverine fans who think UM made a mistake in hiring him. However, the thought of a "fresh start" two years removed from his West Virginia public relations nightmare might appeal to him and the UF powers that be.
8. Jon Gruden: speculation has surrounded the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach ever since he left the NFL as to when and where he would reemerge. Florida has played the former NFL coach card before (Zook) and might be reluctant to revisit that hand again any time soon.
9. Mike Shanahan: like Stoops and Mullen, i.e., he's one of "us," having served as Florida's offensive coordinator under Charley Pell in the 1980's. I can't see Shanahan, who appears on the precipice of being hired by a NFL team, going back to college. He's tasted so much success on the professional level that the college game might be a step "backward" for him.
10. Bronco Mendanhall: the new Gator coaching spot has Mendenhall's name written all over it. The current head coach at B.Y.U., he could be "the poor man's Meyer." A young, successful coach from Utah. Sound famiiar? Plus with a name like "Bronco," he has to be good.
Here's my bottom line: I don't know any more than any other fan. This thing's going to take some time to sort out. As the days wear on, different candidates will emerge as the UF athletic department decision makers try to decide on the future path of the program.
While the Gator football program appears to be very strong and on solid ground, history tells us that making the right choice for the person to lead even a program such as Florida's is not a given.
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