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Who will the Florida Gators hire? A list of head coaching candidates

One of the best jobs in America is open, but with a rebuilt Georgia as a rival. Who will be the new head man in Gainesville?

Louisiana v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Update Nov. 26, 1:50 p.m. The Gators appear to be leaning towards Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns coach Billy Napier to be their choice. The Cajuns are playing in the Sun Belt Championship Game, scheduled for next Saturday, December 4th at 3:30 p.m.

An already hectic college football coaching carousel cycle got even more chaotic on Sunday with Florida firing head coach Dan Mullen.

Just a year removed from getting into a shootout with Alabama in the SEC Championship game, the higher-ups in Gainesville showed the Florida HC the door after an overtime loss to Missouri marked its fourth loss in five games. The 5-6 Gators now enter a rivalry matchup with Florida State this weekend where bowl eligibility will be on the line for both programs.

Florida fancies itself as an SEC blue blood, but haven’t been able to reach the heights of being a true national championship contender since Urban Meyer was on the sideline. And with Mullen’s laissez-faire attitude towards recruiting, they’ve ceded major ground to arch rival Georgia. Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart has built a recruiting juggernaut and have reached the point where they’ve gone into the Sunshine State and bullied Florida for their own commits.

Needless to say, Florida needs to nail this next coaching hire to avoid falling further behind. Here’s a list of potential candidates that the Gators could target over the next few weeks. Note, this is just pure speculation and spitballing. UF athletic director Scott Stricklin could go in a completely different direction here.

Florida head coach candidates

Lane Kiffin

One of the biggest names already linked to this job has been Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin. It’s been no secret that “Joey Freshwater” has been angling his way out of Oxford, MS, and he’d find a warm landing spot in Gainesville, FL.

The cultural identity of Florida football has been tied to offense for the last three decades and the promise of scoring 35+ points a game would make Kiffin an instant hit with Gator fans. Having coached in the SEC for several years on top of spending three years at FAU, he had plenty of experience recruiting in the state of Florida and would be aggressive on that front from the moment he touched down.

Billy Napier

Louisiana head coach Billy Napier has sat back and built a Sun Belt juggernaut in Lafayette over the last several seasons. He’s been biding his time and waiting for the right opportunity to jump into the Power Five and that opportunity may be coming imminently.

Napier has the bona fides of spending time in programs like Alabama and Clemson while also having tangible success on the field to boost his resume. His Ragin’ Cajuns have won the Sun Belt west division for four straight seasons. He’s been mentioned in the conversations for other openings like LSU and Washington, hence why Stricklin is apparently trying to get the jump on him quickly...

Mark Stoops

If you can’t beat ‘em, take ‘em. Mark Stoops has arguably the lowest pressure job in the SEC and has experienced almost unparalleled success at a Kentucky football program that historically struggled to maintain consistent success. He’s elevated the ceiling of the program to 8-9 wins a year and has beaten Florida twice. The Wildcats had previously lost 31 straight games to the Gators before Stoops and company ended the streak in 2018.

One would question why Stoops would leave a cushy gig in Lexington to enter a pressure cooker in Gainesville. Perhaps a pay raise and a new challenge would make him consider it.

James Franklin

Penn State has been a Top 15 caliber program under the guidance of Franklin but one can’t help but think that he’s hit his ceiling in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions are a clear step behind Ohio State in the pecking order of the Big Ten East and the marriage between Franklin and the university has appeared to have grown stale.

Franklin has SEC experience going back a decade when he turned Vanderbilt of all schools into a successful program. He has both the personality to invigorate a fan base and the savvy to navigate the politics that goes into running a powerhouse program

Mario Cristobal

Despite Oregon’s tough loss on Saturday, Cristobal is still going to be an ideal candidate for many open positions, and he’s been one of the ace recruiters in the state of Florida at several stops in his career. With his alma mater Miami open as well, at worst the proud Cuban-American and native of the state finishes this cycle with an upgraded contract to stay in Eugene.

Also remember that Pete Garcia, who fired Cristobal in 2012 one year removed from a conference championship, was fired himself last week. And that might go down as the worst coaching firing of this century.

Gus Malzahn

This would not be a popular move amongst some of the Gator brass but one could understand the logic behind it. Malzahn had consistent success at Auburn and was the only coach to somewhat consistently harass Nick Saban and Alabama over a period of time.

If all of Stricklin’s first options fall through, he could very well pay a short visit over to Orlando to try to poach the UCF head man.