Urban Meyer says the Florida football program is “broken.”
He admits he did a poor job with the team last season and, in so many words, that the health scare of a year ago changed him: “Florida deserves the best. I’m not sure we gave them our best.”
So here’s the question: If the Gators are that far down, is this an an opening for Georgia?
This is not to suggest the Bulldogs project to be on the cusp of greatness. They just finished the regular season at 6-6 (3-5 in the SEC), which is worse than the “broken” Gators (7-5, 4-4). Nor is this to suggest that Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley will make a bad hire (although it should be noted that when Steve Spurrier left for the NFL, Foley hired Ron Zook).
But hear me out: No matter who Florida hires, there is going to be a transition period. The coach who probably could best minimize that transition period is Dan Mullen, the former Gators’ offensive coordinator who has managed to turn Mississippi State into a competitive program. But that seemingly perfect fit isn’t a lock.
Foley may want to go in a different direction, possibly first going after TCU’s Gary Patterson, Boise State’s Chris Peterson or, yes, it has been suggested, Arkansas’s Bobby Petrino. There’s also two former Florida defensive coordinators, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops and Louisville’s Charlie Strong. As for Mullen, he may not want to be the guy who tries to fill Meyer’s shoes. Head football coaches are curious animals. They like new challenges and creating their own identity in a program. Mullen almost certainly isn’t long for Starkville, but he probably could wait a year and still have his pick of several jobs.
Regardless of who steps in at Florida, this year’s recruiting class will be down because of the change. Returning players will go through a transition period with the new coach. Further, the Gators are losing four starters on the offensive line, seven starters on defense and there are doubts about quarterback John Brantley that weren’t there a year ago.
If you had to handicap the SEC East right now, South Carolina — which returns Stephen Garcia, Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery — has to be the favorite. But can the Gamecocks capture that magic two years in a row? Tennessee could be better but making the leap to division champion in Derek Dooley’s second year doesn’t seem likely. And Florida is weakened.
Enter Georgia. This an opening for Mark Richt and the Bulldogs. They’ll likely lose A.J. Green but they return quarterback Aaron Murray, who threw 24 touchdown passes with only six interceptions despite missing Green for four games. Murray will only be better next year.
Florida’s immediate future is less certain. Richt needs to take advantage of that.
– By Jeff Schultz