Rumors already swirling around potential Meyer’s replacements

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It’s been a little more than three hours since Urban Meyer stunned the college football world — again — by stepping down as Florida’s head coach.  We’re still roughly an hour away from the press conference featuring Meyer and athletic director Jeremy Foley that will hopefully shed a little more light on a decision that seems both final — this time — and made with an eye toward family.

And naturally, given the nature of the Internet beast, the rumor mill is already churning out names at a prodigious clip as to the potential candidates to take over one of the premier programs in the country.

First and foremost, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen seems to be at the the top of nearly every early list of replacements.  Given the relative success he’s had in two short years in Starkville and his ties to UF as Meyer’s offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, Mullen’s inclusion is a no-brainer.

Another coach with recent ties to UF is Charlie Strong, and naturally he’s being mentioned in connection to the opening as well.  With just one season as Louisville’s head coach, the former Gators defensive coordinator might be considered a longshot.  Then again, does he deserve any less consideration than Mullen and his two years with the Bulldogs?

As expected, the big-name coaches are being bandied about as well, chief among them Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops.  Again, it’s a natural fit after UF tried to hire him when the job came open in 2001.  We spoke to a source close to the Sooners head coach earlier Wednesday afternoon, however, and this person implored us to not connect Stoops’ name to the Gators job because “Bob is not leaving Norman.  Not for Gainesville, not for anywhere else.”  So, take that as you will, but we tend to believe it.

With a perfect record and a spot in the national title game as well, the name of Oregon’s Chip Kelly has been floated as a possibility.  Let’s just nip this one in the bud right now:  Kelly will leave Eugene over Phil Knight‘s even-creepier dead body.  The Nike CEO will simply not allow that to happen, even if Foley were to have him on his initial to-do list.

Here are a few other names that have been tossed around in the initial stages of The Retirement, The Sequel:

Chris Petersen, Boise State — Foley pulled a non-AQ rabbit out of his hat with the Meyer hire; would he tempt fate twice and go after one of the top five coaches in all of Div. 1-A?  I don’t know if he will, but I know he should.  The only question is, would Petersen want to leave?  It’s not that Boise State is a better job than Florida, but it might be a better fit for Petersen than the Gators.

Gary Patterson, TCU — Same boat as Petersen: has done a helluva job with a whole lot less in both talent and revenue streams.  Would almost certainly be on the short list of any A.D. at a big-time program such as Florida, but, again, it would all come down to fit.

Jim Harbaugh, Stanford — Although it’s being rumored already, you can all but forget about this one.  He will stay with the Cardinal… until the Michigan job opens up, which could be sooner rather than later.

Bobby Petrino, Arkansas — Razorback fans are already verklempt over the possibility of Petrino ditching them for the Gators, and he was rumored to be a candidate during Meyer’s brief 24-hour retirement in 2009.  That said, it would be hard to see Foley putting his post-Meyer eggs in the basket of a man who will always have a wandering eye.

Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech — Why not?  His name is attached to every other job in the country, why not this one?  And don’t think for a minute that Tuberville wouldn’t ditch the Big 12’s Red Raiders for the chance to return to the SEC.  It’s what he wants before his coaching career is over, but it remains to be seen whether UF would be the right fit.

Jon Gruden, broadcast booth — He flirted with Miami when  their job came open.  Don’t expect this Florida school to do the same, despite the fact that he’s already seeing his name attached to the opening.  UF is in a position where they do not have to entertain a person who’s simply interested in keeping his name in the coaching mix for when he’s ready to return to the sidelines.  The Gators are above that, and they know it.

In the end, I would put a fairly significant amount of money on Mullen returning to Gainesville.  And for it to happen sooner rather than later.

Minnesota gives Fleck 1-year extension, plus raise

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Matt Krohn/USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck had his contract extended Wednesday by an additional year with a $1 million raise in annual salary, after the latest round of big spending by Big Ten rivals.

The new seven-year deal will run through the 2029 season, the university announced without releasing terms. Fleck will now make $6 million per year, a person with knowledge of the contract confirmed. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been finalized.

Last week, Nebraska hired Matt Rhule and Wisconsin hired Luke Fickell to put them in the top tier of head coach compensation in the conference. In terms of average annual value, the 42-year-old Fleck is eighth in the Big Ten behind Michigan State’s Mel Tucker, Ohio State’s Ryan Day, Rhule, Fickell, Penn State’s James Franklin, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. All seven of those coaches make $7 million or more per season.

The Gophers (8-4) play Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 29. They’re 3-0 in bowl games under Fleck, who was hired away from Western Michigan in 2017.

Minnesota tied for second place in the Big Ten West Division this year, behind Purdue. Fleck is 43-27 overall with the Gophers, including 26-26 in conference play. They’re 0-6 against Iowa and 3-3 against Wisconsin, their primary rivals.

Fleck’s winning percentage is third-best in program history among coaches with 45 games or more, behind Henry Williams (1900-21) and Bernie Bierman (1932-41).

“What P.J. and his staff have done in a short amount of time is remarkable,” athletic director Mark Coyle said in a statement distributed by the university. “He has recruited and developed some of the best student-athletes to ever play at Minnesota and his team continues to excel academically, athletically and socially.”

This is the fifth time in six years on the job that Fleck’s deal has been adjusted to keep up with the competition, as power conference coach contracts these days rarely have less than five years on them at any time. Minnesota extended his deal a year ago, too.

In that iteration of his contract, the termination fees Fleck would owe Minnesota if he were to hop to another program were bumped way up. Those numbers landed at $7 million in 2023, $5 million in 2024, $4 million in 2025 and $3 million in 2026. Details about those figures in the new deal were not immediately available.

Virginia players granted extra year of eligibility

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The NCAA has granted an extra year of eligibility to Virginia players whose eligibility has expired in the aftermath of the slaying of three members of the team, the school confirmed.

Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler were killed last month as they returned to campus from a field trip to see a play in Washington, D.C. A former player at the school, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., is facing three counts of second-degree murder and other charges in the shooting. A fourth player, Mike Hollins, and student Marlee Morgan were injured in the shooting.

Virginia canceled its final two games of the season after the shooting, and the team and university community memorialized the victims in a nearly two-hour service on campus. Team members also traveled to each of the three funerals held for their teammates.