Over the next month or so, countless names will be floated as potential successors to Will Muschamp at Florida. Athletic director Jeremy Foley will have several factors to consider such as on-field success, offensive and defensive schemes, public image and financial obligations. With the Gators being right in the middle of a recruiting hotbed, Foley will also have to consider a candidate who can go head-to-head against powers such as Florida State, Alabama, Miami, Georgia and Clemson in recruiting.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze has proven he can recruit -- bringing in the nation's No. 5 class in 2013 -- and this year, it has translated on the field. Based on recruiting alone, Freeze has the personality, image, knowledge and, maybe most importantly, the coaching staff that would help ease the transition to Gainesville.
Three Ole Miss assistants -- linebackers/special teams coach Tom Allen, defensive line coach Chris Kiffin and co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner -- have extensive ties to the state of Florida. Allen was the head coach of now defunct Temple Heights Christian School in Tampa in the early 1990s. He went on to be the defensive coordinator of Florida high school power Seffner (Fla.) Armwood under Sean Callahan, who is still at the school.
Allen has extensive knowledge of the Tampa area, which has produced talented prospects such as five-star defensive end Byron Cowart (Armwood) and ESPN 300 athletes Ray-Ray McCloud III and Deon Cain. All are still considering the Gators even though McCloud and Cain are committed to Clemson.
Kiffin, the younger brother of Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, went to high school at Jesuit in Tampa and, like Allen, has extensive knowledge of the area. Kiffin was instrumental in helping Ole Miss land five-star offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, who lived 40 minutes away from Gainesville, and Robert Nkemdiche, the No. 1-ranked player in the country for the class of 2013.
Early in his coaching career, Werner was an assistant coach at Southridge High School in Miami. He went on to coach at the University of Miami in two different stints for a total of eight years. South Florida is an integral part of Florida recruiting and having a person on staff with knowledge of the area would is vital for any college recruiting one of the most fertile recruiting corners of the country.
Muschamp built a strong relationship with several top local targets, including five-star prospects Cowart, CeCe Jefferson and Martez Ivey, so getting a coach who doesn’t have to start from scratch would be critical for the Gators’ 2015 class -- which only has nine commits at this point.
Ivey and Cowart might not have had Ole Miss in their list of top schools but they still know Freeze and his staff very well. Jefferson, the nation's No. 9 prospect, has already taken an official visit to Ole Miss and is very familiar with the staff. In fact, when asked who he thinks would be a good fit at Florida, Jefferson had one name in mind.
“Coach Freeze,” Jefferson said. "I think he would be a great choice for UF. My visit with him at Ole Miss was great. He’s not only a great football coach but he’s a great man. What he can bring to the table can be pretty special if he were to go there and get the place figured out.”
Muschamp never had a problem landing top defensive talent such as Vernon Heargreaves III, Dante Fowler Jr., Jalen Tabor and Gerald Willis II, but it was a struggle to land top offensive playmakers. Freeze’s up-tempo spread offense would likely help the Gators catch the attention of offensive weapons around the region.
Does Freeze want to leave his home state of Mississippi? He might not, but Florida is one of the top jobs in the country, and based on his recruiting prowess alone, Freeze would make a lot of sense for the Gators.