GatorsTerritory – Florida Gators defensive coordinator hot board

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Todd Grantham is no longer the Florida Gators’ defensive coordinator and Dan Mullen will begin searching for a replacement this week.

“We’re going to start doing some things here and there at some point. Generally in our week and the latter part of the week, you actually can catch your breath a little bit once the game plan’s in and you get going,” Mullen said. “That’ll give me some time in the latter part of the week to start putting some things together.”

The issue now that Mullen will be dealing with is outside perception. The outside perception is that Dan Mullen is on the hot seat and unless Florida can turn around the end of this season and get back on track in 2022, that he’s a dead man walking at Florida. It puts you in a bind when trying to find a guy that is willing to jump ship from where they are to jump on a sinking ship with a bucket to try and get water out of the boat before they all sink.

For Mullen and Scott Stricklin that may mean lengthier contracts or paying above market value for guys as an incentive to come and help turn Florida around.

In our first Defensive Coordinator hot board, we had to take that into consideration. Would a defensive coordinator at a successful program want to leave that job to come to Florida? Or does Florida need to think outside the box for its next hire?

Whatever the case may be, Dan Mullen was already selling.

“I think anyone that comes to work for me will know that I’m, most people that work for me will tell you that I’m a good person to work for and I’m a very loyal person. People enjoy working for me. Probably why people have stuck around a long time too.”

Let’s get into the list.

Kevin Steele (63) Unemployed 

The first plus is that Steele is immediately available. Auburn still owes him $4.1 million over the next two years (including this year so $2.5 after this year). Steele runs a 4-2-5 base, most of what they do is run out of the nickel, which is normal now given what offense have evolved to a present weekly. He mainly works with linebackers. Steele was the architect of a defensive renaissance at Auburn. Before Steele, Auburn had gone through four defensive coordinators in five seasons. His five year stint as Auburn’s defensive coordinator was the longest stint as a defensive coordinator at Auburn since Wayne Hall spent a decade at Auburn from 1986-1995.

In each of his first four seasons, Auburn finished top-17 in scoring defense. They ranked top-35 in rushing defense in four of his five seasons. They saw improvement in pass defense as well. In each of his first four years, Auburn was among the nation’s leaders in third down defense. In three of his five seasons, they finished with a top 25 red zone defense, including 8th 2019 and 11th in 2016.

Gene Chizik (59) – SEC Network Analyst 

Chizik is a Florida man. He was born and raised in the state, played at Seminole High School, and then played linebacker at the University of Florida.

Chizik has coached at Clemson, UCF, Auburn, Texas, Iowa State, and North Carolina. He was the head coach at Auburn from 2009-12.

At Auburn his 2004 defensive unit led the country in scoring defense, giving up 11.3 points per game, and the total defense ranked 5th. Chizik won the Broyles Award in 2004, an annual award given to the best assistant coach in the country.

Chizik has a nice, comfortable job on television and has been away from the coaching since 2016. Does he want to come back? Does he have the desire to go out a recruit and coach young men still? Those are questions you would need solid answers to before extending him an offer but he’s an alumnus of the University of Florida, he should have a passion for the Gators and he’s worth looking at.

Travaris Robinson (40) – Miami defensive backs 

Florida kicked the tires on T-Rob last year when they were looking for a defensive backs coach. Sources told Gators Territory that Robinson would have been named a Co-defensive coordinator as well as coaching the defensive backs but that a meeting with Todd Grantham turned Robinson off and he ended up at Miami.

Robinson has history at Florida. He was Will Muschamp’s defensive backs coach and had one of the best performing units on some of the best defenses the Gators have had in the last 10-15 years. He’s a young, a relentless recruiter, and has learned a lot from Muschamp, who remains one of the best defensive minds in college football. (No, Will Muschamp coming back to coach the defense under Dan Mullen isn’t realistic).

Robinson is from the Miami area and recruited South Florida extremely well while he was at Florida, Auburn, and then again at South Carolina. He’s a familiar name, who has a record of recruiting the state hard, something Florida needs to get back to doing.

Dan Lanning (35) – Georgia Co-Defensive coordinator 

If you want to beat Georgia, why not start by taking their young, hot-shot defensive coordinator.

Now, as we outlined in the intro, it’s going to take a lot for the Gators to hire someone due to the perception that Dan Mullen is on a hot seat. Why would Lanning leave Georgia, who is on a National Championship path, to jump on a potentially sinking ship with Dan Mullen?

Well? Much like Brian Robinson at Florida, Lanning will never get full credit for Georgia’s defense. That’s Kirby Smart’s defense. Johnson could have stayed at Florida at some point you need to get out of the shadow of the head guy. Lanning is young, he’s a great recruiter, and getting him away from Georgia would be a great move for the Gators.

Lanning has coached under Nick Saban as well as Kirby Smart. He started his career

Doug Belk (33) – Houston Defensive coordinator/safeties 

Belk is in his third season at Houston overall and was promoted to defensive coordinator on Jan. 19, 2021. He played high school football in Valdosta Georgia, just 90 minutes up the road from Gainesville.

Belk broke into coaching back home at Valdosta State, where he a defensive assistant and special teams coach. He took over the secondary in 2012-13 before moving on to Alabama from 2014-16 as a graduate assistant and cornerbacks coach. While at Alabama he learned under both Nick Saban and Kirby Smart.

The job he did there earned him a promotion to cornerbacks coach at West Virginia, where his Mountaineers defensive backs thrived. The 2018 season saw Belk’s cornerbacks play a pivotal role in West Virginia ranking second in the Big 12 and No. 20 nationally with 15 interceptions.

Belk has a good job. Houston is first in the AAC. They are currently 37th in the country in scoring defense, 8th in rushing defense, 32nd in pass defense, and 9th in total defense.

While Belk has a good job at Houston, the opportunity to be the defensive coordinator at Florida, jumping from a Group of Five team to a Power Five SEC team is something that should interest a young coach looking to make a name for himself.

Mike Tressel (48) – Cincinnati Defensive coordinator 

The son of former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressell, Mike has been making his own way through the coaching ranks since 2002 when he got a start as a graduate assistant on his father’s staff. He moved on to Cincinnatti before spending 12 years at Michigan State coaching linebackers, safeties, and as defensive coordinator for a stint.

The 25-year coaching veteran was MSU’s linebackers coach from 2007-19 and also was the special teams coordinator his first eight seasons at MSU. Tressel was the co-defensive coordinator for two seasons (2016-17) and the sole defensive coordinator for two seasons (2018-19), in addition to being the assistant head coach in 2019 and coaching the safeties in 2020.

Tressell was hired by Luke Fickell to return to Cincinnati, where he is leading a Bearcats defense that is third nationally allowing just 14.9 points per game. The Bearcats are 9-0 and the defense has led the way. Cincinnati has the 12th ranked total defense and third-ranked rushing defense.

Chris Ash (47) – Jacksonville Jaguars safeties coach 

Ash has more than 24 years of coaching experience, including being the head coach at Rutgers.

Ash is currently on Urban Meyer’s Jaguars’ staff but was Texas’ defensive coordinator in 2020 after serving as a defensive analyst the year before.

Most of Ash’s experience is in Big Ten country but he did have a stop at Arkansas, San Diego State, and Texas.

Would Ash leave an NFL gig to join a coach on the hot seat in the college ranks?

Charlie Strong (61) – Jacksonville Jaguars Assistant Head coach/linebacker coach 

One thing we know about Dan Mullen is that he’s fiercely loyal and he likes his guys. Charlie Strong is one of his guys.

When Michigan was going after Christian Robinson last year, sources told Gators Territory that Charlie Strong was in conversations with Florida to coach linebackers and be Co-Defensive coordinator with Todd Grantham. Like with Travaris Robinson, which happened after Strong was off the table, he and Grantham didn’t see eye-to-eye when they spoke.

The knock on Strong would be age and the fact that he hasn’t been a defensive coordinator in a while. He’s currently working under Urban Meyer with the Jacksonville Jaguars. His last two stops in college didn’t end well, and the latest stop at USF ended with sanctions for their program and a one-game suspension for Strong.

“South Florida committed Level II NCAA violations under former football coach Charlie Strong and under current women’s basketball coach Jose Fernandez.”

Florida will complete its NCAA mandated probation for recruiting violations this December and probably won’t sign up for someone who would be dealing with more of those.

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