Gators may not get their top choices

Originally Published: December 2, 2004
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

When Florida fired Ron Zook in October, it figured to give the Gators a one-month head start on the rest of the schools that would be shopping for football coaches this year.

Six weeks later, Florida is being outflanked by other schools that started the hunt later. And the pressure is mounting in Gainesville.

Steve Spurrier is out. Urban Meyer could be slipping away. Bob Stoops says he'll stay a Sooner. And Bobby Petrino's boss is trying to protect his turf against an expected Florida incursion.

Anybody out there want a Cadillac job?

Athletic director Jeremy Foley still has several solid options at his disposal. But a long list is shrinking fast.

Apparent top candidate Spurrier -- certainly the people's choice to coach the Gators -- withdrew and wound up at South Carolina. Spurrier has said that he simply decided not to walk back down the glory road he paved at Florida from 1990 to 2001, but some folks doubt that.

There has been persistent speculation that the Ol' Ballcoach was upset when his old school offered an interview for the job instead of an invitation. Spurrier didn't want to be a candidate; he wanted to be the candidate.

Now Meyer, whose name immediately shot to the forefront of Florida speculation when Spurrier withdrew, is reportedly meeting with Notre Dame officials Thursday to discuss its football position. Florida has contacted Meyer, but it would appear to be fighting uphill against Notre Dame. Meyer is a former Fighting Irish assistant with Midwestern roots, and he has spoken glowingly about the school and its football program on many occasions.

Stoops was coveted by Foley three years ago before he hired Zook, but he elected to stay at Oklahoma. In Wednesday's Orlando Sentinel, booster Ben Hill Griffin III -- scion of the man who has the Florida stadium named in his honor -- publicly pushed for Stoops.

"You keep knocking on that door and it might open," Griffin III told the Sentinel.

Stoops hasn't answered the knock yet. He has said more than once this season that he has no plans to leave Norman for another job, but many observers expected Florida to make another run at Stoops after the Sooners play in the Big 12 championship game Saturday against Colorado. However, Stoops made another public statement Thursday reinforcing his desire to stay at Oklahoma.

If Spurrier, Stoops and Meyer are all off the board, Louisville coach Petrino and former Cleveland Browns coach Butch Davis might be the best of the rest. But Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich said Thursday that he'd hope that Florida or any other suitor would wait until after the Cardinals play Boise State in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31 before trying to steal his coach.

"I would hope nothing would be done until after the bowl," Jurich said. "They (Florida) have waited six or eight weeks already. If somebody called next week (for permission to speak to Petrino) I'd probably let them, but I want to make sure these kids are taken care of. My No. 1 concern will be for these players, after what happened two years ago."

That would be the infamous GMAC Bowl fiasco, wherein Louisville players started hearing about ESPN mid-game reports that their coach, John L. Smith, was leaving for Michigan State. Jurich was forced to call a halftime news conference to acknowledge that Smith was gone, and the stunned Cardinals lost to Marshall by 23 points.

"This is a high-profile bowl game, a wonderful stage," Jurich said of the Liberty Bowl showdown of the nation's top two offenses. "We're playing a top 10 team, and this is very important for the program and for these kids. I don't want anything to take away from that."

Jurich has said that he will enhance Petrino's contract after the season, but the two have had no discussions on that subject yet.

There is nothing preventing Florida from contacting the freshly unemployed Davis, but some sources say Davis genuinely wants to take a year off from coaching.

Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.