Todd Grantham was fired Monday following Florida’s lopsided loss to South Carolina. The loss was the 3rd straight for Florida and their 8th defeat in 10 tries against Power 5 competition. That puts Florida in some miserable company:

 

The move to dismiss Grantham was long overdue, as he was at the center of Florida’s recent futility. During Florida’s 2-8 stretch against the Power 5, Florida opponents have averaged 33.2 points per game. The Gators have held opponents under 20 points just twice in that stretch (the two wins!) and held opponents under 30 just three times (1-2 record). Worse, Florida has surrendered an average of 206.9 yards rushing. It’s hard to win that way — and Florida hasn’t won.

Grantham’s dismissal doesn’t assure that his former boss, Dan Mullen, returns to Gainesville for the 2022 season. But if Mullen is back, he’ll need to make the most of the opportunity to hire a new defensive coordinator (and likely an entirely new or very close to a new defensive staff) next season.

Here are 5 candidates Florida should consider for the job. Current head coaches, like former Mullen defensive coordinators Manny Diaz (Miami) and Geoff Collins (Georgia Tech) were not included in this list, as neither (especially Collins) is expected to be fired.

The list is in no particular order.

Wesley McGriff (Defensive backs, UF)

The positives?

McGriff has 2 decades of SEC experience at multiple spots as well as NFL experience. He has taken a Florida secondary that ranked in the 100s nationally a season ago and gotten it to 28th in pass efficiency defense in 2021. That’s outstanding production, and he has done it with the house on fire all around him. Retaining and promoting McGriff would also likely allow Florida to retain defensive line coach David Turner, a solid recruiter and a coach well respected in both coaching circles and the Florida locker room.

McGriff has also been an SEC defensive coordinator before, albeit with mixed results. McGriff twice served as defensive coordinator at Ole Miss and at Auburn for a season. The 2016 Auburn defense helped lead the Tigers to a Sugar Bowl appearance against Oklahoma, though the 2016-2018 Ole Miss defenses struggled to maintain the mid-2010s “Land Shark” image.

The bad news?

McGriff is certainly capable. He has a long history of being a terrific talent developer and a good, if not great, recruiter. But Florida may just want to start over entirely, and while McGriff didn’t work for Grantham for long, how he’d approach rebuilding Florida’s defensive culture in Grantham’s departure is a mystery and a question that would linger if Florida hired within the current staff.

Doug Belk (Defensive coordinator, Houston Cougars)

This would cost money but it would be a coup d’etat. Belk was targeted by Kirby Smart at Georgia and Steve Sarkisian at Texas last offseason, but both coaches just pursued Belk as a position coach. Houston countered by dismissing defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen and promoting Belk. The result? The Cougars have a top 10 defense nationally in 2021, powered by an elite run defense that ranks 7th nationally in rushing defense and 5th in yards allowed per rush attempt.

Belk has strong ties to the southeast. He grew up in Valdosta, Ga., played for FCS Power Valdosta State, and served as their defensive coordinator. He has also coached defensive backs at West Virginia and served under Nick Saban as cornerbacks coach before returning to Dana Holgersen when Holgersen took the job at Houston.

He’s considered a marvelous recruiter and one of the sport’s bright young minds. This would be a terrific hire.

Marquand Manuel (Safeties, New York Jets)

Considered one of the best young coaches in the NFL, Manuel is now the safeties coach with the New York Jets but has served as an NFL defensive coordinator under Dan Quinn in Atlanta. Manuel nearly won the Super Bowl in that role, but was scapegoated when the Falcons defense suffered multiple injuries and fell off significantly the following season. His Falcons defense was ranked in the top 10 in the Super Bowl campaign, however, and he’s overseen a host of quality NFL secondaries as a position coach.

Manuel, who was a Pro Bowl safety in over a decade in the NFL as a player after being an All-SEC safety and captain at Florida, is a name that came up when Mullen was hired. He has no college coaching experience, but the temptation to come home again could be strong. Could he recruit? That’s more complicated. He’s a great football mind, and Florida could trust him to scheme. But he’d be recruiting largely on instinct, and while he has longstanding ties to the Miami community where he grew up, he’d be a novice in other areas of the state.

Chad Staggs (Defensive coordinator, Coastal Carolina)

Staggs has overseen one of the most productive defenses in the country at Coastal over the past 3 seasons. A year ago, the Chanticleers led the Sun Belt Conference in passing defense and ranked in the top 5 nationally in interceptions (2nd), fumble recoveries (3rd) and turnovers (2nd). The Chanticleers also posted top-25 numbers nationally in defensive yards allowed per play, total defense and scoring defense. The unit is even better this season. Coastal ranks 18th nationally in total defense, 13th in scoring defense,¬† 30th nationally in sacks and 15th in pressures. This is an aggressive scheme that produces big plays — something Florida seemed incapable of under Grantham over the last two seasons.

Before he helped Coastal finish the 2020 regular season unbeaten, Staggs was a defensive coordinator at Furman, where he led the number one defense in the FCS and helped the Paladins win a Southern Conference championship.

Staggs was a 2020 finalist for the Broyles Award, given annually to the best assistant coach in college football, and is widely considered to be the best recruiter on rising star Jamey Chadwell’s staff. Staggs makes $240,000 at Coastal, meaning the Gators could get a clear rising star in the industry on the cheap.

Mike Stoops (Defensive coordinator, Florida Atlantic)

To be fair to F. Scott Fitzgerald, when he wrote that there are no second acts in American lives, he didn’t know about Nick Saban’s rehabilitation center for wayward football coaches.¬†Stoops was one of the dominant figures in college football coaching for nearly two decades, the Robin to his brother Bob’s Batman as Oklahoma rose from the ashes and back to the halls of football power. He then struggled to adjust to the spread revolution and in 2018, was dismissed by Lincoln Riley in a stunning coaching decision Riley himself called “brutal.”

Stoops hasn’t forgotten how to coach defense. He’s still the guy who led one of the most masterful defensive games of the last quarter century, stifling a great FSU offense in the 2000 Orange Bowl to help Oklahoma win the national championship. After that, he coached top-10 defenses in each of his first 5 seasons at Oklahoma, before leaving to be the Arizona head coach. His second stint started well, with 3 top-25 defenses, and then the wheels came off and he was let go in 2018.

After getting fired, Stoops went to Alabama, where he spent 2 years under Saban as a defensive analyst. He gave the Alabama staff a running start on game plans and ultimately, helped Alabama win a national championship.

This season, he’s Willie Taggart’s defensive coordinator at FAU. The Owls are vastly improved defensively in Stoops’ first year in Boca — ranking 69th in total defense, a number that doesn’t seem great until you realize FAU was in the 100s a season ago. The strength of the Owls defense? A secondary that ranks 21st in the country in pass efficiency defense. That’s 7 spots better than Florida, the school that fancies itself “DBU.”

Stoops has experience as a national recruiter at Oklahoma and was a head coach at Arizona and is now familiar with the south Florida recruiting landscape as the defensive coordinator in Boca Raton.