GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Welcome to the latest installment of Inside the Numbers, a weekly column that breaks down the stats and numbers you need to know about Florida Gators football.
The Gators have three games left in the regular season, but a lot of the talk is now focused on who Florida’s next coach will be now that Jim McElwain is out after just two-and-a-half seasons.
Whoever the coach is, fans will want someone to come in and win quickly.
And based on recent history, it’s definitely possible at Florida. Five of the Gators’ last six coaches won at least eight games in their first season.
Here’s a closer look at how they fared, starting with the most recent:
Jim McElwain: 10-4 in 2015
McElwain took over the program in 2015 and, despite depth issues at certain areas (specifically the offensive line), he got the program off to a hot start. The Gators won their first six games — including a 38-10 victory over then-No. 3 Ole Miss — and reached as high as No. 8 in the AP Top 25 poll. However, the season turned on its head on Oct. 12 when the NCAA handed quarterback Will Grier a 12-month suspension for violating its substance-abuse policy. While the Gators did end up winning the SEC East for the first time since 2009, they went 4-4 down the stretch and lost their final three games to Florida State, Alabama and Michigan by a combined score of 97-24.
Will Muschamp: 7-6 in 2011
Will Muschamp is the anomaly of the group, barely hitting 6-6 in the regular season before defeating Ohio State 24-17 in the Gator Bowl. Muschamp started out 4-0 but then lost four straight in a gauntlet month of October that included games against Alabama (38-10), LSU (41-11), Auburn (17-6) and Georgia (24-20).
Urban Meyer: 9-3 in 2005
Meyer inherited a team that started ranked No. 10 in the country and held his own during his first season. The Gators scored at least 30 points in seven of their nine wins. Florida went undefeated at home and its three losses came on the road to Alabama, LSU and South Carolina, with the latter two being decided by four and eight points respectively. It was Florida’s first nine-win season since 2001.
Meyer won his first of two national championships the next season.
Ron Zook: 8-5 in 2002
Ron Zook had the unenviable task of following Steve Spurrier. He went 8-5 in his first season and pulled off a pair of upsets against then-No. 4 Tennessee and then-No. 5 Georgia, but also lost key games against Miami, LSU, Florida State and Michigan. Zook lasted three seasons at Florida after going 8-5 again in 2003 and starting the 2004 season 4-3.
Steve Spurrier: 9-2 in 1990
After becoming the Gators’ first Heisman Trophy winner, the Head Ball Coach wasted no time leaving his mark on the Florida football program for a second time. Spurrier led the Gators to a 9-2 record with the lone losses coming in top-10 road matchups against Tennessee (45-3) and Florida State (45-30). Florida scored at least 30 points in eight of its games as the Fun ‘n’ Gun offense began to form.
And Spurrier’s first-year success was just the beginning. In his 12 years leading the Gators, Florida won six SEC Championships and their first national title in 1996. He went 122-27-1 overall as Florida’s coach.
Galen Hall: 9-1-1 in 1985
After going 8-0 as interim coach to close out the 1984 season, Galen Hall was named the Gators’ full-time coach and kept up his success in his first year. The two blemishes on his 1985 record were a 28-28 tie with Rutgers the second week of the season and a 24-3 loss to Georgia. Florida held seven of its final eight opponents to fewer than 20 points.
Hall was forced to resign in the middle of the 1989 season during an investigation into NCAA violations.
Can Florida’s next coach have early success?
The pieces are there for Florida’s next coach to make a run if a few factors hold up.
Offense: Once again, the biggest issue here is finding a quarterback. That has been a problem for the Gators for eight years now. If the Gators can get a guy behind center who can make plays, he’ll have the talent around him to succeed. Outside of wide receiver Brandon Powell, tight end DeAndre Goolsby, running back Mark Thompson and (maybe) left tackle Martez Ivey, the rest of Florida’s offense returns next season along with a potentially star-studded recruiting class (more on that in a minute).
Defense: The biggest issue this year was depth and experience. With three of Florida’s four seniors on defense suffering season-ending injuries, the Gators are fielding a defense that is filled with underclassmen. As many as seven starters in any given week have been freshmen or sophomores. As a result, there has been a noticeable drop-off — Florida is on pace to give up the most yards per game (372.1) since 1971 and the most points per game (28.4) since 1946. However, the bulk of the starting defense returns next year with a full year of experience under its belt and a foundation to build from.
Recruiting: Keeping the Gators’ recruiting class intact will be key for the next coach. Florida’s 2018 class is ranked seventh in the country and second in the SEC, according to the 247Sports Composite. The class includes nine players who are ranked in the top 15 for their position and is highlighted by 4-star quarterback Matt Corral. If the class remains together, Florida will begin rebuilding depth at much-needed spots.
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