Florida has seemingly zeroed in on Chip Kelly to be the program’s next football coach.
The Gators met with Kelly about the vacant job Sunday, according to a person familiar with the situation. The person said athletic director Scott Stricklin and five key staffers met with Kelly in New Hampshire. The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the Gators are not publicly discussing the coaching search.
Stricklin and his assistants flew in and out of Ocala, Florida, about a half hour from Florida’s campus.
“We continue to have very productive conversations related to our football team,” Stricklin told reporters at the airport late Sunday. “We’ve got a process we’re going through. There will probably be some more productive conversations in the days ahead. Lot of interest in the job.”
Stricklin vowed to make Florida fun again when he parted ways with coach Jim McElwain last month.
Kelly’s high-octane, spread scheme would do it.
The 53-year-old Kelly went 46-7 in four years (2009-12) at Oregon, which averaged 44.7 points a game during that span. The Gators would welcome anything close to that after slogging through the post-Tim Tebow era.
Florida (4-6) will finish outside the top 100 nationally in total offense for the sixth time in the last seven years, including all three under McElwain.
Stricklin would be taking a chance on Kelly to rejuvenate the program’s most glaring deficiency. Kelly was fired from two NFL jobs in the last two years and left Oregon shortly before NCAA sanctions were handed down.
Kelly was slapped with “failure to monitor” in the Will Lyles case. Kelly also was handed an 18-month show-cause penalty after he left to become the head coach for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.
Oregon was accused of paying $25,000 to Lyles, a 7-on-7 coach, in exchange for his guiding players to the Ducks. The NCAA ruled that Kelly wasn’t aware of Lyles’ actions but said he was responsible for ensuring his program was in compliance.
Kelly’s show-cause penalty expired in late 2014, meaning he and any school that hires him would face no restrictions or penalties related to the Lyles case.
His brief NFL stints and an apparent unwillingness to adapt raised questions about the effectiveness of his up-tempo offense — at least in the NFL.
He was considered an innovator and offensive guru at Oregon, where he coached for a national title at the end of the 2010 season.
His final team in 2012 went 12-1 and averaged 49.6 points per game.
During Kelly’s tenure, the Ducks led the nation in 25-yard pass plays (220) and in 25-yard run plays (110). He led Oregon to big bowls in each of his four seasons: Rose, the BCS title game, Rose and Fiesta.
He would inherit a Florida team without a capable quarterback and with its worst scoring defense in more than 70 years.
The Gators have depth issues across the board, lack offensive playmakers and are so thin defensively that a former walk-on linebacker has been playing significant snaps.
Suspensions and injuries are partly to blame. But poor recruiting and a failure to develop youngsters — quarterback Feleipe Franks being a prime example — also played a role in the team going from two-time Eastern Division champion to missing a bowl game for the second time in five years.
Still, Florida remains one of the more attractive jobs in college football.
The Gators have a fervent fan base, have one of the nation’s top operating budgets ($125 million in 2017-18) and have more than $100 million in facility upgrades planned, including breaking ground on a state-of-the-art structure to house the football program. Throw in being surrounded by some of the top recruiting strongholds in the country, and Florida seems poised for a quick fix.