Jordan McPherson/SEC Country
Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin faces a pivotal decision as he looks for the Gators' next football coach.

Recruits wavering, but Florida likely weeks away from hiring coach

Ryan Young

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The panic started to set in Wednesday night when Ja’Marr Chase, one of the headliners of Florida’s vaunted 2018 recruiting class, announced on Twitter that he was de-committing from the Gators.

Chase is ranked as the No. 6 wide receiver nationally in this class by 247Sports and was a star at Florida’s Friday Night Lights showcase last summer. Now he’s back on the market as fans, media and, yes, recruits anxiously or eagerly (depending on perspectives) wait for the Gators to hire a new coach.

On that note, the latest Gators Mailbag Question of the Day …

Matt S. asks … “When do you think we will make a hire? We need someone fast so the recruits know who the coach will be. Thoughts?”

When Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin met with reporters two Sundays ago to announce that the program was moving on from coach Jim McElwain and starting the search for a new leader for the program, he said that process would last “as long as it takes to find the right coach.”

“I want to make sure we find the right coach. This is a long-term decision, right? So putting an artificial deadline in there [is unnecessary],” Stricklin said.

While fans are rightfully concerned that Chase is just the first domino to fall from what was projected to be a top-10 recruiting class, don’t expect that to change Stricklin’s approach.

He made it clear he would be respectful to coaches and schools finishing their seasons before targeting a potential hire, and let’s be honest — no sitting coach is going to publicly accept another job before the end of the regular season.

It’s reasonable to assume the back-channel conversations and feelers with agents began last week, but Florida will not officially hire a coach for at least the next two-and-a-half weeks.

Unless that coach is someone like Chip Kelly, who is not affiliated with a school. It seems, though, that if Florida were going to hire Kelly it would have happened quickly. That’s not to say there isn’t still a chance of that — all any of us can do is guess Stricklin’s top targets but that would be the only way this process reaches a quick conclusion.

All along I’ve expected Florida to make an announcement in the days after the final regular-season game. That would be delayed further if a prospective hire has his team in a conference championship game.

The reality is there’s no ideal time to fire a coach as it relates to recruiting. If Florida had held on to McElwain till mid-December to lock up some recruits in the early signing period, it would have been a disingenuous and poor look for the school while also severely undermining the search for the next coach.

Making the move when the Gators did gave Stricklin a head start on evaluating the same candidates many other schools will be looking at once this season ends. It also comes with the risk of having recruits waver. That’s just part of it.

Ultimately, Stricklin said it best. This is a long-term decision, and if he gets it right who’s to say Chase won’t recommit? More to the point: If he gets it right Florida will win a lot more key recruiting battles in the future.

It’s tough to do, but Gators fans need to be patient through this process.

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