Florida's offensive coordinator search full of intrigue
Published: Saturday, December 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 20, 2013 at 10:04 p.m.
While many around the country may be viewing today's Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl as a relatively insignificant early bowl game, it could very well turn out to be one of the most-watched bowl games in Gator Nation.
That's because the Gators' next offensive coordinator could be coaching in this game. That would be Southern Cal offensive coordinator and interim head coach Clay Helton, whose name keeps appearing at the top of the lists for possible replacements for Brent Pease.
Over the past week, there has been growing speculation that Helton is UF coach Will Muschamp's guy, and that an announcement could be coming soon after today's Southern Cal-Fresno State game, maybe as early as Sunday or Monday.
But this speculation, this Helton vibe, is not necessarily coming from Muschamp and the Florida camp, who have kept a tight lid on this coaching search and have revealed little to nothing (although The Sun has learned the names of some coaches who are not being considered).
The Helton buzz has been generated by the media and various fan websites — the same source of all these lists of the potential (and leading) candidates that are out there.
Is Helton a serious candidate?
Is Helton the leading candidate?
Will he be named the offensive coordinator in the next few days?
Other than Muschamp, Helton and UF athletic director Jeremy Foley, no one knows for sure.
Helton has emerged as the perceived leading candidate because he fits the criteria Muschamp seems to be looking for in his offensive coordinator, and the timing now appears right.
Helton is highly respected in coaching circles and is considered an up and comer in the profession. He has experience coaching an up-tempo spread offense (Memphis) and also has a background in the pro-style attack (USC under Lane Kiffin). And, he's available.
Another factor that may be in Helton's favor is his connection to Florida. His father, Kim Helton, played center for the Gators (1967-69) and Clay was born in Gainesville while his father was the UF offensive line coach under Doug Dickey.
Now to the timing aspect of the hire. A few weeks ago, it leaked that Muschamp likely would not name a new offensive coordinator until after Jan. 1, something he has told several recruits, leading many to deduce that Muschamp did not want to interfere with the coordinator's current job preparing for a bowl game.
Earlier this week, The Sun learned from a source close to the football team that Muschamp told some offensive players at last weekend's team banquet that they'd have a new coordinator in about a week.
With USC's bowl game being played today, Helton fits in the timeline.
He could be the guy. But then again, he might not be.
Muschamp has been so secretive about this hire that it could very well turn out to be someone whose name has not appeared on anyone's list.
No one really knows for sure.
The popular names on the lists have been Helton, Nebraska's Tim Beck, Arizona State's Mike Norvell, Duke's Kurt Roper and North Carolina's Blake Anderson.
Two of those candidates have since been eliminated. Anderson, who worked under former UF offensive coordinator Larry Fedora at UNC, was named the head coach at Arkansas State earlier this week. And Norvell, considered a leading candidate earlier in the search, recently received a promotion and raise and will be staying at ASU.
By process of elimination, that leaves Helton, Beck and Roper as the consensus top candidates. But these are lists generated by the media, not by Muschamp or UF, so there is still a possibility Muschamp will be going in a different direction sometime in the next few weeks (or even days).
Still, the growing and popular perception is that Helton is probably the guy and his hiring is imminent. That's why today's Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl is considered must-see TV in Gator Nation.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.