GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Dan Mullen isn’t the splash hire that most fans were hoping the Florida Gators would make for their next football coach.
He’s not Chip Kelly or Scott Frost, the former of whom decided to coach at UCLA and the latter reportedly decided not to pursue the job.
But when the Gators made the announcement Sunday that Mullen would be the guy to take over the Florida football program and replace Jim McElwain, they made the right move.
He’s experienced and knows the SEC
Mullen has been around the block before. The 45-year-old has been on the college coaching scene for two dozen years, with more than half of that in the SEC. He spent four years as the Gators’ offensive coordinator and the last nine as Mississippi State’s head coach.
With Frost and Kelly off the table, the only other likely candidate who had ample experience as a Power 5 conference head coach was Charlie Strong, who was Florida’s defensive coordinator for seven years before spending three years each at Louisville and Texas. Strong is in his first season at USF.
The Gators couldn’t afford to have another high-risk, high-reward coach this time. Not after McElwain and Will Muschamp failed to pan out.
He has tie-ins — and past success —with Florida
As stated above, Mullen served as Florida’s offensive coordinator from 2005-2008 under Urban Meyer and won two national titles with the Gators before taking the head coaching job at Mississippi State. During his tenure with the Gators, Florida went 42-9 and averaged 37.7 points per game. The Gators averaged more than 42 points in each of Mullen’s final two years — a feat accomplished one other time in school history (1994-1996).
Those numbers are a dream for Florida nowadays. Over the last seven years, Florida has gone 52-36 and averaged less than 25 points per game in four of the past five seasons.
Positive memories from Florida football will return
Bringing Mullen back opens up the door to relive memories of Florida’s most recent glory days, namely those two championship seasons.
That will be a refreshing sight for a fanbase that has been disappointed for most of the past decade since that last championship in 2008.
It could also be a power tool to use in recruiting and helping ensure the Gators’ recent success on that front at the end of the McElwain era continues.
Florida’s 2018 recruiting class that was once a top-10 group nationally has fallen to No. 13 in the 247Sports composite rankings after three players — wide receiver Ja’Maar Chase, wide receiver Jacob Copeland and defensive end Taylor Upshaw — de-committed this month. Keeping that class intact is critical over the next month as the beginning of the early signing period on Dec. 20 approaches.
He has a quarterback-friendly system
Mullen has shown over the years that his offensive system has worked with the right quarterback regardless of the school.
There was Alex Smith at Utah, Chris Leak and Tim Tebow in his first stint at Florida, Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald at Mississippi State.
The Gators are hoping for that type of success in his second term in Gainesville.
Florida has started 11 quarterbacks since Tebow’s final year in 2009 to no avail. In that span, the Gators have not finished a season averaging more than 215.8 passing yards per game and finished above 80th nationally in passing offense once. The Gators averaged less than 200 passing yards per game in six of those eight years.
Mullen is the coach who has the ability to turn that around.
He kept Mississippi State relevant in the SEC West
No, Mississippi State never won the Western Division (Alabama and Auburn had other plans), but Mullen found a way to turn a perennial cellar-dweller in the SEC West into a team that remained competitive during most of his tenure.
Mullen took over a program that boasted a losing record in seven of eight years before his arrival. He responded by going 69-46 in nine seasons at Mississippi State. He has three nine-win seasons and finished as high as second in the SEC West in 2014.
This year, the Bulldogs went 8-4 overall and reached as high as No. 16 in the College Football Playoff rankings.