GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Scott Stricklin was an associate athletic director at Mississippi State when the Bulldogs struck gold with Dan Mullen, hiring the former Florida offensive coordinator after the 2008 season.
And Stricklin, now the Gators’ AD, will hope his latest pairing with Mullen turns out just as well.
Florida has hired Mullen away from the Bulldogs, ending its month-long coaching search on Sunday with an official announcement of the decision.
The Gators have scheduled a news conference for 3 p.m. Monday to introduce Mullen. No contract terms have been released yet.
“Megan and I are very excited to get back to Gainesville and the University of Florida,” Mullen said in a statement released by Florida. “I have such great memories of the championships we won during our time here and have a love for Florida. We are happy to be coming back to such a supportive administration, staff, student body and fan base, which is the premier football program in the country.”
A day earlier, reported top choice Chip Kelly chose the UCLA job over Florida. It was also reported Sunday by multiple outlets that UCF coach Scott Frost decided he wasn’t interested in the Florida job.
Whatever transpired over the weekend, the Gators quickly zeroed in on Mullen to bring finality to a process that officially began on Oct. 29.
“I strongly believe Dan is the most prepared candidate to have immediate and long-term success at the University of Florida,” Stricklin said in a statement. “Coach Mullen is one of the best offensive minds in all of college football, and has an unbelievable track record in tutoring successful quarterbacks. …
“Coach Mullen will do a tremendous job in developing accountability and toughness through a well-coordinated strength and conditioning program. Dan will work closely with the coaching staff, academic advising staff and administrative team to give every student athlete he coaches the opportunity to grow and excel at a high level athletically, academically and socially.”
Mullen, an Urban Meyer protege, was Florida’s offensive coordinator from 2005-08, winning two national championships on Meyer’s staff before taking his first head coaching job.
At Mississippi State, Mullen has gone 69-46 in nine seasons, peaking with a 10-3 finish in 2014 along with two other 9-win seasons at a school that has historically struggled to compete in the SEC.
Prior to Mullen’s arrival in Starkville, Miss., the Bulldogs had won four games or fewer in seven of the previous eight seasons.
As Stricklin noted, a key facet of Mullen’s appeal is his reputation for developing quarterbacks. He was the QBs coach at Utah under Meyer during the Utes’ undefeated 2004 season with future No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Alex Smith at quarterback.
He also had success with Josh Harris at Bowling Green, Chris Leak and Heisman Trophy-winner Tim Tebow at Florida and Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald at Mississippi State.
Florida, of course, has been searching for an answer at QB since Tebow left town after the 2009 season.
Mullen’s Bulldogs are 8-4 this season with notable wins over LSU (37-7) and Texas A&M (35-14) while losing a nail-biter to then-No. 1 Alabama earlier this month (31-24).
They rank 49th nationally in total offense (419.8 yards per game) and 37th in scoring (32.1 points per game).
Florida, meanwhile, wrapped up a 4-7 season in which it dismissed former coach Jim McElwain on Oct. 29, midway through his third season. The Gators rank 111th in offense (335.9 yards per game) and 108th in scoring (22.1 points per game).
The Gators’ last two coaching hires haven’t panned out as Will Muschamp lasted four seasons and McElwain just two and a half, but those hires were made by former athletic director Jeremy Foley.
This was Stricklin’s first chance to put his stamp on the program, and in doing so he went back to a familiar source.
Mullen was considered an obvious candidate from the start of the process given his ties to both Florida and Stricklin, and Stricklin commented on their relationship during his news conference to announce the coaching search.
“I enjoyed working with Dan, and I think he would probably say the same. Dan can be direct and I can be direct and sometimes we had direct conversations, like you would anybody that you worked with closely,” Stricklin said at the time. “He’s done a really nice job there. And as an alum of that school, I’m proud of the job he’s done at my alma mater.”
Now Stricklin’s legacy will be tied to the job Mullen does in Gainesville.
Meanwhile, there is another wrinkle to Mullen’s return to Florida that will be brought up in his first news conference.
While Mullen touted his positive memories of his family’s time in Gainesville, his wife Megan made comments to contrary in an interview posted by Mississippi State Athletics in August.
“The former school where we were at before, we won championships there, won practically every single game we played for four years there,” she said. “It wasn’t if we won or lost. It was if we didn’t score 43 points or more, I was going to the grocery store in Orlando where I worked with the Golf Channel and I was driving the groceries back to Gainesville, because it was that bad.”
That will stick with some fans. Also, the public disappointment of making a run at Kelly and being passed over for UCLA will tinge the way many view this coaching search and ultimate hire.
But if Mullen can resurrect Florida’s long-struggling offense and finally fix the Gators’ quarterback woes, nothing else will matter.
That’s what Stricklin is banking on, knowing first-hand what Mullen has done to this point in his career.
And make no mistake, Mullen knows what he’s walking into leaving the comfort of Starkville for the lofty expectations in Gainesville.
“We will give relentless effort in everything that we do on and off the field,” he said in his statement. “Our commitment will match the passion that the Gator Nation has for this program.”