GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Shortly after Dan Mullen stood in front of a packed room on Monday and talked for close to an hour while being introduced as Florida’s newest head coach, Gators athletic director Scott Stricklin talked with a smaller pool of reporters about how the previous month unfolded.
At one point, Stricklin was asked about the importance of identifying his top candidate and grabbing him early. That sentiment became even more important this season, with the first edition of the early signing period for recruits happening at the end of the month.
“It’s obviously going to be a really fascinating cycle, and a challenging cycle for a lot of schools because there’s a lot of openings,” Stricklin said.
Boy, was he right. Coaching vacancies have opened up left and right over the past couple weeks — from Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Mississippi State in the SEC to Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA, Florida State, UCF and others around the country.
And luckily for Stricklin and a few of the schools mentioned above, he has the luxury to sit back and watch it all unfold because he got ahead of the game and was quick to pull the trigger.
Stricklin wasted no time pinpointing his small pool of candidates. Mullen, Chip Kelly and Scott Frost were the clear frontrunners. After Kelly opted to go to UCLA on Nov. 25 — the day of Florida’s regular season finale against Florida State — Stricklin knew he would need to be swift and vigilant in finding the Gators’ next coach or else risk starting a month-long process back at Step 1 and risk landing a second-rate or less-experienced head coach. That would cause ripples among the fan base, which over the last seven years watched two experiments in Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain crash and burn.
Stricklin needed the right hire.
And to Florida’s AD, there was nowhere to turn but Mullen.
“At this place, given the recent history, we felt like it was really important that we get as close to a sure thing as possible,” Stricklin said. “There are no sure things, but I thought we had an opportunity with Dan to get as close to a sure things as possible.”
And that “sure thing” in Mullen has already gotten off on the right foot. He said all the right things in his introductory press conference on that Monday afternoon. He’s made a swift transition in creating his staff — bringing over his co-offensive coordinators in Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy along with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. And he is working the recruiting trail, arguably the most critical point of his first month in Gainesville.
A lot still has to unfold before judgments can be laid on how the Mullen era will progress. But Week 1 was a solid start, both internally and relative to how the rest of the college football world enduring this crazy coaching carousel cycle is faring.
Some schools — namely Mississippi State, Texas A&M and UCLA among others — held their own and, like Florida, managed a quick coaching search and are on the right track to have a relatively fine end of the calendar year.
Others, like Florida State and UCF are starting from scratch this weekend after their coaches were poached from them — FSU’s Jimbo Fisher is now at Texas A&M while UCF’s Scott Frost is at Nebraska.
And then there’s the Tennessee debacle that has gone from bad to worse to downright disastrous over the past three weeks.
So sit back and enjoy the ride while it all unfolds over the next month, college football fans.
Scott Stricklin, with his head coach in hand, will have that luxury, too.