As college football’s coaching carousel turns, the Florida Gators have made their selection and hired Dan Mullen away from in-conference rival Mississippi State.
Mullen, who in February signed an extension to remain at Mississippi State through 2021, will be the Gators’ third full-time head coach since Urban Meyer departed after the 2010 season. This past week, the Gators were linked to Chip Kelly, meeting with the former NFL and Oregon coach before Kelly took the UCLA job on Saturday.
Mullen’s hiring marks a return to Gainesville for the Gators’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2005 to 2008. Previously, Florida has struck out with outside choices in Will Muschamp and the recently fired Jim McElwain, both of whom failed to return the program to its glory days under Meyer despite the prevailing mediocrity in the SEC East.
Though Florida reached the SEC Championship Game twice under McElwain, in 2015 and 2016, Alabama soundly defeated the Gators each time. Mullen’s hiring marks the storied program’s third post-Meyer attempt to take aim at the SEC’s (and college football’s) overlord; Nick Saban’s Alabama team remains the benchmark against which Mullen will be measured.
On paper, Mullen has the potential to do what Muschamp and McElwain couldn’t, getting closer than they ever did despite fewer resources. At Mississippi State, where he took over as head coach in 2009, Mullen went 69-46 over nine seasons, a record highlighted by the 2014 campaign in which Mullen led his team to three top-10 victories (over no. 8 LSU, no. 6 Texas A&M, and no. 2 Auburn) over three games, vaulting the Bulldogs to no. 1 in the country in all major polls, and culminating in only the third 10-win season in program history.
Mullen has also repeatedly developed three-star recruits, most notably at the quarterback position, where he helped Dak Prescott become a college star and fellow dual-threat QB Nick Fitzgerald exceed his star rankings. Dual-threat quarterbacks have been kryptonite for Alabama in the past, and at Florida, Mullen will be able to fill out his roster with four- and five-star talents.
When Florida hired Muschamp, a former defensive coordinator, it was a hard turn toward a defensive mindset. With McElwain, a former Alabama offensive coordinator and Colorado State head coach, it was a pivot aimed at rebooting their offense. But McElwain’s offensive ethos never translated without a consistent quarterback talent, which the Gators haven’t had since Tim Tebow. Mullen brings a winning pedigree inside the conference, an offensive mindset, and above all, the ability to finally develop a quarterback good enough to be the cornerstone of a winning program.