It’s official: Florida hires Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen as coach

Dan Mullen
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY Sports

Florida will return to its past to rev up its future – and its present.

The school announced Sunday that Dan Mullen, who has been Mississippi State’s coach for the past nine seasons, will replace Jim McElwain as the Gators’ coach. Before going to Mississippi State, Mullen spent four seasons as Florida’s offensive coordinator and called plays for two UF teams that won national titles.

Mississippi State president Mark Keenum released a statement saying his school “has already begun the process of an orderly and expeditious transition” with its football program.

Mullen is known as a quarterback whisperer of sorts – he has helped develop Alex Smith, Chris Leak, Tim Tebow, Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald – and is given high marks for his offensive coaching skills. But his personality has created issues in the past, and his recruiting ability will be tested in a state full of skill-position players who, presumably, would put up big numbers in his offense.

Florida ranks 112th in total offense this season – its third consecutive season in the 100s; in addition, it is the sixth time in eight seasons Florida has been in the 100s. Florida and Vanderbilt are the only two SEC schools this decade (2010 to now) that have not averaged 400 yards per game in a season at least once. Mullen’s offensive coaching skills are his biggest selling point. With Mullen as the OC from 2005-08, Florida’s spread offense ranked in the national top 25 in points per game three times, including twice in the top five. And in total offense, three of Mullen’s offenses finished in the top 20 and two in the top 15. Florida led the SEC in scoring and total offense in 2007 and ’08, his final two seasons in Gainesville.

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Overall, in his four seasons as coordinator, the Gators averaged 36.3 points per game and 6.5 yards per play.

In Gainesville, Mullen also will be reunited with Florida AD Scott Stricklin, who held the same position at Mississippi State before being hired at Florida in October 2016. Stricklin did not hire Mullen at Mississippi State.

McElwain’s strength and conditioning program drew criticism, and Stricklin specifically mentioned that aspect in the release on Mullen’s hiring.

“Coach Mullen will do a tremendous job in developing accountability and toughness through a well-coordinated strength and conditioning program,” Stricklin said.

Florida parted ways with McElwain on October 29, the day after the Gators were routed by Georgia, and immediate speculation was that the school would target Chip Kelly. A contingent of school officials flew to New Hampshire last weekend to talk with Kelly, but Florida began to move away from Kelly last week. Presumably, Florida felt Kelly was more interested in the UCLA vacancy, and Kelly indeed was announced as the Bruins’ coach Saturday morning.

UCF coach Scott Frost, a Kelly protégé, also was considered a likely candidate for Florida, but he appears headed to Nebraska. Frost grew up in Nebraska and is a Huskers alum; he was the starting quarterback on the 1997 Nebraska team – Tom Osborne’s last one – that shared a national title with Michigan.

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