GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida has hired Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen as its next football coach, bringing back the guy who helped turned Tim Tebow into a star.
The Gators announced the deal Sunday, after Mullen told his team he was returning to Gainesville.
Spurned by Chip Kelly and seemingly unwilling to risk waiting for UCF’s Scott Frost to possibly do the same, Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin turned to Mullen. Stricklin and Mullen worked together in Starkville from 2009 to 2016. Stricklin was Mississippi State’s athletic director for seven of those years.
Mullen previously spent four years (2005-08) as Florida’s offensive coordinator and won two national championships while guiding Tebow to the top of the school record books. The Gators averaged 36.3 points a game and 7.1 yards a play during Mullen’s tenure.
The Gators have mostly sputtered on offense since.
“I have such great memories of the championships we won during our time here and have a love for Florida,” Mullen said in a statement. “We will give relentless effort in everything that we do on and off the field. Our commitment will match the passion that the Gator Nation has for this program.”
Stricklin vowed to make Florida fun again when he parted ways with coach Jim McElwain last month. For a week, it looked like Kelly might pacify a frustrated fan base. But Kelly chose UCLA over Florida on Saturday, and Stricklin was left to look elsewhere.
He made the safe choice, one that might not be wildly popular with the Florida faithful.
Still, the 45-year-old Mullen has an impressive resume. He has 13 years of experience in the rugged Southeastern Conference, knows Florida well, has recruited in the Sunshine State and led the Bulldogs to a bowl game for a school-record eight consecutive years. He is 5-2 in bowls.
“I strongly believe Dan is the most prepared candidate to have immediate and long-term success at the University of Florida,” Stricklin said. “Coach Mullen is one of the best offensive minds in all of college football, and has an unbelievable track record in tutoring successful quarterbacks.”
Mullen clearly overachieved at Mississippi State, which had lost at least eight games in seven of the eight seasons before his arrival.
Mullen spent nine years in Starkville, posting a 69-46 record that included a 33-39 mark in SEC play. He is second on the school’s all-time coaching win list behind Jackie Sherrill.
Mullen is best known for developing quarterbacks. He played a substantial role in the college careers of Alex Smith (Utah), Chris Leak (Florida), Tebow (Florida), Dak Prescott (Mississippi State) and current Mississippi State starter Nick Fitzgerald.
Florida also is counting on Mullen to rebuild a program that showed little progress under McElwain.
“Coach Mullen will do a tremendous job in developing accountability and toughness through a well-coordinated strength and conditioning program,” Stricklin said. “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’s best season was 2014, when the Prescott-led Bulldogs were the No. 1 team in the country for five straight weeks before losing to Alabama. Mississippi State also was the No. 1 team in the inaugural College Football Playoff rankings.
Mullen inherits a Florida team that lacks a capable quarterback and has its worst scoring defense since 1946.
The Gators (4-7) have depth issues across the board, lack offensive playmakers and were so thin defensively that a former walk-on linebacker played significant snaps late in the season.
Suspensions and injuries were partly to blame. But poor recruiting and a failure to develop youngsters — quarterback Feleipe Franks being a prime example — also played a role in the team going from two-time Eastern Division champion to missing a bowl game for the second time in 27 years.
Still, Florida remains one of the more attractive jobs in college football.
The Gators have a fervent fan base, have one of the nation’s top operating budgets ($125 million in 2017-18) and have more than $100 million in facility upgrades planned, including breaking ground on a state-of-the-art structure to house the football program. Throw in being surrounded by some of the top recruiting strongholds in the country, and Florida seems poised for a quick fix.
“Dan, we’re happy to have you back at the University of Florida,” former Gators coach and current ambassador Steve Spurrier said in a video message.