- Dan Mullen has been fired as head coach of the University of Florida football team.
- Florida reached the SEC championship game last year but are just 5-6 overall and 2-6 in conference this season.
- Mullen leaves Florida with a 34-15 record. He was given the opportunity to coach the Gators regular season finale against Florida State but declined.
The University of Florida has high expectations for their football program. That began in the early 1990s with Steve Spurrier and continued under current Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer (we won’t talk about Ron Zook’s three years at the helm of the Gators’ program between 2002-2004). That’s why every head coach since Urban Meyer stepped down after the 2010 season has been on a ‘short leash’. The expectation is for sustained success and if a coach shows that he’s not up to the task he doesn’t get an opportunity to turn things around. That was apparent on Sunday as Dan Mullen was fired as the Gators’ head coach ending a season of speculation that his future was in doubt at Florida.
Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin spoke to the media about the move saying that he’d only had a few hours of sleep following the Gators’ 24-23 overtime loss at Missouri. He said that when he woke up he was sure that a change needed to be made. Florida is on 2-9 SU run against Power 5 opponents and have lost the last four. Stricklin stressed the importance of sustained success:
“The challenge has been we haven’t been able to sustain it. You’ve got to put really good structure and culture in place in order to sustain a high level over a long period of time, and that’s going forward what we’ve got to focus on.”
The dismissal of Mullen further emphasizes that there simply is no margin for error at Florida. Mullen’s teams went 10-3 in 2018 and 11-2 in 2019. They dropped to 8-4 last year but reached the SEC Championship Game where they played Alabama tough, losing 52-46. He leaves with a 34-15 record at Florida and has an overall record of 103-61 as a head coach including nine seasons at Mississippi State. AD Strickland had plenty of praise for Mullen though in doing so cited his inability to have ‘sustained success’:
“I think he’s as good on the offensive side of the ball as anyone in football, whether it’s pro or college, and I think Dan’s going to have other opportunities to go out and coach football and I think he’s going to be successful at it. But, you know, this is a place that you should be able to have a high level of sustained success over a consistent period of time. And to do that, you have to have a lot of little things in place. People look at losses as a cause to get rid of a coach, but a lot of times, the losses are for things that don’t go right in the field, those are symptoms of other issues.”
“I’m not going to get into all that because I don’t think that’s fair to everyone involved. But there are a lot of little things that you had to pay attention to. And we have an opportunity here to go get someone who can can really focus on those things.”
Strickland followed up that statement laden with vague indictments of Mullen’s ability to maintain control over the program with another non-explanation of why he *really* wanted to fire Mullen. Asked how things fell apart so quickly, he mentioned Mullen’s contract extension and raise brokered five months ago and says he has his ‘thoughts’ but that he was ‘going to keep those to myself’. Since he was clearly not going to give any answers, he was equally as dissembling about plans for Mullen’s replacement. Offering only that he’ll be looking for someone ‘who has high expectations’ he gave this non-answer:
“There’s going to be a lot of competition in the marketplace, and I really don’t want to share what our criteria or what we’re going to prioritize.”
though his follow up was somewhat contradictory:
“The process that other schools are going through really doesn’t impact what we need to do at the University of Florida.”
Strickland did say that the University will fulfill the terms of Mullen’s contract, meaning that they’re on the hook for a $12 million buyout. That’s on top of the $13.8 million they paid Jim McElwain and Will Muschamp to go away when *they* were fired. He then made it clear that the Gators’ football program had the resources to do this:
“We’re going to put the resources necessary into making the right decision to get the right person in and the right structure around that person for us to be successful. We’re very blessed to be in a place we do have some resources.”
Any discussion of a replacement is mere speculation at this point though there’s been a lot of talk of Louisiana coach Billy Napier as a top candidate. Then again, he’s on the top of list of every team that needs a head coach and has turned down a number of SEC gigs in the past few years. It’s been a tough year for all of the major football programs in Florida. There’s speculation that head coaching changes could be forthcoming at Florida State (Mike Norvell) and the University of Miami (Manny Diaz).