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Florida Gators possible coaching candidate: Dan Mullen

By Matt Baker
Dan Mullen, as a Gators assistant in 2007. BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

We're still days (probably weeks) away from the Florida Gators naming their next head coach. That gives us plenty of time to examine some potential candidates to replace Jim McElwain. This is the first in a series, and we'll order it by Bovada's betting odds. First up….

Dan Mullen

Mississippi State head coach

Age: 45

Odds he's UF's next head coach (per Bovada): 9/2

Why he makes sense: Mullen has the most plentiful and obvious ties. He was an assistant for the Gators from 2005-08, so he knows the program and how to recruit this state. Although Gators athletic director Scott Stricklin didn't hire Mullen, Stricklin was Mullen's boss in Starkville. "I enjoyed working with Dan, and I think he would probably say the same…" Stricklin said the day McElwain and UF parted ways. "He's done a really nice job there. And as an alum of that school, I'm proud of the job he's done at my alma mater."

Mullen was the SEC's 2014 coach of the year in the brutal SEC West, at a program without a history of success. His team is in the top 20, and Mullen has led the Bulldogs to a pair of top-15 finishes; Mississippi State had only accomplished that feat three times before Mullen.

He also fits two other keys for UF: Mullen is an offensive mind – check out all these school offensive records he has broken – and he can develop quarterbacks. Mullen helped make Tim Tebow a legend. Before Dak Prescott became the Dallas Cowboys' starter, he worked under Mullen (and took Mississippi State to No. 1 in the country). Mullen turned Nick Fitzgerald from a two-star prospect into one of the SEC's top quarterbacks. That's huge at a program that hasn't developed a great quarterback since Tebow.

Why he might not work: The buzz around Gainesville is that Mullen didn't burn bridges at UF, but he might need to mend them before he could return. He and Stricklin got along fine but probably won't go on vacations together, if that tells you anything about their working relationship. Stricklin wasn't just the AD at Mississippi State; he's an alumnus. Would he want to poach his alma mater's successful head coach? Mullen's name has popped up in several other previous vacancies (including Miami). There's probably a reason he didn't get those jobs.

Final thoughts: Mullen seems like a great fit, and it wouldn't be a surprise if he took this solid season as an opportunity to leave Starkville (maybe for Tennessee, if UF doesn't work out). He's a safe hire, although I'm not sure how much he'll energize a program that needs a jolt. Mullen deserves to be mentioned among the candidates, but I'm not sure he's the favorite.