Sunday, June 17, 2018
Sports

Fennelly: Dan Mullen is a better Florida fit than ‘the other guy’

GAINESVILLE — Dan Mullen is just 45 years old, but he has already spent nine years as a head coach in the Southeastern Conference. Think about that.

And this: The guy stayed in Starkville for nine years.

He dug in. There was stability.

Monday, when Mullen was introduced as the 27th head football coach in Florida history, he talked about the excitement he felt that first day as Mississippi State head coach. Then he sat in his new office. One thing hit him.

"What do I do now?"

Mullen felt the same way Monday in Gainesville in his new office. He is older, wiser, but the job of rebuilding Florida football excellence was not lost on him, for he was part of that very excellence for two national championships as Gators offensive coordinator from 2005-08.

"It’s so fun to be back," Mullen said.

He promises fun. He promises offense. Granted, the last two men who stood where Mullen stood Monday, Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain, promised the same thing. But Florida’s offense has been in steady decline since Mullen left Gainesville for Mississippi State after the 2008 season.

What Mullen might bring back, more than anything, is stability, more than Chip Kelly would have. This is a job Mullen said he cherished all along, going back to when he was watching football growing up in New Hampshire, or coaching football at Wagner College in New York, wearing a visor because that’s what Steve Spurrier did at Florida.

"I’ve also been known to throw it occasionally," said Mullen, drawing a smile from Spurrier, who was at Monday’s introduction.

"Dan Mullen is a much better fit at Florida than the other guy," Spurrier said. "Chip Kelly belongs at UCLA. Dan’s a guy who was at Mississippi State for nine years. Hard to win there. Never been fired. There’s something to be said for that. He’s the right fit for our job. Urban Meyer won two SECs and two nationals, and (Mullen) was the coordinator for both of them. When he left, the sun went down a little bit in ’09 and ’10, didn’t it?"

Mullen is here for the long haul if he wins. Florida needs that. He’s not leaving unless he is pushed out the door.

"A lot of the success at Mississippi State was based on stability," Mullen said. "Both the university and athletic administration were well aligned. We had a plan and we’re aligned on how to accomplish the goals we wanted to accomplish. … There was great stability."

Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin, at the end of his first football coaching search, said he wouldn’t have lifted Mullen from Stricklin’s alma mater, and where Stricklin was athletic director over Mullen, if he weren’t sure about Mullen.

Almost makes you think Mullen was the first choice. Well, he wasn’t. Kelly was an un-Florida way for Florida to go.

Back to stability …

"I think any program needs that," Stricklin said. "Dan is a guy that everything he does, one of the things I really admire about him having worked with him previously, is he doesn’t think short-term. He thinks decisions out for the long-term basis. … We’re going to do the same thing here. I don’t know what the record is going to look like next year, but I know that if we’re patient and three or four years, five years down the road, we’re going to be competing for championships."

Life in the Nation can put even great coaches through the ringer. Spurrier felt underappreciated when he left Gainesville for the NFL. Meyer won two national titles, but Florida still broke him down. The demands were real.

Sitting in the audience Monday was Mullen’s wife, Megan, with the couple’s two young children. Megan Mullen once said that the Gainesville experience was unnerving.

"It wasn’t if you won or lost," Megan Mullen told a podcast posted by Mississippi State last August. "If we didn’t score 43 points or more, I was going to the grocery store in Orlando where I worked with the Golf Channel and I was driving the groceries back to Gainesville because it was that bad."

Monday, Megan Mullen smiled as her husband spoke. Florida is done shopping.

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