Friday, July 20, 2018
Colleges

Fennelly: Does Dan Mullen have another level in him?

Danny, if you think of it, bring a quarterback.

Dan Mullen might not create a buzz like Chip Kelly. Heís not the hottest new name in college football coaching like Scott Frost.

But Florida has made a solid choice to again lay a foundation, especially on offense, exactly whatís needed in Gainesville after the unwatchable McElwain saga.

Who needs buzz? Find a quarterback. Coach a quarterback.

And so, itís Mullen, who clearly was the Gatorsí third choice, after Kelly and Frost, but who returns to Gainesville, where he won a pair of national championships working with Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow. A logical choice, an obvious choice after two swings and misses, if not a daring or spectacular one.

And donít forget: Mullen is the reigning winning coach of the renamed Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl.

Here is a comfort level for the Nation. And for Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin, who was Mullenís athletic director for six years at Mississippi State.

Letís put it this way: Florida going from Chip Kelly to Scott Frost to Dan Mullen is infinitely better than Tennessee dreaming of Jon Gruden and agreeing to hire Greg Schiano, which caused such a roar on Rocky Top that UT is backing away.

Maybe thereís some letdown after the Kelly hype and Frost hope. But Mullen is in for the long haul. Heís not jumping from here. He is here to rebuild this offense. Iím not sure heíll return the Gators to the top. But I wasnít dead certain anybody out there was a mortal lock to do that.

This is a solid pivot after events out of Floridaís control. Kelly decided to re-open his offensive laboratory at UCLA, not Florida. Frost reportedly wasnít interested in the Gators and looks to be heading home to Nebraska.

Whatís the Nation to do?

What it just did.

This isnít 2002, when Florida, having lost Steve Spurrier to the NFL, went after Mike Shanahan and Bob Stoops and ended up with a handful of Zook.

It isnít 2011, after Urban Meyer left and Florida hired Will Muschamp, a defensive coordinator with no experience as a college head coach.

It isnít 2014, when Florida climbed the Saban coaching tree for Jim McElwain, a miserable decision, a miserable guy.

This is Dan Mullen, 45, still a young man, who knows what heís doing, who knows Gainesville and how the Nation works. There are no illusions. He is fan friendly and media smart. He can recruit and he has coached up quarterbacks, including Alex Smith at Utah, Tebow at Florida and Dak Prescott at Mississippi State.

Mullen has a true SEC resume as a head coach. He built something at Mississippi State, turning the Bulldogs into steady if not sensational winners. Even so, in 2014, Mullen had Mississippi State No. 1.

Mississippi State!

Mullen had to jump at this opportunity. He knows that when properly ignited, Floridaís boiler is the best chance to cook up a national title, more than any school with a coaching vacancy.

Yes, Mullen had his rough edges in Gainesville from 2005-08, enough of them so that former UF athletic director Jeremy Foley didnít consider Mullen during the previous two Florida coaching searches.

Stricklin reportedly didnít always see eye to eye with Mullen in Starkville, but at least Stricklin knows what he is getting with Mullen. No surprises.

Yes, Willie Taggart would have been a more daring hire for Florida. If Iím Florida State, and Jimbo Fisher leaves Tallahassee, Taggart is my guy.

If thereís a question about Mullen, itís this: He reached a certain level at Mississippi State. Florida will demand another level. Does he have it in him? Iím not sure he does.

This doesnít feels like when Spurrier returned to his alma mater in 1990 or when Meyer arrived with his thousand-yard stare in 2005. That kind of mad genius comes along only so often. Get over it, Florida fans. And stop fussing over Kelly and Frost.

Dan Mullen might just have some spectacular in him. Hereís his chance.

Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029

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