GAINESVILLE — When Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen accepted the head coaching position at Mississippi State two weeks ago, attention immediately turned to Mullen's role with the Gators for the remainder of the season.
No. 2 Florida plays No. 1 Oklahoma in the BCS national championship game Jan. 8. After the announcement of Mullen's new job, questions arose. Would he stay with the Gators through the game? If so, how effective would he be?
Florida coach Urban Meyer understands the curiosity but isn't overly concerned.
"This is not a dictatorship or one-man circus," Meyer said. "The plays are scripted. Dan does a tremendous job. I understand this (question) is taking a life of its own — What's going to happen? What's going to happen? We'll be okay. We're still going to run the same offense."
Mullen will rejoin the team when it reconvenes Saturday after spending the past two weeks recruiting and gathering a staff for his new school. For the Gators, his absence has been a minimal disruption because of the way Meyer and the staff run the offense.
Essentially, Mullen filters the input of multiple coaches. Ultimately, Meyer runs the show.
"It's a collective group when we put everything together, and obviously, Danny oversees everything," receivers coach Billy Gonzales said. "I think the one thing is, when you have a group of guys working together, everybody understands what their role is as far as who is seeing what and who is in charge of what when your team is on the field.
"We don't talk much during the play-call. We let Danny call what he sees, and then between series, we get together and figure out what we want to work on and what kind of transitions we need to make, as far as what our offense is seeing on the field."
Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and teammates are thrilled that Mullen will be in the press box one last time, and they insist his absence and subsequent return won't hinder their performance.
Many coaches are split on whether it's best for a coach who gets a new job before a season ends to stick around or move on. Meyer has some expertise in this area. He stayed on as head coach at Utah to finish the 2004 season after he was hired by Florida in December. Utah won its Fiesta Bowl game against Pittsburgh 35-7 to finish the season 12-0.
Florida State coach Bobby Bowden is a proponent of coaches staying. In 1993, former FSU assistant Brad Scott accepted the head coaching job at South Carolina before the championship game in the Orange Bowl against Nebraska, but he remained through the Seminoles' title victory. Bowden personally requested that then-offensive coordinator Mark Richt remain on staff after he took the Georgia head coaching job.
"I've always preferred it that way," Bowden said. "It's just too hard to replace him. It doesn't surprise me (Mullen is) going to be there for that bowl. It is tough because you nearly have to wear two hats, but I'm sure he'll devote the time he needs to this game."
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops was defensive coordinator at Florida when he got the job with the Sooners, but he did not coach in the 1998 Orange Bowl. Then-LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini took the head coaching job at Nebraska last December but stayed to help the Tigers win the national championship.
"I agreed that he could call the entire defense, call every play," LSU coach Les Miles said, half-jokingly. "I also agreed that we would be ahead at the end of the game, and if he called a defense that didn't allow that to happen, then he would be relieved of duty immediately."
Florida State was preparing to play Oklahoma in the 2001 Orange Bowl for the national championship when Richt accepted his new job. In retrospect, he regrets he didn't walk away before the game.
"For me, it was very difficult to do," Richt said. "I wish Dan the best because it's not easy. It's not easy for everybody."
While Mullen was away, the Gators focused heavily on fundamentals, and Meyer worked with the offense and quarterbacks. The offensive staff will implement the final game plan when Mullen returns.
Ultimately, Mullen's relationship with Tebow will be most critical. The two have developed a relationship over the past three years that goes deeper than coach-player. Tebow consults Mullen directly during games, and the two often are so in synch about what should be called, Tebow can finish what Mullen is saying over the headset.
"He's going to do a great job, like he always has," Tebow said. "He'll be focused, and he's going to be one of us until that game ends."
Times staff writer Brian Landman contributed to this report. Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]om.