When Fox’s Jay Glazer broke the story Monday morning that the Dallas Cowboys will hire former Packers coach Mike McCarthy, University of Florida fans could breathe a sigh of relief.
There will be no Dan Mullen-Dak Prescott reunion in Dallas. The Gators coach won’t be taking this NFL job.
Or, if he’s smart, any other. Mullen has the right gig for him in Gainesville.
His name has periodically bubbled up in NFL circles because of his cutting-edge offenses and elite play-calling. But the dots were never so easy to connect as they were this time, even though nothing substantial ever materialized.
Mullen turned Prescott from the nation’s No. 601 prep prospect into a star at Mississippi State. Surely he could keep developing Prescott, the Cowboys’ two-time Pro Bowl quarterback.
Mullen said last month that he had never given much serious thought to the idea of coaching in the NFL. If he did, he wouldn’t like what he discovered.
No college job has the prestige of coaching the Cowboys — America’s Team in America’s Sport. But beyond the brand name and massive coliseum, the job has issues Mullen doesn’t have to deal with at his current premier job.
The power structures are vastly different between the NFL and college. NFL coaches have team owners and general managers that call many of the shots, especially regarding personnel. With Dallas, that’s all Jerry Jones.
Unlike the NFL, Mullen has almost complete control of his roster at UF. He and his staff identify and recruit every incoming player they coach and then determine how best to use and manage them.
“I don’t want to make it sound too big, but you’re kind of the owner, GM, vice president and head coach…” Mullen said last month. “You’re in control of everything.”
Not everything. Mullen does have a boss. But that’s another reason for him to stay at Florida.
The man who hired Mullen at UF, athletic director Scott Stricklin, was also Mullen’s AD at Mississippi State, so they work together well. Stricklin is well-regarded in the industry and knows the infrastructure and finances necessary to produce championships. He is also paying Mullen $6 million — the same Garrett was reportedly making in the NFL.
Another potential NFL target, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, is in a similar situation with a respected, veteran athletic director (Joe Castiglione) at a premier program. A move to Dallas for either would have meant jumping from stable, successful administrations to a franchise that hasn’t won a Super Bowl since 1996 and is led by one of the biggest personalities in all of sports.
The NFL failures of other high-profile college coaches shouldn’t be a major deterrent for Mullen or anyone else. Just because Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier struggled in Miami and Washington doesn’t mean Mullen would tank at the next level, especially considering how much the game has changed since then.
But Mullen has a great situation in Gainesville. He isn’t like Matt Rhule, who scraped his program’s ceiling with an 11-3 season at Baylor. Mullen’s 21 wins and back-to-back wins in prestigious New Year’s Six bowl games aren’t merely sustainable at UF. They look like the foundation of a team ready to start challenging for titles.
“I know what I have here,” Mullen said last month. “I love being here. I think we’re building a championship program here.”
One he’d be foolish to leave.