Dan Mullen has revitalized the Florida Gators in his two seasons with back-to-back New Year’s Six bowl victories, a pair of top-seven seasons and two consecutive top-10 recruiting classes.
But is he one of the 10 best coaches in the country? Yes, according to one writer from The Athletic. Nope, according to another.
Stewart Mandel has Mullen at No. 8 nationally in his recent list ranking the nation’s 25 coaches. He cites how well Mullen did at Mississippi State but is cautious about the gap between UF and Georgia/Kirby Smart (fifth on his list).
His colleague, Bruce Feldman, has Mullen six spots lower, at No. 14. He points out that Mullen had only one winning record in the SEC at Mississippi State but says he’ll move in his rankings if UF keeps finishing in the top 10 and starts challenging for national titles.
These lists are, inherently, subjective. In their podcast, they discuss their differing approaches, with Mandel focusing more on recent years and Feldman taking a broader approach. Both thought processes are valid, and the gap between 8 and 14 isn’t necessarily large.
Mandel, at least in my view. The case for Mullen as a top-10 coach is stronger than the argument that puts him closer to 15th.
Mississippi State is one of the toughest places to win in the Power Five. Since 1950, only one Bulldogs coach (who led at least 20 games) had a higher winning percentage than Mullen (.600); Bob Tyler was at .604. Getting Mississippi State to eight consecutive bowl games and three top-20 finishes is impressive.
No, Mullen hasn’t won a division, conference or national title yet at Florida. But he turned a four-win team into a 10-win team immediately and helped them take the next step in Year 2 (with a backup quarterback). That, to me, puts him closer to Smart and Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly than Utah’s Kyle Whittingham or Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz.
I found two other names interesting in these rankings. They had Florida State’s Mike Norvell around the same spot (23 for Mandel, 25 for Feldman). That feels about right. Norvell did a great job elevating Memphis from a good Group of Five program to a great one, but his resume isn’t long or large enough yet to put him much higher.
Then there’s Jimbo Fisher. Feldman has the current Texas A&M coach (and former FSU coach) sixth; Mandel puts him 14th. I’d probably go somewhere in the middle.
Fisher won a national title and 29 consecutive games for the Seminoles. He was the rare coach who successfully followed a legend, and that shouldn’t be discounted. But he’s also 22-15 in his last three seasons, including his disastrous final (partial) season in Tallahassee.
What do you think? Where would you rank Mullen, Fisher and Norvell among the game’s top coaches?