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Why NFL teams might (and might not) want Gators’ Dan Mullen

Would NFL teams love the way Mullen develops quarterbacks? Or be turned off by his questionable comments and antics?
Dan Mullen's track record of grooming quarterbacks, like Kyle Trask, would make him attractive to the NFL.
Dan Mullen's track record of grooming quarterbacks, like Kyle Trask, would make him attractive to the NFL. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]
Published Jan. 4
Updated Jan. 4

Now that the NFL’s firing season is in full swing, expect to hear more about the possibility of Florida coach Dan Mullen leaving the Gators for a professional job. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Mullen would be open to the idea of coaching in the NFL.

The NFL Network considers Mullen as a name to watch in the Jets’ search after New York fired Adam Gase on Sunday night.

Last week, we looked at why Mullen might (and might not) want to consider a job at the next level. Today, let’s view the situation from the other side. Here’s why NFL teams might (and might not) be interested in hiring the 48-year-old:

Related: Dan Mullen’s name will keep coming up in coaching rumors. Deal with it.

Why Dan Mullen is an attractive NFL candidate

Gators coach Dan Mullen knows how to groom quarterbacks, like Feleipe Franks, Kyle Trask and Alex Smith.
Gators coach Dan Mullen knows how to groom quarterbacks, like Feleipe Franks, Kyle Trask and Alex Smith.

He develops quarterbacks well

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the NFL is a quarterback league. And Mullen is one of the best in the game at developing quarterbacks.

At Utah, Mullen helped two-star prospect Alex Smith blossom into the No. 1 overall pick. At Mississippi State, Mullen identified and coached three-star recruit Dak Prescott (a two-time Pro Bowler with the Cowboys) and got the most out of another lightly recruited prospect, Nick Fitzgerald (who had a brief stint with the Bucs).

At UF, Mullen improved Feleipe Franks drastically, turned Kyle Trask from a longtime backup into a future pro and, as an assistant, helped Tim Tebow win the Heisman Trophy. Given the importance of strong quarterback play in the NFL, Mullen’s track record will get a franchise’s attention.

Related: What makes Florida Gators’ Dan Mullen a quarterback guru?

He’s a great offensive mind

UF’s offense was 13th in scoring and eighth in yards per play this season, despite losing four receivers and its top running back to the NFL. That’s impressive.

Mullen can tweak his system to his personnel — more quarterback runs with Prescott, more quick passes with Trask —and knows how to create and exploit mismatches. The NFL puts a premium on scoring. That’s why offensive guru Kliff Kingsbury got the Cardinals’ job despite going 35-40 as the head coach at Texas Tech. Surely Mullen (29-9 at UF, 98-55 overall) is worth consideration.

He usually maximizes his talent

When the Gators looking for Jim McElwain’s replacement, UF’s analytics affirmed what administrators already knew: Mullen’s teams outperformed their talent and recruiting rankings.

Mullen hasn’t had enough high-end talent to win championships, but he usually gets the most out of his players. That suggests he could do well in the NFL, where recruiting doesn’t exist and the talent gaps aren’t as large as they are in college football.

Related: Heisman Trophy: The case for and against Kyle Trask and the other finalists

Why NFL teams could be wary

Dan Mullen's role in the brawl against Missouri won't be looked upon highly by NFL teams.
Dan Mullen's role in the brawl against Missouri won't be looked upon highly by NFL teams. [ JOHN RAOUX | Associated Press ]

Mullen has no NFL experience

Kingsbury (three seasons as an NFL quarterback) and Matt Rhule (a year as a Giants assistant) both had some pro experience before they jumped from college to NFL head coaches. Mullen has none. That shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, but it has to be considered.

He had a rough 2020

On the field, Mullen had a roster with College Football Playoff potential and went 8-4. There are caveats — two of those losses came on last-second field goals — but, as another college-turned-NFL coach (Bill Parcells) famously said, you are what your record says you are. And Mullen’s team underachieved.

The off-field antics are even harder to explain and rationalize. After the Texas A&M loss, Mullen encouraged his bosses to pack Ben Hill Griffin Stadium during the pandemic. He stormed onto the field against Missouri, possibly sparking the brawl, and wore a Darth Vader Halloween costume afterward. He also refused to release a preseason roster, received an NCAA show-cause penalty for recruiting violations, made an odd defense for Marco Wilson throwing a shoe against LSU and downplayed his team’s dreadful 35-point loss to Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.

Related: If Cotton Bowl loss was ‘kick-start’ for future, what does that say about ’21 Gators?

Good luck selling those actions to an NFL fan base — or to the pros in his own locker room.