As Dan Mullen formally begins the most pivotal offseason of his Gators tenure, he finds himself in the same situation he was in at the end of last season: answering questions about his long-term Florida future.
The responses UF’s fourth-year coach gave Tuesday weren’t especially satisfying.
The lone exception: Mullen said he did not interview for any NFL head coaching jobs this cycle.
“Most of my focus was on getting us back to Atlanta to get back to the SEC championship game,” Mullen said. “A lot of rumors out there, but I didn’t speak to anybody.”
Those rumors have surfaced before and picked up this offseason with reports that the Jets were interested in making him the latest coach to jump from the NCAA to the NFL. And unless something changes, those rumors will keep popping up.
Mullen has been asked repeatedly about whether he has any desire to coach in the league. Usually, he says that he hasn’t given it much thought. He had a slightly different answer Tuesday, during a news conference to preview the start of spring practice later this week.
“I love being here at the University of Florida,” Mullen said. “I think we have a great program. We have a great fan base, great history, the opportunity to be a championship program every single year.”
“I think there are concerns with coaches. It’s what the future of college football is going to look like,” Mullen continued. “I think there’s a lot of uncertainties to it right now, of how that’s going to shape up. That might not be completely answering your question. But I think that’s probably the fairest way as people look at things and look at the future is, what is college football going to look like in three or four years? I think there’s a lot of uncertainty that we’re trying to figure out right now to see what our futures are going to hold.”
No, that doesn’t completely answer the question. But the uncertainty involving the evolution of the transfer portal and legislation allowing players to be paid for their name, image and likeness does explain why any college coach might be interested in the next level.
If that interest is reciprocated.
The other factor muddying Mullen’s long-term future in Gainesville is his contract.
Despite two New Year’s Six bowl wins and an SEC East title, Mullen hasn’t received an extension on his six-year, $36.6 million deal. Having only three years remaining on it could become ammunition on the recruiting trail for opposing coaches who want to question the UF-Mullen relationship.
“I don’t control that part of it,” Mullen said, “so I’ve got to worry about what I control, you know, which is getting the team ready to go for practice on Thursday. That can be in somebody else’s press conference. That’d be a good question for them.”
A good question for whom, though? Opposing coaches looking to negatively recruit against him? Or the administrators that haven’t given him a new deal?
Mullen’s future remains fascinating, because his track record has been so divisive. His record (29-9) is comparable to where Urban Meyer (31-8) and Steve Spurrier (28-8) were through three seasons. But he hasn’t won an SEC title or made the College Football Playoff, and he earned backlash for wanting to pack The Swamp during the pandemic, getting involved in a brawl against Missouri and receiving NCAA sanctions for recruiting violations. Whether you want him locked into UF or would like to help him pack for New York, there’s evidence to justify your opinion.
And that’s what makes this spring so crucial for Mullen and his program. If Mullen repairs last year’s shaky defense and helps heir apparent quarterback Emory Jones play like a blue-chip talent, UF could challenge for a playoff spot this fall. If not, the Gators could be headed toward another 8-4 season.
Either way, we should get one step closer to clarity surrounding Mullen’s long-term Florida future.