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Here’s why Dan Mullen thinks he can fix Florida. Is he right?

We broke down Mullen’s answer to why he thinks he’s the one to save the reeling Gators.
Florida coach Dan Mullen believes he can fix the Gators.
Florida coach Dan Mullen believes he can fix the Gators. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Nov. 17

GAINESVILLE — Midway through Monday’s news conference, Gators coach Dan Mullen was asked the all-encompassing question Florida administrators will have to answer in the next two weeks:

Why is Mullen the man to fix UF’s problems?

Related: Is Florida staff shakeup enough for Dan Mullen to turn Gators around?

Let’s take Mullen’s full response and break it down, piece by piece:

“Your goal is to compete for SEC titles. That’s what the program (goal) is every single year.”

When Mullen was hired, he talked about getting Florida back to a “national championship level.” But if you’re competing for SEC titles, you’re probably at a playoff level, too, so that doesn’t necessarily mean he has lowered the standard.

Regardless, the Gators did not meet the goal in Year 1, when they finished third in the East. In Year 2, UF finished second in the East thanks to a 24-17 loss to Georgia and a 42-28 loss to eventual SEC/national champion LSU. Does that count as competing for a title?

Florida coach Dan Mullen beat Georgia and won the SEC East last year.
Florida coach Dan Mullen beat Georgia and won the SEC East last year. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP (2020) ]

Mullen reached the goal in Year 3 when UF won the East and had a last-gasp chance to beat Alabama in Atlanta. This season is a bust, as UF is sixth in the East entering Saturday’s game at Missouri.

That’s one clear success, two clear failures and one in the middle. Including his time at Mississippi State, Mullen has one division title and zero SEC championships as a head coach.

“I’ve had a lot of success for 13 years as a head coach in this league. I’ve won a lot of football games, know how to win football games.”

Mullen is 103-60 as a head coach (69-46 at Mississippi State, 34-14 at UF). His SEC record is 54-51 overall (33-39 at Mississippi State, 21-12 at UF).

Earlier this year, he became the 18th coach ever to win 100 games in the SEC. He’s the second-winningest coach in Bulldogs history. In the AP poll era (1936), only two UF coaches have a higher winning percentage than Mullen (.708): Steve Spurrier (.817) and Urban Meyer (.813).

Excluding his first year at Mississippi State, Mullen has only had one losing season. His 2016 Bulldogs went 6-7 with a victory in the St. Petersburg Bowl. His team recovered the next year, going 8-4 and sitting in the top 25 before Mullen left for UF.

Dan Mullen finished a down 2016 season with a win in the St. Petersburg Bowl. His Bulldogs recovered the next year.
Dan Mullen finished a down 2016 season with a win in the St. Petersburg Bowl. His Bulldogs recovered the next year. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | AP (2016) ]

But Mullen’s experience also includes this problematic stat: He’s 7-44 against teams that finished the season ranked (or are ranked currently). That includes a 4-9 mark at UF with four consecutive losses.

“I love being the head coach of the Gators.”

Though we cannot independently verify his feelings, we believe his statement. But he has never specifically denied having interest in the NFL. It’s possible those rumors circulated because of contract negotiations rather than his feelings about UF specifically.

“We’ve got great young guys that are willing to battle and fight no matter what the adversity is.”

Mullen has pointed to the disappointment his players showed after the South Carolina defeat and the way they scored 42 of the final 52 points in a comeback win over Samford as signs that the Gators haven’t quit on him or the season. If you watched the games, you can draw your own opinion on their effort.

Related: Florida’s 2021 warning signs were flashing in Gators’ Cotton Bowl blowout

As far as his “great young guys,” five presumptive starters are redshirt sophomores or younger. That list doesn’t include five-star defensive back Jason Marshall or redshirt freshman quarterback Anthony Richardson — two other talented young contributors.

Anthony Richardson is a talented young player the Gators can build a future around.
Anthony Richardson is a talented young player the Gators can build a future around. [ MATTHEW HINTON | AP ]

Those young players are from recruiting classes ranked ninth, ninth and 12th in the country. Is the talent great enough for Mullen to rebound, if he gets another season?

“I don’t know what else I have more than that.”

We do: two more chances to show improvement and convince critics that he’s the one who can fix Florida.

Related: How can Dan Mullen save his Florida tenure?

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