Dan Mullen is the head coach of Florida football and has been in the position since 2015. He was born in Mississippi but grew up in Florida, where he played high school football. His father was a college football coach for over 20 years at Mississippi State, where Dan attended high school. The younger Mullen went on to play quarterback at Florida before becoming an assistant coach under Urban Meyer.
Dan Mullen is one of the most successful college football coaches in history. He has won a National Championship and led his team to two SEC Championships. One of the things that makes him so good is his ability to balance two worlds: coaching and family life.
GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA – Dan Mullen shows up to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in August looking as though he’s just died. As he croaks hello, Florida’s head football coach isn’t doing a terrible Ed Orgeron imitation, sounding like he has gravel stuck in his windpipe. He’s suffering from strep throat.
He trudges upstairs to his office and downs a Vitamin C tablet before going next door to conduct the daily staff meeting. Mullen’s eyes light up when an athletic trainer gives him an injury report on a player who, by all measures, should be back practicing but isn’t. He grins. “I think players model themselves after their coaches,” he adds.
Those in the room laugh, and the player’s position coach, who takes the jab in stride, looks over. This is nothing new to them. Mullen may be sick, but he never misses a chance to poke fun at others, whether it’s his teammates, opponents, or the press. He couldn’t let it go when questioned about Georgia being the preseason favorite to win the SEC East a few weeks ago. “Didn’t they say that last year?” he joked.
They did, and the Gators won the East by defeating the Bulldogs 44-28. Florida might have upset Alabama and won the SEC if a late onside kick had ricocheted differently. Last season, that club was stacked. Kyle Trask, a Heisman Trophy candidate, was on the team, as was Kyle Pitts, the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history, taken fourth overall by the Atlanta Falcons. The New York Giants selected Kadarius Toney, a human joystick at receiver, 16 selections later.
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The season should have been seen as a complete success, a significant step forward in Mullen’s attempts to rebuild his team. He had brought the school to within shouting distance of the College Football Playoff four years after returning to Gainesville, and he had ended a four-year drought of offensive skill players chosen in the first round of the draft dating back to Tim Tebow in 2010.
Mullen’s national image, however, suffered a setback. He was widely chastised for claiming that the crowd was a “big role” in UF’s defeat against Texas A&M in October and for urging fans to “fill the Swamp” despite the continuing flu epidemic. After an apparent late hit on Trask resulted in a fight at the conclusion of the first half, he got into a screaming battle with Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz two weeks later. Mullen reappeared after the field had been cleaned to enrage the audience. He then took questions at his postgame press conference while dressed as Darth Vader. For “violating SEC rules regulating sportsmanship,” he was fined $25,000.
The sour icing on the cake came in the form of a 35-point loss to Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. While the defeat was expected given the absence of many players, notably Pitts and Toney, Mullen’s postgame remarks were off the point. When he stated the Gators didn’t have to play the game; that the “2020 team” hadn’t met in 11 days; and that “our scout team players performed well,” he came off as contemptuous.
Mullen was portrayed as a pariah, a real-life Darth Vader, and a villain.
And he maintains that’s not who he is.
“I suppose I should have dressed up as Yoda,” he adds.
Dan Mullen’s angry side was on display towards the conclusion of the first half of last year’s game against Missouri, when he had to be restrained by members of his staff and law police. The Gainesville Sun/Brad McClenny
EXCEPT HE’S NOT AT ALL LIKE Yoda. He may be abrasive at times. He enjoys mixing things up.
He focuses on the running backs during a film session with the offense. On an overhead projector, there’s a play that, if performed correctly, will provide a chance to catch a ball coming out of the backfield.
“How do you feel, Demarkcus?” Mullen inquires of Demarkcus Bowman, a promising Clemson transfer.
Bowman responds, “I’m open like a 7-Eleven.” “It’s all day.”
“Do you know why it’s named 7-Eleven?” he asks. “Because their working hours were from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.”
Laughter erupts across the room.
Mullen adds, “That’s why you have to go to Wawa,” before clicking the clicker and going on to the next slide.
While Mullen would happily laud the charms of Wawa, the gas station/convenience store behemoth — really, he loves the place — his true calling is discussing football. In 2005, he made his national debut as an offensive coordinator at Florida under Urban Meyer, where he helped the Gators win two BCS national titles before taking over as head coach at Mississippi State at the age of 36.
Mullen took over a team at Starkville that had gone 32-65 in the eight years prior to his arrival. And, to be honest, the process of turning things around wasn’t easy. Early on, there was considerable squabbling between the new coach and the administration. Mullen wasn’t the polite Southerner that Mississippi State fans were accustomed to; he was a demanding Yankee who operated on the basis of ruthless honesty as his default setting.
Mullen’s thick skin was required to be a part of the program, according to Scott Sallach, who played with him at Ursinus College and coached tight ends with him at Mississippi State.
“It’s like asking a beautiful lady to prom and she says yes when you speak about honesty.” “She told me the truth, which is fantastic,” Sallach adds. “What if you ask the beautiful girl to prom and she declines?” You appear to be in a state of disarray. Even though she told you the truth, it stings.
“So, I believe it’s fair to say that some individuals struggled to adapt to his dedication to achievement. He was going to tell you if it wasn’t done correctly. And this was something that some folks were not used to.”
They learned to live with the “cost of winning,” as Sallach put it, and the Bulldogs wouldn’t miss a bowl game for the following eight years after a 5-7 start. Mullen was still the same old Dan, sometimes squabbling with the press. He once termed Geoff Collins’ choice to depart for the same job at Florida a “lateral maneuver,” which sounded petulant at the time and comical in hindsight. Mullen, on the other hand, was a huge winner, guiding State to its first-ever No. 1 rating in 2014.
Dan Mullen’s frankness and bravado make it clear where he stands with players, supporters, the media, and authorities. USA TODAY Sports/Kim Klement
After amassing a 69-46 record at Starkville, he, too, would depart for Florida in 2018. But the Gainesville he returned to was on the verge of collapse. After Meyer’s pseudo-retirement, the offense never regained its footing, and the quarterback position had devolved into a mediocre turnstile.
Mullen, who gained a reputation as a QB whisperer because to his work with Alex Smith, Tim Tebow, and Dak Prescott, had an instant effect on Feleipe Franks, who threw two less interceptions, 15 more touchdowns, and increased his QB rating by 31 points in 2018. Florida improved from 13th to sixth in the SEC in scoring and won ten games.
The Gators went on to win 11 games the next season, including the Orange Bowl. Trask was able to take up exactly where Franks left off and then some when he suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2.
It wasn’t simple for the Gators to be as successful as they were last season, with the two Kyles and Kadarius leading the nation’s top passing offense. After a series of positive tests, Mullen contracted COVID-19, and the whole program was shut down. It was exhausting to follow so many procedures and not know who would be available from game to game.
Mullen describes the experience as “mentally and emotionally draining.” “It’s taxing, to put it that way. I’ve never been that exhausted at the conclusion of a season before.”
Which may explain some of his public relations gaffes.
He admits that “some of it came out incorrect.” “Then everything just kept stacking up.” However, as I previously said, last year was also emotionally draining, so you’re probably not in your usual mental state.
“However, you’re also trying to figure out how I’m going to keep this squad motivated throughout the season. There’s a lot to it, you know.”
Which brings him back to Darth Vader’s now-famous costume.
People forget, but that was Halloween night, and the squad was just getting out of a lengthy confinement, according to Mullen. Several players wondered whether the season was finished during that two-week period of seclusion. “Is this it?” Mullen wondered to himself.
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Returning to the Swamp to face Missouri was going to be a huge thing, maybe too big of a deal, and the plan was for Mullen to put on the costume he got off the bus in the morning before the game to relieve any tension and get the squad laughing and loose. Mullen considered it, though, and worried whether people would think he wasn’t taking the game seriously enough.
As a result, he changed his plans at the last minute.
“It was in my locker,” he adds, “but hey, if we win, I’ll do it postgame.” “So I wore it to the party, and the men were all like, ‘Ahhh!’ For five minutes, they felt normal. Then everyone took that and turned it into something completely different.”
He thinks he should have dressed up like Yoda instead. Perhaps he might have talked in Yoda’s backward accent as well.
Of course, Mullen is kidding because that’s what he does, but the point is that he recognizes that he might have done things differently. He claims he’s thought about his behavior from last season and vows to work on improving his message.
Sallach adds, “Like all of us, he can be a bit rough around the edges.” “However, it’s meant to be lighthearted.”
Garrick McGee, the coach of the Florida quarterbacks, thinks that what people don’t understand is why Mullen speaks the things he does. Consider the remark about “packing the Swamp.” COVID-19 limitations in Florida were recently removed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Mullen encouraged the institution to follow his example and welcome back full audiences. The university’s president, Kent Fuchs, and athletic director, Scott Stricklin, responded quickly, stating that there were no plans to increase stadium capacity beyond 20%, citing CDC and municipal health guidelines. Mullen subsequently expressed regret for his comments.
“”OK, those are the words,” McGee acknowledges, “but the guys are saying, ‘Let’s get inspired.’” Let’s get started. ‘We have our coach with us.’”
McGee, a former head coach, hopes that more people could see how Mullen affects the squad — how when it’s time to do additional laps after practice because someone missed a class, Mullen is right there jogging with them.
“That’s why players say things like, ‘We’ve got his back the whole way,’” McGee explains.
Despite the fact that he has his detractors, Dan Mullen’s players at Florida have stuck with him. USA TODAY Sports/Kim Klement
Winning and time heal all scars in college football. Take, for example, Florida’s Saturday opponent, No. 1-ranked Alabama, and its coach, Nick Saban. Saban was chastised for equating the severity of the defeat to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the terrorist events on September 11, 2007, after the Crimson Tide were upset by Louisiana-Monroe.
Saban was 55 at the time, and his rash comments have now faded from memory, obscuring so many national titles. He’s still prone to rants — he went on another one just last week — but they’ve turned into a source of amusement rather than worry or criticism.
Mullen is still under 50, according to Florida director of sports Scott Stricklin, who spoke with the Orlando Sentinel recently. He’ll achieve that milestone in April, but with 13 years under his belt, he’s currently the second-longest tenured coach in the SEC, just behind Saban.
While some in the administration would like to see a more polished version of Mullen going ahead, he continues to have widespread support. The school announced a three-year contract extension in June, bringing his annual compensation to $7.6 million.
Stricklin told the Sentinel, “I continue to think that his greatest coaching days are ahead of him.”
Mullen’s work as a quarterback is a major reason for this. Mullen showed his unwavering faith in Emory Jones, who had waited three years behind Franks and Trask to take over as the starter. Mullen even went so far as to remark that Jones’ running abilities reminded him of Lamar Jackson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner and 2019 NFL MVP.
While Jones has ran the ball effectively in his first two games, he has been inconsistent as a passer. His throwing statistics against Florida Atlantic and South Florida were virtually identical: a 63 percent completion percentage, less than 200 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions in each game.
13th place In a 42-20 victory against USF, Florida’s standout rookie Anthony Richardson shines in the air (3/3, 152 yards, 2 touchdowns) and on the ground (4 carries, 115 yards, 1 touchdown).
Meanwhile, Anthony Richardson, a freshman, has been a revelation every time he on the field. He has completed 6-of-11 throws for 192 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions while playing just the odd series. He’s also rushed for 275 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries.
Richardson, who resembles a young Cam Newton, whom Mullen coached at Florida in 2007 and 2008 before leaving for a junior college and subsequently becoming a success at Auburn, is tall, athletic, and tough to tackle.
Fans and the media have been screaming for Richardson to start, but Mullen isn’t interested. And he’s doing it in his characteristically sarcastic tone.
Mullen shrugged off the idea of replacing Jones after the USF loss. Then he attempted to turn the tables on the journalists.
He said, “You know what you never ask?” “Why don’t you inquire as to who will be the starting running back? Who was the first to begin today?”
But that’s beside the point. It was Malik Davis. Mullen is well aware that there is no competition at running back.
Perhaps dodging is his way of protecting Jones and demonstrating his devotion to a player who might have moved to another team sooner. Remember how Mullen spoke about how tough it is to keep a squad motivated over the course of a lengthy season? Perhaps this is his clumsy method of encouraging Richardson.
You must, as always, read between the lines. “He doesn’t always do the right thing, but he does unique things,” Mullen said of Richardson last Saturday.
Squeezing a critique and a praise into the same 12-word phrase is quite the balancing act.
You haven’t been paying attention if you were expecting Mullen to come out and announce what he’ll do with his quarterbacks before the Alabama game.
“Just looking at the two quarterbacks is enough for everyone,” he added. “Every every snap, there are ten other players on the field — until I bring in our two-quarterback offense, which I haven’t demonstrated yet.”
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