Dan Mullen, the coach of the Florida Gators, is having a bad year. In the worst-case scenario, his team has reached a stalemate and requires a leadership replacement.
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
During the previous two seasons, Mullen has supplied Florida with more downs than ups, raising questions about the program’s long-term survival and Mullen’s long-term viability as its coach.
During Florida’s bye week, Mullen remarked, “I think we’re moving in the right direction with the program’s mentality.” “The students on the squad have a terrific attitude and are very focused….” I’m happy with the way the men on the squad are thinking right now.”
The Gators (4-3, 2-3 SEC) have lost six of their previous eight games against Power Five opponents, including two straight defeats to LSU squads that were expected to be overmatched. The first one, in December, started a three-game losing run that knocked the Gators out of contention for the national championship. The second, a 49-42 setback in which the Tigers rushed for 321 yards, knocked Florida out of the Eastern Division battle and put Mullen and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham under the microscope.
By sacking Grantham during the bye week and/or replacing talented quarterback Anthony Richardson in favor of turnover-prone Emory Jones, Mullen might have appeased at least a portion of the fan base. He didn’t do either, but he might still turn to Richardson before the Gators’ game against top-ranked Georgia (7-0, 5-0) next Saturday in Jacksonville.
“We’re really lucky,” Mullen remarked. “We have two excellent quarterbacks on our team.” Every game they’ve been healthy, we’ve played them both. “I envision us staying on that track.”
Mullen’s route has recently been littered with potholes. However, the fourth-year Florida coach has company in an athletic department beset by doubts:
-In July, athletic director Scott Stricklin ordered women’s basketball coach Cam Newbauer to quit, citing charges that Newbauer fostered a toxic atmosphere in which players, assistants, and staff members were verbally abused. Stricklin’s worst blunder may have been failing to investigate internal allegations concerning Newbauer during his first season (2017).
-Men’s basketball coach Mike White is 16-18 in March, having failed to get Florida past the second round in each of the last three NCAA Tournament appearances.
-Under coach Kevin O’Sullivan, Florida’s baseball team has gone 30-30 in SEC play in the previous two full seasons, a major drop-off for a school that has advanced to the College World Series seven times in nine years and won the national championship in 2017. The Gators lost their final three games by a collective score of 28-4, despite O’Sullivan being largely regarded as the top candidate for the LSU position. He chose to remain in Gainesville.
Football, on the other hand, is the lifeblood of the department. And Mullen is well compensated for making it hum.
But it’s sputtering right now, and Mullen’s persistent recruitment troubles appear to be a contributing factor. Shemar James, a four-star linebacker from Mobile, Alabama, dropped out of the Gators’ recruiting class this week. Mullen’s 2022 class is now ranked 24th in the country and sixth in the SEC, according to Rivals.
Mullen has established himself as one of college football’s most obstinate coaches, fighting change and, at times, displaying much too much loyalty. His obstinacy got him in deep trouble last year when he reaffirmed his desire to crowd Florida Field during a pandemic.
In addition, he put Florida on NCAA probation for the first time in 30 years, received a show-cause penalty for recruiting violations, was fined and admonished by the SEC for his participation in a bench-clearing brawl, and was publicly chastised for tone-deaf statements after two losses.
His inability to openly accept blame for losses continued into this season and was highlighted during a 20-13 upset of Kentucky earlier this month. Mullen began firing off data from the stat sheet when asked if he was outcoached.
“We beat them to it. We were able to outrun them. Mullen stated, “We out-total-gained them.” “It’s possession time. On third downs, we were more effective.”
Stricklin handed Mullen a raise and a three-year contract extension in May, despite his numerous failures. Mullen, 49, will earn $7.6 million this year, up from $6.07 million in 2020, and will be under contract through 2026.
Mullen is being bought out for $12 million. With an $85 million football facility set to open next spring, a $250 million Swamp makeover on the horizon, and Mullen’s 33-12 record, including a 21-10 mark in SEC play, parting ways is improbable.
Before the season, Stricklin stated, “Good coaches are valuable.” “I believe Dan is one of the best college football coaches in the country. You consider all he brings to the table in terms of experience, enthusiasm, intelligence, and organizational management. Then there’s the fact that he could be the greatest at teaching and developing the game’s most vital position.
“He adds a lot to the table,” says the narrator.
Mullen hasn’t been bringing much recently, and depending on how next Saturday’s game against the Bulldogs unfolds, all the speculation surrounding his job security may fade or intensify.
“I believe that leadership continuity is critical for every firm,” Stricklin stated. “I want Dan to coach in college football for as long as he wants.” He’s not going to coach somewhere else, in my opinion. I can’t forecast the future, but I don’t think he’ll coach at another school.”