As you probably know by now, the Gators have hired Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen to be the school’s 27th head football coach.
Judging from the reaction on social media, most fans appear to be happy about the hire. But a few- as there always are- are not happy. Many point to his losing record in the SEC in his nine seasons in Starkville. Others point to his wife’s unhappiness with the fans. Still others point to more menial things that aren’t worth giving their own sentences to.
I’m going to take this time to apologize in advance to my one dual Florida-Mississippi State fan who I know is out there reading this. But if we’re comparing these two programs in terms of properties, Florida is a royal palace and Mississippi State is a trailer park. Possessing a microscopic fraction of the resources Florida does and being a bottom of the barrel program in terms of prestige as opposed to the highest tier that Florida occupies have combined to cripple the MSU program, leaving it doomed to forever wallow in the shadow of Alabama, Auburn, Florida, LSU and even Ole Miss. For the folks who clang the cowbells, 9-3 is fantastic, 7-5 is good enough, and 5-7 will do if you can beat Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. That’s the standard in Starkville.
At least, that was the standard. Then Mullen came along.
Mullen was handed the thankless task of cleaning up the mess that Sylvester Croom had started. Croom- good of a man as he was- simply wasn’t good enough as a coach to remain at MSU past 2008. He had a rough go in his first year, but capped it off by hammering Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl- and then he really lifted the Bulldogs off the ground.
In his second year at Mississippi State, Mullen guided the Bulldogs to a 9-4 record, including a 52-14 smoking of Michigan in the Gator Bowl. That’s not the level that the University of Florida wants to be at, but it’s a level that MSU would love to reach every now and then. Mullen not only got them there, but he kept them there over the better part of the next decade, averaging eight wins a year over his final eight years in Starkville.
But it wasn’t just the high plateau he reached that stands out; it’s the peak. Mullen took this also-ran of a program where it hadn’t been since the beginning of World War II: to an Orange Bowl. In fact, MSU hadn’t made any of the major four bowl games (Rose, Sugar, Fiesta or Orange) since 1941. Along the way, Mullen’s Bulldogs climbed as high as 9-0 and #1 in the country before stumbling late to Alabama.
Perhaps more impressive than what Mullen did for MSU in terms of wins and losses, though, is the offensive pedigree. He coached Alex Smith to be the number one overall pick in the NFL Draft at Utah before coming to Florida and helping wring the production out of Tim Tebow that Gator fans everywhere will forever adore him for. He didn’t get to use Cam Newton much at Florida, but coached him for two years as a backup and deserves at least a slice of the credit for turning Newton into what he is today. And perhaps most noteworthy of all, Mullen was the guy who developed Dak Prescott and turned him into the star we know him as today.
I know that most Gator fans wanted Chip Kelly, and that many others wanted Scott Frost. But from those of you who simply don’t want Mullen, I’m curious to know: what, exactly, does Mullen not bring to the table? He’s got more head coaching experience than Frost and Kelly combined, and he’s got it in the SEC. most impressively, he had that success in the SEC at a program that, save for parts of the Jackie Sherrill tenure, served as a whipping boy for the rest of the conference.
Mullen may not be the hero Florida fans want. But he’s unquestionably the hero that Scott Stricklin wants. And time should prove him to be the hero that Florida fans need.