- College football reporter.
- Joined ESPN.com in 2008.
- Graduate of Northwestern University.
LSU fired Ed Orgeron less than two years after winning a national championship, but even Coach O’s downfall might not be as rapid or as stunning as Dan Mullen’s at Florida.
Mullen’s team reached the 2020 SEC championship game against top-ranked Alabama, racking up 46 points, 462 yards and some genuine respect from the eventual national champions. On Sept. 18, the Gators again challenged the Tide, who escaped The Swamp with a 31-29 win.
Although Mullen entered the 2020 season still searching for his first SEC title at Florida, he owned an East Division championship, three New Year’s Six bowl appearances, two AP top-10 finishes and three top-15 finishes in Gainesville. He might not have been Florida’s first choice when hired after the 2017 season, but he certainly had fared better than Chip Kelly (UCLA) or Scott Frost (Nebraska).
Behind the scenes, though, there were concerns about Mullen and Florida’s trajectory. His interest in moving to the NFL wasn’t much of a secret in coaching circles. His disinterest in recruiting, meanwhile, seemed to be more glaring and impactful to the Gators’ roster.
Florida hasn’t been the same team since the SEC title game, and after five losses in seven games, including a 24-23 overtime defeat at Missouri on Saturday, Mullen is out as Gators coach. The team’s flaws in both scheme and personnel quickly became too much for Mullen to fix.
There are now three Tier 1 jobs open in a wild coaching carousel, as Florida joins LSU and USC. Florida’s objective for its search is clear: It needs an A-list recruiter who embraces every element of the process, especially in a talent-rich state. Florida must hire a coach who is both willing and able to compete on the trail with Georgia’s Kirby Smart, Alabama’s Nick Saban and the top coaches who dive into recruiting rather than back away.
Florida has location, history and a soon-to-be-completed $85 million football facility. Athletic director Scott Stricklin is well respected, although he’s feeling some heat for recent failures in the program. The school likely will have a short list for Mullen’s replacement and should prioritize recruiting ability as well as player development. Here are the candidates who could fit the bill:
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