Should Dan Mullen be on the hot seat? Gators Wire staff debates the head coach situation

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The 2021 college football season has not gone quite the way the Florida Gators would have liked, despite the floor of expectations being set by many as a rebuilding year. Holding a losing record in Southeastern Conference play a little over halfway through the schedule, the clamor surrounding head coach Dan Mullen‘s job security has steadily risen to a roar among the Gator Nation.

The Gators Wire roundtable put its collective heads together and opined on the current state of affairs on Florida’s sidelines after a seven-game sampling of this fall’s squad. Here is what the six of us had to say.

Adam Dubbin - Managing Editor

It is easy to get tempted by the emotions that college football puts us through as fans, and the current situation with Mullen is ripe for rage. Maybe in a perfect vacuum it would be reasonable to consider ousting Florida’s fourth-year coach but we do not live in such a scenario.

Consider the question of who the Gators would replace Mullen with at the end of this season — do any big names come to mind immediately? Further, UF would be in a tug of war with USC, LSU and other schools for the best candidates, making this simply a bad time to change horses midstream. Also, the likelihood that AD Scott Stricklin would replace him with another good ol’ boy drinking buddy rather than a truly ideal candidate is disconcertingly high.

Mullen has done a very good job turning around a program that was mired in its worst doldrums since the late 70s and deserves credit for that, even in a down season that was expected to be a rebuilding year by many. However, his recruiting still leaves a lot to be desired and he would benefit greatly with a new defensive coordinator. There could be a change coming soon given how badly the more recent recruiting classes have lagged behind his SEC peers and his reluctance to move away from Todd Grantham — but this is not the off-season to leap into the void.

VOTE: NO

Tyler Nettuno - Assistant Editor/Writer

At least, when the question asked is, “should he be?” Mullen raised the floor of this program considerably, and there’s something to be said for that. He hasn’t missed a New Year’s Six Bowl yet (though that streak will almost certainly end later this season), and he’s coming off an East Division title. But when you notice that this team’s ceiling is probably 8-4, you realize that the program isn’t in a significantly improved spot than it was when Mullen was hired four years ago.

And that’s ultimately on him. The recruiting is lagging behind the nation’s elite teams, and now, with losses to Kentucky and LSU under their belt, it’s hard for the Gators to even claim they’re particularly close to competing for titles. That’s a problem, given the fact that it’s what Mullen was brought in (and paid a considerable amount of money) to do.

However, if you asked if he is actually currently on the hot seat, the answer gets a bit more complicated. He has a lengthy relationship with athletic director Scott Stricklin dating back to both of their tenures at Mississippi State, and considering that he has inarguably raised the quality of the product, it’s hard to imagine this administration is ready to jump to conclusions.

In all likelihood (and barring another loss that’s not Georgia), he will have the opportunity to make a change at defensive coordinator and return to Florida in 2022 with Anthony Richardson as his quarterback. But not without facing considerable pressure to deliver.

VOTE: YES

Pat Dooley - Staff Writer

There are two kinds of hot seats — real and perceived. The real hot seats come when the big boosters and AD feel the need for a change, not the fan base. For Florida to make a change, it would mean setting the program back again. Mullen is in a bad stretch and needs to find his way out of it. Certainly, the post-Georgia part of the schedule will help. But clearly, changes need to be made in other areas. Like defensive coordinator.

VOTE: NO

David Rosenberg - Staff Writer

One big loss can change everything for a coach in the SEC, and Florida has had two since putting up a fight against Alabama in Week 3. Mullen has brought a lot of respect back to the program but allowing the season to derail the way it has can’t be ignored.

This isn’t an Ed Orgeron situation where Mullen is going to be out next week, but it’s completely reasonable for Florida’s head coach to take responsibility for the team’s regression. Florida is the kind of school that demands continual improvement, and the step back under Mullen in year four is understandably disappointing.

The good news for Mullen is that the seat isn’t scalding right now, and a lot of the blame can rightfully go elsewhere. The defense has been disastrous, and it’s pretty well accepted that Mullen can make something happen with whoever he has on offense. So, the question becomes why is Todd Grantham still around? Finding a new head coach risks undoing all of the progress made under Mullen, but replacing Grantham has very little downside and would cool things down a bit in Gainesville.

A new defensive coordinator for next season should give Mullen another year to work things out, but the margin for error will be thin. If Florida misses a New Year’s Six bowl two years in a row, a change at the helm might be in order. Mullen was hired to get Florida into the College Football Playoff and he’s rightfully being questioned as the program begins to veer off course from that goal.

VOTE: YES

Jay Markle - Staff Writer Emeritus

If we only took into account what he has put on the field, the conversation would be different. Life almost never offers the simplicity of a decision with no gray area, though, and Mullen’s job security is no different. There’s a few factors to consider here that involve more than just the Gators’ gameday play.

First of all, we’ve barely gotten to see what Mullen would like this roster to look like under his own guiding hand. He was dealt a bad hand coming into the program. It’s an excuse that shouldn’t linger beyond than this season now that he’s been around for four years. Fair or not, as long as the shadow of McElwain’s negligence exists on the way the Gators’ roster, Mullen supporters can leverage that to his advantage. He took a lousy football program and turned it into one that was being discussed as a legitimate conference title contender.

Secondly, there needs to be consideration of the fact that we knew going into this year that it would be a bridge between the past and the future. An exciting start to the season cannot be allowed to erase the context that already exists. Should he be unable to bring about better results in the future that’s been promised, the scrutiny will be less forgiving, but for now, positive outcomes are just icing.

Lastly, it’s hard to see how Todd Grantham keeps his job after this season. Removing him from the program will serve a two-fold purpose: improving the Gators’ defensive scheming and providing a scapegoat for Mullen’s job security. After all, it was never the offense that was the problem. Even with a frustrating string of games from Emory Jones, the Gators could have won any of their games with even an average defensive performance. Mullen’s tolerance of Grantham’s inability to perform his job, well, who’s keeping track of that?

VOTE: NO

Zachary Huber - Staff Writer Emeritus

Head coach Dan Mullen should feel minimal/lukewarm heat right now because of several boneheaded decisions he made over the last year. But it’s only minimal because he has considerably raised the floor for the Florida football program where it makes a New Year’s Six bowl every year except 2021 (Hello, Outback Bowl and Bloomin’ Onions).

He currently sits 2-6 in his last eight games versus Power Five opponents, dating back to last season. He’s lost to Alabama twice, two times to shorthanded LSU squads, Oklahoma and Kentucky and only beat Tennessee and Vanderbilt. The Gators have averaged 32.3 points per game in those games, which should’ve been enough points to win most of them. The fourth-year Florida coach has also only recorded four wins and 10 losses against the SEC’s best coaches like Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher, Kirby Smart, Ed Orgeron and Mark Stoops.

His seat should and would be refrigerator temperature if he hadn’t botched two key forks in the road. One was the decision to keep defensive coordinator Todd Grantham after the 2020 season where the Gators had the worst scoring defense since 1917. The 2020 Florida defense reared its ugly head last Saturday as well as the first quarter against Alabama and the first half versus Vanderbilt. In the LSU game, the 127th best rushing offense used one play, a running back counter, to gash Florida for 321 yards. Junior running back Tyrion Davis-Price proceeded to shatter former Georgia tailback Herschel Walker’s record from 1980 for most rushing yards Florida has ever allowed. The other mistake was mishandling the quarterback situation this season and not awarding enough snaps to redshirt freshman quarterback Anthony Richardson.

Mullen also poorly managed the situation so badly where Richardson said time will tell and that he’s a Gator for now after the loss versus LSU. He then later clarified what he meant with a tweet and reiterated he’s a Florida Gator. We wouldn’t be having this conversation about Mullen if he didn’t make these decisions the way he had, but either way, he has to lay in the bed he made.

VOTE: YES

[Editor’s note: Zachary Huber is currently the Assistant Sports Editor at the Independent Florida Alligator]

Final take

Our roundtable is perfectly split down the middle in the vote, with three voting that Mullen should be and three voting that he should not be on the hot seat. However, the difference in overall opinions is actually quite narrow, with the consensus being that Florida’s head coach will inevitably face the flames of accountability if some immediate changes are not made. Ultimately, regardless of how this season ends, 2022 will be the deciding campaign for the often criticized skipper.

FINAL HOTSEAT VERDICT: Lukewarm

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