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Looking back and regrading Florida’s Dan Mullen hire

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Florida football experienced both highs and lows under former head coach Dan Mullen, who was chosen to replace Jim McElwain after putting up a 22-12 record in two-plus seasons before giving way to interim head coach Randy Shannon, who stumbled across the finish line in 2017 with a 1-3 record. Having served under Urban Meyer on the two national championship teams, hopes were high in the Swamp that the former assistant and ex-head of the Mississippi State Bulldogs’ program would restore glory to the Orange and Blue.

Things went pretty well for Mullen over his first three years, earning a bid in a New Year’s Six bowl game in each of those seasons. However, the tide began to turn on him in 2020 beginning with the embarrassing loss to LSU at home — the infamous shoe-toss game — and his team’s multiple failures during the 2021 campaign led to his early dismissal and the worst finish in SEC play since 1986.

CBS Sports’ Tom Fornelli recently published an article looking back at all of the hires from the 2017-18 span, comparing the initial grade received with his updated assessment. The list included the Mullen hire and here is what Fornelli had to offer.

Record: 34-15 | Accomplishments: SEC East titles (1), New Year’s Six bowl games (3), bowl games (4)

How’s it going? It depends on who you ask. The Mullen hire made plenty of sense. He was the school’s offensive coordinator when it won national titles under Urban Meyer. He was ultra-successful at Mississippi State, a program that’s proven to be one of the toughest places to win in the SEC. The problem is that what Mullen was able to do at Mississippi State to win games wasn’t enough to win as many games as Florida desired. After going 21-5 in his first two seasons, the Gators slipped to 13-10 the next two, and Mullen didn’t show much desire to recruit at the level of rival Georgia. That was the final straw, and he was fired before the end of the 2021 season. While it’s seen as a disappointing tenure, Mullen’s winning percentage of .694 at Florida is still the fifth-highest in program history and was a significant improvement over Jim McElwain and Will Muschamp. Grade: B- | Original grade: A

All in all, Fornelli’s assessment is extremely fair. Mullen never really seemed to maximize the talent on his team on the field, and off the field, there were constant rumblings from the players ranging from the head coach’s distant attitude to the food that they were served. Additionally, the importance of recruiting at a high level cannot be understated in the SEC, which became the bane of the Mullen regime.

Nonetheless, the former coach does deserve some credit for getting the Gators back into the game there for a few years — and make no mistake, they were pretty fun years. But overall, ol’ Dan does not deserve much more than a passing grade.

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