University of Florida: Gators’ football coach fired

University of Florida Gators — Courtesy: Shutterstock — Gregory Reed

Dan Mullen was fired as the Florida Gators football coach on Sunday. Scott Stricklin, Florida athletic director said he woke up on Sunday morning only on a few hours of sleep after returning from the team’s 24-23 overtime loss at Missouri, positive that changes were needed to be made. This was the team’s fourth consecutive loss to a Power 5 opponent. Counting back to the final three games of the 2020 season, the Gators are 2-9 against Power 5 opponents.

Mullen was given the opportunity to coach the regular-season finale against FSU on Saturday, according to Stricklin, but turned down the offer. Assistant Greg Knox was named interim head coach.

Mullen was 34-15 in four seasons at UF. His replacement will be the Gators’ fourth head coach in eight seasons.

Stricklin acknowledged the fact that each of UF’s past three coaches had substantial success, with Jim McElwain, Will Muschamp, and Mullen, all either appearing in a BCS bowl game or reaching the SEC championship game.

“The challenge has been we haven’t been able to sustain it,” Stricklin said. “You’ve got to put really good structure and culture in place in order to sustain a high level over a long period of time, and that’s going forward what we’ve got to focus on.”

Stricklin emphasized that he still believes Mullen, 49, is a quality coach. Counting his nine seasons at Mississippi State, his overall record is 103-61.

“I think he’s as good on the offensive side of the ball as anyone in football, whether it’s pro or college, and I think Dan’s going to have other opportunities to go out and coach football and I think he’s going to be successful at it,” Stricklin said. “But, you know, this is a place where you should be able to have a high level of sustained success over a consistent period of time. And to do that, you have to have a lot of little things in place. People look at losses as a cause to get rid of a coach, but a lot of times, the losses are for things that don’t go right in the field, those are symptoms of other issues.”

“I’m not going to get into all that because I don’t think that’s fair to everyone involved. But there are a lot of little things that you had to pay attention to. And we have an opportunity here to go get someone who can really focus on those things.”

Stricklin did say he had some “thoughts” on how things unraveled so quickly. Only five months ago, he and Mullen agreed on a raise and contract extension. Regarding what those issues were to motivate such a dramatic change, Stricklin said, “I’m going to keep those to myself.”

Mullen thanked his fans and the university “for the honor of being your Head Football Coach”  in a statement on social media late Sunday night. 

Stricklin said there is no estimated time for finding Mullen’s replacement. He declined to say whether or not the Gators will be using a search firm. When asked what type of candidates they will go after, he declined to dive into detail, other than they are seeking someone “who has high expectations.”

“There’s going to be a lot of competition in the marketplace, and I really don’t want to share what our criteria or what we’re going to prioritize,” Stricklin said.

The University of Florida isn’t the only major Power 5 program looking to hire a head coach. LSU, USC, TCU, Washington, and Virginia Tech are among the teams with openings.

Even so, Stricklin said the decision to fire Mullen with only a week left in the regular season was not in any way affected by how the coaching market has heated up in recent weeks.

“The process that other schools are going through really doesn’t impact what we need to do at the University of Florida,” he said.

Louisiana coach Billy Napier, who has turned down more than one SEC head-coaching opportunity in recent years, is among the top candidates at Florida. Napier is also at the top of Virginia Tech’s list.

Stricklin flaunted Florida’s successful history, as well as its alignment at the administrative level. 

“We’re going to put the resources necessary into making the right decision to get the right person in and the right structure around that person for us to be successful,” Stricklin said. “We’re very blessed to be in a place we do have some resources.”

A part of those resources will go to Mullen, though. Stricklin said the school will fulfill their contract’s terms, meaning it will pay Mullen his full $12 million buyout. He is owed $6 million a month of being fired, with the remaining $6 million to be paid out yearly in $1 million payments.

The University of Florida has paid a total of $13.8 million in buyout/settlement money to the two coaches who preceded Mullen, Muschamp and McElwain.

With Mullen out of Florida, ten of the fourteen SEC head coaches entering the 2022 season will have been in their positions for only two seasons or less.

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