Three of them stand outside of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. A constant reminder of what Florida has been haplessly searching for since Tim Tebow roamed the streets of Gainesville.
In his search for a new head football coach, Scott Stricklin wanted to find someone that would be able to first, find and recruit a quarterback and then develop him. Why not hire the guy that recruited and coached one of the quarterbacks that is immortalized in bronze outside the stadium?
On Sunday Florida announced the hire of Dan Mullen as the 27th head football coach of the Florida Gators. Mullen was Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator at Florida from 2005-2008. He helped recruit Tebow and the two still have a friendship to this day, but Mullen’s history with quarterbacks predates his time at Florida.
Mullen first met Meyer when the former was a 26-year old graduate assistant at Notre Dame — Meyer was the receiver’s coach. Meyer brought Mullen with him to Utah, where they inherited Alex Smith.
Smith flourished with Mullen as his offensive coordinator. The junior completed 67.5% (214-317) of his passes for 32 touchdowns. He added 631 yards on 135 carries and 10 more scores on the ground before becoming the first overall selection in the 2005 NFL Draft.
Mullen then followed Meyer to Florida. The duo struck gold with Tim Tebow but even before Tebow Mullen and Meyer showed acumen for adjusting. The offense they employed called for a mobile quarterback. Leak, while he could escape and run, was not what you would consider mobile in the terms of what Meyer and Mullen had in Smith at Utah. Florida started the 2005 season 4-0 before a 31-3 loss at Alabama. They bounced back with a win over Mississippi State but lost the following week on the road at LSU. Meyer and Mullen met and changed the offense to better suit Leak. Florida went on to win four of their last five and signed Tim Tebow that February.
In their second season in Gainesville Meyer and Mullen won a National Championship with Leak starting and Tebow serving as a battering ram and jump pass throwing change of pace. Tebow would go on to become the most prolific quarterback in school history, winning a Heisman and leading Florida to another National Championship in 2008.
Mullen left Florida for Mississippi State shorty after that National Championship in 2008. Mullen made the decision to move on from quarterback Wesley Carroll, who was named to the SEC All-Freshman team the year before in favor of Tyson Lee. Mullen went through several quarterbacks, getting solid performances from names like Chris Relf and Tyler Russell before signing Dak Prescott.
During Prescott’s junior season the Bulldogs started the season 9-0 with wins of No. 2 Auburn, No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 8 LSU. For the first time in program history Mississippi State ascended to the No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press poll.
Prescott finished his career at Mississippi State with 9,376 passing yards, 70 touchdowns and added 2,521 rushing yards and 41 scores on the ground. He holds 38 school records at Mississippi State and was the NFL Rookie of the Year for the Dallas Cowboys in 2016.
When Prescott signed he was a three-star prospect rated ranked behind 600 other recruits in the 2011 recruiting class. Mullen went even deeper in 2015 when he recruited and signed Nick Fitzgerald, who had one other scholarship offer — Middle Tennessee. Fitzgerald, from Georgia, was rated the 1,566th best player in the 2014 recruiting class according to 247 Sports. Fitzgerald played sparingly as a freshman, backing up Prescott before taking the starting role as a sophomore. Fitzgerald threw for 2,423 yards and rushed for 1,375 with 37 total touchdowns. This season he accounted for 2,766 total yards and 29 touchdowns before a broken ankle in the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss ended his season.
In an interview with SEC Country, he credited Mullen for his development.
“I really press that I was extremely raw. I had the talent. I didn’t have the mechanics, any of the technique,” Fitzgerald told SEC Country. “They worked with me every day. They pushed me they pushed me. They kind of formed me into what I am. I never had a quarterback coach growing up. Here I have two amazing quarterback coaches that develop me every day.”
Since 2010 Florida hasn’t had a passing offense crack the top 80 nationally. Stricklin sees that as well as what Mullen and Meyer did in Gainesville years ago and thinks he can get lightning to strike twice.
“I strongly believe Dan is the most prepared candidate to have immediate and long-term success at the University of Florida,” Stricklin said. “Coach Mullen is one of the best offensive minds in all of college football, and has an unbelievable track record in tutoring successful quarterbacks.”
Stricklin is looking to make Florida football fun again and he’s tabbed Mullen as the guy to be able to do that. It all starts with finding and developing a quarterback.