Dan Mullen grew up in the state of New Hampshire admiring the Florida Gators football program. He watched Steven Spurrier on the sidelines and was inspired by the legendary coach.
Now, he has his own opportunity to build on that legacy and bring the Florida culture back to where it once was.
After a whirlwind of a coaching search over the last four weeks, athletic director Scott Stricklin and the Florida administration came to the decision to bring Mullen back to the place where he once led a high-powered offense to two national championships in just four seasons.
“I think when you’re at the University of Florida, you have the opportunity to hire just about anybody in the country,” Mullen said. “You’re at the premiere football program in America, and it shows an awful lot for the belief that he has in me and the style of football program that I run to give me this opportunity to come here and be a part of the unbelievable Gator Nation and the Gator family and be a part of this football program and lead this football program into the future.”
Mullen may not have been the first choice for the Florida fan base in this search, and only time will tell if he was the best choice, but one thing is for sure: he wants to be the head football coach at the University of Florida.
Towards the end of former head coach Jim McElwain’s career, that became very questionable. He was at the end of his rope and no longer happy to be in that position.
Much of the same could have come from other candidates who came up in the search, such as Chip Kelly. Obviously, he did not want the job, but even if he had, it would not have been the end-goal for him. It was just another job and the next stepping stone in his career.
Since Mullen arrived in Gainesville, he has brought a breath of fresh air back to the program. From chomping as he got off the plane, to the pure giddiness on his face that he could not hold in before he took the podium, to his words when he stood up there for the first time as Florida’s head coach.
It was obvious. Gainesville is exactly where he wants to be.
“I’m thrilled to be here,” Mullen said. “I’m thrilled to be your coach. I’m thrilled to represent this university. I’m thrilled to represent all the students, the faculty, every Saturday on the football field. I’m thrilled to represent the fan base. I’m thrilled to represent the State of Florida as the premiere university in this state and all of these people in this state and the Gator Nation everywhere, to be your football coach and to give you a team that you’re going to be proud of every single Saturday in the fall.”
Mullen spent the last nine years as the head coach at Mississippi State before accepting his newest job. He said he was not actively pursuing a new job, but he and his family were ready to take on the next challenge, and when Florida came knocking, the opportunity was too much to refuse.
It is not a job for the weak. There is an expectation to be great at Florida unlike most programs around the country. Not only is that expectation high within the program, but there is a fan base that is simply tired of being a poor-to-mediocre team year in and year out.
That is too much of a burden for many other coaches to handle. He knows the pressure and has already dealt with some of it first hand, but he comes in fully prepared to accept it.
“There’s a mindset and a standard of expectation here,” he said. “I think that’s one of the reasons I’m here. The program wasn’t at the expectation level of the fan base, of everybody involved in the Gator Nation, and so that’s why I’m here. That’s the challenge for me. I love challenges. I absolutely love it. And I have as high of expectations as anybody in this room for what this program is going to be like.”
Mullen’s life and coaching career have suddenly come full circle as he takes on his biggest challenge yet.
When the Gators take the football field in 2018, there will be a coach on the sidelines with orange and blue in his blood and his heart and soul poured into the program.
“I have two responsibilities: My family and this football program. Those are my responsibilities in life, and you put so much into it that I don’t know how you could be at a place you don’t love and you’re not excited about being. For me to be here at a dream job … To see that and have that opportunity to live that dream is just something special. You know what, makes it pretty easy for me to get up every morning and completely commit myself to the success of this program because I’m here living my dream and I get to do it and it makes it pretty easy to get up and be motivated to go do that.”