Why did Florida fire Dan Mullen? Explaining Gators coaching change following Missouri loss
The Dan Mullen era in Florida has come to an end.
According to multiple reports, Florida has parted ways with Mullen, who took over as the coach in Gainesville in 2018. The final straw in a disappointing 2021 campaign came on Saturday, when the Gators lost 24-23 at Missouri in overtime. That followed a dismal performance in Week 11 in which Florida beat 3-5 FCS opponent Samford 70-52. The Bulldogs scored 42 points at the half, which is the most points surrendered by a Florida defense in the history of the program.
Florida special teams coordinator/running backs coach Greg Knox will serve as the interim coach against Florida State on Saturday.
Sporting News breaks down Mullen’s departure from Florida, and what is next for the team and the coach:
Why did Florida fire Dan Mullen?
Florida started the 2021 season well enough, going 3-1 with only a 31-29 loss to then-No. 1 Alabama. Things quickly unraveled from there, with the Gators losing five of their next six SEC games; the lone victory was a 42-0 win over Vanderbilt, one of three SEC teams that has not yet achieved bowl eligibility (LSU and Florida are the other two).
Among the lowlights from that stretch is a 20-13 loss to Kentucky, the Gators’ first defeat in Lexington since 1986. Florida had enjoyed a 31-year win streak over the Wildcats before Mullen went 2-2 vs. Kentucky from 2018-21. The Gators also fell 49-42 to LSU, a team that likewise is getting rid of its coach in Ed Orgeron and needs a win vs. Texas A&M in Week 13 to gain bowl eligibility.
A 34-7 loss to rival Georgia in Week 9 was bad enough, but was only made worse after Mullen scoffed at a recruiting question the Monday after the game. It was made to look still worse in Week 10, when South Carolina, then 4-4 on the season, completely blindsided the Gators in a 40-17 beatdown. The close call vs. Samford was nearly as bad — Mullen told reporters that “calling a win disappointing is disrespectful to the game” — but the final straw was the loss to Missouri.
Following his team’s victory over Florida, second-year Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz trolled Mullen with a “Star Wars” reference after Mullen dressed as Darth Vader following last year’s victory over the Tigers.
The Gators have been national champions as recently as 2006 and 2008, but have struggled to again reach the heights of the Urban Meyer-Tim Tebow era. Mullen was expected to be a coach capable of bringing Florida back to that level. When he was the head coach at Mississippi State, he led the Bulldogs to the first-ever No. 1 ranking in the College Football Playoff.
Indeed, Mullen started his Florida tenure with 10-3 and 11-2 records in 2018 and ’19, respectively. Both those seasons were capped by New Year’s Day 6 bowl victories in the Peach and Orange bowls, respectively. The Gators were also close to challenging for the College Football Playoff in 2020, before the infamous shoe-tossing incident cost them a victory vs. LSU and took them out of playoff contention. The Gators followed up with a 52-46 loss to eventual national champion Alabama in the SEC championship game. Florida finished 2020 ranked 13th nationally after a loss in the Cotton Bowl.
Mullen was 34-15 in four years at Florida, but went 2-9 in his last 11 games. Per Brett McMurphy of the Action Network, only Vanderbilt (0-11), Arizona (1-10) and Kansas (1-10) had worse marks in that stretch.
Dan Mullen contract
Just this past offseason, Mullen signed a three-year extension that kept him in Florida until 2026. In the contract, he was set to earn $7.6 million per year.
According to a report from Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel, Mullen has a $12 million buyout. That number reportedly would not have gone down in 2022.
That perhaps explains why Florida was willing to move on from the fourth-year coach instead of giving him another year.
How long has Dan Mullen been at Florida?
Mullen took over head coaching duties at Florida in 2018, making the 2021 season his fourth year in Gainesville. He was previously offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Gators from 2005-08. With his reported firing, Mullen is the third straight Florida coach who has failed to stay on the job for more than four seasons.
His predecessor, Jim McElwain, lasted three years in Gainesville. Before him, Will Muschamp lasted just four seasons. The last such coach to last longer was Meyer, who coached the Gators for six seasons from 2005-10 before retiring from college football for a year.
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