Florida fires Dan Mullen in Year 4 as Gators begin fourth coaching search since 2011

By Adam Silverstein
November 21, 2021
Florida fires Dan Mullen in Year 4 as Gators begin fourth coaching search since 2011

Image Credit: ESPN Images

The Florida Gators fired head football coach Dan Mullen less than 24 hours after a dismal 24-23 overtime defeat at Missouri, the program announced Sunday. The loss was Florida’s fourth straight loss to an FBS opponent, which made Mullen 2-9 against Power Five programs dating back to late in the 2020 season.

Near the end of his fourth season with the Gators, a tenure filled with promise completely collapsed for Mullen seemingly out of nowhere. Florida fell to 5-9 over his last 14 games on Saturday, finishing the 2021 season with a 2-6 mark in SEC play, its worst conference winning percentage in a season since 1979.

Special teams coordinator Greg Knox, one of Mullen’s embattled assistants, will serve as interim coach for the regular-season finale against Florida State.

“I want to thank UF President Dr. Fuchs, Scott Stricklin, the Board of Trustees, and Gator Nation for the privilege of being Head Football Coach at the University of Florida,” Mullen said in a statement released Sunday evening. “I will always cherish the two National Championships we won during my time at UF, along with the past three New Year’s Six Bowls to name a few. The program has a bright future ahead with the young talent on the team and the new football facility that will be finished next spring. My family and I thank you for the honor of being your Head Football Coach. Go Gators!”

Mullen started 21-5 (11-5 SEC) over his first two seasons, leading the Gators to victories in consecutive New Year’s Six bowl games. The 2020 season saw Florida put forward a record-breaking offense that appeared to put it in contention for its first College Football Playoff berth. However, UF lost unceremoniously to an undermanned LSU team, which kick-started a three-game losing streak to end the season. Florida was edged 52-46 by Alabama in the SEC Championship Game and then blown out 55-20 by Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, the third straight New Year’s Six bowl under Mullen.

Though it was known the Gators were facing somewhat of a rebuilding year in 2021, the season started promisingly enough with a 3-1 record as Florida turned from one of the nation’s top passing teams to a dominant rushing attack with its lone loss a heartbreaker vs. then-No. 1 Alabama. A defeat at Kentucky on Oct. 2 took the wind out of the Gators’ sails, a second straight loss to LSU on Oct. 16 sunk the program further, and UF lost any semblance of momentum in a 34-7 rout against No. 1 Georgia on Oct. 30.

Everything imploded from there with a mind-numbing 40-17 loss at South Carolina, a 70-52 win against Samford in which Florida gave up a program-record 42 points in a half, and Saturday’s loss at Mizzou.

Beyond the Gators’ win/loss record, Mullen’s insistence on sticking with under-performing assistants drastically affected the defense, special teams and offensive line. Coupled with a lacking desire and/or ability to recruit to the level of Florida’s peers, the program was left in a talent and depth deficit in all three phases. UF is on pace for a record-worst recruiting class in the 2022 cycle.

A quarterback controversy between redshirt junior Emory Jones and redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson further eroded trust in Mullen’s decision making, as did the way he called games throughout the season. Perhaps concerned about turnovers that plagued the Gators, numerous games were spent with Mullen choosing to be passive rather than aggressive, playing not to lose rather than doing everything possible to win.

Off the field, Mullen’s demeanor and actions were equally perplexing. From dressing as Darth Vader in a post-game press conference (which was largely taken out of context) to declaring that fans should “pack The Swamp” in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic to playing a part in instigating a halftime brawl last year vs. Mizzou, Mullen entered the 2021 season with questions about his character. He did nothing to calm those concerns by the way he handled himself in press conferences this year, cutting off reporter questions, refusing to address team problems, praising Florida’s gained yardage in losses and ignoring legitimate concerns about the program’s recruiting.

Mullen’s hiring in 2018 was seen as a coup for Stricklin, and Gators fans were pleased to see the two-time national championship-winning offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer return to Gainesville, Florida. Given his success at Mississippi State and in his first two years at Florida, it appeared as if the Gators had finally found the answer to their post-Meyer problems.

Instead, Florida is set for its fourth coaching search since Meyer’s departure with none of the three coaches that followed him lasting more than four seasons.

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