Scott Stricklin heard from a lot of people from the state of Mississippi over the last 48 hours. Many of the texts and emails were less than complimentary.
But there was one message that stood out.
“He said, ‘I knew it was only a matter of time until some AD realized what Dan (Mullen) could do with elite talent,” Stricklin said.
He, of course, turned out to be that athletic director. But it was not as easy as simply going back to his alma mater to snatch a coach away.
In fact, that’s what made it more difficult.
“I was hoping to find someone better than Dan,” Stricklin said.
Before you read that the wrong way, here is what he meant — he didn’t want to do it to Mississippi State.
But with Chip Kelly opting for the more comfortable job and Scott Frost likely headed for his own alma mater, there was an obvious choice that checked all of the boxes for the biggest hire of Stricklin’s career.
It made too much sense. But he had to make sure.
In the press box in Columbia, S.C., a few weeks ago, Stricklin and I talked about Mullen. His admiration for the man as a football coach, organizer and motivator came gushing out of his mouth. He felt he almost needed to step back because he knew Mullen too well.
“I talked to a lot of people,” Stricklin said. “We had a lot of names, but we focused on very few. Once I came to Florida and got away from Dan, I admired even more what he was doing.”
So finally on Friday, he made the call. By Sunday, he had his man.
For some Gator fans, it was a cringe-worthy choice. It’s hard to understand why, except that Mullen was a bit aloof when he was at Florida and that was a time when winning wasn’t enough.
You remember. The good old days.
But I have sensed that as it has sunk in and the reality has enveloped the Gator Nation, they’re getting it more with every passing hour.
Florida’s new head coach knows the school, the fans, the traditions. He knows offense. He has nine years as a head coach in the toughest league and the toughest division in America.
He has a bunch of rings. He considers Tim Tebow a member of his family. He came off the plane chomping like a Rowdy Reptile.
Stop me when you quit checking off the boxes in your head.
More than anything, Dan Mullen wants to be here. Really bad.
That’s kind of a big deal.
It was a winning news conference Monday at UF with former players scattered throughout the crowd. He’s 0-0 as a Florida head coach, but let’s count Monday’s early victories:
- He didn’t mention his dog or claim it could run his offense. (The Mullen dog, for the record, is named Heisman and started his career in Gainesville. So it’s a homecoming for Heisman, too.)
- He gets that Florida’s strength and conditioning needs some strengthening and conditioning.
“I told (the players) to rest up in the month of December, because it’s probably going to be something like they’ve never experienced in their life with our offseason conditioning program,” Mullen said.
- He’s willing to open up some practices to the fans, especially in the spring. (He will also let freshmen talk once they have played in a game).
- He does a pretty good Steve Spurrier impression.
Now, if he can only do a really good Steve Spurrier impression calling ball plays.
- Everything he said about developing a quarterback and adapting to his strengths made sense. And yet, “You just can’t wave a wand and fix anybody,” might have been the smartest thing he said.
In the end, Florida did not go for the low-hanging fruit from the Nick Saban tree and instead went for the Urban Meyer branches. And what they have is a coach who has been weathered at the ripe young age of 45 by the battles of SEC football.
“I left here nine years ago, we did all the media, the press, you know, the introductions, all of these things. I walked in my office, sat down in the chair and I went, ‘What do I do now?’ “ Mullen said. ”There’s nothing that can prepare you for that responsibility of sitting in that chair and being the head coach.”
This time, the chair felt like a much better fit.
You don’t like his losing SEC record at Mississippi State? Don’t blame you. You love the fact that Florida’s two highest scoring offenses in school history came when he was calling plays? It’s a great point.
But what you think and what I think and what your neighbor thinks really are irrelevant. What the rest of the SEC East thinks doesn’t matter. (In Knoxville, here’s what they think — “When did Florida hire a new coach?”)
The only thing that matters is that Florida has a new coach. Whether or not it was a home run, well, we’re still watching from the dugout.
And it will be a long time before it comes down.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.