At Mississippi State, Dan Mullen developed a reputation for being able to do more with less. In other words, he knew how to develop talent, and he knew how to hire coaches who could do the same.
That’s why his most recent hire at Florida — defensive line coach David Turner — makes perfect sense, even though to the outside world Turner might seem like a little bit of unknown.
Turner has a track record for developing talent. Mullen knows all about it because he witnessed Turner doing it during the four years he was on Mullen’s MSU staff.
“I know his ability to go out and recruit top talent. I know his ability to develop that and coach it,” Mullen said. “You look at his track record of NFL superstars that maybe weren’t the highest recruited guys.”
Mullen said you have to look no further than Chris Jones and Fletcher Cox — two college prospects who Turner developed into high draft picks (Cox in the first round, Jones in the second) and who are now among the best at their respective positions in the NFL.
Mullen said Jones was not considered much of a prospect during his senior year of high school.
“I always love the Chris Jones recruiting story,” he said. “When he finished his high school football, I think he was a zero-star, but he did end up being a five-star before signing day.
“But, you take a guy that really wasn’t a big-name guy and all of a sudden right before signing became it and develop him to really one of the top players in the NFL. He coached him and Fletcher Cox the same way, as well as a bunch of other guys that have played for us.”
Turner, who has 33 years of coaching experience, is now in charge of developing the talent along the Florida defensive line. He replaces Sal Sunseri, who moved on to join Nick Saban’s coaching staff at Alabama.
Turner comes to UF after one season at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Before that, he was the defensive line coach at Texas A&M for two seasons. UF will be the fifth SEC school he’s coached at, so he’s back in more familiar territory.
Wherever he’s coached, it’s been about his ability to develop talent. He’s mentored multiple NFL defensive linemen, including Cox, Jones, Myles Garrett, Josh Boyd, Jovan Haye, Kyle Love, Pernell McPhee and Preston Smith.
Turner is still in the early stages of getting to know the talent he’ll be working with at UF. He’s watched some tape of last season’s games, but mainly to get a better understanding of the defensive scheme instead of evaluating the players he’s going to be coaching.
The evaluation process will begin in earnest in the spring.
“It’s my job to get them all ready to play, to help those guys develop,” he said. “One of the key things in Dan’s program is developing guys.
“Obviously, recruit good players makes you a better coach, but once you get ’em you’ve got to develop those guys. I been fortunate to develop some good defensive linemen that make me a better coach, but obviously it’s an ongoing evaluation process to watch those guys and then try to figure out what they can or can not do then put them in a position to be successful.”
Turner worked on Mullen’s MSU staff during two different stints. This is his third go-around with Mullen, and he knows what the head man expects.
“I’ve seen it up close and in person,” Turner said. “I know what he stands for. I know what type of program he runs. I’ve seen the success. I know he builds guys up. Not just great football players, but good young men, and this opportunity was at the right time and the right moment for both of us.”
Turner said all the defensive linemen will start with a clean slate in the spring. He is not prejudging anyone.
“I have no motives here, I just want to coach the guys,” he said. “Guys show up, work hard, and I’m going to help them get better.”
He’ll do that — and more, Mullen said.
“It goes beyond (his ability to develop talent),” Mullen said. “He and his wife and the family atmosphere, how they take the kids in and the connection that he has with those players is special.”