Gators counting on Mullen to continue to develop successful quarterbacks

Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott talks with then Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen. Mullen had a key role in Prescott's development. [Robert Sutton/GateHouse Media Services]

Athletic directors are all about checking boxes when it comes to coaching searches.

Is this coach a proven winner?


Will his personality be a good fit?


Is he a good recruiter?


And so on and so forth.

When Florida athletic Scott Stricklin began his coaching search a little over a month ago, it’s pretty obvious what was at or near the top of his checklist: Can he develop quarterbacks?

Because in the eight seasons since Tim Tebow’s been gone, the offense has been in steady decline, thanks in great part to the inability to develop quarterbacks who consistently produce.

So, it became a priority for Stricklin. And when the focus of his search turned to Mullen the day after Thanksgiving, he could automatically put a big, bold check mark by the question of whether he can develop quarterbacks.

He has. He can. He will.

“We came back to that a lot,” Stricklin said. “People point to the issues we’ve had here at Florida recently on that. So, Mississippi State football history, which I’m well versed in having grown up in the state, there were not very many quarterbacks of note in the history of the school until Dan showed up.

“It was obvious how important that position was at having any chance of any success at this level. You’ve got to have a quarterback, and Dan obviously had a run of them there.

“That kind of made an imprint on me that that has got to be something every coach has got to be able to answer, how they’re going to manage that position and make sure they’re as good as possible in that position. Dan’s track record speaks for itself. It’s pretty remarkable what he’s done.”

Call him what you want — guru, mastermind, whisperer, genius — the bottom line is Mullen has a history of developing excellent (and winning) quarterbacks.

It started with Josh Harris at Bowling Green. Then it was Alex Smith at Utah. Then Chris Leak and Tim Tebow at Florida. Then Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald at Mississippi State.

Now, it’s on to Florida to see who’s next. Because, given Mullen’s track record, there will be a next. That’s almost a sure thing. It’s just a matter of when.

Mullen said this all started early in his coaching career, when he would study different quarterbacks and keep the information he observed in a folder. He also read everything he could find on the art of playing the position.

“I read a lot of just different quarterback technique books and all of those things,” he said. “There’s no substitute for experience. I was very fortunate, I got to start at Bowling Green State University where — nothing against the Mid-American Conference — but you’re not under that scrutiny that you’re under here.

“So you can make some mistakes in coaching there and I’m sure I’ve made plenty. And probably the biggest thing I can attribute my development of quarterbacks to and who I’ve learned most from, is my quarterbacks.”

He said his first lesson came from Harris, Mullen’s quarterback at Bowling Green.

Mullen was getting too emotional on the sideline during a game and Harris came up to him and told him to calm down and coach.

“I’m going off,” Mullen said. “And he’s like, ‘Are you going to stop yelling?’ He’s like, ‘I want to win more than you do, so if you don’t have anything productive to say, you might as well shut up right now.’

“I learned that day. I was getting emotional about it instead of coaching. I learned that day, and I constantly even learn to this day.”

Mullen said the two quarterbacks he developed that are in the NFL have helped him to continue to develop as a quarterback coach. He’s still learning from them.

“I’ll call Alex Smith,” he said. “I’ll call Dak Prescott and say, ‘OK, what’s (Kansas City) Coach (Andy) Reid teaching, what’s (Dallas offensive coordinator) Coach (Scott) Linehan of the Cowboys, what are you getting into; what’s their staff teaching you? Is there anything new that you’re learning or doing, anything that you’re doing on your own or that you’ve learned to help yourself out that I can use and put in my toolbox and help coach and develop these quarterbacks?’ ”

It’s an ongoing process that has evolved over time. Mullen said there is no secret formula. It’s about finding the right guy and then going to work, quarterback and coach.

“You can’t just wave a wand and fix anybody,” Mullen said. “I’ve coached guys that were committed to excellence, committed every day to being the absolute best they can be, and those guys are fun to coach.

“If you hire somebody that is committed to being the best that you can be and with an unbelievable work ethic, you’re going to constantly improve. I’ve been fortunate to coach those guys that have had that desire to improve.”

Mullen doesn’t know who his first Florida quarterback is going to be, because he hasn’t had time to do any player evaluations yet.

But he knows what he’ll be looking for in his quarterback — someone who is a leader, intelligent, mentally and physically tough and driven to put in the work that it takes to excel at the position and win.

“If you look at all the different quarterbacks that I’ve had throughout the years, there’s not a prototype,” he said. “They are all different shapes and sizes with different skill-sets and we’ve still been successful with them.

“No. 1, it starts with mental and physical toughness, because that’s the guy that is the leader of your program. Playing quarterback here, at the University of Florida, those are pretty big shoes to fill, right.

“They have to understand, have that mental and physical toughness, to be able to handle what it takes to be here and to lead this team and set that standard and set that bar extremely high for our players. They have to have tremendous leadership.”

Mullen said decision making is the next thing he looks for in his quarterback. Can he make good decisions and make them quickly?

“One of the hardest things to evaluate at the quarterback position is the processing of information,” he said. “How fast can they process information? How fast can it go from their eyes to their brain or their arms or their legs or whatever decision they have to make?

“It’s one thing talking about football or drawing up plays on a board. But when you have about 1.2 seconds before a 300-pound guy is about to hit you right in the face, it’s really important how you can process everything that’s going on out there on that field. That’s critical.”

Intelligence is another critical trait, which ties in with decision making, Mullen said.

“The smarter the quarterbacks are, the more we can do,” he said. “I’d rather them not look over to the sidelines after they say hut. I’d rather them already know what they are checking to and they already know what to do, instead of hut-hut and just look for me to go do it for them. I want them to know what to do out there on the field.”

Last, but not least, comes the actual physical part of playing the position. As he has said, there’s no prototypical Mullen quarterback. Some have been better runners than passers. Some better passers than runners. Others have been equally good at both.

In each case, Mullen has built the offense around the skill set of his quarterback, instead of asking the quarterback to fit into a particular scheme.

“Throwing is more important than running, or are you going to have everybody just standing on the line of scrimmage?” he said. “You have to be able to throw. Accuracy, over anything else, because you want to be accurate with your throws.

“And then if you can run, that’s a bonus, because that means you can improvise and make some special things happen when the play breaks down.”

Like Stricklin with his coaching search, Mullen will have a checklist when he begins evaluating the quarterbacks. He’ll start checking those boxes soon as he searches for his quarterback.

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or Also check out Andreu’s blog at


  1. Franks will make a great WR at 6′-5″ fairly fast and athletic…he would be great at jump balls and most CB’s are 5’10” to 6′-1″ a great miss match…don’t think he would make good TD he can’t block and to light for a TE. WR or slot guy is where he will make a name for himself…he will ride the bench as a QB.

    • IF you think Franks is a QB…then you need to place yourself in the same category as an idiot, too…Franks reminds me of… Chis Collingsworth … who was all every thing coming out of high school , as a QB… although, I think Collingsworth still the record for the longest passing TD in gator history of 99 yards against Houston…all his other passes were either incomplete or interceptions and at one time he held the record for the most interceptions in a game before the coaches realized he was not a QB even though he had a great arm…and made him a WR because of his speed and height…he went on to become an All SEC WR and ALL American and All Pro at WR…Had he stayed at QB he would have never been any of the above…Let’s hope Mullen moves Franks to WR…He has to be a better WR than a QB…period!

      • You got me curious about Collinsworth, so I looked it up. I knew you were right about starting out as a QB, throwing the 99 yard TD pass (to Derrick Gaffney), and being converted to WR. He actually threw 12 passes in his career, completing 5 for 174 yards, 2 TD’s and 2 INT’s.

  2. Frank’s a TE, naw. Cannon Arm/Head Case. Should transfer out for a year, develop, then move back up. Fields, Corral, Allen are the keys. Then Trask and bringing in another Dual Threat. Maybe the Mississippi (?) player he was recruiting at MSU or who. Gators need 3 QB’S in this class and start from scratch. Any way to send this article to Fields, Corral, Allen, Trask and Frank’s ??

  3. I agree with BBQ. Franks as a WR is delusional. He may be tall, but his gait is not graceful, there is no burst, he’d get jammed and stopped as the LoS, and route running would be comical. TE is even farther from happening.

    • Croc…I usually agree with most of your comments…however, for those calling Franks a WR as delusional is absolutely insane…I’m sorry , but as a former DB at UF in the early sixties and played under Ray Graves and played with Florida greats likes S. Spurrier, L. Dupree, T. Shannon, L. Matthews, L Gagner, C. Casey, and B Bennett, Bill Carr and other greats… I do know a little bit about UF football, DB’s and WR’s and most any good DB will tell you the hardest RW’s to cover are tall and have long arms and can push most 5’10”- 5’11’ DB away at the line of scrimmage, they are really hard to jam …I know from experience…Charlie Casey had long arms and could push you away with ease …even though he ran somewhat awkwardly, he was still hard to cover … As a Bull Gator and X player I’ve been fortunate to be able to watch several practices whenever I’m in town…and I can tell you first hand that Franks has the speed and arm strength to push receivers away and not get jammed…and as a former sprinter who once tried out at the Olympic trials in 1964… I can assure you he has a burst of speed when running forward…he is much more athletic than Casey or even Chris Collingsworth and faster than both. Thank goodness that Doug Dickey realized Collingsworth wasn’t a QB and put him at RW…I’m not sure where you guys came to the conclusion that Franks wouldn’t be a good WR…lets see what Mullen thinks…my guess is WR and he knows QB’s…we’ll see who’s delusional.

  4. You all are nuts. Franks will finally have a coaching staff that helps him develop. The kid was fed to the wolves this year by an idiotic OC and injuries that forced him into situations that even seasoned QB’s would have struggled with. The kid has the physical tools, and has shown toughness. Now he needs good coaching and a system that exploits his abilities. You all are so quick to dump him (just like many were with other QB’s that are now in the NFL that started at UF). Calm down and look at the bigger picture.

  5. Matt Corral is clearly the #1 incoming QB.
    #2 Justin Fields, Ga – Ga Commit
    #3 Justin Rodgers, La – TCU Commit
    #4 Joey Gatewood, Fl – Auburn Commit
    #5 Jayen Mayden, TX – Miss St Commit
    Pretty sweet group of possible QB’s for the Gators and Dan Mullen to groom. Exciting days ahead.

  6. It will be fun just watching Mullen develop his next QB. From his list of qualifications, I think it may well be Toney, or Trask, followed by Allen and/or Corral. A lot will depend on who works the hardest during the off-season – not just strength and conditioning, but film study and fundamentals/technique. Franks, while I admire his grit, just doesn’t have “it”. It is clear from his performances and regression (not to mention his painful pressers) that he is a big arm with very little else to go with it. He will do better at a level or two lower in the football conferences. I would be surprised if he doesn’t transfer soon after Spring ball. Ain’t it great to be excited about the possibilities for the QB and our offense?

  7. I agree that a good QB is a must, But I think where we need help the most is at the offensive line. We need the big guys to give the glamor boys the time to make plays. Without a good offensive line that gives them time. No QB can make it if he has to be running for his life on every down. Hopefully we can recruit a few good offensive line men. Hardly anyone gives the big men credit, but without them, there is very little chance to succeed. GO GATORS!!!!!!

  8. Why doesn’t Bryce Carpenter from Venice HS, get any consideration? To me he is the perfect Dan Mullen QB! The kid has been a starter at the HS level as a 9th grader on, and this year has thrown for almost 3000 yards and 42 TD’s and rushed for over 1000. Has his team playing for the state championship this coming week!

  9. I am 52 years old. At the age of 4, my dad introduced me to Gator Football by taking me to the 1969 blow-out win v.s. #3 Houston. Although I only remember a few flashes of memories of that game from that young age, I was quickly enamoured and grew up to be one of the most avid, well-versed Gator afsn I could be. By the age of 9 or 10, I pretty much understood a lot of aspects os the game of football and what I was watching, and I understood what head coaches, offensive coordinators, and defensive coordinators, etc. were.

    So, I’d say for about 42 – 43 years, I probably have never seen an offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach as abysmal, as inept, as amateurish, and as unqualified as Doug Nussmeier was. Honestly, how that man even acquired a job at the Div. I collegiate level is totally beyond any sort of capable rationale.

    He not only had ZERO clue what he was doing an as OC, but he ruined almost every QB he “coached” at UF, except perhaps for the ones like LDR and Grier who already had a LOT of polishing and coaching and development before they got here.

    You watch our QB’s show some obvious improvement in the spring game, but by the Fall and a few games into the 2018 season? You’re going to be WOW’ed by the difference between what a real professional like Mullen can do with QB’s over what Nussmeier did.

    It’ll be like night and day.