As it turns out, Dan Mullen has been Gator a lot longer than anybody knew.
Growing up in New Hampshire, he became a big Steve Spurrier and Florida football fan watching the Gators play on television.
“Always grew up a huge (Spurrier) fan and was always a huge Florida Gator fan,” Mullen said. “I grew up in New Hampshire so it’s snowing and freezing cold outside, and there’s Coach Spurrier with his visor on in the sunshine, and it’s beautiful and what am I doing here in New Hampshire.”
Well, Mullen is no longer in New Hampshire, he’s in Gainesville. And he’s no longer just a Gator, he’s the head Gator — Florida’s new head football coach.
On Monday, he walked into his new office for the first time and sat down at what he calls his dream job.
“I sat down with an enormous smile on my face, and couldn’t be happier to be here,” Mullen said. “But I also sat down understanding the enormous responsibility of the people that have sat in that chair before me and the standard that they have set.
“To have the opportunity to live that dream is just something special. Makes it pretty easy for me to get up every morning and completely commit myself to the success of this program because I’m here living my dream.”
Mullen’s dream job comes with a dreamy contract — six years for $36 million, making him the second-highest paid coach in the SEC behind Alabama’s Nick Saban, who is the highest paid coach in college football at just over $11 million a year. UF has to pay Mullen $12 million if he is fired without cause. If Mullen leaves for another job his buyout is $2 million.
Mullen, 45, knows what he’s getting into, having been the offensive coordinator at UF for four years under Urban Meyer. He understands Florida. He understands the job and the demands that come with it.
At his introductory news conference Monday, Mullen energetically embraced all things Gator, the good and the difficult:
Spurrier and the history and tradition. The high expectations. The challenge of restoring the offense and returning UF to a top-10 program. Former players. The demanding fan base.
“I can promise you that I will give relentless effort in everything I do to make sure that we return the football program to a national championship level,” Mullen said. “That’s what it’s all about for us here is to be judged and win championships at the University of Florida and I’m committed to doing that.”
One of the first people he mentioned Monday was Spurrier, who was in attendance with his wife Jerri. Mullen said Spurrier is a great resource and he’s going to tap into that resource often.
“It’s unbelievable to be here to think that I’m carrying on or I’m tasked with the responsibility of carrying on with the traditions that he has started,” Mullen said. “I got to go up in his office today and he’s got the computer open and he’s got game film up. I love ball and he loves ball. So I’m sure we’ll have some really interesting ball decisions in there talking football.”
When they do talk, it will probably be about offense, drawing up plays and scoring points.
Like Spurrier, Mullen is known for his productive offenses. That’s one of the main reasons he’s here, to make the Gators effective and entertaining on offense again.
Mullen gets it.
“We’re going to try to go score some points,” he said. “Trust me, I know how important offense is here. I’ve been here and know what that’s all about, and I know everybody likes to score some points.
“And I’ll be honest with you, Coach Spurrier might argue with me; I don’t know if there’s anyone in this room who likes scoring points more than me, you know what I mean. I love scoring points. Right. We can score a hundred. I’ll keep going. I love scoring points. That’s fun.”
Mullen met with his players Monday afternoon, but has not had a chance yet to evaluate the talent he is inheriting. He said the offense will be built around the skill set of the players.
“We are going to put our guys in the position to do what they do best and put them in a position to be successful,” he said. “That’s the responsibility of the coaches as we come up schematically and put plans together.
“We’ll base ourselves, obviously, out of a spread offense, which is something I believe in. But my definition of a spread offense might be different than others.
“I want to spread the field that makes sure you defend sideline-to-sideline the entire field, and I want to make sure you defend all 11 guys that are out on the field and I want to put as much pressure on the defense as possible.”
During the Gators’ current eight-year offensive slump, inconsistent quarterback play has been a major contributor. One of Mullen’s biggest priorities will be to identify and develop a quarterback who can effectively run his offense.
Mullen has a history of developing quarterbacks, including Alex Smith, Dak Prescott, Chris Leak and Tim Tebow.
“I have a different way of maybe looking at quarterbacks and trying to find them,” he said. “If you want to put it in one word, it’s winners. Because every quarterback that I’ve had, they are a winner.
“If you want to take Alex Smith out of the Kansas City Chiefs, he’s probably running a corporation somewhere or he’s a doctor or a lawyer. If you want to describe Tim Tebow in a word, a lot of people would pick winner.
“Chris Leak was a winner here for us. Dak Prescott’s is a winner. And it’s not just at football. That’s their personalities at life; that whatever they are going to do, they are going to be successful.”
As for the Gators’ personality overall, Mullen said this is a team that will play with relentless effort.
“Every Saturday when you walk into The Swamp, or you turn us on on the road, you will see a team that plays with relentless effort from the first snap to the last,” Mullen said. “A team that plays with a passion for the game of football in everything that they do. Whether the 11 guys are on the field or the guy standing behind them on the sidelines, there will be an energy and an excitement and a passion about this team and a demand of relentless effort.
“My expectation is to be the hardest-playing team in the country. I don’t know if we’ll be the biggest. I don’t know if we’ll be the fastest. Hopefully some years we’re both. But we will be the hardest-playing team every single Saturday when we take the field, and that’s something I’m going to demand of our players.”
Mullen will go right to work on recruiting and putting together a coaching staff. He said his coordinators could be named in the next few weeks, but that his entire staff probably won’t be finalized until the first of January.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.