That he learned ballet, jazz and tap dancing as a child and taught in the public school system in New York City were a few things University of Florida students and others learned about their new football coach.
Dan Mullen, hired away from Mississippi State University in December to be head coach of the Gator football team, was the featured guest at an event Tuesday night at University Auditorium sponsored by the UF ACCENT Speakers Bureau.
An audience of about 200, mostly UF students, attended the hour-long event moderated by Ted Spiker, UF journalism department chair.
Mullen talked about a wide range of topics, including how his parents made sure he was a well-rounded person by involving him in the performing arts, sports and other activities as a child. He also talked about teaching in public schools and running the Boston Marathon several years ago.
The first question Spiker asked Mullen was when the coach knew he wanted to be involved with football.
“I went to a career day in kindergarten as O.J. Simpson,” Mullen said. “He was like the coolest football player ever, back then. He was ‘The Juice!’ “
Mullen said he was passionate about football as a child and started at quarterback for Trinity High School in Manchester, New Hampshire, where he was an all-state quarterback.
One of his most memorable games as a player came when his team was losing 32-6 late in the third quarter in a big game. He was pulled out of the game, and when his backup had to leave the game because of an injury, Mullen returned to the game, called an audible and ran for a 60-yard touchdown that sparked a remarkable comeback against a tough opponent.
“We came back to win that game 35-32,” Mullen said.
That game showed his competitive nature, which is something he takes a lot of pride in, Mullen said.
Mullen said he started out as an assistant coach at Wagner College and Columbia University, both in New York, where he earned $16,000 during the four years he was there. It was there where he started using a little bit of the one bottle of Gatorade he could afford to buy each week to mix with water first thing in the morning to drink to get his day started.
Though he is now a multi-million dollar a year coach, he still mixes his water in the morning, but now he does it with a little V8 Splash drink.
Mullen said his life revolves around football to the point that on the one Saturday he has off during the season he spends the day watching football.
The event was the latest in a partnership that began three years ago between the University Athletic Association and UF’s ACCENT Speakers Bureau.
“We started this partnership as an opportunity for the athletic association to reach students in a more personable way by bringing notable people who are part of the athletic association to speak with students,” said Shelby Buchanan, ACCENT chair.
Former Gator football coach Steve Spurrier was the guest speaker last year.
Mullen, the 27th head coach in Gator football history, went 69-46 in nine seasons from 2009-17 at Mississippi State in Starkville, Mississippi.
He served as the Gators’ offensive coordinator from 2005-08, when the team won two Southeastern Conference and BCS titles in 2006 and 2008.
Mullen, 45, was honored in 2014 as the national college football coach of the year by the Maxwell Football Club. He also won honors as the SEC coach of the year that season. His tenure with the Bulldogs saw the program ascend to a No. 1 ranking during regular season polls and he oversaw participation in a school-record eight consecutive bowl games.
During his first tenure at UF, Mullen helped produce a Heisman Trophy, Davey O’Brien and Maxwell Award-winning quarterback, along with a Rimington Trophy finalist and a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist.
Mullen’s success as a coach is validated by MSU having 22 players chosen in the NFL Draft since 2010. Dak Prescott became the highest drafted MSU quarterback in modern NFL Draft history, going in the 2016 fourth round to the Dallas Cowboys.
Prescott joined the following quarterbacks tutored by Mullen who were selected in the NFL draft: Josh Harris (Bowling Green), Omar Jacobs (Bowling Green), Alex Smith (Utah) and Tim Tebow (Florida).
When asked about Tebow, Mullen said his former player is a genuinely good person.
“The thing with Tim is that everything you see about him is real,” Mullen said.