UF has delivered for Mullen, now Mullen must deliver for UF

With a hefty contract extension and all the bells, whistles and tools a coach could need in a program, UF should expect Dan Mullen to build a perennial title contender.

David Whitley
The Gainesville Sun

You get what you pay for.

It's unclear who first said it, but Florida is betting $7.6 million a year that it's true. That's how much the school will be paying Dan Mullen to coach football for the next six years.

The reworked deal was announced Tuesday, ending months of speculation over Mullen's career path. It made for good off-season conversation, but there was never a doubt Mullen would get a contract extension.

The only question was when. Now it's "Will he be worth it?"

Check back in 2027 and I'll tell you. For now, the deal is fair and reasonable. And, of course, crazy.

It's astounding how salaries have skyrocketed since the days Steve Spurrier scraped by on $1.5 million a year or such. Mullen's getting a $1.5 million-a-year raise.

But coaches wouldn't be getting it if the money wasn't there, so good for them. I'm not turning down my next $1.5 million raise, even if I don't deserve it.

Mullen doesn't deserve his based on last year's 8-4 record and the sideshows that came with it. He does deserve it based on his overall 29-9 record, three straight New Year's Six bowl trips and market conditions.

Condition No. 1 is coaches can't operate with three or fewer years on their contracts. Anything less fuels negative recruiting and endless noise over a coach's job status.

Condition No. 2 is the salary scale.

Mullen was the 10th-highest-paid coach in 2020. Now he's No. 4, behind Nick Saban ($9.5 million), Ed Orgeron ($8.7 million) and Dabo Swinney ($8.3 million). 

That's an exclusive club, and its members could question the new guy's credentials.

Orgeron's in it thanks to winning the 2020 national championship. Swinney's won two and made Clemson a perennial monster.

Saban is Saban. 

Mullen also now makes more than Jimbo Fisher, Ryan Day, Kirby Smart and Lincoln Riley, all of whom have more impressive resumes. He's slightly overpaid for now, but the salary stampede isn't going to slow down.

There will be at least a couple of $10 million-a-year coaches before Mullen needs another extension in three of four years.

A sub-condition here is the $12 million buyout if Mullen gets fired. That's not bad considering the modern coaching economics. Ask Auburn ($21.5 million to Gus Malzahn) or FSU ($18 million to Willie Taggart).

Will Mullen be in position to need an extension in 2024? That depends on Condition No. 3 — Mullen is ready to become an elite coach.

Nobody questions his offensive wizardry. It is fair to question Florida's defense, its recruiting and whether Mullen's a top-flight CEO.

His recruiting classes have been top-10ish. The problem is Alabama, Georgia and LSU are usually top-5ish.

Mullen is a developer of talent. Compared to Smart and others, he's shown he can do more with less. He needs to start doing more with more.

As for CEO comportment, Mullen came off a bit too Lane Kiffiny with his "Pack the Swamp" campaign, Missouri meltdown and openly admitting the Cotton Bowl was a glorified spring scrimmage.

Then there was the NCAA investigation of recruiting violations. The offenses were relatively minor, but they broke a 30-year run of NCAA good behavior UF was extremely proud of.

Mullen's new deal was all but hammered out last spring, but the NCAA cloud put it on hold. UF administrators believe Mullen has learned the proper lessons from last year's bumpy ride.

They buy into Condition No. 3, that at age 49, the Gators have a coach who's ready to fully blossom. It's a rational bet, and one that leaves Mullen with no excuses. Failure is not an option.

Mullen's fine with that. The ability to handle great expectations is why coaches make the bucks.

Mullen knows the state will always brim with high-school talent. He knows UF has the swag and facilities to compete with anyone, especially with its $85 million football facility/castle set to open in a few months.

He knows what's expected — SEC titles, playoff appearances, a perennial powerhouse.

We'll see if that's what the Gators get. It's certainly what they're paying for.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley