How Exactly is Mullen a Head Coach and Strong Not?

December 11, 2008

Dan Mullen has been offered and has taken the head coaching job at Mississippi State. I am not one of the message board malcontents who were calling for his head the first six weeks of the season. He has done an excellent job over his career at developing quarterbacks and, at Florida, coordinating the offense.

He would appear to be a good fit in Starkville, where decent defense is a regular occurrence but good offense is about as common as a Mario Kart race without a blue shell. After all, if you want a good offense, hiring the coordinator from the team with the highest scoring offense in your conference two years running is a good idea.

Mullen is 36 years old. His first experience above being a grad assistant was being the quarterbacks coach under Urban Meyer at Bowling Green and later Utah. He stepped up to being an offensive coordinator at Florida because Meyer’s offensive coordinator at Utah, Mike Sanford, took the head coaching job at UNLV.

That is the resume of an up-and-comer. He is on the young side for a BCS conference head coach, though he is older than both Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin and Washington’s Steve Sarkisian. His potential ceiling is higher than Ole Miss’ Houston Nutt, who will get you a spot in the SEC title game every now and then and that’s about it, so it’s a minor coup for Mississippi State in that regard.

Charlie Strong is Florida’s defensive coordinator. Not only has he been defensive coordinator under Meyer, but he was assistant head coach under Steve Spurrier at Florida and defensive coordinator under Lou Holtz at South Carolina. That makes three different national title winners he has worked for.

Most notable is probably his experience under Meyer, since he was the engineer of the 2006 national title team’s defense. It was a fearsome thing to see, and it was about 5000% more responsible for winning that championship than the offense ever was. After a down year last year where everyone but Derek Harvey was either too young to be elite or a veteran leftover, the defense is back up in the top of all statistical categories.

It really makes me wonder what it is that keeps Strong from finding a head coaching job, especially since his name has been tossed around as a head coaching candidate since at least when he worked under Ron Zook at Florida.

Guys like Mullen and Mike Locksley, the new hire at New Mexico, are praised for their work ethic and recruiting prowess when getting top jobs. Not only is Strong a tireless worker, but he is a fantastic recruiter as well. It would make sense for an SEC or ACC team to go after him because, with the exception of a three-year stint at Notre Dame, he’s worked in the southeast since 1988. He has connections and relationships throughout the region.

Maybe it is age at this point. He is 48, and that is pushing the limit of the “young and energetic” traits that schools so often look for.

Maybe he just doesn’t interview well. I know he’s talked to schools about jobs in the past, so it’s not like no one has gotten on the phone with him.

Maybe it was the Gators’ flat performance under him as interim head coach in the 2004 Peach Bowl, but I would hope anyone with half a brain would figure out the team had already won its big game (20-13 in Tallahassee over FSU) and no amount of motivating could make them care about that one.

Some of it is likely due to racism. It’s impossible to look at the numbers of non-white head coaches at the top of college football and deny it exists. Strike No. 2 against Strong in the old boys’ clubs is that he is in an interracial marriage. I would hope no one today would hold that against someone, but I sadly have little doubt that it is a factor with some stakeholders at some universities.

Putting that aside though, it still doesn’t make sense to me how guys like Locksley and recently fired Kansas State head coach Ron Prince (both of whom are African-American) can get head coaching jobs but not Strong. It doesn’t make sense to me either that Kiffin and Sarkisian can get head coaching jobs but not Strong. None of those guys has demonstrated the same high level of recruiting, coaching, and player development over as long a period as Strong has.

It’s possible that he doesn’t feel the correct situation has come along and he’s just waiting for that, and I would hope that’s the case. It is also possible he’s headed the way of guys like Monte Kiffin and Mickey Andrews who spend their whole careers as defensive coordinators without ever running the show themselves.

I do know that Strong doesn’t want to go that way. He would like to take a turn as a head coach somewhere. It’s about time someone gave him the chance.


More on Mullen

December 11, 2008

Mullen on taking the Mississippi State job:

“I was thrilled. I’m so excited to be here, it’s an unbelievable opportunity,” Mullen said to a dozen or so reporters. “I think we have an opportunity to have an unbelievable program. We’re going to get on the road recruiting right away, get those players in here from the state. We’re going to try to control this state in recruiting as best we can right now and get it cranked up and put a great team on the field next year.”

Mullen said he wasn’t sure about whether he would stay with Florida in its preparation for the BCS National Championship Game. “We’re going to have to work that out,” he said. “That’s something we’re going to decide somewhere later down the road.”

There is a press conference scheduled for this morning to introduce him officially as the head coach, and from the sounds of it he won’t know by then if he’s going to coach in the bowl game or not.

With the way Urban Meyer handled the transition from Utah to Florida while still coaching the Utes in their Fiesta Bowl trip, I’d say this will not affect the team as dramatically as some are predicting. The offense is already very much a collaborative effort among the offensive staff, and it’s worth remembering that Meyer is the guy with the vision behind the scheme in the first place.

Meanwhile, the many Gator message boards are abuzz with suggestions for moving forward. Some want Mike Sanford, Meyer’s offensive coordinator at Utah, to return to his former boss and run the offense.

Two problems with that. One: Sanford is the head coach at UNLV, and it’s unlikely he’d take a step down in title right as it’s looking like he has the Rebels moving forward. Two: he signed an extension two days ago. Florida undoubtedly could afford to buy him out and pay more than his current salary, but would he do it and is it worth it? Probably no on both counts.

The general consensus among those who think they know is that wide receivers coach Billy Gonzalez will likely become the new offensive coordinator. He is another guy who followed Meyer from Bowling Green to Utah to Florida, and wide receiver play has been generally excellent under his watch.

He already is in charge of red zone offense, so it seems like the natural fit. If you believe in patterns, it would also mean in four years he’ll be getting a head coaching job. In Meyer’s fourth year as a head coach, Sanford took the UNLV job; at the end of Meyer’s eighth, Mullen is off to Starkvegas.

There still is a matter of a quarterbacks coach. Mullen had that job on top of being the coordinator, and no one seems to think Gonzalez will slip into that dual role. The armchair ADs of the Internet seem to favor hiring Kerwin Bell to fill that job.

That Kerwin Bell. Also: this highlight’s for you, Dad.

Bell is currently the head coach at Jacksonville University, where he has turned them around from a three game winner last season to a nine game winner and Pioneer League champs this season. He was conference coach of the year and is a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award, the coach of the year award for I-AA (the winner of which announced on December 18).

That seems like a bit of a stretch. I can’t think of too many head coaches at the I-AA level who have gone on to become solely position coaches in I-A. I know of head coaches who become coordinators, like former Richmond head coach Dave Clawson who became Tennessee’s offensive coordinator. Not so many have become position coaches.

If Bell waits another couple of years and continues to succeed at Jacksonville, someone will make him a coordinator. I don’t know if the allure of going to his alma mater is enough to make him give up the keys to his own program to wait for Gonzalez to get a head coaching job somewhere, but there are worse guys to learn under than Meyer while you wait.

However, it seems impossible to me that a Robinson Award winner would leave to become just a position coach. If Bell takes home that hardware, forget about it.

Mullen to Mississippi State

December 10, 2008

Florida Offensive Coordinator Dan Mullen is heading off to take the Mississippi State job. IT is not known yet if he’s coaching the bowl or not. In fact, not a whole lot else of anything is known for sure.

This much I do know: it floors me that Mullen is getting a head coaching job before Charlie Strong. Not one single bit of it makes sense.

Wednesday Gator Bites

December 10, 2008

The BCS is in theory something I should not complain about too much as a Gator fan, but I will anyway. This year needed a playoff, and on top of that it was one of the very few where eight teams would not be enough. You’d need to find a ninth spot for undefeated Boise State.

What is interesting this year is that it appears the BCS went with “best” over “most deserving.” Florida got a spot in the title game in 2006, and Ohio State and LSU got their spots last year by playing the “most deserving” card. This year, Oklahoma passed up Texas by better meeting the eyeball test.

It’s worth noting though that it took Oklahoma setting the record for points scored in a season with a game to go to make that happen. It’ll be interesting to see what is necessary to break ties next season.

The BCS Championship Game is something that not many people seem to be upset about. Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman are the latest, though easily not the first, to rank it as the most appealing bowl game. I can’t blame them, and I have yet to see anyone pick anything else.

Dan McCarney was linked to the New Mexico job earlier this week. Since the Lobos have hired Mike Locksley, that will not happen. I am selfishly glad because I think another season with McCarney would do wonders for the D-line, but he deserves another shot at having a head coaching job.

The Gators and Tim Tebow made the cover of SI this week. Go have a look for yourself.

The Heisman voting ends today, and the finalists will be announced on the 6 p.m. SportsCenter. For now it looks like Sam Bradford is the leader, with Tebow in second and Colt McCoy third. Or maybe it’s McCoy-Bradford-Tebow. Would you believe Tebow-Bradford-McCoy? Anyway, as with the national title game, it’s easy to make a case why any deserve it but hard to make the case that any don’t.

The website Stiff Arm Trophy is again tracking all publicly-known votes. It appears that it’s not the number of first place votes but the number of second place votes that will propel Bradford to taking home the statue. And no, I have not thought at any point this season after the first game that Tebow would realistically win another.

Fascinating though that Tebow’s argument last season, which was look at the stats and not the record, is entirely reversed this season. He’ll be a finalist, but I’ll be shocked if he wins it.

New Stadium Art

December 10, 2008

They wasted no time in getting that up and painted while the metal version is made. I guess they do that to inspire the players if they practice in the stadium at some point.

They did that back in 2006 after the SEC title, and I know because I saw it when I went into the Swamp to take pictures after my undergrad graduation ceremony. Looks like this year is no different.

Gators on the All-SEC Team

December 9, 2008

Normally today is the day where I tell you which Gators made the all-SEC team for the week. Seeing as how the season is over, the all-SEC team for the whole season came out yesterday.

Tim Tebow, Brandon Spikes, and Phil Trautwein made the first team. Percy Harvin, Jermaine Cunningham, Carlos Dunlap, and Joe Haden made the second team. There is no third team, but Brandon James, Jonathan Phillips, Maurkice Pouncey, Mike Pouncey, Jason Watkins, and Ahmad Black made honorable mention.

Tebow was named Offensive Player of the Year.

It’s somewhat puzzling to see Harvin on the second team behind LSU’s Brandon LaFell and Georgia’s A.J. Green, but I guess the selectors were looking for traditional receivers first. It’s great to see Black on there, considering he wasn’t even going to start until he was forced to by injury. All he did was tie for the second-most interceptions in the country with six.

All told, 13 Gators were recognized for excellence by the conference. Four of the five offensive linemen were recognized, all except Carl Johnson who did not play a full year at guard.

One name that will certainly be on this list next year (barring injury) is Janoris Jenkins. Man, is that guy good.

Gators Potentially on the Move

December 8, 2008

When you go to the national title game twice in three years, you can expect to see assistant coaches start looking around at other opportunities. Norm Chow and Lane Kiffin left USC for the NFL earlier in the decade, and Mark Mangino and Mike Stoops left Bob Stoops’ staff too. It comes with the territory, two guys on the staff are browsing at head coaching jobs.

It should come as no surprise that defensive line coach Dan McCarney is looking at the opening at New Mexico. He is the winningest coach in Iowa State history and took them to bowls with more regularity than anyone else has. It amazed me that they let him go, and they have done nothing but suffer under his successor. Apparently the AD at New Mexico hired Urban Meyer at Bowling Green and Meyer recommended that McCarney look at the job.

Dan Mullen was rumored to be in play at New Mexico State not that long ago, but that talk died down. He is now said to be a major player for the Mississippi State job, though he is not a confirmed finalist as had apparently been reported in some corners of the Internet. When you’re the offensive coordinator for the most dominant offense the SEC has seen in a long time, you’re going to get some interest, but I don’t know if that’s a good fit for him.

Tim Tebow, for his part, says that he once thought going to the national title game would affect his decision to go pro or not, but now he doesn’t think so. He says he wants to stay, but ” it also would be great and really fun to go to the next level and see how that goes, too.”

The fact that he used the word “want” with coming back to school and “see how that goes” when referring to the NFL makes me think he’s leaning towards coming back. It’s a weak quarterback class, but I think the scouts probably want to see him go back another year. Of all stats, the only one with a high correlation to NFL success is total collegiate starts, so they are probably right.

The other Gators I see potentially leaving early are Jermaine Cunningham, Percy Harvin, and Brandon Spikes. Spikes missed out on winning the Bronko Nagurski award, given annually to the nation’s best defensive lineman or linebacker, finishing behind Texas DE Brian Orakpo. It’s understandable because he’s an absolute beast and he helped cover for a woefully young UT secondary.

An interesting report from that ceremony is that Orakpo gave Spikes some advice on beating the Sooners. You know that Texas is the only team to beat Oklahoma, but did you know Orakpo had two sacks, four tackles for loss, and a forced fumble in the game? I’m sure whatever he had to say pales in comparison to what Florida’s film staff can tell him after a month of study, but there are certainly worse people to ask for help from.