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.