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Dan Mullen returning to Florida as head coach, which makes a ton of sense

Mullen helped win national titles at UF, then became one of Mississippi State’s best head coaches ever.

Massachusetts v Mississippi State Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images

Florida is hiring away Mississippi State head football coach Dan Mullen to replace Jim McElwain, the Gators announced Sunday evening. On Monday, the details of his contract were reported by the Gainesville Sun:

Mullen, 45, has spent the last nine seasons as the head coach in Starkville, guiding the Bulldogs from a pretty lousy team to a pretty good one. Many of those years were spent working under new Florida AD Scott Stricklin.

There’s familiarity here between Mullen and Florida. He was the offensive coordinator at UF for a four-year stretch that saw the Gators win two national championships, and Tim Tebow grab a Heisman trophy.

What Mullen built at Mississippi State was impressive.

Historically, it’s not an easy place to win. Since 1956, the school’s had nine head coaches, and just two — Mullen and Bob Tyler (1973-78) won more games than they lost. The team has qualified for a bowl eight years in a row, though it needed help to qualify at 5-7 in 2016. Before Mullen’s eight bowl teams in nine years, MSU made one in nine.

For a brief time in 2014, Mullen’s Dak Prescott-quarterbacked team got to No. 1 in the AP Poll. Mississippi State had never been ranked No. 1 before, and it might never be ranked No. 1 again. The team’s finished just 13 seasons ranked in the AP Poll era.

Because of his success, Mullen’s been connected to all kinds of jobs over the years. Just in the last few hiring cycles, Oregon, Maryland, and Florida were all reportedly in on Mullen. Tennessee also wanted him this time around, per multiple reports.

The worst strike against Mullen’s tenure came away from the field. His response to a five-star freshman punching a woman in 2016 was shameful: a one-game suspension against a cupcake team.

Before Mississippi State, Mullen was an elite assistant at Florida.

He was there for UF’s national championship in 2006, when his offense averaged 29.7 points and 396.1 yards per game. Mullen was also with Urban Meyer in previous stops at Utah, Bowling Green, and Notre Dame.

Alligator Army has more:

Mullen has arguably had the most success any head coach has had at the helm in Starkville, going 69-46 at a program that has not won the SEC since World War II and has only won the SEC West once.

But Mullen also didn’t change either of those facts, and his Bulldogs never won 11 games — peaking just once at 10 games — despite once topping the College Football Playoff rankings and enjoying significant success with Dak Prescott.

And there has been perceived bad blood between Mullen and Florida almost since his departure, possibly stemming from Mississippi State’s recruitment of Cam Newton, likely being stirred up by Florida publicly announcing it was not targeting Mullen to replace Will Muschamp in 2014, and unquestionably peaking with Mullen calling former Mississippi State defensive coordinator Geoff Collins leaving for Jim McElwain’s Florida staff a “lateral move.”

Mullen’s expertise, of course, is on the offensive side of the ball.

Yearning for sorely missed offense was one reason Florida fans wanted Kelly so badly.

At Mississippi State, Mullen has operated a scheme that’s designed to force bad choices by defenses. The MSU offense was 116th in the country in scoring in 2008, the year before Mullen arrived from Gainesville. Now it’s occasionally among the best offenses in the country.

He’s also consistently produced excellent quarterbacking — just take a look at Florida’s post-Tebow history at the position to see how welcome that would be at UF.

"I strongly believe Dan is the most prepared candidate to have immediate and long-term success at the University of Florida," Florida AD Scott Stricklin said in a written statement. "Coach Mullen is one of the best offensive minds in all of college football, and has an unbelievable track record in tutoring successful quarterbacks (such as Alex Smith, Chris Leak, Tim Tebow, Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald).”

And recruiting is unlikely to be a problem in Gainesville.

There’s no reason to think Mullen isn’t himself a perfectly fine recruiter. But he’s struggled to get much four- and five-star talent to Starkville, just like any coach is going to struggle to get four-and five-star talent to Starkville. Florida’s a bit easier to recruit to than MSU is, to say the least.