It’s December, and that means we’re close to closing the book on yet another college football season. Some teams won’t play another game this season (cough, FSU), while others are preparing for one of the sport’s many bowl games (wink, Florida).
With the end of the season comes end-of-season awards, accolades and honors, as you might expect. It’s also a time to look back and grade the work each program, coach and players have done. This article will focus solely on UF first-year head coach Dan Mullen and explain why he was easily the best new head coaching hire this season.
The crop was an impressive one, and many didn’t give Mullen the same respect the likes of Jimbo Fisher, Willie Taggart and Scott Frost received. But when you compare records from last and this season around the country, it’s abundantly clear why Mullen was the best of the bunch.
The Gators are Going Bowling
Only one other new coaching hire can say they’re taking their team to a New Year’s Six bowl game, and that’s UCF’s Josh Heupel. The former Missouri offensive coordinator filled the large shoes of Scott Frost well by leading the Knights to another undefeated regular season and a Fiesta Bowl berth.
The Gators, on the other hand, looked like no quick fix in the offseason. They just went 4-7 under former coach Jim McElwain. The offense was a mess. Most of McElwain’s success could be attributed to a weak SEC East, which clearly isn’t the case now. Any bowl game this season would’ve been a welcomed sign. So when you consider Florida is playing in one of the top six bowl games, it’s easy to see why Mullen deserves praise.
Speaking of improvement…
No one at a major program turned around last year’s record as much as Mullen did. If you go down the list, many of the new hires’ programs underperformed.
FSU’s Willie Taggart went 5-7 after a 7-6 mark last year. UCLA was a disappointing 3-9 under offensive guru Chip Kelly. Nebraska lost its first six games before finishing 4-8 under Scott Frost. And the latter two names were first up on the Florida athletic director’s wish list before settling for Mullen. I’d say it’s worked out OK.
Of course, some guys have done a respectable job. Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies are 8-4 after a 7-6 record last year. Mullen’s replacement at Mississippi State, Joe Moorhead, has led the Bulldogs to an 8-4 mark after going 9-4 a season ago. And Oregon’s Mario Cristobal has the Ducks bowling at 8-4 after a 7-6 season.
But none of those names have accomplished what Mullen has. He beat FSU. He outlasted LSU. He trampled Tennessee. The only rival he couldn’t take down was Georgia, which is probably one of the top four teams in the country. The last time UF beat three of their four rivals was 2012.
The numbers back up Mullen, too. Florida has posted 34.5 points per game and 426.7 yards per game this season, the highest such marks for the Gators since Tim Tebow’s final year in 2009. This a year after abysmal marks of 22.1 PPG and 335.9 YPG.
Mullen’s predecessors (Will Muschamp, Jim McElwain) both found success early too before quick downward spirals. Mullen just has to make sure his future isn’t similar.