Dan Mullen, offensive coordinator for the Florida Gators recently announced that he would be leaving Florida at season’s end, if not sooner, to take the head coaching job at Mississippi State. It is still unclear as to whether he’ll coach Florida in the upcoming national championship game. It is also unclear what effect that will have on the Gators’ offensive game plan.
Mullen is not the only coach rumored to leave Gainesville for not-so-greener pastures. Defensive Coordinator Charlie Strong, who has long been coveted by other schools, has been linked to the University of Central Florida job, which is interesting considering they still have a head coach in George O’Leary.
Coach Strong has been a mainstay in Gainesville. He was a graduate assistant in 1983-84. He was the outside linebackers coach in 1988-89, the defensive ends coach from 1991-93 and assistant head coach in 1994. After Ron Zook’s departure, he actually served as interim head coach for one game before the hiring of current head coach, Urban Meyer. Strong is widely considered to be the architect of Florida’s 2006 and 2008 championship defenses. Meyer affectionately refers to him as the Mayor of Gainesville. To say he will be sorely missed is an understatement.
So the coaching carousel continues which begs the question… is it better to take on a head coaching job at a lesser program than to be a top assistant at one of the most successful schools in the nation? Both Mullen and Strong, assuming he goes, are leaving the proverbial mountaintop for considerably lesser gigs.
Mullen’s Mississippi State has been a conference doormat in recent years. They’ve been to one bowl game since 2000. The school is 26-57 since 2002. In that time frame, they’ve lost games to Tulane, Houston, UAB, Louisiana Tech and Maine!!! Furthermore, Mullen will now find himself coaching against Nick Saban, Les Miles, Bobby Petrino and Houston Nutt, great coaches all in his own division. This is not to suggest he can’t compete but the odds are stacked against him.
Mullen is known for his offense. The most offensive thing Starkville’s seen lately is the rebel flag that flies over city hall. Mississippi State lost a game to Auburn this year 3-2. It is nearly unfathomable to imagine Mississippi State winning the SEC West any time soon. Upon meeting his new student athletes, they all had to be looking at Mullen and asking themselves ‘what the heck is this guy thinking?’
Central Florida remains an up-and-coming program in Conference USA, but it is more likely the Detroit Lions make this year’s playoffs than it is for a Conference USA team to play for a national title any time soon. If Strong takes the UCF job, he may receive a nice paycheck but he’ll never see a BCS bowl game again unless Coach Meyer sends him a ticket.
Both Strong and Mullen are compensated dearly by Florida’s University Athletic Association. They’re likely among the highest paid assistants in the nation, making probably shy of a million dollars with incentives working under Meyer, not a bad paycheck if you can get it. While the terms of Mullen’s Mississippi State deal were undisclosed, it would have to be a pretty lucrative offer to leave the promised land to coach in Siberia.
Strong and Mullen also have a fair amount of hardware to show for their troubles. Florida will assuredly contend again next year for more. Tebow and the majority of this Florida offense will return. Same for Coach Strong’s young and talented defense. They may very well be pre-season #1 and another appearance in the championship game would make three appearances in four years if it happens, assuming they can adjust to the exodus of their current coaching staff.
I know they say to get while the getting is good, strike while the iron is hot and buy low, sell high. I also know that Mullen had always dreamed of becoming a head coach. Not sure about Strong. But these guys have it pretty good right now.
If you were an executive in a cushy position in one of the nation’s top firms, would you risk going to a lesser firm for higher rank and more money when it guaranteed a significantly greater chance of failure? Perhaps. But only if the timing were right. It all depends on the individual, I suppose.
Whatever happens with Coaches Mullen and Strong, I wish them all the success in the world. They’ve brought the university and its fans immeasurable joy. As the old saying goes… breaking up is hard to do.
Remember that, Coach Mullen, when after three years, despite your best efforts, Mississippi State is the same old Mississippi State.