He sounds unhappy. He sounds frustrated. He sounds open to the idea of a change. He sounds like he wants to listen.
Dan Mullen sounds like a lot of the above. His football team went from 8-1 and in position to control its destiny to make the College Football Playoff to finish 8-4 and end the season with a ton of questions.
Who will quarterback the Gators in 2021? Is it Emory Jones or Anthony Richardson? But an even bigger question might be who will be the head coach of Florida in 2021?
NFL reporter, Ian Rapoport, has reported Mullen is among a group of college head coaches NFL teams have an interest in talking with. Mullen, for his part, doesn't publicly rule out a jump to the pros. He has dropped crumbs in recent weeks when asked about coaching in the NFL. And maybe just maybe, he thinks the time is right.
It just doesn't seem like Mullen is happy. Maybe it's the way the season ended. Maybe his relationship with his athletic director, largest Gator donors and fan base has soured.
Maybe Mullen sees the college game changing. He has spoken about that numerous times this season. He, and all college coaches, know the game is changing. Changes are coming, not in scheming on offense and defense, but changing in the world of recruiting. With the unknown world of players benefiting from their name, image and likeness-guys like Mullen will not just have to answer to playing time for an incoming freshman but how much money might they be able to make because they have a few thousand followers on Instagram. Many coaches worry about that world which is right around the corner.
Meanwhile, Mullen sees a group of NFL teams looking for a head coach and sees some spots that might be perfect for him. Urban Meyer may be the choice in Jacksonville. But maybe Mullen sees himself as the perfect choice for that job because of the ability of getting Trevor Lawrence, all those draft picks and cap space. Or maybe Mullen sees the opening in San Diego as the prize with Justin Herbert and a roster full of ready-to-win talent in a town which cares little about college football. What about Houston and DeShaun Watson? Atlanta? Detroit? The Jets and a chance to work with Sam Darnold or take one of the incoming rookie QBs?
So let's play the game and assume Mullen moves on. Where does Florida go? It is possible that Scott Stricklin might have an opening in the next week?
Legendary AD Jeremy Foley always had that famous list of names in his desk. Foley knew he had to be ready if his football coach chose to move on to the NFL or choose to spend more time with his family.
I have always said schools and their fan base learn about the real value of their football coaching position when it's open and who are legitimate candidates. And the current climate and landscape may not be as strong as you think.
First, the Florida job is one of the best in the country. It plays in the best league. It is located in a talent-rich state. It has a tremendous fan base and large donors who want to win and it is part of the small group of teams that can truly compete and win the national title.
Fans love to ponder about who the next coach of their team would be, even while someone IS the coach of their team. But who would be realistic names if the Florida job opened?
When Scott Frost was the "it" guy at UCF, many people tried to call and before choosing to go home to Nebraska, Frost listened to Florida. He chose Lincoln and the Gators eventually chose Mullen.
But who is the "it" guy now? Iowa State's Matt Campbell? Minnesota's PJ Fleck? Coastal Carolina's Jamey Chadwell? How are we doing so far?
Want more names? Ok.
How about Cincinnati's Luke Fickell? Louisiana's Billy Napier? Ball State's Mike Neu? Still not impressed?
What about the top assistants? Clemson's Tony Elliott? Oklahoma's Alex Grinich? Florida's current offensive coordinator Brian Johnson?
What about Bill O'Brien? Hang on a second. O'Brien is mentioned by Fox Sports/The Athletic's Bruce Feldman as a possible replacement for Steve Sarkisian as the offensive coordinator at Alabama. He coached the Houston Texans for seven seasons and was at Penn State for two seasons before that run. Viewed as an offensive innovator, O'Brien might fit well with a roster of Florida-based talent.
Other names to throw out(and I emphasize throw out)? Chris Petersen. The former coach at Washington stepped away after last season. He never duplicated the success he had at Boise State. He went 92-12 with the Broncos and maybe the year away has recharged the batteries.
Hugh Freeze? I will just let that one sit on its own.
Look, I admit it's unfair to speculate since Mullen is still the coach at Florida. But the point is, there is no "it" guy if the job opens. Scott Strickin might know already if Mullen truly wants to try his hand at the NFL and may have already started the process to find his next football coach. And even Mullen dips a toe into the water to see if the NFL is interested in him, can Stricklin stay with a guy who may be checking out already?
While national attention is on Urban Meyer and a possible return to the sideline, the bigger state story is what Dan Mullen might do and if he chooses to go pro like Kyle Trask, the biggest question for the Gators will not be who is the quarterback in 2021 but who will the head coach be.
Final thought: 25% of the cheese made in American comes from Wisconsin. Most of the rest comes from New York, California and Idaho
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