Florida Football: How did Dan Mullen, Gators sour on one another?

After leading Florida football to the SEC title game last season, the Gators fired Dan Mullen after four years in Gainsville on Sunday afternoon. Mullen was 5-6 this season after an overtime loss to the Missouri Tigers. The Gators were 34-15 in four seasons under Mullen.

Sometimes the dream job turns into a nightmare, and this season was a nightmare. The Gators began their SEC season, losing two of their first three games. Florida’s close loss to Alabama made them look like they would challenge Georgia in the SEC East.

Then came the three-game losing streak. The Gators lost to an underachieving LSU team; they were not competitive against Georgia, and South Carolina blew them out at home. Whether or not the Missouri loss was the final straw is debatable.

The Missouri loss dropped the Gators to 2-9 against the Power Five since 2020. Sticklin said he knew he had to do something after a sleepless night after the Missouri game. “Once you get that feeling, it’s time to do something different you need to go ahead and do it,” Stricklin said.

How did it get so bad for Dan Mullen so quickly?

This union was supposed to be the perfect marriage. Dan Mullen was the offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer in the Tim Tebow era. Mullen has worked for Urban Meyer since Bowling Green. Tebow won a Heisman, and the Gators won two National Titles.

Mullen was hired at Mississippi State after Meyer left Florida. Despite settling into the football culture in Starville, it always seemed like a matter of time before Mullen found himself back in Gainsville.

Mullen led the Bulldogs to seven straight bowl games and a number one ranking in 2013. Mullen replaced  Jim McElwain in 2018, going 10-3 in his first season. Mullen followed that season with an 11-win season and an Orange Bowl victory. Though Florida won fewer games, the Gators went to the SEC title game and the Cotton Bowl.

This season was a disaster, riddled with inconsistent play and blowout losses.

What was it that contributed to Stricklin’s “gut feeling?” Considering what they lost to the NFL in the offseason, there should have been an expectation of a bit of a step back for the Gators. The counter-argument is, “Florida should not rebuild but reload.”

However, there was a lot of inexperience, and the Gators haven’t recruited close to the level of the teams they want to beat. Florida has played uninspired football after their close loss to Alabama earlier this year.

Recruiting seems to be the straw here. The Gators have signed top 10 classes every season under Mullen except for 2018 (his first year) and this season (12th). Those are not bad recruiting classes, but that is not going to beat Georgia or Alabama.

One has to wonder if what Mullen did at Mississippi State has him thinking he can win at Florida on scheme alone. Mullen has had five cycles (counting his first in 2018) to recruit to Gainsville and has never signed more than one of the top ten prospects from Florida.

Mullen has signed two five-star recruits in five cycles. On the other hand, rival Georiga signed four five-stars in its 2021 class. That is not going to get it done. The Gators have not established a foothold in Florida despite neither Miami nor Florida State dominating recruiting in the state.

Sticklin’s gut must have told him that recruiting would not get any better with Mullen in charge of the program.