Florida fires football coach Dan Mullen as struggles mount

Gators are just 5-6 this season with FSU up next

One day after losing an overtime game to Missouri the Gators have fired head coach Dan Mullen.

Dan Mullen’s stunning fall from grace is complete.

The school fired the Gators football coach on Sunday afternoon, a move no one could have projected at the beginning of the year. Mullen led the Gators to the SEC championship game last season, but couldn’t escape a dismal 2021 that saw Florida sputter on offense, lose six conference games and struggle to gain bowl eligibility.

Special teams coordinator/running backs coach Greg Knox will serve as interim coach for Saturday’s Florida State game. Mullen finished his Florida career with a 34-15 record.

Athletic director Scott Stricklin said the decision was difficult, but he thought the time was best for both the program and Mullen to move on now. He said the decision was made this morning, a day after a 24-23 loss to Missouri in overtime. Stricklin said that he offered Mullen the opportunity to coach Florida’s game against Florida State, but he declined, saying it would be a distraction.

Mullen said in a tweet for the “privilege” of coaching the Gators.

“I will always cherish the two National Championships we won during my time at UF, along with the past three New Year’s Six Bowls to name a few. The program has a bright future ahead with the young talent on the team and the new football facility that will be finished next spring,” Mullen said.

The hire marks the fourth different head coach for the Florida since the 2014 season when Will Muschamp was fired. The Gators hired Jim McElwain after that and then Mullen.

“The challenge has been we haven’t been able to sustain it and you’ve got to put really good structure, culture in place in order to sustain a high high level of a long period of time, and that’s, going forward what we got to focus on,” Stricklin said.

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The Gators are 5-6 following that loss to Missouri on Saturday that saw Florida go winless in SEC road games for the first time since the conference expanded in 1992.

Mullen had just signed a five-year contract extension last summer that was set to go in to effect next year. Stricklin said that the school would honor Mullen’s contract, which includes a $12 million buyout.

”There’s no timetable. We want to take the time we need to get the right coach, we’d love to have one tomorrow but that’s probably not realistic,” he said. “But we’re going to move as quickly as we can. We’re going to use every available resource at our disposal.”

Mullen succeeded the disastrous tenure of Jim McElwain (2015-17) and took Florida to the SEC championship last season. He had a Heisman Trophy finalist in quarterback Kyle Trask and arguably the best tight end in school history in Kyle Pitts.

But that success didn’t continue in 2021. The Gators opened strong, including a tough 31-29 loss to Alabama in their SEC opener in September, but things spiraled from there.

Mullen arrived at Florida following a solid tenure at Mississippi State where he led the Bulldogs to eight straight bowl appearances. Mullen was 10-3 with a Peach Bowl victory over Michigan in 2018 and then went 11-2, capped by an Orange Bowl win over Virginia in 2019. Florida went 8-4 last season, but reached the SEC title game before things turned south this year.

Mullen fired defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and offensive line coach John Hevesy after a 40-17 loss to South Carolina, but that only bought Mullen two extra games.

“I understand there’s going to be a lot of activity and there’s a lot of [coaching] traffic. But this is a special place and my guess is it’s seen as a special place and it’s a special place because of all the things I mentioned earlier about commitment and resources and facilities and access to talent and you know, the brand recognition of the Gators,” Stricklin said. “So, you know, I think we’re going to be a really significant entry, if you will, into the coaching market and I would think that we’ll be able to attract quality candidates.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.