Florida grid assistant takes Mississippi State job
JACKSON, Miss. ” Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen will be the new football coach at Mississippi State, moving from the Southeastern Conference champions to one of the league’s perennial cellar dwellers.
Mullen arrived in Starkville on Wednesday afternoon and will be introduced at a news conference Thursday morning.
“We feel like he’s the right fit for our football program, and we’re looking forward to tomorrow and letting everyone meet him,” Mississippi State athletic director Greg Byrne said. “We think he brings everything we were looking for in our football coach.”
Mullen leaves Gainesville as the top-ranked Gators are preparing to play for their second national title in three years.
“A lot of people get in this profession and when you have head coaching opportunities, they’re very rare,” Urban Meyer said at news conference in Hollywood, Fla. “Head coaching opportunities in the Southeastern Conference at a young age is a great honor. So (Tim Tebow) had the same exact reaction that I did: Doggone it, but we wish you well.”
The 36-year-old has been an assistant coach for 14 years and spent the last eight with Urban Meyer at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. He’ll get to see what it’s like facing Meyer and the powerful Gators when the teams face off Oct. 24.
Florida won the SEC with a dominant offense and will play No. 2 Oklahoma for the BCS national championship next month. Meyer told reporters he was not sure if Mullen would be staying through the title game.
“It’s all too fresh,” Meyer said. “The most important thing is whatever gives the University of Florida and our players an opportunity to be successful on that night and I have not had a chance to evaluate that yet.”
Mullen replaces coach Sylvester Croom, who resigned last month after going 21-38 in five seasons as the SEC’s first black football coach. Since 2001, the Bulldogs have had only one winning season.
Meyer told reporters after the SEC championship game that Mullen was in contact with Byrne about the job.
The hiring was first reported by the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson and the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo.
Byrne interviewed other candidates for the job. Chris Peterson of Boise State and Louisiana Tech coach Derek Dooley both denied interest in the job and Byrne also appears to have talked with Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson.
Croom left the program Nov. 29 after the Bulldogs suffered a humiliating 45-0 loss to archrival Mississippi. He said in a recent television interview that he was prepared to make changes to his coaching staff in order to please fans, boosters and Byrne, but that Byrne wanted to head in a new direction.
While Croom was credited with improving the overall talent at Mississippi State despite NCAA sanctions he inherited, the former NFL assistant coach and All-American center at Alabama could never get his complicated and conservative run-first version of the West Coast offense into gear.
The Bulldogs never cracked the top 100 under Croom and finished 113th out of 119 Bowl Subdivision teams with 274.9 yards per game of total offense and 115th in scoring with 15.3 points per game this season.
Byrne said he was looking for a coach who could jazz up that woeful offense and got him. Mullen led the Gators to a team record for points in a season this year and has Tebow in the running for a second Heisman Trophy.
“They are going to get coach who likes to work, who will do a great job,” Tebow said. “They’ll have success because of the way he is.”
Mullen also helped develop quarterback Alex Smith into a No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft as quarterbacks coach at Utah.
The Gators led the nation in scoring last year and are third this season with 45.5 points per game. Mullen directs the nation’s No. 18 offense (442.4 yards per game) and No. 11 rushing offense (229.7 ypg).
The Gators run a spread option offense, the kind of attack that would match the skills of incoming quarterback Tyler Russell of Meridian, the Bulldogs’ top recruit who has left his nonbinding oral commitment to Mississippi State in place despite Croom’s departure.
Mullen is expected to begin recruiting immediately in an attempt to hold together the promising class Croom put together before resigning.
Mississippi State’s new coach spent two seasons apiece as wide receivers coach at Wagner and Columbia from 1994-97 after graduating from Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa., where he played tight end.
He then spent three seasons as a graduate assistant at Syracuse and Notre Dame, where he met Meyer and later followed him to Bowling Green.
“He’s a great coach,” Meyer said. “I made a comment (when) someone wrote an article about us and I said, ‘Boy, his resume is pretty good,”‘ Meyer said. “When you work with a guy, you don’t realize it. He’s been with me as a graduate assistant at Notre Dame, we went together to Bowling Green, developed Josh Harris, went from there to Alex Smith at Utah, and then came here and Chris Leak and Tim. So the resume is pretty strong and I wish him all the best.”
AP staffers Tim Reynolds in Miami and Timothy R. Brown in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this report.