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I imagine Scott Stricklin didn’t get much sleep Sunday morning after returning from Missouri and having to make a decision on the future of the football program. He admitted he woke up Sunday morning and made the final call to fire Dan Mullen. At a meeting in his office around noon, Stricklin informed Mullen of his dismissal. The pair also discussed the last regular season game, but Mullen decided he would not coach against Florida State.
“Gave him the opportunity to coach the game Saturday against FSU,” Stricklin said. “After some discussion — and he actually took some time to think about it — he made the decision that he thought he would be a bit of a distraction if he was around this week after this news came out. And so he made the decision to step away and not coach the FSU game.”
It was pretty clear from listening to Stricklin answer questions that this decision was weighing heavily on him, but he had to do what was right for the program. Whether that decision came directly from Stricklin is up for debate, but he was Mullen’s boss and responsible for this athletic program. When speaking about the type of coach he is looking for over the next few weeks, Stricklin was very poignant with his words.
“We want someone who has a plan to achieve at a high level for a sustained period of time,” Stricklin said. “We talk about competing for championships here and talk about having a championship experience with integrity. Florida is a place you have the right to aspire for that.”
But Stricklin wasn’t going to spill the beans on the criteria he’s looking for out of a head coach, not just yet. You have to remember, Florida is now battling with LSU and USC for potential coaching candidates.
“I have a pretty good idea (of what I’m looking for),” Stricklin added. “We want someone who has high expectations and has a plan to how they can sustain that for a long period of time. There is going to be a lot of competition in the marketplace, and I really don’t want to share what our criteria or what we’re going to prioritize at this moment.”
The athletic director was hesitant to say whether the same decision would’ve been made if the team would have beaten Missouri but then lost to Florida State. But it was very clear that the Florida administration found other problems besides the losing for firing Mullen. Those could include his lax recruiting and not putting together a staff that is up to the “Gator Standard.” Florida has signed only three Top 10 recruiting classes since 2014, and this 2022 class will not look much better. These are the examples of off-field problems that have hurt this program. Stricklin hinted at these problems on Sunday.
“Dan did a really good job in a lot areas, but what we are seeing this year is symptomatic of other problems.”
The simple fact is there wasn’t much to get excited about with Florida football, which was felt all over campus and with the big money donors. It never felt like Mullen would be able to strike up that excitement again.
“I just told him I felt like we needed to go a different direction for the Gators and our football program,” Stricklin said. “He understood. It was actually a very productive conversation.”
So when Stricklin woke up this morning, he felt as if the decision should be made, after the president and other key members of the administration made it clear what they wanted.
“I’ll be honest, probably this morning is when I made that decision that we were ready to go a different direction,” Stricklin said. “So I don’t know that it’s — I can’t say it was 70% on this day and then 80% on the other day. It was just Dan was our coach and I was fully supportive of him, but once you get that feeling it’s time to do something different, you need to go ahead and do it. I woke up this morning with that feeling, so we moved ahead.”
Former Florida coach Urban Meyer was asked about the firing as well, and he pointed to the expectations in Gainesville.
“Didn’t see that one coming… there’s high expectations at Florida,” Meyer said. “I’ll call him tonight. He and Megan are dear, dear friends.”
Despite what Meyer said, it wasn’t hard to see this coming, especially after the loss to Missouri. Florida has made it clear that the expectations are playing for national championships and staying consistent on the recruiting trail. It never felt like Dan Mullen was close to winning a title, even after getting into the SEC Championship Game last season, especially ending the way it did. If you asked folks whether they thought this Florida football team was close to playing for a Playoff spot, the answer would most likely be a resounding “no.” So it was time to rip the band-aid off and start over.
The Gators will now go after a candidate they think can lead them into the “New SEC,” which is coming, with Texas and Oklahoma joining the conference soon.
Stricklin also made it clear that he has the full support of the trustees. He was looking to erase any questions about there being any sort of divide when making these decisions on a new coach.
“One thing that doesn’t get talked a lot about: we have incredible alignment among our university hierarchy, from the board of trustees to Dr. [Kent] Fuchs, myself, the University Athletic Association Board, Gator Boosters Board. You guys probably see things from other schools where trustees are trying to get involved in the decision-making process, and who’s really calling the shots? That doesn’t happen here at the University of Florida.”
Mullen will receive $6 million of his $12 million buyout in the next 60 days and will be paid $1 million a year for the next six years.
Honestly, it never felt as though Mullen grasped the full situation in Gainesville, especially the recruiting aspect. Now unfortunately, he’s found out the hard way that you can’t coach at Florida the same way you did in Starkville, and it cost him his job.