Dan Mullen reportedly is open to coaching at the professional level, Adam Schefter reported Sunday.
Mullen, who has been Florida’s head coach the past three years, has a 29-9 record helming the Gators to go with a pair of New Year’s Six bowl wins (2018 Peach Bowl, 2019 Orange Bowl). He won the SEC East for the first team in his career in 2020, earning his first trip to the SEC Championship before narrowly falling to top-ranked Alabama, 52-46.
There is no reason to say or think Mullen does not deserve an NFL coaching job. He led one of the best offenses in college football last year and has had a hand in the success of quarterbacks such as Alex Smith, Tim Tebow, Dak Prescott and Kyle Trask. But the larger question remains, is the NFL the right place for Mullen?
The biggest advantage for Mullen staying in Gainesville rather than leaving for East Rutherford or Atlanta or any other option is how secure his job is. As of right now, Mullen has one of the most secure jobs in college football. He lead a top 10 offense in the FBS in total yards and yards per play, he has a pair of top-five wins including over rival Georgia and is under contract for three more years as one of the 10 highest-paid coaches in the NCAA.
Mullen has earned a lot of good graces at UF, which can be protection from any potentially disappointing season on the horizon. He is guaranteed an esteemed, well-paid position for the foreseeable future if he stays in Gainesville. However, professional football is cutthroat, and it is rare a team has the patience and understanding to let a coach get comfortable. In most NFL buildings, without significant improvement within a year or two, head coaches can rarely avoid the guillotine. If Mullen can’t turn around a team and quickly, he may find himself in a worse spot for it.
The Gators are Mullen’s team now
In college football, it traditionally takes about two or three years for a program to truly belong to a new coach. Mullen has been successful so far in Florida but now a lot of his projected starters for next season are players he’s recruited himself. Emory Jones, Kaiir Elam, Khris Bogle, Keon Zipperer and Mohamoud Diabate, just to name a few, are all set to be key pieces on the 2021 team and all committed in the Mullen era. Once a coach’s first recruiting cycle matures to reach starting positions, Mullen is finally free to establish the style he wants with the players he’s pursued and selected himself. To leave now, despite the obviously enticing offer of the professional ranks, would be a curious decision.
This might be more of a heart argument than a logical or economic point, but Mullen hasn’t accomplished everything he likely hoped to accomplish at the helm of the Florida program. He has yet to win a conference title, with only a single appearance, and has only beaten rival Georgia once in three tries. The views may be loftier, but he hasn’t reached a college football playoff game yet either, something that he clearly wanted for his 2020 team and another box on the resume left unchecked. In leaving, Mullen could be essentially forfeiting the potential of adding that to his resume and achieving and surpassing the expectations he has set for himself.
There are obvious reasons for Mullen to be at least interested in an NFL coaching position. The money, the competition and the prestige are nothing to turn one’s nose up at. However, Mullen still has boxes to check at Florida, a job he can safely, confidently and comfortably call his own for years to come.