We are on record here praising Ohio State and Florida for having the two best, generally competent athletic departments in the country. These two flagships have found themselves at or near the top of their respective conferences (and nation) in just about any sport you can name: Basketball, football, baseball, softball, gymnastics, even hockey.
They arrived there by very different means, however. For the Buckeyes, it’s a matter of bringing their considerable financial resources to bear on hiring, facilities and administration. Florida, meanwhile, has done a great job of getting world class results comparatively on the cheap (under Jeremy Foley, at any rate.)
But, in the college football arms race, money really does solve your problems. Since Urban Meyer left, the Gators have turned to Hot Assistant Will Muschamp, Hot G5 Coach Jim McElwain, and now Good P5 coach Dan Mullen to lead its premiere program. And they all had a common theme: They were cheap hires...until Mullen, that is. The results were predictable — cheaping out didn’t lead to success: Muschamp made $2.75 a year in a conference where 75% were earning at least $3 million-plus at the time. Then, McElwain came to town, also earning just $2.65 million-plus incentives — this at a time when every coach in the SEC West was earning at least four million-plus (McElwain’s salary was $4.75 million inclusive of radio, tv incentives etc. by his final season.)
The case against Mullen
Now, the Gators look to get Urban’s band back together and rekindly those good ole’ feelings of 2008 by hiring a good-but-not-overwhelming Dan Mullen. But, is he really that good? The reverse of Florida’s MO seems to have happened: despite cheaping out for the better part of a decade, the Gators seem to have overpaid. Dan Mullen’s base salary is just north of $6.1m per year — the fifth highest paid CFB in the nation. But, is he really worth it? Did the Gators pick the wrong person to crack open the piggy bank to?
Recall, if you will, that during the first two years of Mullen’s tenure, the only SEC team he beat was Ole Miss. It was not until the third year that his team would get to .500 in conference play, and that was by beating zero ranked teams, and none who finished with more than seven wins. In 2011, the first season that Mullen’s Bulldogs would began the preseason ranked, his Bulldogs flopped to a 7-6 record — losing to every team with a winning record except Louisiana Tech. They lost every game against ranked opponents by double digits, except one — South Carolina.
Fine, 2012 is the year. Mullen’s fifth full season. Not a player associated with the Croom tenure remains. State starts off 7-0, having beaten one team with a winning record (Middle Tennessee), then the No. 12 Bulldogs would face the heart of its conference schedule against three ranked teams and lose 38-7, 38-13, 37-14 to Alabama, A&M, and LSU respectively. They would sandwich in a win over John L. Smith then lose to .500 Ole Miss badly and have another double-digit loss in a bowl game.
2013 was more of the same: 5 ranked teams played, 5 losses by double digits; it beat three teams with a winning record, and only one (Ole Miss) was a Power 5 program. 2014, as we know, was the zenith for Mullen: That year the Bulldogs would elevate to No. 1 in the country for one shining week and actually beat three ranked teams. This was a good team — that still imploded down the stretch losing three of its last four, beating only Vandy.
And on and on and on.
Dan Mullen had 69 career wins at Mississippi State. Here are 51 of them:
La Tech 3
Jackson State 2
Middle TN St 2
Alcorn State 2
UT Martin 2
South Alabama 2
Southern Ms 2
Ole Miss 5
Not exactly a sterling resume for the 5th-highest paid coach, is it? Zero wins against Alabama; two wins against Auburn; three wins against LSU; zero division titles; zero conference titles; zero New Year’s Six bowl wins — $6,103,00 per year.
Given this dissection of Mullen’s actual record, it is fair to ask:
Did Florida settle for a substandard hire?
I think you can tell from the tenor here what I think.