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Florida annouces hiring of Dan Mullen as football head coach

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A unlikely reunion is happening.

University of Florida Introduces Dan Mullen Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

The Florida Gators have hired Dan Mullen as head football coach, the school announced in a release Sunday evening.

Florida’s release includes quotes from Mullen, Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin, and University of Florida president Dr. W. Kent Fuchs.

"Megan and I are very excited to get back to Gainesville and the University of Florida," Head Coach Dan Mullen said. "I have such great memories of the championships we won during our time here and have a love for Florida. We are happy to be coming back to such a supportive administration, staff, student body and fan base, which is the premier football program in the country.

"We will give relentless effort in everything that we do on and off the field. Our commitment will match the passion that the Gator Nation has for this program."

"I strongly believe Dan is the most prepared candidate to have immediate and long-term success at the University of Florida," Stricklin said. "Coach Mullen is one of the best offensive minds in all of college football, and has an unbelievable track record in tutoring successful quarterbacks (such as Alex Smith, Chris Leak, Tim Tebow, Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald).

"Coach Mullen will do a tremendous job in developing accountability and toughness through a well-coordinated strength and conditioning program. Dan will work closely with the coaching staff, academic advising staff and administrative team to give every student athlete he coaches the opportunity to grow and excel at a high level athletically, academically and socially."

"I'm pleased with the approach and process that Scott Stricklin and his staff had in place for this search that landed us the best candidate to move our football program forward nationally," UF President Dr. W. Kent Fuchs said. "Coach Mullen has a very successful track record at Florida and the SEC, which includes his ability to develop student-athletes on and off the field at the highest level."

Florida’s release does not make mention of Mullen’s contract or any possible ramifications of the buyout of his contract with Mississippi State.

The news of Mullen’s hiring was widely reported on Sunday, with more than half a dozen writers and reporters — Yahoo’s Pete Thamel, Tampa sports anchor Ryan Bass, 247Sports writer Juan Toribio, Associated Press reporter Mark Long, Only Gators proprietor Adam Silverstein, ESPN’s Chris Low, Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun, national college football writer Brett McMurphy, and Orlando Sentinel beat writer Edgar Thompson, to name just some — reporting a deal was coming, imminent, or done over the course of the afternoon and early evening, an unprecedented torrent of reporting from credible sources during the Florida coaching search.

And the news came a day after Florida’s apparent top target, Chip Kelly, was announced as UCLA’s new head coach, and — reportedly, per Bass and Toribio — hours after UCF head coach Scott Frost, another rumored top candidate, turned down an offer from the Gators.

It appears, in all likelihood, that Florida managed to secure only the third target on its list in a search to replace the fired Jim McElwain, despite having almost a month to conduct a search.

That doesn’t mean Florida didn’t land a good coach, or a good fit.

Mullen spent nine years at Mississippi State, and had just one losing season. His Bulldogs won 10 games just once, never beat Alabama, and never won the rawhide-tough SEC West, but also set a new standard of success in Starkville: Prior to Sunday, no coach had left Mississippi State having won 60 percent of his games since Darrell Royal — whose stay in Starkville was so long ago that Bear Bryant had not yet arrived at Alabama.

But Mullen is leaving with that distinction. And he only further burnished a reputation for finding and teaching excellent quarterbacks with the Bulldogs, adding Prescott and Fitzgerald to a list that had already included Smith, Leak, and Tebow.

And he is returning to Gainesville — a city desperately in need of a football team that does not desperately need a quarterback as much as the Gators have since Tebow’s departure — despite a long chill between Florida and its former offensive coordinator, one that was enough to produce a public statement affirming that Mullen was not a candidate to replace Will Muschamp, and was also thought to be a significant impediment to Mullen replacing McElwain.

Thanks to a thaw or hatchets buried in the snow, that chill was clearly not enough to prevent former Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin to import his former coach. Explaining it — and comments like Mullen’s dubbing a defensive coordinator leaving for Florida “a lateral move” and his wife’s lamentations of the difficulty of being a coach’s wife in Gainesville — will be the most important orders of business during Mullen’s introductory press conference. (All present should also probably avoid referencing dogs.)

But the truth is that what Mullen does and says now will pale in importance compared to what his Gators do on the field next fall and beyond. It is long past time, in most Florida fans’ minds, for its coaches to merely win press conferences — the expectation has and will be that the Gators should compete for and capture championships.

Mullen, more than any other coach on the board for the Gators this year, knows what that requires in Gainesville.

If he can satisfy those requirements on his second stint in town, it might be a long one.