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Florida fires Dan Mullen

Florida’s coach exits after three strong seasons — and a stunning decline in his fourth.

NCAA Football: Florida at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators are parting ways with Dan Mullen, the school announced Sunday.

On3Sports’ Matt Zenitz was first to report the news, closely followed by ESPN’s Chris Low. Running backs coach and special teams coordinator Greg Knox will serve as Florida’s interim coach against Florida State next Saturday; Low was first to report that, with Florida’s announcement confirming it.

Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin will meet with media in a press conference at 3 p.m. Eastern.

Mullen’s Gators are 5-6, and fell to Missouri in a 24-23 overtime loss on Saturday. They have lost their last five games against Power Five teams, went 2-6 in SEC play this year, and are just 5-9 in their last 14 games, dating back to an 0-3 close to the 2020 season.

That 5-9 skid proved too much for Florida to grin and bear despite the success that came before it, with Mullen running up a 29-6 record in his first 35 games as head coach in Gainesville and collecting wins over Auburn, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, and Miami on the way. Florida went to New Year’s Six bowls in each of the last three seasons, and played in the 2020 SEC Championship Game, losing a thriller to Alabama behind Heisman finalist Kyle Trask and first-round picks Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney.

Without those three players, Florida’s 2021 campaign turned out to be much harder. A slow start for Emory Jones, Mullen’s hand-picked and long-groomed successor to Trask, made a substantial defeat against Alabama all but certain despite the emergence of backup Anthony Richardson as an explosive component of Florida’s offense — and while Florida shocked many by keeping things close against the Crimson Tide, the Gators could not fully capitalize on that result, taking down Tennessee a week later but then hitting the road and embarking on a 2-5 stretch in which their only wins have been home games against Vanderbilt and Samford, the latter an unprecedented 70-52 shootout.

Mullen had previously fired defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and offensive line coach John Hevesy — the latter of whom spent 20 years coaching alongside Mullen — after a road loss to South Carolina in an effort to right Florida’s ship. But the Gators defense immediately conceded those points to Samford, and Florida’s offensive line continued a season-long decline from staggering heights to stunning lows by failing to meaningfully push a Missouri defense that had previously been stampeded for thousands of rushing yards.

Mullen exits with a fairly tidy $12 million remaining on his contract, and the deals for Florida’s assistant coaches were all set to expire at year’s end, meaning that the Gators will not be paying as much to part ways with Mullen and his staff as they did to buy out the contracts of Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain and their respective staffs.

But where Florida goes from here is deeply unclear, with Stricklin now having fired the candidate he brought from his alma mater to Gainesville — and under his own layer of public scrutiny for his role in allegedly failing to adequately respond to multiple reports of abuse in Florida’s women’s basketball program.

And Florida is also in flux above Stricklin, as University of Florida president Dr. Kent Fuchs faces criticism — while the school itself faces increased attention from its accreditor and Congress — after a recently filed lawsuit revealed it had prevented multiple professors from testifying against the state of Florida, with a strong but unproven implication of Fuchs and Florida bowing to political pressure exerted by Florida governor Ron DeSantis and allies.