Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, reported front runner to replace Joe Paterno as head coach at Penn State, broke onto the national scene as quarterbacks coach under Urban Meyer at Utah in 2004, where he helped develop Alex Smith into the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft.
When Meyer left Salt Lake City to take over the Florida job in 2005, Mullen followed, serving as offensive coordinator on the Gators' national championship squads in 2006 and 2008 while coaching elite talent including former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and Pro Bowler Percy Harvin. He left to take the Mississippi State job in Starkville in 2009.
Today, we take a look back at Mullen's tenure in Gainesville with Andy Hutchins, Editor-in-Chief of SB Nation's Florida Gators blog, Alligator Army.
AB: Generally, how do Florida fans feel about the job Dan Mullen did? Is there a consensus, or are there competing opinions?
AH: I think Dan Mullen has come out of the post-Tebow era looking a lot better to most Florida fans than Urban Meyer does, at least in terms of offensive philosophy. Mullen gets to be responsible for the years that Florida had Percy Harvin, while Meyer is seen as the guy who let Steve Addazio run approximately 41,512,873 dive plays. I think there are some problems with Mullen, too, considering his hit-or-miss offenses at Mississippi State, but many Florida fans would swap him for Charlie Weis in a heartbeat.
AB: Obviously, in the minds of many outsiders, Florida's offense under Mullen = Tim Tebow. Is that too simple? How much deeper was his success in developing the offensive unit as a whole?
AH: It's far too simple. Tebow was the Mack truck part of that offense, but Harvin was the Murcielago, and Mullen drove both effectively. The conventional wisdom holds that Mullen had been calling plays for Meyer's teams dating back to his time at Utah, and while he obviously did his best work with All-American talent at Florida, Mullen was able to get plenty out of even Alex Smith and a bunch of names lost to history. Furthermore, though many think of Tebow Smash and variations thereof as the bread-and-butter of those Florida offenses, the use of Harvin in the backfield was what gave the Gators their most explosive options, and that's something for which I would credit Mullen, not Meyer.
AB: What would you say are the biggest differences between Florida's offense with Mullen and without Mullen, specifically in Urban Meyer's last two years?
AH: The biggest difference since Mullen is probably Harvin's absence, but the simplicity of the offense in Meyer's two post-Mullen years speaks to how inventive he was as a offensive coordinator. I also suspect Mullen would have run zero plays that involved John Brantley running in 2010.
AB: What was Mullen's recruiting role at Florida and how did he execute it?
AH: As far as I know, Mullen was an offensive recruiter, but worked under Meyer, who handled a lot of the recruiting duties himself. (I don't know a ton about pre-2009 recruiting, unfortunately.)
AB: What kind of fit would you see Mullen's offense being with the Big Ten?
AH: As long as Mullen has some threat to run from the backfield, whether with a dynamic wide receiver/runner or a quarterback who can tote the ball, I think his offense would work well. That could be at Mississippi State or Penn State, though the caliber of player at PSU might make for a better offense.
AB: Urban Meyer vs. Dan Mullen. Thoughts?
AH: Meyer's certainly the better head coach, but it's doubtful that he wins either title without Mullen, to say nothing of Charlie Strong and his defenses. And Mullen was 1-1 against Meyer in 2009 and 2010, and made Florida look awful in both games, though his defenses (coached by now-Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz) had more to do with that than his offenses. Slight edge to Meyer, but only as a head coach; Mullen would be the better offensive coordinator.
AB: Any general thoughts about Dan Mullen and Penn State?
AH: I find it interesting that Penn State, so recently revealed to have a crisis of leadership that may have been about ego, seems to be interested in a guy whose ego was allegedly the reason he didn't get more calls in either of the last two offseasons. Mullen's star cooled a bit in 2011, but buying low on him may be a great value.