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Slimantics: Mullen dances around Univ. of Florida speculation

 

Mississippi State University head football coach Dan Mullen on Monday deflects rumors he may bolt for the University of Florida at season's end. Florida, where former MSU athletic director Scott Stricklin serves in the same capacity, parted ways with its head coach over the weekend.

Mississippi State University head football coach Dan Mullen on Monday deflects rumors he may bolt for the University of Florida at season's end. Florida, where former MSU athletic director Scott Stricklin serves in the same capacity, parted ways with its head coach over the weekend. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

Slim Smith

 

 

Dan Mullen knows the drill. 

 

Almost since his arrival as head coach at Mississippi State in 2009, Mullen's name has been linked to coaching openings on an almost annual basis. He's accustomed to handling the rumors. 

 

So when his name surfaced in media speculation that Mullen is a candidate for the head coaching job at Florida after the Gators' parted ways with Jim McElwain on Sunday, the Bulldogs' ninth-year coach was at ease and ready as he took the podium Monday afternoon for his weekly press conference. 

 

Mullen deftly danced around the question of whether he was interested in the job, which would return him to Gainesville where he helped the Gators to two national championships as the team's quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator from 2005-08.  

 

He was not so much dismissive of the speculation as playfully evasive. 

 

"I'm really happy here," Mullen said when asked if he had any interest in the Florida job. "I haven't really thought much about it. ... I don't like to speculate on that stuff. ... I'm very happy with what we are building here. We're building a great future at Mississippi State." 

 

Mullen downplayed the rumors, pointing out that his name has often been linked to job openings. That much is true. In fact, Mullen has been frequently suggested as a job candidate since the end of his second season at MSU in 2010, when his name was linked to jobs at Florida (after his mentor, Urban Meyer, retired from the job) and the University of Miami and the following year, when he was prominently mentioned for the Penn State job. 

 

Mullen used that history to help deflect attention from the current rumors. 

 

"I've been here long enough, everybody knows that, and as the year goes and gets into that silly season of who's going where and what's going to happen and all that, I'm still here, still happily coaching and, hopefully, will continue to win a lot of football games. 

 

"I will say this: You're either on your way out because you're not winning or you're on your way out because you are winning. In our league, it seems it's always one or the other. ... So I'll take the winning side of that." 

 

To what degree Mullen's comments Monday comfort the Bulldog fan base is unclear. What it is almost certain is it will not end the discussion, either here or in Florida. 

 

There are factors that make him a particularly appealing candidate for the Florida job that did not exist in 2010, including a body of work that demonstrates his ability to field winning teams.  

 

Mullen has had winning seasons in seven of his nine campaigns at MSU, and on Saturday the Bulldogs qualified for their eighth consecutive bowl game with an impressive 35-14 win at Texas A&M. His 67 wins (against 44 losses) leave him eight short of Jackie Sherrill's record for career wins at MSU (in 13 seasons). Put simply, what Mullen has done at State is unprecedented in the school's history. 

 

There is another factor that wasn't in place in 2010 -- the presence of Scott Stricklin as the Gators' athletic director. Stricklin served the same post for most of Mullen's tenure at State before taking the Florida job last year. This will be Stricklin's first head football coaching decision and while there will be no shortage of candidates for the job, it is not uncommon for an AD in that position to prefer someone he knows. 

 

"I keep up with the marketplace," Stricklin said. "I have an idea of who's out there, who might be available. I have an idea, as anybody would." 

 

Finally, there is this bit of cryptic coincidence. 

 

When Mullen was hired at Mississippi State, the university's promotional materials included an illustration of Mullen charting Xs and Os on a chalkboard, with the phrase "something fun" written underneath the diagram. 

 

Sunday, when asked what he was looking for in the next Gator's coach, Stricklin said, "In 25 years in this league, when Florida has been good, from a distance, it has looked really fun. I want it to be really fun." 

 

It's not much fun for State fans, but this Mullen-to-Florida speculation isn't likely to end any time soon.

 

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is ssmith@cdispatch.com.

 

 

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