October 21, 2009 9:18:00 AM
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen and University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow share a special bond.
What began as a relationship between a quarterback and his position coach has become a valued friendship.
Tebow was at Florida there for three of the four years Mullen was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at school. In that time, Mullen became fond of many players he helped mold, but Tebow wanted to go the extra mile, which is why Mullen took a special role as a mentor.
"Tim was a guy who wanted to be the best he could be, so he spent as much time as he could being around and (trying) to learn, so when you spend that much time together, you develop a great relationship," Mullen said. "I''m sure we influenced each other''s life a lot."
When the Bulldogs play host to the Gators at 6:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN), Mullen and Tebow will have a brief opportunity to greet and to talk about those moments.
Mullen''s relationship with Tebow almost didn''t materialize, and he had to sweat it out during Tebow''s recruitment.
"I had no idea what was going to happen," Mullen said. "I was locked in my office watching his press conference to see where he was going to go to school."
Mullen wasn''t the only one who knew Tebow would be special. After visiting Tebow and his family on a recruiting visit one Sunday morning, LSU and Alabama weren''t very far behind.
"As we left early Sunday morning, LSU was pulling in and Alabama was going to be there on Monday," Mullen said. "(Tebow) was making his decision Tuesday. It was intense because he was the quarterback of the future."
Tebow signed with the Gators and made an immediate impact in the national championship season of 2006.
Although in a backup role to Chris Leak, Tebow was 22 of 33 for 358 yards and five touchdowns and had 469 yards rushing on 89 carries and eight scores.
When Tebow became the starter in 2007, the Gators went 9-4 and lost to Michigan 41-35 in the Capital One Bowl.
Tebow still was able to do enough individually to win the Heisman Trophy. He was 234 of 350 for 3,286 yards and 32 touchdowns and rushed for 895 yards on 210 carries for 23 more scores.
Last season, Florida finished 13-1 and captured its second national championship in three years with a 24-14 victory against Oklahoma in the Bowl Championship Series Championship Game in Miami.
Mullen kept the faith in Tebow as a quarterback.
"He helped me go through all of the ups and downs of my sophomore year," Tebow said. "In my junior year, we won the national title and it doesn''t get much better than that, so there were highs and lows, but we became really close."
It was right before last year''s title game that Mullen decided last year right before the BCS Championship Game to become coach at MSU.
Tebow understood that the opportunity to become a head coach in the Southeastern Conference was too good for Mullen to pass up.
"We missed him and wanted him here," Tebow said. "At the same time, I knew he wanted a head coaching job. Not that he didn''t like being (at Florida), but he wanted that next goal, a task and something he could accomplish. If anything, I was happy for him to get it because he earned it with his coaching and reputation."
Mullen and Tebow try to contact each other at least once a month, but it has been difficult for them to stay in touch since the season started.
"I''m sure after the season I''ll talk to him a little bit more," Mullen said. "He''s real focused on their season and trying to accomplish the goals they have. I''m the same way (at MSU)."
Mullen checked on Tebow three weeks ago after he suffered a concussion at Kentucky. Tebow calls or texts Mullen to ask about his wife, Megan, and son, Canon. The Mullens'' dog, a Wheaton terrier, is named Heisman in honor of Tebow''s accomplishment.
"He still cares about me," Tebow said.
Mullen holds Tebow in high regard, but not just as a football player. He is more impressed with Tebow the person.
"For a guy his age to have his priorities in life in order and what''s important to him, that''s what''s special," Mullen said. "He''s a tremendous student in the classroom. He has tremendous convictions. Tim Tebow is someone who lives his life trying to improve the lives of people around him."
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