Florida and Tennessee swung for the fences.
Spurned by Chip Kelly and Jon Gruden, respectively, neither program hit a press conference grand slam, but did either hit a home run with their next head football coach?
You know about Dan Mullen, 45, the former Gators offensive coordinator who helped win two national championships and then took Mississippi State to No. 1. He came back to town talking like Tebow and Spurrier, never a bad thing in Gainesville.
Jeremy Pruit, 43, is a first-time head coach, but he comes from the same mold as Kirby Smart, and that certainly worked out well for Georgia.
Who got the better coach? Florida with Mullen, or Tennessee with Pruitt? That’s something we’ve been discussing for a while.
Connor O’Gara, senior national columnist: Yeah, I’m gonna go with the guy who’s been doing this as a college head coach the past decade. Mullen was clearly the better candidate from the jump. As much as he’s a household name across college football, Mullen still fits the “up and coming” build.
He just took a lot longer than expected to finally take the opportunity at the big-time program.
I’m not convinced that Tennessee’s sixth or seventh option deserved to be lower on the totem pole than Greg Schiano, but Mullen to Florida made more sense than all of the Vols’ candidates, including Pruitt.
Mullen was easily the best coach in Mississippi State history, and frankly it’s really distant second. He’s going to be able to develop quarterbacks unlike anybody Florida could have gotten on the open market.
That makes him a slam-dunk hire for a program that’s been starved at the position in the post-Urban Meyer (and really post-Mullen) era.
John Crist, senior writer: I don’t know if he necessarily made the best decision going from a low-pressure situation in Starkville to a high-pressure situation in Gainesville, but Florida got the better coach in Mullen.
Even if he didn’t accomplish great things in the traditional sense while at Mississippi State, Mullen turned a doormat Bulldogs program into a fringe contender in the country’s toughest division. Competing with the likes of Alabama, Auburn and LSU should’ve been next to impossible given the recruiting disadvantages, but somehow he found a way to do it.
This is MSU we’re talking about here, a school that was under .500 historically — dating to 1902, by the way — before he got there. Prior to his arrival, the ‘Dogs had lost double-digit games just as often as they won that many (twice). From 2001-08, Jackie Sherrill and Sylvester Croom led them to a grand total of one bowl game, while Mullen would’ve competed in his eighth consecutive this holiday season had he stayed.
Instead, he brings his reputation as one of the country’s premier quarterback whisperers to a Gators squad that needs a complete overhaul at the game’s most important position. Whether or not he vibes with incumbent Feleipe Franks remains to be seen, but he was much more sought after coming out of high school than Dak Prescott or Nick Fitzgerald, who both thrived under Mullen.
Not only do I expect Florida to be back in contention quickly with Mullen, but I imagine that Mississippi State will be in real trouble again without him.
Chris Wright, executive editor: If Mullen isn’t a grand slam hire, he might be a two-out, two-strike, pinch-hit walkoff homer in the bottom of the ninth.
Many think the Gators should have started their search with the man who was their offensive coordinator for their past two national titles in 2006 and 2008.
(His wife didn’t like Gainesville a decade ago? Please. That was the silliest thing I heard throughout the search. There are plenty of nice beach houses on either side of Gainesville, just a 20-minute private flight away, whenever she needs to escape the madness. And Mullen certainly wasn’t making anywhere near $6M a year the last time he was in Gainesville, either.)
Mullen made sense for so many reasons. His previous Gators’ success is obvious, but he’s also a proven winner in the SEC, even in the SEC West. He accomplished that without the recruiting resources he’ll have at Florida, too.
He’s immediately the best offensive mind in an East division filled with former defensive coordinators, the latest of which is Pruitt.
Tennessee didn’t make a desperate hire by any stretch with Pruitt, there’s just much more unknown. First-time head coaches are riskier. Some work. Some are fired after three years. Best-case, Pruitt becomes what Smart already is. Don’t bet against it, either. That becomes all the more realistic if Tennessee also adds Hugh Freeze as offensive coordinator.
Pruitt certainly has well-qualified fans.
Tennessee by pure LUCK just hit a home-run and doesn’t even realize it with Jeremy Pruitt. Favorite this tweet. https://t.co/KVBnmb4hXp
— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) December 7, 2017
But Mullen is the type of risk-free, high-ceiling hire that restores confidence and championship aspirations immediately.
Source: Saturday Down South