STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Dan Mullen started playing catch at 2, wore a helmet and jersey to career day when he was in kindergarten, learned to count in multiples of seven and decided when he was 17 he wanted to be a head coach.
He took the latest step in his lifelong obsession with football when he was introduced as the new coach at Mississippi State on Thursday to the clanging of cowbells and the cheers of about 200 fans on campus.
"Football has been my life from a very, very early age and so when I realized people didn't want a 6-foot, 180-pound quarterback with a weak arm that made up for it with a real lack of speed, I figured I'd better get in the coaching profession soon and be able to use my mind," Mullen said.
Mullen has used those football smarts to help rebuild three programs into winners under coach Urban Meyer, most recently as offensive coordinator at Florida. Now in his first head coaching job, he'll take his high-octane brand of spread option offense and bring it to Starkville, where fans are starved for points and wins after losing seasons in seven of the past eight years.
"We will take these great athletes in the state of Mississippi and get them the ball in space and give them the right opportunities for them to do some things in the open field," Mullen said. "I think with those one-on-one matchups we can put ourselves in the position to win."
Mullen and athletic director Greg Byrne agreed to a four-year contract that will pay $1.2 million per season. Mullen was off-limits until after last Saturday's SEC championship game, when he helped lead the Gators to a 31-20 win over then-No. 1 Alabama, a spot in the FedEx BCS national championship game and a shot at a second national title in three years.
Mullen was the eighth candidate Byrne interviewed and it didn't take the athletic director long to settle on the replacement for Sylvester Croom, who resigned under pressure on Nov. 29 after going 21-38 in five seasons as the SEC's first black football coach.
"We were 30 minutes into it and I knew this was our man," Byrne said.
Most Mississippi State players have gone home for the holiday break, but news of Mullen's hire was a hot topic of text, e-mail and phone discussions during the past 24 hours. Quarterback Tyson Lee attended the news conference and said players are excited about their new coach.
"He's got passion, he's got energy, he's got a vision for what he wants for this program," Lee said. "When you see that, it only makes you the same way."
The 36-year-old Mullen is the fourth-youngest coach in the Bowl Subdivision, following 33-year-old Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin, and Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald and Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, both 34.
Mullen isn't sure if he'll coach Florida's offense in the title game against Oklahoma next month, calling it "a fluid situation." But the chance to finish what he started with Tim Tebow and the Gators is a powerful draw.
Mullen and the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner have a tight bond.
"He works harder than other coaches," Tebow said. "It's why he's getting his chance. He's a great QB coach. Look at what he's done. He'll get that program in the right direction."