Sometimes you have to go with comfort.
After swinging for the fences in his first major coaching search as Florida athletic director, Scott Stricklin found his new guy in his old guy: Dan Mullen.
It isn't the home-run hire that Chip Kelly would have been, and it doesn't make the same splash that up-and-comer Scott Frost would have made.
There are no fireworks in Gainesville to accompany Mullen's arrival, but he completely transformed Mississippi State during his nine-year tenure, exhibiting the qualities Stricklin was looking for in the Gators' next head coach.
"I strongly believe Dan is the most prepared candidate to have immediate and long-term success at the University of Florida," Stricklin said.
Florida went all in on Kelly, who many thought was a done deal for the Gators early last week. However, Kelly chose UCLA, where he'll be officially introduced on Monday. Florida made a run at UCF's Frost, the hottest name among young coaches, but he declined to meet with Florida officials on Saturday. There's some embarrassment that comes when one of the best football programs in the country whiffs on two big fish and starts its coaching search 0-for-2.
There's also no denying this is a safe and familiar hire for Stricklin, who worked with Mullen as Mississippi State's athletic director, but Mullen is an offensive mind who develops quarterbacks as well as anyone in the country. He is familiar with the pressure cooker that is the Florida job, having served as Urban Meyer's offensive coordinator from 2005-08, and is regarded as one of the better coaches in the SEC, with a reputation for doing more with less.
It's important for a Florida program that has been ranked worse than 100 in most offensive categories during the past three seasons to hire someone who has coached productive offenses in the SEC West. It's important to hire someone who comes from the Meyer school of toughness and mental warfare. And when your program has lost all shred of excitement, it's important to hire someone who immediately brings moxie and confidence.
The biggest quality that Mullen brings is quarterback development, something Florida hasn't had since, well, Mullen was last in Gainesville.
Five quarterbacks Mullen has coached have been drafted, including Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow (Florida) and No. 1 pick Alex Smith (Utah). In 2007, Tebow became the first FBS player to throw for 20 touchdowns and rush for 20 touchdowns in a season. At Mississippi State, Dak Prescott went from unknown to an All-SEC, record-setting quarterback and was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2016 with the Dallas Cowboys. Mullen leaves behind in Starkville a star in Nick Fitzgerald, who has 6,564 total yards and 66 touchdowns in two seasons as a starter. Mullen has worked with run-heavy quarterbacks and more traditional passers, but the thing that has set him apart is his ability to fit his systems around his quarterbacks, and not force it the other way around.
"It's much easier for me to adapt than for them to adapt," Mullen told ESPN this summer.
With a run-first, pass-second scheme that works off the play-action, Mullen's offenses have the ability to stretch the field and he loves to cause mismatches with his tight ends.
"He's always difficult to scheme up," an SEC West assistant coach said. "You watch his offense and he does more real football stuff, not trickery stuff. He definitely does a good job of scheming your defense and attacking it."
Mullen will approach his new job similar to a CEO. One priority, which was emphasized by Stricklin when he announced Mullen's hire, is to scrap Florida's woeful strength and conditioning program that has dragged the Gators down the past three years. But there is natural pause for concern. Mullen is 2-16 in ranked matchups and has won 10 games just once with the Bulldogs. And he went 0-9 against Alabama, scoring double-digit points just three times. He was 5-13 against Auburn and LSU and 5-4 in the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss. His 2017 passing offense was also worse than Florida's, averaging 170.3 yards per game (13th in the SEC).
There's certainly risk with Mullen, and this will be the hire that defines Stricklin's tenure at Florida. Fans clamoring for flash won't be thrilled with comfort, and they'll have to allow for a two-year turnaround. Impatience in the SEC can be overwhelming, but at least Florida has someone who isn't new to the demands, and that's a good head start for Mullen.