clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Head Coaching Candidate Profiles: Dan Mullen

Don’t roll your eyes; Mullen can coach ball

Syndication: Gainesville Sun Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun / USA TODAY NETWORK

Welcome back to our series profiling potential replacements for Geoff Collins. Georgia Tech has a coaching vacancy that is likely to extend for a few months here, but it’s vital to be making good strategic decisions in this early stage of the search. Today, we look at a candidate who would be available interview now.

By producing this series, we aim to provide numerical context and analysis of Tech’s many options. We hope that this series provides reference for the numerous spirited discussions that are sure to occur over the coming weeks. In these profiles, we will focus on the candidate’s career in terms of Success Rate, the candidates’ history coaching the QB position, the schemes employed, and contract/money considerations. We’ll also include a Reasons to Hire/Risks section to add context that may not be reflected in the numbers. We hope you find these profiles useful and entertaining.

In this installment, we’ll look at a familiar name who was once one of the most sought-after coaches in college football, Dan Mullen.

Bio/Career - The Main Branch of the Urban Tree

While most of Mullen’s career has been in FBS, much of it happened too long ago for there to be reliable play-by-play data, Luckily, many of Mullen’s coaching tenures were memorable for many college football fans, so we won’t have to dive deep into each one.

2001-2002 Bowling Green (QB)

  • 2001 Record: 8-3
  • 2002 Record: 9-3

Mullen’s first stint as QB coach under Urban Meyer was at Bowling Green. The stop was brief, but propelled the duo to their true breakout.

2003-2004 Utah (QB)

  • 2003 Record: 10-2 (Mountain West Conf. Champs/#21 Final AP Rank)
  • 2004 Record: 12-0 (Mountain West Conf. Champs/Fiesta Bowl Champs/#4 Final AP Rank)

The Urban Meyer breakout tenure. In just 2 years at Utah, Meyer and Mullen took Utah to an undefeated season and top 5 ranking, a rare feat for a then non-Power 5 school. It was here that Mullen coached Alex Smith on his way to becoming the #1 pick in the NFL draft.

2005-2008 Florida (OC/QB)

  • 2005 Record: 9-3 (#12 Final AP Rank)
  • 2006 Record: 13-1 (SEC Champs/National Champs)
  • 2007 Record: 9-4 (#13 Final AP Rank)
  • 2008 Record: 13-1 (SEC Champs/National Champs)

There’s no need to dwell here much. Two national titles speak for themselves. These were some of the best teams in college football history. The next step for Mullen was to prove that he could win on his own, without Meyer.

2009-2017 Mississippi State (HC)

  • 2009 Record: 5-7
  • 2010 Record: 9-4 (#17 Final AP Rank)
  • 2011 Record: 7-6
  • 2012 Record: 8-5
  • 2013 Record: 7-6
  • 2014 Record: 10-3 (#12 Final AP Rank/One Fat L to Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl)
  • 2015 Record: 9-4
  • 2016 Record: 6-7
  • 2017 Record: 9-4 (#20 Final AP Rank)

Mullen’s first HC gig is also the first stop for which we have good play by play data! Like in previous installments of this series, we will look at Success Rate+ for offense and Success Rate- for defense. For both, 100 is FBS average. For SR+, higher is better. For SR- lower is better. For head coaching positions, we will also take a look at Net SR+ (Offense SR+-Defense SR-).

Offensive Success Rate +

Defensive Success Rate -

Net SR+

The team Mullen inherited at MSU was abysmal on offense but quite good on defense. It was the team that participated in the infamous 3-2 loss to Auburn. Mullen’s turnaround of that offense in a few years is impressive, even though the defense slid under his watch from “very good” to “above average.” The Net Success Rate shows that Mullen was able to build up the MSU program while inheriting very little and playing some of the toughest schedules in college football each year. It’s a situation that shares great similarity to Tech’s current one. An 18 point differential in net SR+ from before his tenure to during his tenure is enormous, and we will share a bit more context on that below.

2018-2021 Florida (HC)

2018 Record: 10-3 (Peach Bowl Champs/#7 Final AP Rank)

2019 Record: 11-2 (Orange Bowl Champs/#6 Final AP Rank)

2020 Record: 8-4 (SEC East Champs/#13 Final AP Rank)

2021 Record: 5-6

Offensive Success Rate +

Defensive Success Rate -

Net SR+

Mullen’s tenure at UF mirrored his tenure at MSU. He inherited a bad offense and good defense, then improved the offense drastically while the defense regressed to the mean. A Net SR+ of 16 is tied with Jamey Chadwell’s at CCU for the best number we’ve seen while doing these profiles, and Mullen was fired by UF. It should be noted that Mullen inherited a decent team at UF. Many of the situations we’ve looked at involved coaches taking over a smoldering crater, where the preceding teams had terrible Net SR+. This means that Mullen’s before and after impact at UF is not as large as some of the other potential candidates , and it’s even less than his MSU impact (+18 MSU vs +11 UF). That said, Mullen reached very high highs while in Gainesville. Those highs crashed down quickly after the departure of Kyle Trask, as Mullen was fired the next season. Only time will tell if UF made a mistake in not letting Mullen rebuild with another QB.

To put this level of improvement in context, let’s see how Mullen’s net impact stands in the industry. Part of the inspiration for this series came from a dataset over a 20 year period of 370 coaches we built that compares the three year performance before a head coach’s arrival to the performance during his tenure. We can use that data to calculate several different net impact metrics. His Mississippi State tenure especially looks quite good from this perspective.

Out of 370 coaches, he ranks:

  • 50th in net impact on PPA (an expected points metric developed by
  • 43rd in net impact on success rate
  • 71st in net impact on passing success rate
  • 88th in net impact on run stuff rate

That’s a top 15th percentile performance of all coaches in the lsat two decades. Georgia Tech would be doing quite well if its next coach can hit that kind of improvement.

Quarterbacks Coached

Team Year Coach Role QB PPA/Att Passer Rating PFF Team Pass Grade PFF Individual Off Grade
Bowling Green 2001 QB Andy Sahm 0.151 126.1 xx xx
Bowling Green 2002 QB Josh Harris xx 125.3 xx xx
Utah 2003 QB Alex Smith** 0.072 152.3 xx xx
Utah 2004 QB Alex Smith** 0.33 176.5 xx xx
Florida 2005 OC/QB Chris Leak 0.178 136.5 xx xx
Florida 2006 OC/QB Chris Leak 0.197 144.9 xx xx
Florida 2007 OC/QB Tim Tebow** 0.366 172.5 xx xx
Florida 2008 OC/QB Tim Tebow** 0.248 172.4 xx xx
Mississippi State 2009 HC Tyson Lee 0.004 107 xx xx
Mississippi State 2010 HC Chris Reif 0.182 141 57.2 45.8
Mississippi State 2011 HC Chris Reif 0.026 121.5 xx xx
Mississippi State 2012 HC Tyler Russell 0.135 135.4 xx xx
Mississippi State 2013 HC Tyler Russell 0.22 142.2 xx xx
Mississippi State 2014 HC Dak Prescott* 0.317 151.7 66.7 72.1
Mississippi State 2015 HC Dak Prescott* 0.34 151 75.2 76.4
Mississippi State 2016 HC Nick Fitzgerald 0.159 124.3 57.6 69.6
Mississippi State 2017 HC Nick Fitzgerald 0.1 117.5 62.1 75.8
Florida 2018 HC Feleipe Franks 0.299 143.4 72.5 69.5
Florida 2019 HC Kyle Trask* 0.414 156.1 70.4 69.9
Florida 2020 HC Kyle Trask* 0.462 180 92.3 92.2
Florida 2021 HC Emory Jones 0.345 141.7 68.6 80.6

*NFL Draft Pick

**1st Round NFL Draft Pick

Building on our theme of profiling coaches with good track records developing quarterbacks, we would challenge anyone to find a more impressive list of QBs coached than this. Urban Meyer is probably the only coach with a more exhaustive list, and there’s a lot of overlap here. At every stop throughout his entire coaching career, Mullen has produced stellar QB play, with 4 QBs drafted, including 2 1st rounders. This history is what made Mullen one of the most sought-after coaches of the last decade and a half.

Scheme/Coaching Attributes

There are 3 main “coaching attributes” that are important to consider as part of this series. These attributes serve as “inputs” to coaching performance, while “outputs” include W/L Record and Play-by-Play data. These attributes are:

  • Recruiting - How well a coach brings in talent
  • Development - How well a coach develops that talent
  • Deployment - How well a coach deploys talent (Scheme/Playcalling)

Mullen is well known as a QB developer and as a deployer on offense. He has gained a reputation as somewhat of a lazy recruiter, however. This reputation was particularly emphasized after Mullen left UF. That said, his recruiting classes were never bad there. His 4 classes were ranked 14th, 9th, 9th, and 12th national per 247Sports Composite. UF wanted more. UF is a fairly easy recruiting job, so perhaps that’s reasonable.

Mullen’s offense has always been rooted in Urban Meyer’s spread, but he has always adapted his offense to the QB he has. Looking at his UF tenure, He adjusted to Feleipe Franks by running 40 plays per game and passing 28 plays per game. Contrast that with Kyle Trask’s 2nd season as starter in 2020, when the Gators passed 39 times per game and rushed 30. Even during that 2020 season, Mullen created packages for Emory Jones that focused on the QB running the ball. When Trask was in, Mullen attacked the intermediate and deep zones, especially to the sideline using Kyle Pitts. The game against UGA in 2020 was a masterclass in offensive performance, and Kirby Smart has mentioned that the scheme Mullen deployed caused them to make significant shifts to their defense after the fact. The offense has incorporated RPO elements, though they were not the backbone of the offense. That’s a lot of words to say: the scheme depends on the QB and greatly benefits from “matchup nightmare” guys at the skill positions.

Money Considerations

Dan Mullen made a lot of money at Florida. His annual salary reached north of $7 million, a number that Georgia Tech will never match. While he’d have to take less pay here, that’s only a concern if a bigger fish of a school is interested. His buyout is currently zero dollars, as he is not coaching college football this season. That’s attractive for a school like Georgia Tech, which will be spending $TEXAS to fire Geoff Collins.

Mullen may demand a higher salary to come to Georgia Tech than some other potential hires that will be profiled in this series, but having no buyout makes that more feasible.

Summing Up

Reasons to Hire

Dan Mullen has built and improved programs at the highest levels of competition both as an OC and a HC. He is arguably the most successful head coach in Mississippi State history, which should not be taken lightly. It is downright hard to be a winning coach in Starkville. It’s even more difficult to take Mississippi State to a #1 ranking, even though it was brief. When Mullen got to Mississippi State, he inherited a bad situation, while facing brutal schedules each and every year. He answered the call. Georgia Tech could use experience in such situations right now.

As a position coach, OC, and HC, Dan Mullen has coached some of the best football players in college football history, including multiple first round picks and multiple successful starting NFL QBs. No coach reasonably available to Georgia Tech has a QB coaching history like Mullen’s.

Mullen has found success at the highest levels of college football competition. No other coach Tech can reasonably consider can say that.

At MSU, Mullen inherited an abysmal offense and made it into a solid one across his tenure, with notable peaks during the Prescott seasons. At UF, he inherited a below average offense and made it stellar with Kyle Trask at the helm. The 2020 season was particularly impressive and saw the Gators make the SEC championship for the first time in 4 years.


Reading through this profile so far, you may feel that this is a slam dunk hire. Well, it’s time we sat down and talked about the risks. While none of these are a deal-breaker, and many are not more hearsay than hard fact, they should all be considered as part of the hiring process. Buckle Up.

Dan Mullen has gained a reputation as someone who is very difficult to work with. This was mentioned extensively as his earlier than expected exit from Florida was happening. If he has burned up much of his goodwill among coaches, he could find it difficult to form an effective staff at his next stop. This risk involves a lot of second hand reporting, so the GTAA would have to find out how much of a concern this really is. But if he can’t form a strong staff, that’s an immediate show-stopper. One particular example of this would be whether he could recruit Greg Knox to join him in Atlanta. Knox worked with Mullen at both Mississippi State and Florida and is now in his first year as an Assistant Head Coach for Buffalo. He’s been a kind of right hand man for Mullen, especially in recruiting capacities.

Another point of contention that came up during the UF breakup was that Dan Mullen seemed disinterested in recruiting. While recruiting is just one of the “coaching attributes” we’ve discussed in this series, no coach can completely disregard recruiting. Again, this is something that would have to be looked into to find the truth. Florida’s recruiting classes were fine, though maybe not by Florida standards. The good news for Mullen is that in the NIL era, a HC can more or less get the boosters to recruit for him. But that’s where the above abrasive personality comes into play. If the boosters don’t like interacting with him, they won’t fork over the necessary cash.

In a similar vein, Mullen has struggled to replace his best QBs at both his HC stops. In a way that’s expected, as it is hard to replace players like Dak Prescott and Kyle Trask. Combined with the reported “disinterest in recruiting,” however, it could lead to some peaks and valleys.

While Mullen drastically improved the offenses he inherited at MSU and UF, he inherited good defenses that regressed under his leadership. Those defenses would remain above average under his watch, but that’s a downgrade from “good.”

Final Thoughts

Dan Mullen is one of the most interesting profiles the authors have written as part of this series. His exploits across his career are so impressive that Tech should have no chance of hiring him, but a quick collapse of his Florida tenure creates opportunity for the GTAA. Tech must exercise caution, however, and investigate the risks involved with this hire to properly understand Mullen’s chances for success on the Flats. If those investigations return favorable results for Mullen, there are few better choices for Tech.