Matt Hayes: Ultracompetitive Dan Mullen would be perfect fit with Tide
He’s relaxing on the pristine sands of Ponte Vedra Beach these days, earning millions for not doing a darned thing.
He did the ESPN football analyst thing for a few months in 2022, and he was really good at it. His kids are happy at private school in Jacksonville, and his wife, Megan, and the kids don’t have to read on social media how it’s weird that she’s — ready for this, Mr. and Mrs. America? — nice and caring.
Why in the world would Dan Mullen jump back into the rat race that is college football coaching?
“He’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever met, that’s why,” a former assistant coach under Mullen told me. “He’ll race you from the counter at the (convenience) store to the car — and pull and grab and bang shoulders the whole way.”
Sounds like a perfect fit for Alabama’s offensive coordinator.
Tide coach Nick Saban is in the market for a new OC and quarterbacks coach/play-caller, and of those on the market — or, really, at other colleges or in the NFL — he’s not going to get a better, more motivated candidate.
Kirby Smart, you see, knocked out Dan Mullen, too.
Forget about how it ended at Florida, with his inability to recruit at a high level colliding head on with an underachieving quarterback duo that couldn’t stop throwing interceptions. Florida boosters aren’t patient, and they ran off a guy with a strong history of developing quarterbacks and unique play-calling — and 3 New Year’s 6 bowls on his resume.
The same guy who, the year he was fired, nearly beat No. 1 Alabama in the 1st month of the season — before a botched 2-point conversion ended hope in a 31-29 loss.
Understand this: Saban remembers who stresses his defense — like he remembered how Lane Kiffin in 2009 took a depleted Tennessee team into Tuscaloosa and nearly won.
Or Mullen in 2020, when Florida traded blows with Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, and but for 2 critical mistakes that led to Alabama touchdowns — a personal foul call on 3rd down, and a fumble after an interception — could’ve beaten what Saban considers his best team in Tuscaloosa.
The Gators lost, 52-46, the 6-point margin the closest any team came to beat the Tide in 2020. The next closest was 17 points.
We’ve seen what a Mullen offense can do with a talented quarterback and dangerous skill players. Saw it at Florida (both as head coach and OC), and at Utah (as OC), and for a couple of seasons as coach at Mississippi State.
He developed Alex Smith (the No. 1 pick in the 2005 NFL Draft), and Utah had an unbeaten season. As an OC at Florida, he developed Chris Leak and Tim Tebow and won national titles with each.
He nearly did it again in 2020 with a quarterback (Kyle Trask) who a few years earlier was a backup on his high school team. The guy can coach; that has never been in question.
Mullen also has proven he can handle the heat of working under — how can I say this in the most delicate and loving way, Nick? — a driven lunatic (see: Meyer, Urban). Nothing is going to faze him.
The problem with this dream match of offense/quarterback guru and greatest college football coach ever? Mullen doesn’t need it.
He got $6 million 30 days after he was fired from Florida, and he will get another $1 million a year for the next 6 years if he doesn’t take another job. He can lie on the beach and continue to be an ESPN analyst and second-guess calls from other coaches — instead of his family reading Twitter warriors saying the 3rd-and-5 call against Tennessee was stupid and cost Alabama the game.
So how does Saban get Mullen to bite? Easy: Let’s go win it all — and get back on top because of your offense and my defense and the players we develop.
Let’s topple Georgia — the very team that officially supplanted King Alabama earlier this month, and the same team that was directly responsible for Mullens’ quick exit at Florida.
The process of Smart building the monster at Georgia included a demoralizing beatdown of Florida in 2021, when Smart said players win games and no one can “outcoach talent” — a direct shot at Mullen and his “QB guru” and play-caller reputation.
It continued with a win over Alabama in the 2021 Playoff National Championship Game, and it was completed this season with the 1st back-to-back national titles since Alabama in 2011-12.
They’re both in this together now. Saban needs this hire as badly as Mullen does.
And who knows what happens down the road if Saban returns to the top of the mountain and Mullen develops a dynamic offense, and Saban eventually decides to retire.
And the best job in college football is open.
That’s why you jump back into the rat race.
The beach isn’t going anywhere.