Dan Mullen's extension doesn't entirely eliminate concerns, but it provides stability at a pivotal time
Let me get religious for a minute.
You know how when you walk into church, an usher hands you the bulletin that outlines the happenings to come that day and beyond? I’d like to imagine that the second Florida was finally able to open its doors to recruits with the end of the year-long dead period on Tuesday, there was a similar vibe. On the front of the bulletin read the following message in big, bold letters.
“Coach Dan Mullen, Florida agree to contract extension.”
Yes, the timing of Mullen’s new deal was clearly calculated. If you want to believe that announcing that the same day as the June 1 dead period lift wasn’t an attempt to avoid having to answer that question face to face, that’s your deal. If you also want to believe that there was never anything weird about the year Mullen had and that the delayed extension squashes any potential rift between him and Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin, that’s also your deal.
No matter where you stand on those things, what can’t be denied is the stability optics that Florida just earned.
Instead of opening its doors for the first time since the pandemic started and having Mullen answer the question about why a coach with 3 consecutive New Year’s 6 bowls is still working on his original contract, Florida avoided that. Instead of going into the beginning of the “Name, Image and Likeness era” with a head coach with only 3 seasons left on his deal, Florida avoided that, too.
We saw before spring practice how Mullen answered the extension question. “That can be in somebody else’s press conference, that’d be a good question for them.” That was an odd way to address the subject roughly a year removed from reportedly having a new deal in the works pre-pandemic.
That’s now Mullen’s press conference. On his new deal, he’ll earn an average of $7.57 million annually (up $1.5 million from his original contract), which will make him the 4th-highest paid FBS coach in America. The contract will run through the 2026 season.
What didn’t change? Mullen’s buyout. Lost in the shuffle of the timely raise and extension was the fact that the buyout figure remained at $12 million. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Florida would owe Mullen $6 million within the first 30 days of being fired, and he would be owed the rest of the buyout ($6 million) in annual payments over the next 6 years.
South Carolina just agreed to pay Will Muschamp a buyout of $12.9 million, which was actually negotiated down from $15.3 million because it was a lump sum. Auburn agreed to pay Gus Malzahn a buyout of $21.45 million, which was nearly double what Mullen’s buyout would be. We’re living in a world in which, according to the USA Today database, it’s now more common for Power 5 head coaches to have 8-figure buyouts than to not have them. A total of 32 coaches had richer buyouts than Mullen last year.
That’s not to say $12 million is chump change. But this new deal certainly isn’t Malzahn-levels of crazy, and it has some wiggle room if Stricklin decides he needs it.
And for all we know, he might. For all the success that Mullen has had by becoming the first head coach in FBS to ever start off at a new job with consecutive BCS/New Year’s 6 Bowl berths — he even did it 3 times — Tuesday’s news didn’t answer every question in Gainesville.
Will he ever recruit top-5 classes? Can he have that 1 truly dominant year? Can chill out a bit?
We’ll never really know if Mullen’s bizarre 2020 was partially a result of not having that extension in place. And yes, Florida fans, it was bizarre.
It wasn’t just the “Pack the Swamp” comment that bit him in the behind after the Texas A&M loss. It wasn’t just the Mizzou incidents that included a mid-game benches-clearing brawl that ended with postgame Darth Vader costume. It wasn’t just the 1-year show-cause for violating NCAA rules, which prohibited him from all off-campus recruiting activity during the fall 2020 evaluation period and a four-day off-campus recruiting ban during the fall 2021 contact period. It wasn’t just the complete meltdown in the bowl game and the postgame comment about “the last game the 2020 team played was 11 days ago.”
It was all of it.
The fact that NFL insider Adam Schefter reported that Mullen was “open to going to the pros” only added to the bizarreness of his 8-4 year.
— 🇺🇸🇧🇸🇭🇹 Malik – Vaccinated – the 5-10 freak (@MalikG) January 3, 2021
The least bizarre thing about Mullen’s last 9 months was what happened on Tuesday. In terms of selling himself and the program, Mullen is now in position to put 2020 in the rearview mirror.
If you’re a Florida fan who was worried Mullen’s 2021 season was going to be viewed as an all-or-nothing year to get that extension, well, you’re probably feeling relieved. You’re probably not thrilled about a combined 2-5 mark against Alabama, Georgia and LSU, and you’re probably not thrilled that Todd Grantham got another year to get his defense right.
Or maybe if you’re a Florida fan, you’re trying to keep a glass-half full approach. This coach already lasted longer than the last one, and if he makes it through this season, he’ll have lasted longer than the one before that, too. That’s a good thing. So is the fact that the Gators are 1 of just 5 teams (Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Georgia are the others) entering 2021 with a streak of 3 consecutive New Year’s 6 Bowls. That’s a good thing, too.
On the surface, Florida agreeing to a significant extension with one of the best offensive minds in the sport is pretty cut and dry. Some might say it was inevitable. Perhaps it was. And perhaps Stricklin had this timing in mind for the last couple months. It was certainly a short-term win with long-term potential.
Stability is a rare thing to have in college football, and weird ending aside, Florida can now sell it has more of it than it had this time last week. Even more unique in college football? Having an issue-free coach with a limitless ceiling.
For now, though, let’s hold off on saying the Gators have that.
Instead, let’s quietly thumb through the rest of the church bulletin.