Mississippi State is on top of the football world. It is the consensus choice among the polls as the best team in the country. Quarterback Dak Prescott is one of the elite signal-callers in America and a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender. And overseeing it all is fourth-year coach Dan Mullen, who was hired to take over the struggling MSU program in December 2008.
Go back in time about four years, and Mullen was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Florida. One of the premier offensive minds at the time, Mullen traveled with Urban Meyer from Notre Dame to Bowling Green, Utah and then Florida. Over that time, he developed several star quarterbacks, including Alex Smith, Chris Leak and Tim Tebow.
Since Mullen’s departure from Gainesville, he and the Gators have taken drastically different paths. Mullen has transformed Mississippi State into one of the best teams in the SEC, while Florida has plummeted out of prominence.
As the regular season nears completion and Florida continues to struggle while the Bulldogs thrive, Gator Nation is getting increasingly irritated. A core group of fans are so annoyed with the direction of the program that a "Fire Muschamp" website was created.
This situation begs a very intriguing question: If Florida does indeed fire Muschamp in the near future and offers the job to Mullen, would he take it?
On the surface, one would think that he probably would. It would ostensibly be a dream come true, going back to Florida, one of college football’s most storied programs as well as the same place where Mullen made his name as an offensive guru. A Mullen-coached Gator team would have immediate dominion over the recruiting hotbed that is the state of Florida, and just imagine how good they could be.
However, despite all of that, I think Mullen should, and will, make the prudent decision of staying right where he is.
Mississippi State is not a one-hit wonder. Don’t expect the Bulldogs to have a few spectacular years and then fall off the map. Mullen is in the process of building a powerhouse, and he is likely to succeed in doing so thanks to his phenomenal recruiting ability.
The current MSU recruiting class is ranked 10th in the nation by ESPN Recruiting Nation (subscription required), and it is a class loaded with premier talent as well as tremendous depth. Its 31 pledges rank first in the nation in volume.
When asked about the possibility to returning to Florida, Mullen said all the right things. In a radio interview two weeks ago on WLAU's Head to Head radio (h/t Gamedayr.com), he gave Mississippi State a ringing endorsement.
Here’s my take on [the Florida rumors]: One, both my kids are born here. I love Mississippi State. I’ve loved being here. I love the community. I love the state. I have a great administration. They’ve given us what we need to build a successful program. I think we’ve built that program. We love being here. That’s number one.
Mullen went on to say that he doesn’t think the fans should be giving Muschamp so much grief. He has been in his shoes, and he knows what it feels like to be on the hot seat.
The bottom line is that Florida can’t offer much to Mullen that he doesn’t have access to in Starkville. Mississippi State gave Mullen a contract extension before the start of this season, and while Florida could probably offer more money, Mullen doesn’t seem like the greedy type.
Florida’s football facilities are among the nicest in the country, headlined by the sparkling Heavener Complex, but Mississippi State recently spent about $100 million to improve its facilities. The massive renovation adds capacity to Davis Wade Stadium as well as a state-of-the-art 80,000 square-feet practice facility that includes new coaches’ offices, a new weight room and a host of other amenities.
And then there’s the expectation factor. In Mullen’s current situation, he is revered by Bulldog fans as a savior, one who transformed the downtrodden MSU program into a national contender.
If he goes to Florida, he will be one several coaches who have had success in Gainesville. Should he succeed, it will be because he is expected to. If he fails, he will be hated and ridiculed in a similar fashion to what Muschamp is experiencing.
It’s a no-win situation at Florida, while Mississippi State is full of potential. The recruiting has been impressive and will continue to improve as the Bulldogs win more games. With the recent splurge, MSU has some of the best football facilities in the SEC. Mullen’s family loves it in Starkville, and he has a chance to achieve something that no other coach has done at Mississippi State: win a national championship.
It might not be this offseason, athletic director Jeremy Foley has said Muschamp’s job is safe at least through this season, but the Florida administration is eventually going to tire of living in mediocrity. Muschamp is either going to resign or get fired, and one of their first calls is likely to be to Mullen, luring him back.
If Mullen is interested in national fame and accumulating riches, then he should strongly consider the offer. However, if he wants to maintain an image as a down-to-earth coach living with a happy family in rural Mississippi while making plenty of money, MSU is the place to be.