Florida fourth-year head coach Dan Mullen belatedly parted ways with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and offensive line coach John Hevsey on Sunday night. The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman was the first to report the news.
Linebackers coach Christian Robinson will take over the play-calling duties for UF’s defense.
The moves came less than 24 hours after the Gators suffered one of their most humiliating losses of the past decade, a 40-17 beatdown from South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia. Most books closed UF as a 20.5-point road favorite, so it lost to the number by 43.5 points. The Gamecocks cashed money-line tickets in the +800 to +900 range at most shops, but Caesars closed Shane Beamer’s team at +1100 to win outright (paid $1,100 on $100 wagers).
Mullen, who is less than a year removed from taking Florida to the SEC Championship Game and pushing eventual national champion Alabama to the wire in a 52-46 loss in Atlanta, now finds himself on a boiling hot seat. He’s in this position for many reasons, but the main one has been his insistence on torturing the fan base by sticking with Grantham for so long.
Florida’s offense was good enough to win a national title last season, but the Gators lost games in which they scored 38, 34 and 46 points. UF’s 2020 defense allowed an average of 30.8 points per game, the most given up by the program since 1917.
During UF’s current three-game losing streak, its stop unit has surrendered 798 rushing yards. South Carolina entered Saturday’s game averaging 17.3 PPG in six previous games against FBS competition. The Gamecocks’ highest offensive output had come in a 23-14 home win over Troy, and their 21 points in a home win over Vanderbilt (21-20) was the most they had scored against an SEC foe.
But Beamer’s bunch took a 30-10 lead over UF before halftime. South Carolina ran for a season-best 284 rushing yards, with its trio of RBs each averaging better than 6.0 yards per carry. It was only the second time the Gamecocks had gone for more than 200 yards on the ground this season.
That pathetic effort from UF’s run defense came less than a month after LSU gashed the Gators for 321 rushing yards. On that afternoon in Redstick, the Tigers won a 49-42 decision despite the efforts of Florida backup quarterback Anthony Richardson, who led four consecutive touchdown drives in the second half.
LSU averaged 7.1 YPC against the Gators. To give you an idea of the utter ineptitude of Grantham’s scheme against the Tigers, consider that they had averaged 1.9, 3.5, 3.5, 2.3, 1.3 and 4.2 YPC in their six previous games. Furthermore, they have averaged 2.2 and 2.7 YPC in their two games since then.
LSU has produced more than 100 rushing yards in only three of its eight games played against opponents not named Florida. The second-highest output on the ground was 147 rushing yards at Kentucky.
How Grantham was even allowed on the airplane home from Baton Rouge was baffling. The fact that he wasn’t pink slipped by Monday at noon Eastern on Oct. 18 was a defiant act from Mullen that wreaked havoc on the sanity of Gator Nation.
This isn’t the only time Mullen has tested the patience of the orange and blue faithful. Although the punishment was relatively minor with Mullen being banned from off-campus recruiting for a year, a violation he committed in 2020 landed UF on probation in a major sport for the first time since the late 1980s.
In the loss to Alabama at the 2020 SEC Championship Game, Mullen made one of the dumbest game-management decisions in program history. After Kyle Trask hit Kyle Pitts for a 22-yard TD pass with 2:07 remaining to cut the Crimson Tide’s lead to 52-44, the kicking team obviously trotted out for the extra point.
With two timeouts remaining, UF could get the ball back with about a minute left if it could force a three and out. However, just before the Gators were set to snap the ball for the PAT attempt, Mullen inexplicably burned one of the two precious timeouts in his pocket.
Huh? For what?! Turns out, Mullen felt that it was more important to go for two than retain a timeout that could save 40 seconds from dripping off the clock. Folks, this perplexing move can’t even be found in Les Miles’s clock-management repertoire.
It makes zero sense on any level — EVER! In fact, it’s downright scary that a coach would even entertain the notion of thinking that such a move would be prudent. Mullen not only thought of it, but he also acted on it at crunch time of a championship game.
Even worse, he belatedly committed this egregious act of incompetence. For starters, going for two down eight late in the fourth quarter is a move that does nothing for you. Secondly, if you ignorantly think it’s so important, you sure as hell better make that decision before or immediately after Pitts catches the ball in the end zone.
And what do you know? Florida did force Alabama into a three and out (for the first time all night). But since it only had one timeout left, the Gators couldn’t kick the ball deep and had to go for an onside kick that failed. Therefore, Alabama’s drive started at its own 47 rather than 22 (or more) yards deeper.
By the time Kadarius Toney returned the punt two yards to UF’s own 12-yard line, there were merely 16 seconds left. If the Gators had kept the timeout and kicked deep, they could have taken over with 56 ticks remaining at around their own 35-yard line. With Trask, Pitts, Toney and Trevon Grimes feasting on an average Alabama defense all night long, Florida would’ve had a reasonable chance of rallying to force overtime (or maybe even go for two at that point to steal the win and possibly earn a CFP berth).
In another distraction of his own creation, Mullen reportedly let it be known that he was open for a move to the NFL last December. There were conflicting reports on whether or not he interviewed for the New York Jets head-coaching vacancy.
When Steve Spurrier was dominating the SEC in the 1990s, UF fans always knew there was a chance he would eventually take his ball plays to the next level. But to his credit, he made it known to any NFL owner seeking his services that The Head Ball Coach didn’t do interviews. He had one of the best jobs in all of sports already.
Spurrier wasn’t going into any meeting attempting to lobby an NFL owner to hire him. If you were interested in hiring the HBC, you had to come to him and make a job offer. Those were the rules — plain and simple.
There are also Mullen’s shortcomings on the recruiting trail. He hasn’t been able to land a top-five class and has repeatedly come up short in head-to-head battles with Georgia, Alabama and LSU. And this has come at a time when FSU and Miami’s programs have been struggling to remain relevant in the ACC.
Despite all of this, I remained in Mullen’s corner going into the South Carolina game. You see, the Gators went without touchdowns for the better part of a decade prior to Mullen’s arrival. As a life-long fan that’s been going to games at The Swamp since 1981, I’m a big fan of TDs and lots of ’em. After such ineptitude on the offensive side of the ball for so long, this Florida alum was willing to overlook other shortcomings.
On Mullen’s watch, UF averaged 35.0, 33.2 and 39.8 PPG in his first three seasons. Those numbers were up from 23.2, 23.9 and 22.1 PPG during Jim McElwain’s ill-fated tenure.
In all likelihood, Mullen was probably safe before Saturday’s assbeating, presuming Florida won its final four regular-season games and didn’t lay a complete egg in its bowl game. The Gators were poised to be double-digit favorites in all four of those games, too.
Well, that scenario is out the window now. The Gators are 4-5 overall and 2-5 in the SEC, compiling an atrocious 2-8 record in its last 10 games against Power-Five opponents.
We’ll see how Mullen conducts himself with the media in the coming days. Barring a significant change in his demeanor, one could easily conclude that he might be fine with getting canned. He’s not at Mississippi St. anymore, where he could routinely post 8-4 records and deservingly get annual raises.
On the day Spurrier resigned his post at UF on Jan. 4 of 2002, he said it was time for somebody new to become the “Captain of this great big ol’ battleship we call Gator football.” Make no mistake, it’s a pressure cooker of a job that isn’t for everybody.
Less than 48 hours removed from UF’s putrid effort at South Carolina, you’d be hard pressed to find many Gators who remain in Mullen’s corner. I exchanged texts with a prominent Florida player who was a starter for three seasons under Spurrier in the ’90s. In response to me saying that it’s time to cut the cord on Mullen’s tenure, he replied, “100 percent agree. That was embarrassing. I’m so pissed I can’t even think straight.”
If AD Scott Stricklin makes the bold move to try and retain Mullen against the wishes of nearly everyone of note, then the heat will be turned on him. And that’s a move he can’t afford to make in the wake of the major controversy surrounding the women’s basketball program in recent months.
Where would the Gators turn if they send Mullen packing? There are the usual suspects that you’ve heard mentioned for the openings at LSU and USC in recent weeks. Those include names like Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell, Oregon’s Mario Cristobal, Penn St.’s James Franklin and Michigan State’s Mel Tucker.
Other potential candidates might be Boston College’s Jeff Hafley, Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, Carolina Panthers OC Joe Brady and Coastal Carolina’s Jamey Chadwell. I’ll throw one other name out in Bob Stoops, the former Oklahoma HC who served as UF’s DC from 1996-98 under Spurrier. Stoops is only 61 and a proven winner that hasn’t ruled out a potential return to the sidelines.
(It’s probably worth noting that Stoops turned down former Florida AD Jeremy Foley at least twice in previous UF coaching searches, and he had a solid relationship with Foley from his three years in Gainesville.)
You can forget Oklahoma St.’s Mike Gundy, who reportedly had two phone conversations with Stricklin that left both sides unimpressed before Mullen was hired. Another name that might be interesting is Dan Quinn, who did a helluva job in his one season as DC on Will Muschamp’s staff at Florida.
Quinn left UF to take the DC gig with the Seattle Seahawks, who won a Super Bowl with Quinn directing their defense. He’s currently the DC for the Dallas Cowboys after his tenure as HC of the Atlanta Falcons went South following their collapse against the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Quinn’s relentless energy and positive enthusiasm would probably galvanize UF’s efforts on the recruiting trail. His NFL experience and Super Bowl ring wouldn’t hurt, either. Quinn handled his hot-seat status in Atlanta with class and dignity for more than two years, even saving his job by leading the Falcons to stunning upset wins at New Orleans (a playoff team) and at San Francisco (a team that made the Super Bowl before allowing a double-digit second half lead to get away) as double-digit underdogs late in the 2019 regular season.
Whatever the case, Stricklin has big decisions to make in the coming weeks. They’ll determine Mullen’s fate, his future as Florida’s AD and the direction of The Great Big Ol’ Battleship.