Space Wars: Darth Mullen's Death Star
What was the key to Dan Mullen's spread offense and its success at Florida?
Dan Mullen had a certain reputation as an offensive coach when he headed back to Gainesville to be head coach for the Florida Gators back in 2018.
Mullen was the offensive coordinator during the legendary Tim Tebow era in Gainesville in which the Gators won two National Championships. From there he moved west and took over as the head coach at Mississippi State in 2009. While there, Mullen’s signature seasons came after he found a 6-foot-3, 220 pound quarterback in a small town outside of Shreveport, LA named Dak Prescott.
Prescott took the starting quarterback job at Mississippi State in 2013 and by 2014 and 2015 had mastered it well enough to lead the normally overmatched Bulldogs to 10-3 and 9-4 seasons. For a smaller program competing in the SEC West with Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Texas A&M, Arkansas, and a rapidly emerging Ole Miss, this was about as good as it gets. Prescott threw for over 3,000 yards both seasons and would be drafted to play quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, but everyone knew him for using his 230 pound body to run for 2,541 yards and 41 touchdowns while in Starkville, MS.
Prescott’s ability to pull the ball down and run between the tackles for tough yards in the toughest, most physical division of college football reminded everyone of Mullen’s previous famous signal-caller. Thick, power-running Tim Tebow who ran for 2,947 yards and 57 touchdowns for the Dan Mullen/Urban Meyer Gators.
Mullen found another guy after Prescott who also fit this mold, a 6-foot-5, 230 pound kid named Nick Fitzgerald who hailed from a small town outside of Savannah, GA called Richmond Hill. Fitzgerald was a bit quicker than Prescott, although less talented throwing the ball, and he got the Bulldogs back to a 8-4 mark in 2017 while throwing for 1,782 yards and running for 984 with 29 total touchdowns. Florida had now seen enough of both their own offensive malaise since Mullen had left and of Mullen’s success crafting competitive offenses at one of the most disadvantaged programs in the conference. They brought him back to Gainesville to be head coach in November, 2017.
Then things took a turn.