Scott Stricklin

UF athletic director Scott Striklin speaks at a press conference announcing former Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen as Florida's next head coach.

Alan Alvarez / Alligator Staff

My favorite part of Dan Mullen’s introductory press conference on Monday?

The not-so-subtle, passive-aggressive shade thrown in nearly every direction by Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin.

Let’s face it — there was a ton of tension between Florida’s last coach, Jim McElwain, and the University Athletic Association. There were also at least two other candidates Florida was considering — and may have even preferred — to replace McElwain other than Mullen.

But Stricklin gave Mullen the job, and hearing him rationalize that choice on Monday was, if nothing else, enlightening.

Here are a few highlights:

“You’ve got to want to be at the University of Florida”

It’s been widely reported that Florida pursued other coaching candidates, namely Chip Kelly, who instead took the gig at UCLA, and current UCF coach Scott Frost, who, according to some reports, wasn’t interested in the Florida job.

Ouch.

That must be a strange feeling for Florida, a program with three national championships, a deep well of wealthy boosters and prime real estate in one of the top hotbeds for high school football talent in the country.

Stricklin was asked about the Kelly rumors and didn’t really respond, except to say that much of the information that was reported was false.

However, he did say this:

“I said this and I believe this: You have to want to be in the SEC,” Stricklin said. “You’ve got to want to be at the University of Florida.”

And then he said this:

“You’ve got to really want to be here and know what you’re getting into,” Stricklin said. “I’m not sure every coach we talked to had the same zeal to step into that situation.”

That could be a shot at Kelly or Frost or both, each of whom may have simply turned down the UF job out of a lack of interest.

After all, of UF’s last three coaches, one quit, one was fired and one was bought out.

That doesn’t exactly scream “job security.”

Was conditioning a problem under McElwain?

On Monday, Mullen made a big show of how his team will be the most well-conditioned group in the nation next year.

He even said that was one of the first things he addressed with Florida’s players when he met with them on Monday.

“I told them to rest up over the month of December,” Mullen said. “Because when they come back in January, it’s probably going to be something they have never even experienced in their life before, our off-season conditioning program.”

After Mullen finished speaking, Stricklin was asked if conditioning was a problem under McElwain. Stricklin paused and smiled before answering.

“I think any successful program has a really strong strength and conditioning program that builds accountability,” Stricklin said, “and I think programs that aren’t as successful usually are lacking in that area.”

You can make your own inferences from Stricklin’s comments, but that sounds like a hard “yes” to me.

Stricklin was clearly bothered by coaching rumors

Stricklin made no attempt to hide his disdain for what he called “very little accurate information” being reported about UF’s coaching search on social media.

On Monday, Stricklin was asked if Mullen was indeed his third choice (as had been reported), but didn’t give a direct answer.

But he did insinuate that Mullen was not UF’s backup plan.

“As the rumor mill showed,” Stricklin said, “a lot of that information is really wrong.”

The real truth is probably somewhere in the middle — it’s hard to believe Mullen was Florida’s first option from the jump, but maybe, after Stricklin had vetted all of his candidates, Mullen ended up being the best, safest (and most willing) choice.

But Stricklin remained firm in his stance.

“I told everybody … there was going to be a lot of rumors and to ignore them,” Stricklin said, “and nobody paid attention to me.”

Ian Cohen is a sports writer. Contact him at [email protected].