One of the first things I did as a UF student was buy season tickets for football.
It was the summer of 2017, a couple months before the start of my freshman year. The Gators, led by third-year coach Jim McElwain, were coming off back-to-back SEC East titles and looked poised to take the next step. The prospect of big-time college football down the street from my new home was tantalizing.
Of course, UF’s hopes of taking that next step died quicker than my own hopes of maintaining a 4.0 GPA.
The 2017 season was an unprecedented disaster, on and off the field, that cost McElwain his job. I skipped plenty of games that year, but I did go to the finale, a lifeless 38-22 loss to Florida State.
I distinctly remember FSU players showering their coach, Jimbo Fisher, with Powerade after the final whistle. FSU had also taken a step back that year, but was still a program on its way to a bowl game with a national championship-winning coach. Florida, on the other hand, was in shambles. I was fully resigned to the idea that my four years at UF would be spent in football purgatory.
Less than two years later, however, FSU is in the process of hiring yet another new coach. The Gators are on the verge of their second-straight New Year’s Six Bowl appearance. The man to thank?
He wasn’t UF’s first choice to replace McElwain, and he probably wasn’t the second, either. Scott Frost and Chip Kelly were two names that we often debated in the Alligator newsroom.
Mullen was, however, the best choice.
His record (18-5) after inheriting a program in disarray speaks for itself. Perhaps an even greater testament to his coaching aptitude is the development of individual players like Kyle Trask, who went from a career backup to the quarterback with the third-most touchdown passes in the SEC this year.
Frost and Kelly, meanwhile, both missed bowl games last season and are on the verge of doing it again this year at Nebraska and UCLA, respectively.
Those two are still employed, at least, unlike Willie Taggart (FSU) and Chad Morris (Arkansas), who were both fired this month.
Other coaches in their second year? Jeremy Pruitt, who has been a disaster at Tennessee (10-12, 5-9 SEC). Mullen’s successor at Mississippi State, Joe Moorhead, hasn’t fared much better (12-10, 6-8 SEC). Fisher has had some success in his new gig at Texas A&M, but the Aggies currently sit outside the top 25.
Mario Cristobal at Oregon is the only second-year coach who has had a similar level of success to Mullen. He’s a great coach who led the Ducks to a solid season last year and who has them in the College Football Playoff conversation this year.
But when I think back to that day in 2017 — Fisher soaked in Powerade, Florida stumbling to a 4-7 record — I’m reminded that there’s no other second-year coach who has done quite the incredible job Mullen has.
Follow Sam Campisano on Twitter @samcampisano. Contact him at [email protected]