GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When Dan Mullen began his coaching career at Wagner College in 1994, he was already imitating Steve Spurrier.
Mullen, a 22-year-old wide receivers coach at the time, wasn’t the high-profile head coach of a top-tier football team like Spurrier. He was, however, a highly competitive coach who, like Florida’s Head Ball Coach, opted to wear a visor on the sidelines and dreamed of being as successful as possible.
“I don’t know if I wear it quite as stylishly as Coach did,” Mullen said, “but I’ve always been known to throw one of them every once in a while.”
Now, the ride has come full circle. Mullen was formally announced as Florida’s head coach on Monday. His office is one floor below Spurrier’s in the University Athletic Association’s building.
And Mullen plans to utilize Spurrier in any way feasibly possible.
“It’s unbelievable to have somebody of that knowledge,” Mullen said. “To me, it’s unbelievable, not just somebody to have the football knowledge that he has, be able to come in and talk about it; the head coaching knowledge he has and dealing with situations and player issues throughout the year. But even more importantly than that, somebody that loves the University of Florida through and through and understands everything about this program and this university and what it stands for.”
According to athletic director Scott Stricklin, that seemed to be a consensus among candidates he talked with once the job opened. The main question candidates had, Stricklin said, was finding out exactly what Spurrier’s ambassador role entailed.
“I think a lot of people just wanted to understand what his role was,” Stricklin said. “Nobody seemed to have an understanding. There’s so much respect for Coach Spurrier in the coaching world. That was seen as a positive more than a negative.”
It’s not hard to see why. Spurrier put Florida football on the map during his four years as a player from 1963-1966 and then again during his 12 years as the Gators’ coach from 1990-2001.
As a player, Spurrier was a two-time All-American quarterback and the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner in 1966. As a coach, he led the Gators to six Southeastern Conference titles and the program’s first national title in 1996.
In his 12 years at the helm of the football program, Spurrier’s Gators lost just five games at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
In fact, one of Mullen’s first stops once he arrived in Gainesville was to see Spurrier.
“I got to go up in his office today and he’s got the computer open and he’s got game film up,” Mullen said. “I love ball and he loves ball. So I’m sure we’ll have some really interesting ball decisions in there talking football.”
Spurrier seems like he would have no problem with that. On Sunday, he sent out a video on Twitter welcoming Mullen to the job on behalf of former Florida players and said Mullen is “well-prepared to get us back to one of the top-10 programs in the country and competing for SEC Championships.”
— Coach Steve Spurrier (@SteveSpurrierUF) November 26, 2017
Mullen also wouldn’t mind a round of golf with Spurrier, either.
“I might make sure there’s not a lot of like cameras videotaping because it could get maybe heated there because I know he’s a little competitive as well,” Mullen said.
Mullen knew Spurrier from his days as the Gators’ offensive coordinator from 2005-2008. Spurrier was coaching at South Carolina at the time, but the two crossed paths during annual SEC meetings and Mullen’s instantly respected Spurrier upon first interaction.
“There’s some egos in that room. You wouldn’t think that but there are a couple,” Mullen said. “Coach was nice enough to pull up a chair and say, ‘Hey, Dan, come sit next to me right here,’ and I sat down next to him at that meeting. He probably doesn’t remember that, but that’s something that you remember as a young coach of people that help and mentor you, and I continue — hopefully to continue to be mentored by him.”
As for those former players, Mullen wants them to be ingrained in the program as well. After all, they won the national championships and the SEC titles and the individual honors that helped put Florida football on the map.
“That’s critical to our success. There’s nobody that knows the standards and expectations of Florida football than the former players,” Mullen said. “You’re talking about guys that have sacrificed four to five years, that completed committed themselves to excellence on that field, that took pride in wearing that helmet and wearing that jersey.
“I know we have an unbelievably passionate fan base, but I’m going to tell you, those guys that have done it, that have been here, that have put this program where it is, those guys, you know, are even more passionate about it and they understand it.”
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