Scott Stricklin mum about other candidates, but believes Dan Mullen is best fit for Gators

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Scott Stricklin was pressed every which way, but the Florida athletic director wasn’t going to provide any details about what did or did not happen through this coaching search before he decided to hire Dan Mullen away from Mississippi State.

“I’m not going to get into specifics of candidates and who we talked to. You know, we started off with a lot of names, but we had a handful of names that we really focused on. Dan was one of those,” Stricklin said Monday after the news conference to introduce Mullen.

“Obviously, people were playing games and so there was some timing as far as when you can get in front of certain people, so we had some time to explore some options more than others. I said this and I believe this, you have to want to be in the SEC. You’ve got to want to be at the University of Florida.”

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Stricklin, UF President Kent Fuchs and four other officials flew to New Hampshire two Sundays ago to meet with former Oregon and NFL head coach Chip Kelly, who ultimately accepted the head coaching position at UCLA.

The buzz then shifted back to UCF coach Scott Frost, who has the Knights undefeated and leading the country in scoring. Multiple national sites including ESPN and USA Today reported that Frost decided he wasn’t interested in pursuing the Florida position.

Stricklin was asked about the perception some may have — fair or not, accurate or not — that Mullen was his fallback option.

“You know what, somebody made a great point talking about the University of Florida and the high-profile nature of this position,” he said. “They said, ‘You know, to be really good as a head coach at the University of Florida or any high-profile job, you have to build a moat around your mind and you can’t let any outside perception influence the decisions you make on who you’re going to offer scholarships to, what kind of offense you’re going to play, who you’re going to hire to be on your staff. You have to make the decision you think is best, and you can’t worry about what people may or may not think. Because as the rumor mill showed, a lot of that information is really wrong.”

Stricklin joked that he warned everybody four weeks ago not to get caught up in the rumors and reports that would emerge and that nobody listened to him. He reiterated that “there was very little accurate information out there.”

“We talked about that the day of the first press conference. We said, narrative gets out, you talk to somebody, it doesn’t work and somebody puts out, ‘Well, he didn’t want the job.’ And that’s not really what happened,” Stricklin said.

But speaking Monday, he also wouldn’t dispel or clarify any of the perceptions that arose during the month-long coaching search.

He was asked whether there was a certain coach within the state that he pursued, referring to Frost.

“I’m not going to mention any other candidates. We had a wide net we cast. We talked to people in several states,” Stricklin said.

He was asked why he brought Fuchs to New Hampshire for the meeting with Kelly, whom he didn’t mention by name at any point in his remarks.

“We had an opportunity to get in front of some candidates and obviously that’s a candidate, everybody knows who that was and who we were getting in front of. We probably took a larger team of folks to that meeting than we normally would because there’s some unique circumstances in the past of that candidate that I felt like if it was going to have any chance of being someone we ended up with we needed Dr. Fuchs to have been face to face and some other things there,” Stricklin said, referring to Kelly’s past show-cause penalty from the NCAA.

As the pool of reporters tried to find different ways to glean any insight from Stricklin about the process, he was asked if there were coaches he talked to who didn’t view Florida as their dream job.

It was a question asked and answered generally from which anyone can draw their own interpretation.

“Yeah. Let me think of the best way to put this. You have to really want to be at the University of Florida to be the head coach at the University of Florida because of all the limelight and the notoriety and all the distractions that could come if you’re not paying attention, managing the right way,” Stricklin said. “You’ve got to really want to be here and know what you’re getting into. I’m not sure every coach we talked to had the same zeal to step into that situation.”

Mostly, Stricklin wanted to talk about Mullen, the coach who did have that zeal and desire to take over the rebuilding job at Florida and the immense expectations that come even with the program in a lull.

Stricklin was the associate athletic director at Mississippi State when Mullen was hired there after the 2008 season and later became the Bulldogs’ AD until his own departure to Florida last fall. He knows as well as anyone how Mullen runs a program, and whatever steps the coaching search may or may not have taken, he was convinced in the end he found the best fit for the Gators.

“Dan just checks so many boxes. I had a friend from Mississippi text me — most of them have not been nice over the last 24 hours — but I had a guy text me, and he said ‘You know, I knew it was only a matter of time until some AD would realize what Dan can do with elite talent. And he said, ‘I should have known it was a guy that knew him really well,’” Stricklin shared. “I just think the opportunity for him here is just a perfect fit in so many ways. …

“At this place, given the recent history, we felt like it was really important that we get as close to a sure thing as possible. There’s no sure things, but I thought we had an opportunity with Dan to get as close to a sure things as possible.”

The post Scott Stricklin mum about other candidates, but believes Dan Mullen is best fit for Gators appeared first on SEC Country.

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