GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A little more than a month ago when the football coaching search was young, Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin talked with Gators great Tim Tebow.
Stricklin knew he needed to make the right hire on his first shot, especially after the way the Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain eras worked out.
Tebow, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who led Florida from the field on its last run of success, gave the athletic director advice.
“Tim says they’ve got to have a steady hand but nerves of steel,” Stricklin recollected on Monday.
Tebow would know.
He was the quarterback from 2006-2009 during the Urban Meyer era, a time frame that saw the Gators win two SEC titles and two national championships — something that hasn’t been accomplished since.
Tebow also saw the toll the Florida job can take on a coach during his final season.
Late in that 2009 season, Meyer was hospitalized and took a leave of absence for health reasons. He left the job after the 2010 season. In 2014, he told Bryant Gumbel that he was “mentally broke” after the 2009 season and “thought I was dying.”
“[Tebow] said ‘Scott it’s a great job and it’s a dream job but we have to be honest about what kind of job it is,'” Stricklin said. “The two most successful coaches in the school’s history have basically, they got burned out or there was a sense that they got burned out. We’ve got to be honest that it’s a hard job and it’s a challenging job. We’ve gotta be honest that it’s a hard job and a challenging job. You’ve gotta have somebody that has the right mindset.”
Enter Dan Mullen, Florida’s newest coach who was the Gators’ offensive coordinator for the first four years of Meyer’s tenure in Gainesville before taking the coaching job at Mississippi State in 2009.
Stricklin, who was part of Mississippi State’s administration for most of the first eight years of Mullen’s tenure including athletic director for the last 6 1/2 seasons, said he saw how Mullen has developed those needed “nerves of steel” and that he will be the right fit for the job. On the field, Mullen turned around a program that had won four or fewer games in seven of the eight years before his arrival to one that was regularly contending in the SEC West. Personally, Stricklin saw him evolve as well.
“I saw Dan change so much from when we first got to MSU to the time I left last year,” Stricklin said. “I saw him mature. I saw him handle situations so much better. I could tell he learned from watching Urban and how Urban dealt with things. He improved this season a lot. Some of the things he might have blown up about in his first couple of years as a head coach he wasn’t blowing up with about later on in his time.”
Stricklin is hoping that evolution translates to Mullen’s tenure at Florida. Stricklin and Mullen both know the grind and the stresses that are placed on the coach of the Florida Gators football program. Mullen experienced it second-hand under Meyer. Stricklin experienced it by watching how McElwain’s final season unfolded.
Stricklin said he and his staff plan to work out a way to mitigate those extra pressures.
“A lot of times we’re focused on our student-athletes, rightly so. A lot of times we’re focused on our fans, rightly so. We also need to focus on our staff,” Mullen said. “Our staff, it’s got to be a productive, rewarding experience because they’re the ones touching all those student-athletes and all of those fans. We’re going to look for ways where maybe we can make sure a coach is able to have success, be here long term and not have the stress or the burnout that may have happened to a couple guys.”
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