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Why Dan Mullen Could Be a Top Candidate to Replace Jeff Hafley at Boston College

Florida v LSU Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

With news breaking on Wednesday evening that Boston College football head coach Jeff Hafley would be departing to coach in Green Bay, ideas started swirling about who could replace him. One of the most popular suggestions was former Florida and Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen. Mullen was reportedly a candidate for the Syracuse head coaching job when it opened up in November and has been on ESPN’s college football broadcasting team for the past year since being fired at Florida in 2021.

Mullen had a lot of success at Mississippi State, including achieving a #1 ranking in the country at one point, but he eventually flamed out at Florida, an SEC school with huge expectations. Could he get his career back on track at Boston College, where the pressure is much lower? Let’s look at the facts.

Mullen was the Offensive Coordinator for Two National Championships at Florida

Alabama vs Florida, 2008 SEC Championship Set Number: X81545 TK1 R6 F115

Dan Mullen found success early in his career as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Florida, where he helped lead the Gators to two national championships and Tim Tebow to a Heisman Trophy win. Florida had a top-5 SEC offense all four years under Mullen’s coaching, including two years as the #1 offense in the SEC and a top-4 offense in the country. The Gators offense took a nosedive once he left, finishing in the bottom half of the SEC from 2010-2017 before he finally returned as their head coach.

Mullen had an Amazing Tenure at Mississippi State

Mississippi State v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Bulldogs were floundering before Mullen got to Mississippi State in 2009. They had just one winning season in the past eight years after long-time head coach Jackie Sherrill collapsed in his 11th, 12th, and 13th seasons. MSU was quickly revived under Mullen, though, as they improved to 5-7 in his first year there and then 9-4 in his second year. From there the Bulldogs did not dip below 6 wins in Mullen’s entire tenure from 2010-2017. Their AP ranking got as high as #1 in 2014, the first year of the College Football Playoff, and they achieved a top 25 ranking at some point in six separate seasons. The team went to 8 consecutive bowl games and his overall record was 69-46 (33-39 in the SEC).

Mullen’s teams at MSU really got rolling in his final few years, as QBs like Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald started putting up 30+ points per game consistently. They had one of the better offenses in a loaded SEC most years, even climbing as high as #3 in SEC total offense in 2014 with Dak Prescott leading the conference in total yards. His defenses were solid, too, ranking in the top-40 almost every season and developing NFL talents like Fletcher Cox, Darius Slay, and Chris Jones. It was this impressive resume that led a blue-blood like Florida to bring him back as head coach.

Mullen Flamed Out at Florida

Capital One Orange Bowl - Virginia v Florida Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Recruiting was a big issue for Mullen at Florida and it was a major factor in his eventual his demise there. Florida had regularly been pulling in top-15 recruiting classes in the years before he got there and in his first couple of seasons. But the 2022 recruiting class fell all the way to 22nd in the nation while Mullen was spending a lot of his time flirting with NFL teams instead of hitting the recruiting trail. Many Florida fans blamed his gaze for the NFL for the disastrous 2021 campaign that ended with Mullen fired midseason with a 5-6 record.

Mullen was also too loyal to his defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham, who took a top-10 Florida defense and squandered it. Instead of firing Grantham and searching for a new DC, Mullen kept him on board despite his defense giving up 40+ points per game to multiple SEC opponents. By using COVID as an excuse for poor performance, Mullen failed to make a change and led the program to its worst defensive performance since the 1970s.

On top of all of that, Florida got embarrassed in multiple games under Mullen in 2020. First, there was the shoe-throwing incident against LSU in 2020 that tanked the Gators’ CFP hopes. There was also the 2020 Cotton Bowl in which Oklahoma steamrolled the Gators, 55-20, and cemented an end-of-season collapse for the team that went from 9-1 to 9-4.

Mullen is a Native to the Northeast

Despite spending most of his career down south, Mullen is originally a native to the Northeast. He’s Pennsylvania-born, grew up in New Hampshire, and worked his way up through the coaching ranks at Wagner, Columbia, Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Bowling Green before eventually landing at Utah & Florida with Urban Mayer. Being in Boston, recruiting can be difficult at BC when trying to compete for a pool of talent that is disproportionately located down south or out west. Mullen’s old experience in the area could be helpful, plus returning to the region as a coach could be enticing factor in attracting him from his easy ESPN broadcasting job.

Will It Happen?

Dan Mullen seems like he’d be one of the likelier candidates to end up on a shortlist for Boston College. He has the proven track record of success and will bring a sense of stability to the program after Jeff Hafley’s inexperience often created problems. He’s also very available for the position, as BC won’t have to pay for a buyout and he won’t have to leave a different program he’s been working on like a lot of other candidates. This would be a very solid hire for BC, and one that seems pretty plausible if Mullen wants to get back into coaching after a two-year hiatus.