Florida fired Dan Mullen because he gave Gators no other choice | Toppmeyer
This the "Topp Rope," a biweekly SEC football column from the USA TODAY Network's Blake Toppmeyer.
When you employ Dan Mullen, you do so knowing he’s not going to sign No. 1-ranked recruiting classes. Mullen’s appeal is that he’s one of college football’s best in-game coaches. He’s a proven developer of quarterbacks. He’s a savvy play-caller.
But what happens when those qualities disappear? What’s the point of employing Mullen then?
There isn't one.
Florida announced Sunday it is parting with its fourth-year coach.
In the final blow to Mullen's tenure, the Gators lost 24-23 in overtime Saturday at Missouri. Mullen coached scared. With his back against the wall, Mullen looked ready for his $12 million buyout rather than aggressively fighting for his job.
After Missouri’s Harrison Mevis missed a 46-yard field goal with 1:04 remaining, Florida (5-6, 2-6) gained possession with the score tied. The Gators had two chances to win: Either score in regulation with the final possession, or get another shot in overtime.
But Mullen curiously forfeited the initial opportunity.
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The Gators would have needed to travel about 40 yards in a minute to try a potential game-winning field goal. A difficult task, but not one that should seem daunting to an offensive-minded coach who has shown comfort putting the game in his quarterback’s hands throughout his career.
Mullen didn’t even give it the ol’ college try. Content to take the game into overtime, he dialed up three conservative running plays before punting.
Throughout the game, Mullen acted as if Florida was facing 2011 Alabama rather than a Missouri unit that entered Saturday ranked last in the SEC in scoring defense and allowed 373 yards to Southeast Missouri State.
Faced with fourth-and-a-foot in the second quarter from the UF 34-yard line, the Gators punted.
On Missouri’s ensuing possession, the Tigers kept their offense on the field on fourth-and-1 and drew the Gators offside. The drive culminated in a field goal.
Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz remained bold in overtime, and the Tigers converted a 2-point conversion to prevail.
Mullen positioned Florida to need a defensive stop in a game that decided his fate. It was a remarkable show of passivity from a coach who forgot his strengths.
Mullen failed to match wits with Drinkwitz, who's making just more than half of Mullen's $7.6 million salary. Faced with that reality, the Gators had no reason to keep Mullen.
Auburn’s cash-flush not paying off
Like Mullen, first-year Auburn coach Bryan Harsin is a case study in how perception of a coach can change in about a month’s time.
On Halloween, Harsin profiled as a candidate for SEC coach of the year. Now, Auburn (6-5, 3-4) will take a three-game losing streak into the Iron Bowl following a 21-17 loss to South Carolina.
Auburn started backup quarterback T.J. Finley after last week's season-ending injury to Bo Nix, but that’s no excuse to lose to South Carolina (6-5, 3-5), which started former third-string quarterback Jason Brown, an FCS transfer.
First-year Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer inherited a bleaker roster than Harsin, but through 11 games, they have the same number of victories. Adding insult to injury, Beamer said the Gamecocks ran two plays over and over throughout the second half.
Auburn paid a $21.45 million buyout to fire Gus Malzahn last December. Malzahn posted a winning record in all eight of his seasons at AU. Harsin must either upset Alabama (10-1, 6-1) or win a bowl game to secure a winning record in his debut on the Plains.
Not a typical Alabama team
A robust secondary and offensive line have been Alabama staples throughout Nick Saban’s dynastic tenure.
Not so with the 2021 Crimson Tide.
The Crimson Tide’s offensive line is mediocre and its secondary allows too many big plays. Arkansas compiled four sacks and scored four touchdowns on pass plays of at least 15 yards Saturday. Alabama prevailed 42-35 thanks to a heroic performance from Bryce Young.
Young threw for 559 yards and five touchdowns in a performance that confirmed why he’s the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.
But Alabama’s shortcomings on the offensive line and in the secondary raise concerns about an SEC Championship Game meeting with No. 1 Georgia (11-0, 8-0), which boasts capable downfield passing and a menacing front seven on defense.
Vanderbilt grades high for honesty, low for football
Here’s a sentence from the game recap on the Vanderbilt athletics website following its 31-17 loss to Ole Miss: “The Commodores have now lost 20 consecutive SEC games.” Credit the Commodores for not hiding their warts, at least.
Clark Lea’s first season at Vanderbilt has been a wire-to-wire flop that started with a 23-3 pasting at the hands of East Tennessee State.
Vanderbilt is well position to extend its SEC losing streak to at least 30.
He said it
“May the force be with you.” – Drinkwitz.
The Missouri coach made the “Star Wars” reference while pulling up the hood of his sweatshirt and producing a toy lightsaber. You might recall Mullen showed up to a news conference dressed as Darth Vader after the Gators beat Missouri last season.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.