Coaching Changes - Mullen To Florida; Ole Miss Removes Interim Tag from Luke

November 27, 2017 by Dave Congrove

Dan Mullen on Sunday (November 26) was named the new head coach at Florida, opening a vacancy at Mississippi State which will be filled on an interim basis by running backs coach and special teams coordinator Greg Knox for the bowl season.

Mullen spent 9 seasons in Starkville, becoming the school's second-winningest head coach behind Jackie Sherrill. He was 69-46 overall, but just 33-39 in the SEC. His 2014 season was the only one in which the Bulldogs finished above. 500 in the SEC (6-2). He had four seasons of 4-4 finishes and four seasons below .500. But Mullen is a former Gator assistant linked to the Urban Meyer coaching tree. He was Meyer's offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Florida from 2005-2008, and Meyer's QB coach at Utah (2003-2004) and Bowling Green (2001-2002).

Florida fired Jim McElwain in mid-season, following Georgia's 42-7 rout of the Gators in Jacksonville on October 28. By Sunday afternoon, McElwain was out and defensive coordinator Randy Shannon was named interim head coach. Administrators said they were irked by McElwain's unsubstantiated comments that family members and players had received death threats. Another catalyst could have been the increase in empty seats at Florida Field as the result of an offense that had been stagnant since the suspension of QB Will Grier for PEDs in October of 2015 (Grier later transferred to West Virginia), or the numerous misdeeds by members of his team, or the perception the team was going backwards instead of improving. Wins shouldn't have been the biggest issue as an ESPN article written by Edward Aschoff and Mark Schlabach pointed out that McElwain had a 22-12 record and was the first coach to take his team to the SEC championship game in each of his first two seasons.

Florida was 3-4 at the time of McElwain's dismissal and the Gators went 1-3 under Shannon's interim guidance. Mullen becomes the eighth person to lead the Gators as head coach or interim coach since Steve Spurrier stepped down after the 2001 season.

Matt Luke's season-long audition at Ole Miss paid off as the school removed the interim tag on Sunday (November 26) , making him the next official head coach of the Rebels. He guided the program to a 6-6 season, concluding with a 31-28 upset win over Mississippi State in the annual Egg Bowl rivalry game. It was quite an achievement considering Hugh Freeze resigned on July 20, just 44 days before Ole Miss opened the 2017 season at home versus South Alabama.

Freeze's resignation continued a messy trail of public relations issues and NCAA violations dating back to the Houston Nutt era. The final straw may have been a call to an escort service found on Freeze's school-issued phone after Nutt filed suit against Freeze and Ole Miss in federal court a week earlier for allegedly orchestrating a smear campaign against him. Nutt lost his job after the 2011 season due to a handful of NCAA violations and a woeful final two seasons. The NCAA has cited numerous violations by Freeze and his staff from October 2012 to January 2016 and leveled the most serious charge of lack of institutional control. In response, Ole Miss self-imposed a 2017 bowl ban and other restrictions.

Freeze was 39-25 in five seasons, but 5-7 in 2016. His teams were 19-21 in the SEC and finished 5th or worse in the SEC western division in 3 of his 5 seasons. Luke had served alongside Freeze as co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.

See: Coaching Changes