Goodbye President Bush (I mean it)

Michael Quay

But in the matter of a decade, the Bears' 1994 all-Centennial Conference tight end has put himself right smack dab in the national spotlight.

Mullen, the quarterbacks coach at the University of Utah the past two seasons, has accepted the offensive coordinator position under Utes field boss Urban Meyer at the University of Florida.

And although he knows coaching one of the country's most prestigious football programs won't be easy, the 32-year-old from Manchester, N.H. is chomping at the bit to get started.

"It's exciting to be part of a team that's a national powerhouse and has the tradition that the University of Florida has," Mullen said during a phone interview from Gainesville, Fla. "It's really an honor to be coaching here. Everybody knows what their job is here, and all I know is the offense better be good."

Mullen said he never dreamed he'd be in this position while he was at Ursinus, especially at such a young age, but his constant drive to succeed has given him a chance not many people his age get.

"When I was at Ursinus, I knew I just wanted to stay involved with athletics in some way," he said. "I thought I might be able to coach, maybe I'd be a high school coach or something like that, but as my college career wrapped up, I got some opportunities to coach on the college level."

And pay his dues he did.

Mullen's first four years of coaching brought him a total of around just $15,000, but the experience he gained was immeasurable.

And it didn't hurt he enjoyed the thrills associated with the competitive lifestyle.

"If you're a competitive person, you're always going to push to be better," he said. "That's just the mentality of a competitive person. I'm thrilled to be where I'm at now, but I don't think I'll ever be content. That's just my personality. I need to keep driving to be better and better every day.

"I think part of that is that I just finished a 12-0 season - undefeated and in the top five in the rankings - and the next day I'm in an office on the other side of the country preparing and trying to get ready for the first game next season against Wyoming. You don't ever sit back and enjoy it as much as you should, but it's that drive that keeps you going to be the best that you should.

"I'm hoping I keep that drive."

Mullen broke into the collegiate coaching ranks upon graduation from Ursinus in 1994 as the wide receivers coach at Division I-AA Wagner College. Two years later he moved on to coach wideouts at Columbia.

After a pair of offensive graduate assistant jobs at national powerhouses Syracuse (1998) and Notre Dame (1999-2000), he got his first Division I-A coaching job when Meyer, who coached wide receivers with the Fighting Irish, brought Mullen in at Bowling Green as his quarterbacks coach.

That's where Mullen's career took off.

Meyer, Mullen and a cast of 30-something Falcon coaches developed the spread offense, a hybrid of run, pass and option schemes, complete with shotgun formations and deep ball passing.

The spread was an immediate success, and Meyer and Mullen were in the national spotlight.

"(Meyer and I) kind of visited some different people - Louisville, Northwestern and West Virginia - and just kind of took a little bit of stuff from each team," Mullen said. "We kind of wanted to be a wide open offense, and we just sat down and designed it after visiting with all those people. It's evolved an awful lot since then, you know, though. You kind of learn some different things, and it's been real successful for us, but we've also had some real special players.

"We believe in what we do, and more importantly, we've done a good job at coaching. Urban Meyer gets kids to believe and play hard, and that's the bottom line. If you can get kids to play hard and believe in what you do, you're going to be successful. That's really what we've lived on. We're going to work harder and play harder than everybody we play, and our kids believe it."

Bowling Green finished the 2002 season with the nation's third-best scoring offense in the country, and quarterback Josh Harris was rated among the nation's best passers.

A year later, Mullen joined Meyer at Utah, and the spread offense came with him.

The Utes made it all the way to the Liberty Bowl in that first year, but this season was truly a breakout year.

Utah rolled through its national schedule en route to a Mountain West Conference title, an unblemished 12-0 record, a top five ranking in the national polls and a 35-7 thrashing of the University of Pittsburgh last week in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

The Utes finished the season with the third-best overall offense in the country, putting up a little over 45 points and nearly 500 yards each game. Quarterback Alex Smith, Mullen's protege, was a Heisman Trophy semifinalist and declared Tuesday he'll forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft in April.

"I think (Smith) was the best player in the country," Mullen said. "He's a very, very special player, and those kind of guys make you look awfully smart."

Ursinus head coach Peter Gallagher, who coached with Mullen at Wagner, said even back as a first-year coach, he could see just how driven Mullen was to succeed.

"We were all young coaches (at Wagner), and you could just tell he took a lot of pride in what he did. You could always tell he wanted to be successful," said Gallagher, who talks often to Mullen during the football season to bounce ideas off him. "He always said he wanted to be a Division I-A coach. We became really good friends, and I'm really proud of what he's been able to accomplish."

Mullen was quick to return the compliment when told of what his former colleague and good friend said, and he offered a little advice to the current Ursinus team.

"(The Bears are) playing for a great head coach right now, a guy that's committed to them and committed to being the best," he said. "Pete Gallagher knows how to win. He's done it and he's been very successful. The No. 1 thing coming in is that you have to make a commitment to be successful and you have to have a solid commitment from everybody that's involved. I don't know any of the guys on the team, but I know they have a solid commitment from their head coach and the team wants to be the best that they can be.

"It just takes a group, and usually it's the seniors, that says they want to make that commitment. They usually say, 'hey, coach. We believe in the system that you want to run, and we're going to follow through with it.' Then it usually spills down to everyone. It's all right there for them. Usually, people aren't asked to do things they can't do. What you have to do is work as hard as you possibly can at what you believe in and great things will happen to you."

Now, Mullen's attention is on incorporating the high-impact spread in the Gators' offensive gameplan. Although he admits he's still a little green with regards to the talent on the Florida roster, he's eager to get started.

"I really haven't had a chance to study the team here enough to find out what our strengths are for us to build the offense around," Mullen said. "Our No. 1 focus right now is recruiting. After that we'll see what type of hand we've been dealt and then build the offense around that here and add our own quirks, tweaks, whatever it is that can make us a little different here. Our No. 1 goal then is to find a way to win the Southeastern Conference championship.

"We really just fit the offense to our personnel and what we have. That's always been our goal. We always want to get the ball to our best players in space where they can make plays with it. Really our whole offense is based off creating matchups and creating issues for the defense. We want to find weaknesses on the defense and attack them and cause them to have to defend the entire field. That's what we established and the best way we've found to do that."

So with all the success Mullen's enjoyed in such a short period of time, does he think a head coaching job or a gig in the NFL is in the near future?

He's not sure. He's just going to take things a day at a time.

"When you work hard and you really stay focused at the task at hand, that's when great things happen to you, so that's my main concern," he said. "Beyond that, whatever good things come that will continue to happen. I've been fortunate enough to coach with a lot of really good people and coach a lot of good players so far. I just really hope that will continue, because that will lead to more success for me and who knows what down the road. Some day I would love to be a head coach but I don't know if that's in the near future.

"That's not even something I am thinking about at this point."

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