How the last 10 first-year Florida football head coaches performed

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The departure of Dan Mullen from Florida football in 2021 marked the end of the tenth head coaching tenure in Gainesville since 1960. Now, former Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns skipper Billy Napier has taken the helm of the Gators facing an uphill battle in his debut campaign as the team looks to move on from the debacle of this past season.

Over the years, the turnover on the sideline has happened for a myriad of reasons, from simple retirement to embarrassing scandals that rocked the entire athletic program. Each time the head coach was replaced, the newcomer faced a slew of various challenges with some benefitting from the previous regime’s roster more than others.

Below is a breakdown of how the last 10 first-year head coaches fared after taking the reins of the team dating back over 60 years. Some of the names included ring immortal in the hallowed halls of the Swamp while others are ones the Gator Nation would prefer to forget. Here is a look at the history Napier and his staff are up against in 2022.

Note: All rankings are via AP Poll and records courtesy of Sports Reference.

Ray Graves, 1960

AP Photo/File

Record in Year 1: 9-2, Gator Bowl (Win)

Ray Graves got his first and only college head coaching job in 1960 when he replaced fellow Tennessee Volunteer alumnus Bob Woodruff, who had led Florida to elevated success in the 1950s. Graves’ Gators lost to the Rice Owls in Miami after entering the polls at No. 18 ahead of Game 4 and dropped its second game to the No. 14 Auburn Tigers in Game 7, but managed to win out afterward.

A victory over the rival Georgia Bulldogs catapulted UF back into the polls, and with a 13-12 Gator Bowl win over the No. 12 Baylor Bears, Florida finished ranked No. 18 in the country.

Doug Dickey, 1970

Ray Graves (left) and Doug Dickey (right) – Jack Corn/The Tennessean

Record in Year 1: 7-4, No bowl game

The Tennessee connection continued after Graves when Florida hired former Vols head coach Doug Dickey to replace him on the Gators’ sideline. Dickey’s debut campaign was not nearly as successful as Graves’ and was a step down from a 1969 season that saw the Orange and Blue march to a 9-1-1 record and another Gator Bowl win.

Losses on the road to the Alabama Crimson Tide and Florida State Seminoles along with home losses to Auburn and the Miami Hurricanes were too much for Dickey’s team to earn a bowl bid that year.

Charley Pell, 1979

Manny Rubio/USA TODAY Sports

Record in Year 1: 0-10-1, No bowl game

Charlie Pell oversaw the worst season ever in Gainesville in his first year, but it was not entirely his fault. He inherited a program that had gone 4-7 in Dickey’s final campaign, and despite the historical low, managed to quickly turn the team around in the seasons that followed.

Florida’s tie came against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at home in Game 2, which finished with a 7-7 score. The silver lining? The Gators went 8-4 the next season under Pell and scored a Tangerine Bowl win.

Galen Hall, 1985

Allen Dean Steele/Getty Images

Record in Year 1: 9-1-1, No bowl game

Technically, Galen Hall spent most of the previous season as head coach following Pell’s departure in disgrace after three games as a result of confessed NCAA violations, but 1985 represents his first full schedule at the helm. Hampered by bowl ineligibility and stripped of the SEC title the previous year, Hall’s squad repeated its 9-1-1 record to prove that the Gators would remain a force to be reckoned with.

Ranked No. 2 in the country for Game 2, UF tied the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at home while dropping its only game to Georgia in Game 9, finishing the season ranked No. 5 in the country.

Steve Spurrier, 1990

Andy Lyons/Allsport

Record in Year 1: 9-2, No bowl game

Saddled with baggage from the previous regime, Steve Spurrier embarked on his endeavor to turn his alma mater into a national college football powerhouse and started off strong in his debut season — thanks in large part to remaining players from the Hall era.

While Florida was ineligible for a bowl game or an SEC title due to a second round of NCAA infractions, the Head Ball Coach wasted no time building his legacy in Gainesville, losing only a pair of road games to Tennessee in Game 6 and to Florida State for the final matchup of the season. The Gators finished the year ranked No. 13.

Ron Zook, 2002

A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Record in Year 1: 8-5, Outback Bowl (Loss)

Florida brought in Ron Zook to replace Spurrier after he bolted for the NFL, representing the most head-scratching selection for head coach among the entries on this list. Then-athletic director Jeremy Foley had tossed around Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan’s and Oklahoma Sooners coach Bob Stoops’ names but both decided to return to their teams.

The Zooker went 6-2 in SEC play but only 2-3 in non-conference play, including a loss to then-No. 1 Miami in Game 2. Defeats at the hands of Florida State and the Michigan Wolverines in the Outback Bowl to wrap up the 2002 campaign sent the Gators tumbling out of the rankings to end the season.

Urban Meyer, 2005

Jason Parkhurst/USA TODAY Sports

Record in Year 1: 9-3, Outback Bowl (Win)

While Zook only lasted three seasons producing mostly mediocre results, he left a solid program behind for Urban Meyer who restored the Orange and Blue to its previous glory during his tenure. His debut campaign was a two-game improvement over his predecessor, with road losses to Alabama in Game 5, the LSU Tigers in Game 7 and the South Carolina Gamecocks in Game 10 as the only blemishes on his opening record.

Unlike Zook, Meyer won his Outback Bowl appearance with a 31-27 win over the Iowa Hawkeyes, finishing No. 12 in the rankings.

Will Muschamp, 2011

Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

Record in Year 1: 7-6, Gator Bowl (Win)

After a bizarre final year of the Meyer era, Florida brought in Will Muschamp to take over as head coach and bring stability back to the program. Unfortunately, it was tough going from the start for the former Bulldog, putting up the Gators’ first losing season in SEC play since 1986 with a 3-5 record while clawing their way to a Gator Bowl victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes to finish on a high note.

The roster was packed with talent that included several future NFL players that just could not coalesce until the following season, which saw the Gators improve to 11-2.

Jim McElwain, 2015

Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

Record in Year 1: 10-4, Citrus Bowl (Loss)

After Muschamp finished his turn on the head coach carousel, Florida brought in Jim McElwain to man the sidelines of the Swamp — and he fared quite well at first. His 10-4 record would be the high-water mark of his two-plus years in Gainesville, taking a tough loss in Game 7 on the road against LSU before finishing the schedule on a three-game skid.

That losing streak began with a home loss to Florida State followed by Alabama in the SEC title game before culminating in a 41-10 defeat to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl, resulting in a No. 25 final ranking.

Dan Mullen, 2018

Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports

Record in Year 1: 10-3, Peach Bowl (Win)

After McElwain fled the scene, former Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen was tapped to take his place ahead of the 2018 season. The new skipper quickly turned the boat around from its previous 4-7 campaign — the worst seen in Gainesville since the 4-8 debacle in 2013 and second-worst since 1979 — putting up a sparkling 10-3 record en route to a New Year’s Six Bowl win against Michigan and a No. 7 ranking to conclude the season.

He would take Florida to two more NY6 bowl games before leaving in disgrace during the 2021 season, giving way to new head coach Billy Napier.

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