Tod Creneti didn’t know Dan Mullen when the two played college football against each other in the Centennial Conference.
Creneti, playing for Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, was two years ahead of Mullen, playing for Ursinus College in Pennsylvania.
That later changed when Creneti was coaching in Pinellas County at St. Petersburg Catholic and St. Pete Lakewood with Mullen coaching on Urban Meyer’s staff at the University of Florida.
Now the head coach at Saint Stephen’s, Creneti was one of a few Manatee County coaches who liked Florida’s decision to bring Mullen home as the Gators new head coach, which was announced Sunday.
“Dan Mullen can be at Florida for 15 years,” Creneti said. “He’s got that very steady level personality and can do a great job leading the program. I’d love someone go there and be there a while and build it.”
During the Meyer Era at UF, when Mullen was the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach for four seasons (2005-08), the Gators established a healthy relationship with high school coaches throughout the Sunshine State.
One of those places was Palmetto.
Head coach Dave Marino was a Tigers assistant coach when defensive end Kedric Johnson signed with Florida following the 2009 season.
Former Southeast High stars Jonathan Dowling and Brian Poole followed Johnson’s path to UF in subsequent seasons.
“If you tracked their starters and impact players (when Meyer was coaching at Florida), it was right in this area when you talk about Polk, Hardee, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee,” Marino said.
Marino said former Florida head coach Jim McElwain tried to rebuild those in-state relationships during his brief tenure.
Braden River High senior defensive end Taylor Upshaw was heading to Gainesville, but flipped his commitment to Michigan after McElwain was fired earlier this season.
Prior to taking over Manatee’s tradition-rich program this summer, Yusuf Shakir kept Tallahassee Lincoln’s pipeline to Florida intact.
“A lot of people were always like, ‘Oh, he’s a Florida guy,’ ” Shakir said. “I just had a lot of kids. He recruited a lot of our kids during that time period.”
Shakir said Florida is getting a proven head coach who has had success in the SEC.
It also benefits high school players throughout the state.
“It’s great for them as far as recruiting goes,” Shakir said.
And it also pays dividends for potential Power Five recruits from Manatee County, which was something that lacked following Meyer’s departure.
“It was definitely lost with (Will) Muschamp,” Marino said. “... Urban made it a point to call every high school coach ... Muschamp totally dropped the ball in terms of recruiting. It was a tough act to follow anyway. But he didn’t have the relationships or try to develop the relationships in the way that Urban did.”
Shakir said the system that Mullen runs, which has featured several quarterbacks who can run, including Alex Smith (Utah), Tim Tebow (Florida) and Dak Prescott (Mississippi State), looks for athletes.
“While he has a great reputation for being a developer of quarterbacks, they’ve gotten a lot of people involved in the offense,” Creneti said. “There are touches for a lot of different types of players. ... And when you can be a skill kid that goes to school where they are going to give the ball squared around pretty evenly, that’s pretty appealing.”
Mullen’s track record within Manatee County is proven. If not for the decision to play professional baseball, former Manatee High star quarterback Cord Sandberg was in line to play college football at Mississippi State, where Mullen coached for nine seasons before accepting the Gators job.