Dan Mullen didn't think he was making a big fashion statement at SEC media days three years ago.
Yes, he was wearing trendy new sneakers — gray Adidas kicks designed by Kanye West. And yes, he paired them with a dark pinstripe suit.
But Mullen (then the coach at Mississippi State) didn't think the suit-and-sneakers look would buzz on social media and follow him to Atlanta next week for his first SEC media days as the Gators' head coach.
"It kind of blew up," Mullen said recently.
The story behind the shoes starts with a simple fact: Mullen likes them.
His footwear collection is hard to count after switching from Mississippi State (an Adidas school) to Florida (which wears Nike's Jordan Brand), but Mullen said it's closer to 50 pairs than 10. He figures he has at least 10 different pairs of Jordans. Add in dress shoes, flip-flops, regular Nikes, unopened boxes and old pairs removed from the rotation, and Mullen thinks his collection is larger than his wife's.
Mullen isn't obsessed with shoes the way some players are. But his appreciation for them allows him to connect with recruits who consider what they wear a major factor in what program they choose.
"For me as a head coach, it's always important to be able to relate to players and where they are in the world today," said Mullen, 46. "What's new? What's trendy? What's happening? That's one way to do it."
Mullen began making a fashion splash before national media outlets picked up on it three years ago.
He wore Stark Vegas sneakers with his suit before playing Auburn in 2014. As media days approached the next summer, Mullen and Adidas kicked around some ideas to show off both brands.
When Mullen received his Adidas Yeezy 350 Boost shoes, he posted a photo of the just-opened box on Twitter.
A reporter asked him about the look later that day. Mullen's response: "I try to be swagged up in footwear."
Because the SEC is a copy-cat league in a copy-cat sport, then-Arkansas coach Bret Bielema tweeted a photo of his sparkling Nikes before his appearance the next day.
"After that SEC media days, a lot more people started doing it," Mullen said. "So I might be a trend setter."
Mullen certainly kept doing it, wearing gray Adidas sneakers with his suits each of the next two years.
I think I'm winning shoe swag today. pic.twitter.com/aXbF4tCmq3— Dan Mullen (@CoachDanMullen) July 12, 2016
He has continued the trend in Gainesville; his December signing day ensemble was a gray suit paired with blue Jordans.
When Mullen addresses reporters next week in Atlanta, expect him to be wearing a sneakers with his suit again — and not only because it's a trademark look that plays well with recruits and social media.
"To be honest with you," Mullen said, "I really just like wearing comfortable shoes."