Gators brought swagger to SEC Media Days

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Florida defensive lineman Cece Jefferson is interviewed during the NCAA college football Southeastern Conference media days at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, Tuesday. (AP Photo/John Amis)

ATLANTA — The last three SEC teams wrapped up Thursday at Media Days with all of the electricity of a soggy bag of burritos.

The coaches spoke in monotones all week, sometimes struggled to hear questions in the new venue and were almost unanimous in their decisions to wear brown shoes.

Was beige not available?

The players endured questions about their go-to dance moves and favorite candy. There was high praise all around for anyone and everyone so much it felt like a family reunion.

Where’s a Larry Fedora when you need him?

The breath of fresh air in humid Atlanta was your Florida Gators. Of the 14 teams who put on their Sunday best, the UF players and their head coach definitely had the most swagger and smiles during their time here.

In fact, I’ve never seen a Florida team enjoy it more. Cece Jefferson even referred to his appearance here as “a blast.”

The Gators talked about championships. Pretty heady stuff for a team coming off 4-7.

Jefferson, who hasn’t even been cleared to play yet, basically guaranteed a win over Georgia, the national runners-up.

Dan Mullen had the best quote of the four days when he said, “I’m the opposite of Trump. “I’m the opposite of Trump in that I’m here to fill ‘the Swamp,’ not drain it.”

And, of course, he was swagged out in his special sneakers and wore a perpetual smile while the other coaches seemed like they would have rather been watching recruiting film. Heck, Derek Mason was almost angry talking about how everyone is going to look past his team and nobody pays attention to Vanderbilt.

Mullen, on the other hand, looked like a confident coach and talked like a confident coach.

“We’re going to come back and have an exciting football team, create the energy, create the excitement that I know The Swamp to be as one of the most intimidating stadiums in all of America.” Mullen said Tuesday. “And I’m excited to get this program back on top.”

There is no doubt that there is a new energy in this program and to really understand it you had to see the contrast in the face Florida presented vs. the other 13 programs. It wasn’t like the other teams were lacking spunk and certainly brought players who gave thoughtful and intelligent answers, it’s just that Florida had a different bounce.

None of this means that Florida is going to win a bunch of games, be ranked at any point this season or be a dark horse candidate for the College Football Playoff.

You can even make the argument that these Gators may have been whistling past the graveyard, that a program that has been plagued by inconsistency this decade and an offense that has put blisters on the eyes of the Gator Nation cannot be fixed with some WD-40 and Flex Seal.

All we know for sure was that Florida was the star of SEC Media Days 2018. Whether the Gators will star during the 2018 season is anybody’s guess.

One reason for the positivity — these guys are a lot more comfortable with a head coach who isn’t circling the wagons, who is welcoming everyone wearing orange and blue under the big tent. It feels like the program has stopped leaking enthusiasm.

Which gets me to the second reason this has been a summer of love at UF.

“It is definitely contagious,” said junior linebacker David Reese. “It starts with our strength staff. Coach (Nick) Savage has been doing a great job of keeping the energy for our program and making sure we work as hard as we can, day in and day out. That has been the biggest difference since I have been here.”

Yep. That Savage guy is making a difference. For one, the players don’t want to deal with what they did last year and they are embracing the energy required to make sure it doesn’t. For another, they all have mirrors.

They’re seeing different bodies. That gets them jacked up.

Let’s get this much straight — every coach and all of the players who came through the car wash in Atlanta were optimistic.

One just had a little more pep in its step.

Whether that translates to the playing field is still the big question. But after SEC Media Days a year ago where there were questions about a naked guy on a shark and the slight of LSU by scheduling the Tigers for homecoming, this year was certainly a welcome change.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

28 COMMENTS

  1. I can’t wait to see results on the field! There will be an improvement on offense if for no reason other than play calling. I think the over/under in wins should still be 8. If they get 8 wins and show real improvement on offense, recruiting will take off. GO GATORS!!

  2. Yippee. The Gators won the press conference. I think the last time that happened was when “Coach Boom” was introduced to us. Just go win some games in Sept. & Oct. Beat Dawg Scum! Beat them twice a year if possible. Beat FSU.

    I am definitely more happy/confident in Coach Mullen. But I don’t need guys guaranteeing victory. Strap up that chin strap and go win some games. Show me. Go Gators!

  3. The interesting thing about Coach Mullen is that he is confident in his ability to do a great job. He has opened practices, he doesn’t constantly use coach-speak, and he has been the number one UF cheerleader since he got here. He isn’t shying away from expectations…he is embracing them. Surely that confidence will count for something. Whether we end up with 6 wins or 11 wins, I expect the product on the field to be MUCH better than what we’ve seen for 9 years. Go Gators!

  4. Can we start the season tomorrow? Please. There has been a lot of college football on tv in recent weeks, from games last year to old classics. It’s nice and I’ve watched some but it’s like getting chicken fried steak when you really want a porterhouse. The next six weeks are when things will get done around the house because after that, it’s football season!

  5. The word swag is so damn corny especially from grown men, but I digress….LOL. Cmon Pat…I dig your columns but PLEASE.

    That said, and like you, we are ready to see this product…the improvements, and I unlike many of our faithful plan to give this coach some time to right the ship.

  6. If the team can put together a couple of big wins (either by points or big plays) early, it will certainly give them confidence heading into the grind of the season. Spurrier’s teams were that way. Go get a big win on the road, next destroy somebody really good at home, etc. etc. At least this coaching staff and presumably the team have energy instead of the zombie-like display we have seen the last couple of years. Go gators!

  7. “Fill the Swamp” was the quote of the event? Really? Must have been a very un-eventful event.

    In fact, Trump has done exactly that – not opposite to it. What Trump says and what Trump does are different things as it relates to who he is. Drain the Swamp resulted in Trump bringing in the most corrupt administration in history (see even relations/contacts with Russia) and siding with special interests in a big big way to the detriment of the American public. So yeah – that wasn’t just a lame quote by coach, but a completely incorrect one.

    We may have a good football coach, but certainly not a politically astute one.

    Go Gators!

  8. I’d like to see the players a lot more humble until they actually win some games. One of my biggest frustrations during the Mac years, and maybe back to Muschamp, was constantly hearing players talking how great the team was. It wasn’t, at any time during those years. I’m all for confidence, but it has to be backed by something real. They played an occasional outstanding game, but there was no consistency, and the best teams in the league kicked their butts consistently. Sometimes I think a lot of our players couldn’t figure out why we weren’t winning since they considered themselves so good. I’d like to hear more of our players saying they need to prove it on the field before anyone can say this is a good, much less great, team.

  9. i heard the players said last year’s loss to UGA was MUCH closer than the scoreboard indicated!?!?!?!
    come on man! We have won nothing yet and should keep our mouths SHUT until the scoreboard indicates otherwise! I like Mullen but how can he let them trash talk when we have been nothing other than trash! Shut up and win some games darn it!