Notebook: Fans part of the rebuilding process, Mullen says

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Fans begin to leave Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in the third quarter Saturday in the Gators homecoming game against Missouri. [Alan Youngblood/Staff photographer]

After the 38-17 loss to Missouri on Saturday, Florida coach Dan Mullen sounded a little disappointed by the fan turnout in The Swamp. The Homecoming game drew only 80,017 fans, the smallest home crowd in years.

“If we want the program back, we need a sold out stadium next week, and an unbelievable home-field advantage,” Mullen said Saturday night. “That’s how it works. I’m going to be honest with you, this is how it works too, when we sell out the stadium, we win a championship. It doesn’t go the other way. It’s not we win, you sell out. You sell out, you win. Go watch teams that have built programs. That’s how it works.”

Mullen sounded a little unhappy with the fans. But Monday he said he wasn’t, urging the fans to hang in there along with everyone else coming off the consecutive losses.

“I’m not disappointed in any of the fan base and what they’ve done,” Mullen said. “I think they’ve really tried to buy in since we got here. Since Day 1, if you go back since we’ve been here, of the spring game, all showing up all throughout the season. The environment they created at LSU to give us that advantage.

“I know the other night I said, ‘Hey, how you build the program’. But I’ve said that since day one, that we’re all in this together. And to get the program to championship level, it’s not just going to be my play calling or a blitz we run on defense or who’s playing quarterback.

“It’s a program as a whole, and our fans are such a critical part of that program. And so I’ve been pleased with how they’ve bought in. And to me I want to make sure they continue to understand how important they are.”

The fans certainly will be tested Saturday. Not only are the Gators coming off two one-sided losses, the game with South Carolina has a noon kickoff. The early kickoffs usually lead to late-arriving and sometimes relatively small crowds.

“I know everybody in the Gator nation would prefer that late afternoon/evening kickoff because it makes for even a probably more fun day for everybody with the tailgating before,” Mullen said. “I think it’s something we just. … we’re all working together to get the program where we want it to be.”

Third-down failure

In the last two games, the Gators have pretty much lost their shirt on the money down.

In the losses to Georgia and Missouri, the Gators combined to convert just seven of 27 third-down plays, while the defense allowed 19 conversions in 32 third downs.

That disparity helps explain why the Gators lost those two games by a combined score of 74-34

Florida’s offense hasn’t been able to stay on the field, while the defense can’t get off it.

UF’s defense is 12th in the SEC in third-down conversions allowed. The Gators face another difficult challenge Saturday in South Carolina’s potent offense.

“We’ve just got to make sure we’re mentally sound,” middle linebacker David Reese said. “People flip fronts or exchange backs because that’s what they think we look at. People might do things that copycat other teams, things we might struggle with, so we’ve just got to hone in on that and know that’s what we’re going to get from other teams, and just try to get off the field.

“Let our pass rush be our pass rush, try to get guys to hold the ball a little bit longer. We’ve got some of the best pass rushers in the country. We’ve just got to let those guys eat.”

Fresh legs

By rotating three running backs, the UF ground game has been running on fresh legs throughout the game. It’s most apparent in the fourth quarter, where the Gators are averaging 6.33 yards per carry, which leads the SEC and ranks fourth in the FBS.

That’s a big difference from a year ago, when the Gators were 58th in the nation, averaging 4.25 yards a carry in the fourth quarter.

21 COMMENTS

  1. The Problem: Currently, many people feel the cost of the ticket and peripherals far exceeds the value of the experience.

    The Solution: Eliminate seat licensing fees for the less desirable seats and make a major outreach effort for the local clients for whom the game is a day trip so they don’t have the added expense of hotels. You are not going to get enough people willing to travel long distances for some of these games unless the team is a national title contender creating enough “you had to be there” buzz to make people feel the cost and time investment is worth the pay off. But you could get mom and pop looking for something fun to do to drive 45 minutes to see a game if the prices weren’t insane.

    What UAA has done instead is alienate the local fans, refuse to lower prices and- at least in the past– blame their failure to fill the stadium on wide screen televisions. None of these actions is a competent answer to the problem that you could find in even a basic book on management and marketing.

    The last piece of the puzzle, and the one I am counting on Mullen to fix in time, is to get a team together where the players respect the uniform and the fans, where they come out and play hard each week. If they lose, so be it. But to just come out and poop all over the field like they did last week– you have to be a masochist to pay and deal with all the headaches of a live game only to have the very players you paid to see basically spit in your face.

      • Thanks. I almost didn’t post it! I live in the Northeast now where there is intense competition for sports dollars. There are three NFL teams, three MLB teams, three professional hockey teams and three NBA teams that all compete for fans from NJ. In addition, there are minor league baseball teams in the mix trying to sell tickets. What I have seen is that some of them have worked very hard to make the game an event for the family with a bunch of side activities for kids so that even if the game itself is disappointing, they can still feel they got a great experience.

        I don’t know if UAA is doing much of that these days, but my feeling is they need to develop more of an entrepreneurial spirit that starts with the assumption and belief that they should keep trying stuff until something works. I feel in the past– and this is true of other programs as well– they just threw up their hands and said– TV, Internet, there’s nothing we can do. However, there is a lot they can at least TRY. Some of it I do feel came from arrogance and complacency when the team was big time and they got the attitude that they could take fan support for granted. Those days are at least for now.

        I do hope to see full stadiums again soon. It makes me kind of sad to see how much the support has decayed.

          • I have not, but since i was smoking Montecristos the last two games, that is clearly why the Gators played so poorly. I am going to acquire and smoke a La Flor tomorrow, and if we win, you will deserve total credit!

            The secret is layers. Lots of layers!

    • While I agree with what CDM said, I’m really glad I had to work Sat instead of wasting time and money to watch a spoiled team mail in an apathetic effort.

      And who wants to buy season tickets when at least 2 home games per year are paycheck games against patsies? If I still lived in Hogtown, I wouldn’t waste a valuable late-season Saturday going to watch…Idaho!? Better stay home and watch better games. Whatever the Gator record, that’s just a waste of time and a sad excuse for Senior Day.

    • Jaws, you nailed it. The UAA treats the football program as a huge For Profit Business Opportunity, and expects the fans to respond with loyalty and unbridled enthusiasm. For the most part, the Swamp experience has become the purview of well-to-do booster, a few die-hard geezers (like me, except the pot is too big and I cashed my chips), and a very small (and shrinking) percentage of the student body. The only time the fans are mentioned is when the UAA (or dare I say, the Coach) want more from them. The attitudes of the players has little, if anything, to do with what we used to call “school spirit”. Instead, the program is a surrogate farm team system for a gateway to the NFL. All the chest-thumping, look at me, ain’t I great(?) BS just makes these losers look more ridiculous every time they get torched.
      Additionally, as I have said before, it would help if CDM would stop blowing smoke about his QB failure and acknowledge what we are all seeing on the field. If Franks was not “terrible” vs. Mizzou, I would hate to see him when he is. If he and Trask graded-out the same, then our grading system is going to produce a long line of losers.
      I remain a big CDM backer (I know it doesn’t sound like it, but really I am!), but diverting attention away from the facts that we have been out-coached and out-played for at least 3 games this year, and putting the spotlight on the fans does not change the fact that we are not even close to being a top-tier football program. Filling the stadium is not going to change that. It will just put more money in the coffers of the UAA.

      • I think he regretted talking bad about the fans. Not the way to attract people, and it is also something that is really out of his control. The UAA reminds me of the cable companies of old– or it did at least. I am hoping Strickland is going to change things. They just had this arrogant attitude like they were doing people a favor by allowing them to buy a ticket. It was– what are you going to do? Go watch some other Gators? Haha, fools, you either buy from us or die!

        Now people have walked away because on top of that arrogance they put a terrible product on the field with one bizarre coach after another. I have total faith in CDM myself, and I am confident in time he will get us back to competing for titles. We’ll see about the fans. One thing about the folks around Gainesville is they are people with pride who respect themselves, and once they have been treated shabbily, it will be hard to win them back. Not impossible, but hard.

        Speaking of money and the UAA– are we still paying Muschamp?

  2. Attendance is down everywhere in the sporting world and so is viewership. Some contend it’s economics but you could argue that times have changed in general. Football is perfect for our six second attention span but you have to do something to hold it and unfortunately that puts a lot on the QBs.

    Either way people need to be entertained if they come. The Gators history has been entertaining until champ got here and we
    Need to complete the job of overcoming the damage he did to the program asap if we ever want the fans truly back.

    • But surely, in the state of Florida, with high speed, multi-lane highways in virtually all directions, a good standard of living with no income tax…….aren’t there 90,000 people who love the University of Florida and all it stands for to come out and support the football team in all sorts of weather? Especially when there are better than 50,000 of them on campus and/or Gainesville and surrounding environs alone? Or has that changed too?

      To hell with big screen TV’s……….Jaws probably nailed it in the first place.

      • Gator-6, I responded to your question about when to play Jones in the previous article about QBs. To repeat, I would either start Trask or put Franks on a choke collar with a short leash for USC. I disagree with Rog about not playing Jones for the Idaho game. If Trask comes in for USC and lights it up, I would start him for Idaho. If he comes into USC and plays poorly, I would start Jones at Idaho. Regardless of how Trask (or Felipe) plays at USC, I would let Jones play Idaho as soon as the game is in hand. I think that fits with Mullen’s strategy of building confidence. As bad as FSU is playing, they still have elite players and will throw everything at the Gators to keep their win streak alive for recruiting. We need that game desperately. It isn’t a game for true freshman to get on the job experience. Jones would then get a lot of snaps if not the majority for the bowl game.

        • Good thoughts, Mexi. If we’re destined to be 8-4 — which is better than a damn sharp stick in the eye at least — I want one of them to be over FSU more than anything. Thanks for getting back to me — I knew you would have thought it through.

  3. When Mullen was 7 years old, Gator fans were watching a team go 0-10-1 and losing to Tulsa for homecoming. Many Gator fans have gone from wait till next year, to watching Spurrier dominate, then to Meyer, and then to now. They’ve seen the decline first hand and they’ve not seen the University as a whole do anything about it. Out of the last 5 head football coaching hires, only one truly generated any excitement based on their record. There was an electricity in the air that you could feel because “this guy won at Utah. Nobody’s won at Utah.” The same thing happened in 1989 with “this guy won at Duke. Nobody won at Duke.” From top to bottom, the stadium, the team, the team facilities, the scheduling, and the coaching have all been let downs at Florida for the last 8 years.
    But to get better, it will take a commitment from the Administration, not the fans. The Boosters are committed year in and year out for their contributions to keep their seats. The smaller season ticket holders need a reason to buy tickets (an entertaining football team and and entertaining experience at the stadium). But that ALL starts with the Administration and Scott Stricklin. And the bottom line beyond him is money. If you want the program to be successful and entertaining to get the athletes and the fans, you’ll need to spend the money. To truly get the money, you have to go out to the boosters and the donors who will give to the cause. Simply put, you’ll have to put football first. You’ll have to drop the everything school, and go back to a football school. Since the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s and beyond, the core fans have been here and have grown. They’ve supported Florida football through thick and thin and everything in between (probation). Now, it’s on the Football program. In entertainment terms, it’s time for you to go make an album. It has to be better than the 1996, 2006, and 2008 albums you put out. It has to be bigger, faster, stronger, and more dominant. You do that, and the fans will buy it. Then, the fans will look forward to the new albums you’re about to release, and they’ll pre-order. Hopefully, the Football Program will understand that metaphor. The Gator fans are here. The core group are here, and always have been.

    • The same thing happened in 2018 with “this guy won at Mississippi State. Nobody won at Mississippi State.” The facilities argument is kind’ve a ridiculous argument when you consider Spurrier and Meyer did just fine with facilities that were far worse than they are now. They’ve made several upgrades since those guys left and have the final $65 million major upgrade scheduled to be completed in 2021. The fact of the matter is, the product on the field is what’s going to draw crowds and recruits. I mean look no further than the LSU game. You’ve got a team that’s 4-1 coming off back to back wins against teams they were supposed to lose to and suddenly you’ve got a lot of excitement around the program and have the first sellout in a long time. Lose to Georgia and the SEC and playoff are out of reach and the fans bail again. It has nothing to do with facilities or ticket prices. You can’t tell me fans weren’t paying well over ticket price from scalpers for that LSU game. If this team was 8-1 right now and for sure in the top 4 with that record, then that stadium would’ve already been sold out for USC. It’s like Cane fans used to always claim there was too much stuff to do in South Florida as their excuse for why the stadium was always half empty and what do you know, when Richt had them rolling, that stadium suddenly filled up again. No reason to make up ridiculous excuses and skirt around the real reason games aren’t selling out, that’s just the nature of the average sports fan and it happens at all levels. How’d the $634 million put into the Marlins new facilities help out attendance? Has Hard Rock Stadium been sold out once since they renovated the entire place? I bet if the Dolphins make the playoffs it’ll be sold out for sure.

  4. If the UAA were to lower ticket (and concession) prices by anywhere near the amount they are still paying on the absurd buy-outs for our failed coaching hires, I would be willing to bet that a lot more people would be sitting in the Swamp. I am not saying that they shouldn’t have bought them out. I am saying that the contracts, extensions, etc. that were negotiated were the work of morons, who are all getting their butts kicked nationwide by the agents for the coaches. Why any sane business person would agree to be obligated to pay huge amounts to get rid of a loser is beyond me. As to the argument that it keeps coaches from getting poached by other schools, one only needs to look at last year’s merry-go-round to see what wishful fantasy thinking that is. If the buyout money was actually applied to the program instead of feathering the nests of near-extinct birds, the fans would not be an issue (as it is, they are merely a convenient alibi). In the real business world, the idiots left holding the bag on buyouts would have been cashiered by the Board of Directors a long time ago. Nowadays those idiots probably have huge buyouts of their own!

  5. Coach is right, we are all in this together. If I wasn’t working construction in the State of Virginia I would be at every game! There is no other venu like the Swamp! And I know I’m preaching to the choir, but we have to hang tough and hang together supporting our Gators.