Mullen brings back that championship feeling

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Florida coach Dan Mullen holds the Peach Bowl trophy Saturday after the Gators routed Michigan, 41-15, in Atlanta. [John Bazemore/Associated Press]

ATLANTA — The cannons went off and the brightly-colored confetti began to flutter through the air. In the stands Gator fans were standing on their heads in orange-and-blue ecstasy and on the podium, the players were mugging and dancing.

This had the feel of Florida’s last two national title scenes — in Glendale, Ariz., and Miami Gardens — even though there was no real title belt won Saturday.

But it was a big deal and these players were going to celebrate it just like their coach.

“I had a great time,” Dan Mullen said. “I’m going to have a great time tonight, too. Partying in Atlanta one more night.”

Hey, the last time a team won this game it celebrated a fake national championship for months. Why not Florida? OK, so there were those three losses, two of them bad. But nobody in these discussions usually let facts get in the way of fantasy.

Florida Gators — 2018 national champs.

Of course, I’m kidding.

But I will say this. These guys played some championship football at the end of the season.

“I don’t think a lot of teams would be lining up to play us right now,” Mullen said.

It was Mullen who told us about his plan to have the Gators playing at their best at the end of the season, how the goal was to have his team get better week to week and we all pretty much blew it off as coachspeak.

But this team started improving from the day he walked on campus and the last couple of months have been pretty impressive.

He’s taken players and turned them into a team, a team good enough to make the Gator Nation proud. And they, in turn, have run through the figurative brick wall for a guy they had to get to know.

“They didn’t have to buy in,” Mullen said. “They didn’t have to believe. I told them, I didn’t recruit you. You didn’t come to play for me but you did come to be a Florida Gator.”

Perhaps there are no better examples of the difference Mullen has made than the offensive and defensive MVPs of the game.

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson finished off his Florida career the way he started it, by intercepting two passes and returning one for a score just like he did as a freshman in the Outback Bowl.

But in between, there was a guy who struggled to make tackles on a bad team.

“It’s been a ride,” he said. “It just shows you the growth because you’re going to take some bumps along the road.

“This year was nothing but joy. All my teammates are smiling. This game, one step closer to the program being back where it was.”

There was some irony in that Gardner-Johnson had the game he had after declaring for the draft and Michigan certainly wasn’t helped by the four players who bolted rather than play.

“That’s not the kind of guy he is,” CeCe Jefferson said.

And, of course, there was Feleipe Franks, the poster boy for the Bronx cheer, a redshirt sophomore who so many fans could not and would not accept because there had to be someone better.

There just had to be.

And here he was playing what was pretty much a flawless game — even when Mullen kept going to the jugular rather than play conservative with a lead — against the nation’s top-ranked defense.

“Just go out and play the game I’ve been playing my whole life,” he said of the trust Mullen and quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson put in him. “And it just made football fun again. That’s what it kind of did for me.”

It certainly was fun for the Gator fans who made the trip and paid big money for tickets.

They were worth it.

And as they celebrated, they were cheering more than the present.

Because here’s the thing — the first full year of Mullen has shown us that he and his staff know what they’re doing with player development and certainly with the X’s and O’s.

It was another coaching mismatch.

And that has to have Florida fans believing there’s a chance that somewhere down the line they’re going to see more confetti.

A lot more.

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

18 COMMENTS

  1. A coaching mismatch. I like that phrase. I like it more because it is true and it has not felt true since Meyer left. Muschamp and McElwain won some good games, in spite of their decisions and preparation rather than because of them. I had actually forgotten what it felt like to watch a game knowing that the Gators were not going to blow it rather than hoping for it. Great year! Exciting from the start and, with the exception of the MO game, a ride that was fun even with the bumps and hiccups. Looking forward to a great 2019 season.

  2. Well said Pat. The Gators have come a LONG WAY in just one season under Coach Mullen. This game was really fun to watch. Paying Harbaugh back in the same coin he has embarrassed the Gators with the last two seasons was PRICELESS!

    The future in Gainesville is bright indeed!

    Go Gators!!!

  3. UF literally pushed Michigan around. Now that was definitely something fun to watch. I believe the Mighty Gators ‘r back. Great play calling and execution. They worked the Wolverines silly. Great team victory! Thanks coaches and players for your dedication and grit! 10-win season–says it all. GO 🐊🐊🐊

  4. Well stated summary Pat. I’m tired of hearing MI’s defense is/was highest rated! There is not such thing unless it comes from a SEC Team! Period! Look at ND and OK tonight, overrated as usual by the Fake Sports Media. Dan Mullin is the Coach of the Year by any measure. He has resurrected the Gator Nation in one season. The D today looked like the D of 2008! A little reload and we’re in Atlanta again next year. It wasn’t the SEC Championship, but it was a Great Year based on the journey we had to travel after the last 10 years and especially last year’s debacle. Feels refreshing! Maybe now a couple more 4/5 Stars will sign up.

  5. This is the third or fourth game this year that it was clearly evident that the GATORS opponent was out-coached! Up to this bowl game I thought the Miss State game was where superior GATORS coaching was most-evident. How else does a Miss State team – built by Mullen – get beat so bad??

    On to my concern, many times Mullen has clearly stated it is NOT just his coaching – it is the experience/connection he has with his assistant coaches that makes the difference. Is there any expectation/rumors/etc. that would indicate that Mullen’s assistant coaches would stick around? Maybe 3 years? More?

    Thanks! GO GATORS!!!

    • If assistant coaches start getting head coaching offers, it usually means their current team is having success. As long as Mullen is here, we pretty much know what the offense is going to look like. And our Gators should always be able to hire outstanding defensive coaches with the talent that cant be recruited here. Go Gators…the future looks bright 🔥🔥

  6. Coach Mullen and staff have convinced the Florida Gators to become much more than they were – to step up their committment to excellence. The Gators pushed and clawed their way to a truly great season finale – this team will be remembered for how they turned things around and finally became champions. I am impressed, and hope to see continued growth in this team. Dedication, determination, faith in self, teammates, coaches and God – these things will bring excellence and greatness – they will restore the Gators to their destiny. GO GATORS!!!

  7. I enjoyed this game as much as Ohio State trashing by Florida in National championship game. If not more.
    Jim Harbaugh is arrogant loser as evidenced by his hand shake of disrespecting Dan Mullen He did the same when he was NFL couch in a winning effort. He is going to get fired. I do not know if Michigan is going to get their money back.