Mullen, staff producing proof program at UF turning in right direction

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Florida football coach Dan Mullen, center, UF athletic director Scott Stricklin, left, and Gary Stokan, the CEO and president of the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl, talk Friday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium after a news conference to officially invite the Gators to play Michigan in the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

Back in late November of 2017, Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin launched his football coaching search, saying he wanted to hire a head coach who would make Florida football fun again.

He apparently found the guy he was looking for, because the fun is already back under Dan Mullen.

In a rather remarkable turnaround in less than a year, the Gators have gone from 4-7 to 9-3, including upset wins over Mississippi State on the road and LSU at home, followed by the perfect ender — the 41-14 thrashing of arch-rival Florida State in Tallahassee two weeks ago.

And the good times continue in 2018, with No. 10 Florida facing No. 7 Michigan in a New Year’s Day Six bowl game Dec. 29 in Atlanta. The Gators received their official invitation from Chick-fil-A Bowl CEO and president Gary Stokan, who made the trip to Gainesville to personally extend the invite Friday to Stricklin and Mullen.

“It’s really rewarding,” Stricklin said. “I said this after the FSU game, the momentum and the enthusiasm from Gator Nation, from all those fans out there wearing the orange and blue, that is really rewarding and that is fun to see.

“I’ve got to give Dan credit for creating that spark and making this a program that’s a lot of fun for our fans to follow.”

At this time a year ago, there did not appear to be any imminent fun in sight. Mullen’s arrival infused new hope and generated a lot of energy, but he had inherited a 4-7 team and there was no way to predict to what degree the players would buy-in to the new staff, or how this first season might unfold.

Looking back on the season now, the players did buy in, and together with Mullen and the new staff, the Gators won nine games and have become relevant again in the SEC and in college football with their top-10 finish and appearance in a New Year’s Six bowl game.

Stricklin said Mullen has exceeded expectations in year one.

“When you make a change, especially coming off a 4-7 season, I don’t think it’s realistic to say this was an expectation,” Stricklin said. “At the University of Florida, you get accustomed to the level of success that all of our sports have. You expect the football team to compete to be in this position regularly.

“But to turn it around in one year is a huge credit to Dan and his ability to come in and connect and do all the great things that he and his staff did this year.”

The players have played a tremendous role as well, Stricklin said, the way they have bought in and put their trust in Mullen and the new staff. There has been no obvious resistance.

“It’s a great credit to our players,” Stricklin said. “To accept new leadership, hold themselves accountable and then go out and compete and put themselves in a position to win nine ball games, go 5-3 in the SEC and undefeated in non-conference play.”

It has been a fun first ride under Mullen, who acknowledges it’s been a successful season, but it’s also fairly obvious that he’s not satisfied. He wants more. He wants to win championships, which has been his priority and primary motivation since taking the job.

“If you’d said before the season you’re going to be 9-3 and play in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, take it or leave it, you probably would take it,” Mullen said. “I still have high standards. We’re going to compete for championships.

“We weren’t able to win the SEC East championship or the SEC championship or the national championship this year. We have an opportunity to win the Peach Bowl championship.

“Winning the game would be a real satisfying end to this season and jumpstart us into where we expect to be in the future.”

At this time a year ago, with no bowl game to prepare for, Mullen and his staff were focusing on recruiting — making in-home visits and setting up official visits on campus.

During that time, Mullen shared his vision with recruits. He told them this was a championship program in the past, including when he was here before, and that it would be again. The Gators were going to get back to where they once were and become a national championship program again.

But he had nothing to really show them. Now, with this nine-win season and New Year’s Day Six bowl game, he has visible proof that the program is heading in the right direction.

“For a lot of recruits, they’ve been able to see it,” Mullen said. “A lot of recruits out there, they want the opportunity to compete for SEC and national championships. What they’ve seen out of this team this year is we’re a program that’s going to be able to do that, and not four to five years down the road.

“We have an opportunity to finish as a top-10 team in the country (with a win in the Peach Bowl). Recruits see the type of year we’ve had. It shows where the program is and what we can accomplish during their careers when they come.

“It’s certainly helping with recruiting.”

It’s all part of putting the fun back in Florida football.

 

43 COMMENTS

  1. What I find funny is that articles like this come out weeks after many of us fans have already been carrying on that exact conversation…LOL. The only difference is that we couldn’t get CDM’s comments to be a part of our discussions. So…anyway…as I stated many weeks ago, I wanted to keep CDM while we still had CU Meyer. I suppose it all worked out in the end, but we wouldn’t have had so many bad seasons in between if we had kept CDM. Let us forget what could have been and be happy with what we have now. Great job CDM and staff!!! Here is to the future! GO GATORS!!!

  2. The program is finally in good hands. It’s so great knowing that our HC will most likely out-scheme the one on the other sideline – that was SO evident in the fsu game. A complete 180° turnaround from the hopeless dumpster fire that was the previous staff. And he did get buy-in – all Gators pulling the rope together. It’s been a very good first year and Gator Nation is looking at a bright future – thank you CDM – GO GATORS!!!

  3. I hope CDM, his family, his Assistants are Happy. And will stick around.they seem like a good group, and stability at a high level is the goal and being worried that someone isn’t happy and about to leave is something this program needs to improve upon

  4. Mullen and company come from the school of no excuses — They figure it out. Whatever the situation, they do not change or lower their standards. They simply adapt and find a way. The attitude and demeanor of the team changed radically from last year to this with guys playing harder and harder as the year went on and finishing finishing fishing. The team was fun to watch, and they and the coaches inspired me in a way that hasn’t happened in years.

    Most amazing was the progress made by tHe offensive line which went from a major team weakness to a unit that moved some of the best defensive lines in college football off the ball and opened up holes for our backs. Any young player out there looking for coaches who will invest in them and help them be their best selves- come to UF. You will learn and get stronger in ways that will benefit you for LIFE!

    UF is the future of college football, and the forces of glorious victory gather in Gainesville!!!!

  5. This was the most exciting season in some time. Here’s to even better times ahead. Dan Mullen’s energy and passion no doubt gets the attention of recruits and existing players. The results on the field are what hooks them. Things look really good in Gainesville again. Thanks Coach Mullen and staff for what you have done and what you are doing. Go Gators!

  6. Go Gators! Impressive that the President of the Peach Bowl would make a special trip to Fanville to ceremoniously invite the Gators to the Peach Bowl. Thanks Mr Stokan, CEO and President! AD Strickland has done a great job since taking over the program. He’s the best. Coach Mullen and Staff, IMO, are definitely a top level football staff. One of the best in the Country! Maybe the best! Let’s get this team fired up and send a message that this game is big and we want to do our best to win! Go Gators!

    • Nassau Gator – like the man said, they were sold out very quickly due to the two teams involved. You know that SEC teams are THE draw since espn paid to be able to televise SEC games. Whether we win or lose the Peach Bowl we know that we are back in contention atop the SEC again! GO GATORS!!!

  7. Just a bit of comic relief: What do current NFL QBs Jakoby Brisset and Jeff Driskel, and soon to be NFL QB Will Grier all have in common? Answer: They all split from Florida under either Muschump or MacWhine. Hmm. Interesting. Very glad to have DAn Mullen now, who has produced Dak Prescott and has Franks improving and TRask waiting.

    • I know you didn’t say, “…….and Trask in waiting”, Cattrick, but that’s the meaning I took either in error or because that’s what you meant. Now, this is odd for sure, but somewhat important if you did mean it that way because that makes two commenters that I take seriously (you and Cody Alan) who have said Trask may start next year. Clarify?

    • cattrick – remember why they all left. With CDM we will be getting a better character of players in my opinion. Of course you can never really tell if and when someone will do something questionable. Let us all just hope that from here on out these young men that come to the SWAMP will not do anything to harm the brand or their fellow peers. You can always count on some tv analists (yes I intentionally spelled it that way) to bring up any negative thing that can be considered news and spew their own intended comedic review about it. Most just come off looking like douches, but hey, some young men from the past have given them the opportunity. I just don’t get how any college attendee that plays a sport at that college can think that committing credit card fraud, or theft, or using a substance that is questionable. Being young is not a good excuse since I am sure these young men know the difference between what is right and what is wrong. Anyway, all we can do is hope. Common GATORS beat the snot out of that team from the North! GO GATORS!!!

      • Of the 3 QBs he named, only Grier left under questionable circumstances, and based on the strength and conditioning program Mac had in place, can anyone blame him for taking an unsupervised trip to GNC? He definitely made the best decision by getting away from Mac as fast as he could. None of those players were involved in any criminal behavior, so I’m kind’ve confused by the CDM will be getting a better character of players comment. I’d take any one of those QB’s under Mullen’s tutelage in a heartbeat.

        • Joe – don’t forget Cam Newton. And as far as my meaning – look no further than bama for my meaning. Hurts stayed despite being replaced by Tua. That is the kind of character I was referring to as Hurts still wanted to play for the school he first chose. Had those QB’s listed by you had stayed, our QB trouble wouldn’t have been so severe. Grier should have used that experience to come back the following year and attempt to make things right. These students choose a school for a reason, so when they leave for whatever reason, well that to me shows it is easier for them to run then to stay a face the music. With CDM here, I have a feeling that there won’t be any students wanting to leave for any other brand. Also – after rereading my opinion I made comments that weren’t about QB’s but about past players that committed those indiscretions. I stated before that I may not explain things that I am trying to convey. Please call me out on any of my posts to explain. After all – I am only a genius in my own mind. GO GATORS!!!

  8. Speaking of Gator QBs, I wonder how much CDM will use Emory Jones against Michigan. He can play in one more game this season without burning his red shirt. He will get 15 practices to work on a package of plays. And, he’s the ideal QB to run the spread option the same way Ohio State did in shredding Michigan’s D a couple of weeks ago.

    Not saying Franks shouldn’t start the bowl game and get most of the plays while the outcome is still in doubt. He’s earned that this season.

    But… what if???

    Go Gators!!!

    • Waiting in case Franks gets hurt or suddenly tanks his game. Trask was red-shirt and is 1 year behind Franks. So he is “waiting” to get his chance. I did NOT mean that Trask should start ahead of Franks. I do NOT see Trask starting in 2019. Sorry about the confusion of “Trask in waiting.”

      • No sweat — thanks for answering my “inquiry” just the same. Ever since Cody made that statement a couple of weeks ago I’ve been waiting on others to take it up Pro or Con, but it really didn’t draw so much as the old, “You’re full of crap”. I just misread your post since I was thinking you might be suggesting the same.

        Getting Cody to come back on and explain it further is a real chore, as he’s kind of hit and miss as far as when he posts. But, when somebody with his background says something like that, you bet I’m listening!

      • I believe Trask’s moment passed him by when he was injured prior to the USCe game. With Emory coming along nicely and Jalon about to sign on and follow in his footsteps, I don’t see Trask being any more than a backup after 2018.

        For that matter, that’s the roll I would see for Franks after this season should he remain a Gator. My money is on Jones winning the starting job in the spring or summer and Franks quitting the team in a fit of pique over it.

        Go Gators!!!

        • My money is on Jones too, and like you I’m curious what the fall out will be for Franks if that is the case. Who knows? He may even have it all suddenly click next year, and then we would be wondering about Jone’s reaction. I kind of doubt the latter scenario, but I do expect Franks to be better next year anyway. Just goes to show you why Dan Mullen makes 6 million and I’m just a retired GI with no redeeming social virtues. 😎

          • In order for Franks to be the starter next year, he’s going to need to go 40-40 for 1000 yds and 10 TDs in the Spring game and then never throw an incomplete pass all summer, put on about 50 lbs of muscle and suddenly run a 4.2 40. That will get him the start against Miami and all he’ll need to do then is become a Heisman front runner after throwing for 800 yds and 13 TDs in a 100-0 win. If none of that happens, then forget about it, the fans will completely lose it if he’s named the starter again and all we’ll hear is how stupid Mullen is and how Jones is the greatest QB on earth, who could be starting for every college program in America. No pressure Franks!

      • Cattrick, I believe Trask and Franks are both in their 3rd year now. Both entered UF at the same time and both took a redshirt year their first year. Even with his injury this season, I don’t believe Trask can take a second redshirt year. In fact, since both Trask and Franks are now completing their 3rd year after high school graduation, they are both eligible to enter the NFL draft next spring if they are so inclined. Not likely, but it is there for them.

  9. You write good posts 6. That has to be worth something, don’t you think? 😉

    I wish I could share your optimism about Franks’ future. Experience watching LOTS of college football for MANY years has taught me that great QBs are born, not made. A good QB coach can make a mediocre QB better, but never great.

    Remember SOS pulling his hair out with Terry Dean? SOS gave up on him as soon as Danny Wuerffel came along enough as a sophomore to become the full-time starter. Dean had a cannon for an arm, but didn’t have it between the ears and couldn’t stop throwing the ball to players on the other team. Sound familiar? Wuerffel had a so-so arm, but is now in the Gator Ring of Honor for what he had between his ears.

    After 2 years of pure frustration watching Franks struggle with his reads, staring down his primary receivers, missing wide open receivers, holding the ball too long, putting no touch on passes and finally throwing it to someone on the other team, I’ve nicknamed him Box-of-Rocks!

    The sooner the Gators move on to Emory Jones, the closer we’ll be to making the CFP. I’m convinced that Franks’ boneheadedness will cost us a couple of games every season he starts.

    Go Gators!!!

    • You’re certainly not alone in that opinion, StL. I do think the “it” factor has eluded Franks by and large — chiefly because, like you say that is the inborn component. Kind of like the old definition of pornography…..one has a hard time defining it, yet you know it when you see it. Doesn’t mean he won’t continue to improve, of course, but just about everybody sees a ceiling pretty far short of spectacular. Consistently competent would be good, tho……

      Good example comparing Dean and Wuerffel — my first experience with Gator QBs goes back a long way too, all the way to the beginning of the Ray Graves era. I was just a kid of course, but even so I paid a lot of attention. As I recall, we had 5 total in uniform, but the main guys were Bobby Dodd Jr, Don Ringgold, and a little shrimp named Larry Libatore. All three were pretty good but none had what I’d call the “it” factor. One, however, left it all on the field every time and had so much heart that it was inspirational just watching him warm up — Bobby Dodd and Don Ringgold had the form, no doubt about that — but Libatore was the main reason the team was so good. That’s pretty much the model I’d see for Franks if he develops to his full potential (despite the physical differences). A competent winner. Will we see it? I really don’t know. But if Jones is as good as I think he may be, I don’t think it will matter anyway.

      • I believe Jones has the “mojo” to be the 1st Gator star QB since Tim Terrific. That 1st pass he threw vs. UGA was a thing of beauty, even though he didn’t even complete it. The DB was so badly beaten on the play that he took an interference call just to prevent the catch. He also throws the ball to TEs, over the middle, in a way that has mostly eluded Franks until very recently.

        I’m convinced Mullen didn’t throw Jones in the fire this year because the kid needed to adjust to the speed of SEC defenses and our O line was a work-in-progress during the 1st half of this season. None of that will be in play next season.

        It’s going to be an interesting spring and summer at QB. Whoever wins the starting job better come out of the shoot ready to shine. We have the Canes to open the season next year and really need to kick their behinds in order to establish the Gators as the preeminent program in the state of Florida.

        Go Gators!!!

          • Yeah…..I’m afraid of that too, Joe. We’ve got to get some OL in the recruiting effort this time around, but the need may be greater than can be met in one season. Hate to even suggest it, but if the situation looks dire enough — bring in some transfers to fill the gap?

          • Gents, the situation on the OL is not as bad as it appears to be. It’s true 4 of 5 starters may go after the bowl game, but there will be at least 10 returning OL lettermen with one full season playing in the Mullen/Hevesy system and two off-seasons in the Savage strength and conditioning program come opening day 2019. There are also 6 OL commits in the current recruiting class (3-4* and 3-3*) and Mullen isn’t done recruiting OL players yet.

            That’s not nearly as dire as the 6 scholarship OL players the Chump left McElwhiner on the 2015 roster! That OL also had to learn a new offense and somehow we still managed to win 10 games and the SEC East title.

            Go Gators!!!

  10. It’s amazing what a little administrative support and program stability can do.

    The cupboard was stocked fairly well for Mullen. He scrambled to hold some of the first UF class. This second recruiting class will actually be his first at Florida.

    At this time, recruits seem to be a better metric for long-term success than the 2018 schedule result.

    • This decade and going forward, recruiting success is a MUCH better indicator of on-field success than the other way around IF the ultimate goal every season is winning a national championship.

      Recruiting services have gotten extremely good at identifying elite recruits and elite recruits have gotten extremely good at identifying those programs that will:

      1. Totally prepare them for playing in the NFL in 3 years.
      2. Give them a realistic shot at immediate playing time at their desired position.
      3. Give them a realistic shot at playing for national championships every year in school.
      4. Treat them like royalty in terms of housing, food, entertainment and educational assistance.

      The last 2 conditions are the main reasons that the rich (Alabama and Clemson) get richer. They realistically offer elite recruits ALL 4 conditions every single season.

      Hopefully, the Gators will rejoin them in a couple of years.

      Go Gators!!!