TAMPA — Dan Mullen’s return trip to Tampa wasn’t under the most auspicious circumstances, but the second-year UF coach still had plenty of time for pleasantries.
In front of nearly 500 people Wednesday night, Mullen addressed the Tampa Gator Club at The Gathering at Armature Works showing little fatigue from the negative headlines that have swirled around the program early into the offseason; instead, the Gators head coach made sure to focus on UF’s program-wide accomplishments rather than harp on present issues.
“There’s so many outstanding things around the university. You look at the football team last year, finishing 6th in the country,” Mullen said. “Finishing with wins over FSU, and Michigan in the bowl game.
“We are the only program in the country that’s ranked both in the top-10 in academics and in football.”
Florida’s educational prestige was a focal point of much of Mullen’s address, which also featured an appreciation toward older generations of UF alumni that “set the Gator standard.” Early on, Mullen turned the questions toward an undisclosed former UF faculty member — one of many engaging moments during the night — who at the age of 87 shared just one lament with Mullen: she wished he had been the program’s head coach several years ago.
As he has throughout his time at the helm in Gainesville, Mullen came prepared with plenty of quote-worthy quips — some of which may serve as bulletin-board material for UF’s numerous rivals.
“I came back to UF to win championships,” Mullen said. “That’s why I came back. That’s the goal.”
Now in his 11th season as a head coach in the SEC, Mullen took time to reminisce on his introduction to coaching.
“This guy played for me, named Tim Tebow,” said Mullen, drawing cheers from the crowd. “No, I do what I do because I want to see young people succeed. I get to make a positive impact on young people’s lives. That’s the rewarding thing, that’s really what sticks with me.”
Still riding high after UF’s 2018 season, and not one to let an opportunity to compliment the overhaul he helped orchestrate slip away, Mullen recapped the culture change the program endured upon his arrival in Gainesville.
“I didn’t know the players, the players didn’t know us. The first question I asked (upon arriving) was really simple, ‘how many of you want to a win a championship?’ Guess what, everyone did ‘Oh me Coach, I want to championship’,” said Mullen. “I said ‘Put your hands down, you’re all lying to me. If you wanted to win a championship, I wouldn’t be standing here, right? You wouldn’t have a new coach right now. You wish you could win a championship — there’s a big difference between wishing and wanting. Wishers sit around, think and wish about it. Wanters get up and go do something about it.”
When it came to measuring that progress over the 18 months he’s spent back in Gainesville, Mullen playfully turned the question around on the audience.
“We got better throughout the year, but that’s for you guys to judge. But I hope we’re a better team at the end of a year. And it’s really simple: how many push-ups can you do?,” Mullen said. “35? I’m not going to make you do it, unless you want to. But think of this, if you do 35 push-ups today, and you can do 35 tomorrow and 35 the next day, I’m going to bet by the middle of next week you can do 36. I bet by the week after that, you can do 37. Two weeks after that, you can do 40. A month from now, you’ll be able to do 50, and you’re going to keep going up and up and up, right? Because if I can do the most I can do today, I might have the ability to do more tomorrow. Whatever I gave today, I have to find a way to go a little bit harder tomorrow.”
Before concluding the night’s festivities, Mullen drove home the message of community and how Florida’s fans were instrumental to the program’s success. Considering Mullen has repeatedly stressed the program’s raised the bar — and in turn the expectations — only time will tell if Mullen’s message resonated.
“I want to give you this challenge. I’m sure everyone here wants us to win a championship. Are we wanters or wishers?,” Mullen said. “If you don’t think how important you are to our team, I will say (fan support) has a major impact on our performance.”
Dan Mullen’s spring speaking tour continues Thursday night at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.