By Garry Smits
GateHouse Media Services
JACKSONVILLE — Dan Mullen stood in a luxury box at EverBank Field, just a few feet from a window that looked down on the playing surface where he will clash with the University of Georgia in 244 days for the first time as the University of Florida head football coach.
He didn’t make predictions but he knows what he wants from his team.
“We expect to win in Florida, in The Swamp or whether we’re here … any location in the state,” Mullen said Monday before addressing more than 600 members of the Jacksonville Gator Booster Club on the second leg of his statewide tour. “We are THE University of Florida.”
Mullen’s team is about to wrap up the most physical offseason conditioning program current players have ever experienced — and they’ve told him so.
“They said they’ve never been through anything like it,” he said.
They’re three weeks away from opening spring practice and seven weeks from the spring game April 14, where many questions he got from fans will be answered.
The others will remain open-ended until UF begins the season Sept. 1 against Charleston Southern.
But Mullen did make one guarantee.
“We will give a relentless effort in everything we do,” he said. “The team that plays with that passion, energy and effort winds up being a very entertaining team.”
Mullen spoke and then answered questions from fans for one hour and 20 minutes. Every topic from beating Georgia to who will play quarterback to what kind of athletic shoes Mullen likes to wear was covered.
He gave the fans one message at the outset:
“We’re in this together,” he said.
Mullen hasn’t had much of a chance to hit the pause button since he was hired to return to Florida last November after nine years as the most successful coach in Mississippi State history. Before that he was the offensive coordinator for the Gators for two SEC championships and two national championships, with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow at quarterback.
There’s no Tebow on the roster. The Gators will pick from either an existing quarterback, or pull one from a recruiting class ranked 14th by 247Sports. But Mullen said returning starter Feleipe Franks, who was benched three times during the 4-7 2017 season, is buying what Mullen is selling.
“He’s had a great attitude,” Mullen said. “What I look for is a guy who’s going to compete and set a standard very high for everybody. You have to be a leader. People are going to look to you as the quarterback to be a leader. I explained that to him before our first workout and he tries to be first in everything he’s doing.”
Mullen also said the other returning players have followed suit.
“We’ll see after spring but I think there’s certainly guys buying in and working hard with the offseason program,” he said. “We have quarterbacks who look the part, who can throw, running backs who look physical on film but we want to see how they perform with the ball in their hands. We’ll know a lot after spring but we’re certainly going to make them work hard.”