HOOVER, Ala. — Dan Mullen wanted to talk about his hole-in-one a couple of weeks ago. Reynolds Plantation, National Course, 173 yards, 7 iron.
He wanted to talk about his shoe game (sweet, custom Jordans) and his vacation and the momentum his team built at the end of last year.
The bad news of the summer? That, he dismissed as the new norm of college football.
“I think it’s been a real good summer,” he said in the Buckingham Room of the Wynfrey Hotel before hitting the podium to address the masses at SEC Media Days.
Of course, for Florida fans, this offseason has felt like a series of disappointments. Nine players lost to the NCAA transfer portal, two more who didn’t qualify, one lost to an injury for the season before practice starts.
But fans are not reporting for camp in 10 days and Mullen still feels good about his roster — even if it has been depleted a notch or two — heading into this season.
“We were under (the 85 limit) a little bit last season,” he said. “It didn’t really shock us, the qualification ones. There was a chance for them, doubtful, but there was a chance. And if they did make it, you better have a scholarship for them.”
As is the case with any coach, he’d rather have been talking about the players he does have than the ones he doesn’t. The elite players are still there, eager to point out that this is still a team ready to talk about championships.
“It was tough because some of my friends left,” said defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga. “Some of the guys I came in with. It’s going to hurt, but we just need some guys to step up. We have a lot of talent on our roster.”
There was an obvious contrast on the first day in Hoover between two of the three teams that went first. Missouri, which has a bowl ban that is being appealed, lost no players to the transfer portal, something Barry Odom was very proud of.
“I think they drew a line in the sand and said this is what we’re going to be as a team in 2019 together,” said the Missouri coach.
That’s not to say the Florida players still in Gainesville haven’t done the same thing. Certainly, there could be some issues with depth, especially on special teams where so many of the departed players would have played roles.
But, well, let running back Lamical Perine lay it out for you.
“Whoever the guys we have on the team right now, that’s who we’re rolling with against Miami,” he said. “I don’t look at it like it’s a big deal.
“A lot of guys left because they realized it wasn’t going to be like high school. You gotta know what you’re doing or the coach isn’t going to play you. If you want to be here, you want to be here. If you don’t. you don’t. A lot of guys just didn’t fit in. It’s a business. Everything we do. One moment someone is there and the next they aren’t.”
In other words, relax.
This is still a team with a quarterback who made great strides last season, the best receiving corps in the SEC and a defense that returns a boatload of starters.
The bottom line is that Florida in its second year under Mullen has a team that will have high expectations even if its recruiting class dropped a handful of spots with the loss of a few players and the numbers aren’t ideal.
“Everyone understands the program,” Mullen said. “I think we have made bigger gains in the offseason (as a result). There’s a better understanding of what we want to accomplish.”
So go against your nature, Gator fans, and take a chill pill. This isn’t like Jim McElwain’s last season when Florida lost some of its brightest stars to suspensions because of credit card fraud.
At least that was the message Monday.
They’re going to be fine.
“Honestly, Florida might have the most bipolar fans,” Perine said. “When we’re winning games everyone is happy. When we’re losing everyone is getting bashed from the coaches to the equipment guys, even kickers.”
Please don’t take this as me bashing the fan base. I don’t think it’s outrageous for anyone to be concerned about what has happened to this roster this summer, especially if this team runs into a rash of injuries.
But, hey, the Gators have three bye weeks to get plenty of rest. Players come and go and with this new transfer portal, roster management is a new challenge for head coaches.
“The guys who are here,” Mullen said, “understand what it means to be a Gator.”
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.