The theme of the day at Dan Mullen’s weekly briefing for the media boys and girls was Dogs. Not the Bulldogs he used to coach or the Bulldogs up north he wants so badly to beat, but the Dogs he needs to take Florida to a different level.
The ones he really didn’t have last year.
We’re speaking of Alpha Dogs, which may feel like an overused cliche but certainly makes ears perk up when they are mentioned by a head coach.
He wants some.
As many as he can fit onto the team bus.
He just doesn’t have any yet.
Mullen continues to look for those Dogs, but a lot of it needs to happen organically. You can’t force a guy to be a leader, make him be the guy who does everything the right way and pulls the most stubborn players with him.
“You don’t win two national championships in three years (without them),” Mullen said. “I mean, trust me, we had a lot of talent. But there were some Alpha Dogs that were making sure that the level of play was at an extremely high level.
“There were a bunch on those teams.”
He rattled off a handful of names of players at Florida, at Mississippi State, at Utah.
The ultimate one being Tim Tebow, right?
“Dak Prescott’s probably the best I’ve ever seen,” Mullen said of the Dallas Cowboys quarterback who played for him in Starkville.
Better than Tebow, considered the ultimate leader by so many fans?
“Oh yeah. I mean, Dak, to me, was the best I’ve ever seen at it,” he said. “But, I’ve seen — there’s been a ton. You know, you go back … You know when you have them.”
And when you don’t.
Because you’ve seen those guys standing up on benches waving towels or getting the crowd fired up before a kickoff only to miss an assignment and give up a big play.
Being an Alpha Dog represents more than getting excited. It’s about doing it right. Not being a phony dog.
“The problem when you have phony Alpha Dog-type people, eventually you’re gonna get exposed,” Mullen said. “The difference goes to guys that are trying and then guys that are phony and trying to sort those two. That can be a very fine line that you’re looking at, like, right (hands together) there, like, I’m trying, yes, but that was kinda phony. That’s the fine line that you always have to manage.”
This all may sound confusing to you, but at the same time you get it.
How many teams have you seen underachieve because there wasn’t a person (this applies to women’s teams as much as men’s) to grab the team by the collective ear and drag it to another level?
For example, take last season’s Florida basketball team. Please. (Sorry for those bus tire tracks, guys).
An Alpha Dog has a simple job. Lead by example. Lead with words. Lead with everything you do.
It doesn’t matter what sport we are talking about. You have to have Alpha Dogs. The more the better. It doesn’t have to be a singular job.
So Mullen is searching, desperately seeking another set of Pouncey twins or an Alex Smith or a Fletcher Cox or a Prescott or a Major Wright.
And yet, he won 10 games last year without one.
“Yeah. In my mind, a great one, I don’t know if we had a guy that was,” Mullen said. “It’s hard in year one in the program. You hope you have one. Probably the best one last year was Martez Ivey. If I had to pick one, I’d go with Martez.”
Ivey is gone to the NFL.
The wait for the next one to show up is ongoing. The funny thing is, we’ve talked to a lot of players since the end of last season who acted like they were Alphas. But the coaches know the real thing and the real thing is still a work in progress.
“We have a bunch who really could,” Mullen said. “We potentially have some. None that are at the level of being, the ONES. We don’t have a Fletcher Cox or a Dak Prescott or Pouncey brothers.”
What he does have are a bunch of young players who need leading.
There is no application to fill out, no job interview.
And the head coach will know when the job is taken.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.