Why UF football feels different

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Florida coach Dan Mullen does the Gator Chomp while standing with the trophy after the Orange Bowl win over Virginia on Monday in Miami Gardens. Florida won 36-28. Perine was named the MVP. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
It is still a long way off, like some kind of a desert mirage (although I prefer a good dessert mirage) and you usually would not see it applied to a sport that has a mere four-game playoff (how bourgeois).
You will see these popping up when late February and March roll around on the 43 networks that ESPN has, as we get ready for a tournament that network can’t televise (irony at its best).
I do love the blind resumes and apply them to every day life.
Restaurant A has unlimited salad, a mediocre atmosphere and dozens of draft beer options while Restaurant B charges extra for dressing, you can sit outside in a cushioned chair and only serves bottled beer.
Anyway, it’s something that has been rattling around in my head for a couple of months so it seems like a good time to smack myself on the side of head and let it spill out onto a laptop.
Coach A — 21 wins, 0 division titles, 0 wins against Georgia, 2 NY6 bowl wins.
Coach B — 19 wins, 2 division titles, 2 wins against Georgia, 1 Outback Bowl win.
Most of you don’t need a lot of prompting to know who these two coaches are because these resumes are what you think they are — the first two years for the last two football coaches at Florida.
And to be fair, Coach B should be credited with 20 wins because a hurricane canceled a freebie against Northern Colorado.
The point of all this is to explore why it feels so different after two years of Dan Mullen than it did after two years of Jim McElwain.
As you can see and likely already knew, the blind resumes are not that different and an argument could be made that Coach B has a stronger one if you were just, well, just looking at them out of context.
But the vibe is so different with Coach B than it is with Coach A.
Here are five reasons why:
1. Offense.
It’s the most obvious reason. Some Gator fans raised on Steve Spurrier and numbed by Will Muschamp and McElwain had reached the point where they would rather lose than be boring on offense.
In 2015 and ‘16, McElwain’s offenses ranked 112th and 116th, respectively. This from a guy who said his dog could run the offense.
Under Mullen, Florida isn’t exactly blowing the doors off nationally, but UF has been 45th and 42nd in total offense. There have been 65 plays the last two years of 30 yards or more vs. only 45 in McElwain’s first two years.
The offense isn’t perfect, but it’s so much better and in the Gator Nation (as well as most college fan bases), it matters.
2. The finishes.
When you finish the two regular seasons with losses to FSU by a combined score of 60-15 and then really have no chance in the SEC Championship Games, it feels like a disappointing season and washes away a lot of the exhilaration of the victories.
Add in a blowout bowl loss to Michigan and McElwain “finished” those two seasons 1-5.
Mullen, on the other hand, has beaten FSU twice by a combined 50 points and has won both bowl games. That keeps momentum going in a positive direction with recruiting, branding and fan support.
3. The rankings.
Because of those poor finishes, Florida’s final rankings in 2015 and ‘16 were 25th and 13th. Last year UF was tied for seventh in the AP poll and sixth in the coaches. The Gators will likely finish sixth or seventh this year, but even if they drop another spot that’s two straight years of being a Top-10 team.
Again, it matters.
4. Recruiting.
The knock on Mullen seems to be fading with the latest recruiting class, but let’s just look at the two coaches according to the 24/7 rankings:
McElwain 21-12-11.
Mullen 14-9-7.
Gator fans would like to see UF in the top four, but I’m not sure that happens until the new football facility goes up. Mullen’s recruiting has the fan base optimistic about what could happen in the future.
And that doesn’t even account for the transfers. Mullen has brought in Van Jefferson and Jon Greenard among others. McElwain brought in Mason Halter and Malik Zaire.
5. Communications.
The offense is probably the No. 1 reason it just feels different. This is No. 2.
Mullen gets it, whether it is dealing with the media or dealing with other head coaches on campus or stirring up the fan base. He feels more authentic, more solid.
I’ve said this before, but McElwain was constantly pushing everybody away whether it be the fans, the media or the administration (never a smart move). Mullen welcomed everybody back in under the tent.
I’m not trying to bash the previous coach, just trying to point out why there is a different feel to Florida football now than there was then.
Forget the blind resume. This is a change you have to open your eyes to truly see.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

22 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent analysis Pat. Context always matters and context is usually buried in the details.

    Another salient detail not mentioned above is that prevailing conditions in Coach A’s first two seasons are different from Coach B’s. During Coach B’s tenure, UGA was mediocre and FSU was top 5. During Coach A’s tenure, it’s been the other way around. Some of the negativity against Coach B might have been mitigated if only the losses to FSU had occurred in October and the victories over UGA had closed out those two seasons, yet the final results would have been no different and Gator Nation might still be stuck with Coach B.

    • There’s a difference between playing competitive games in a losing effort and getting steamrolled. Playing FSU earlier and getting steamrolled wouldn’t have changed opinion. There’s always going to be some teams stronger then others, everyone just needs to know we’re close to winning and moving in that direction.

      • Exactly, Doug. It isn’t comparable, and the time of year has nothing to do with it. Under McElwain UF didn’t even belong on the same field with FSU or any other top team. The losses under Mullen were at least competitive for most of the game. Not only that, when Mullen’s offenses have a weakness, he does his best to compensate for it. He makes adjustments. Coach Mc showed zero ability to make adjustments.

  2. He forgot to mention both uga and LSU were very mediocre in 15 and 16. That helped fluff everything up a bit. Also offensive style pro (booooo) vs mullens spread. Also, muschamps defensive recruits were the reason the 15 and 16 teams were even as good as they were. I often Joked in 2014 that almost any coach could take over this team with this defense and just be a competent offensive play caller and they’d win 10 games a year. Mac in 2015 proved this to be sort of true but once the talent legend his terrible recruiting took over he was just a awful collebe coach collectively even worse than muschamp. I actually think Mac would be a decent offensive coordinator in the nfl surprised he doesn’t go there but regardless. Mullen took a 4-7 team to 10 wins and we won 11 this year playing LSU very tough. Only one bad game which was in Jax. Also on recruiting Mullen is filling needs and balancing positions, something the prior two coaches never grasped. muschamp recruited top 5 every year but those were all mostly 5 star defensive backs, I actually wish 247 and stuff would take into account balancing position needs instead of just number of 4/5 stars. Coach A and B are very different than paper click bait suggests

    • You are so right about the recruiting team rankings not being reflective of either team needs, or class balance.

      That’s the main reason FSU, with the #6 ranked 247 composite class, ended the 2019 season with a fired coach and losing record. For the last 5 years, they’ve failed to land a decent QB, or enough talented big uglies to man a decent OL. They’ve paid a dear price for those recruiting failures.

  3. Good analysis Pat. It was Coach B’s inability to connect after arriving in Gainesville that stands out the most to me in terms of contrast. McElwain’s manner fit the UF Football culture like a pussy cat that somebody dropped in Lake Alice. Conversely, Mullen thinks and talks Gator and he shows respect for the sports writers, the fans, the players and coaches, the faculty and staff, the student body, et all. He doesn’t condescend with a pretentious folksy personna or act put off like some pompous expert humoring those he considers either less-in-the-know or overzealous. Clearly, Mullen acts like he understands how to make himself family and he readily displays that he’s in step with the traditions important to the Gator Nation.

    • Good post, Prairie — and you nailed it. For instance, unlike some unmentioned presidential candidates recently, you would never catch Dan Mullen walking into a bar in front of TV cameras and ask, “Can I get me a beer here?”. I don’t think there’s a Gator on the planet who didn’t consider him family in the first place. Just took him a while to come home again.

  4. You know, I was pulling for Mac right up to the end when he lost even me, hoping at least at a very minimum he’d get a new OC. Of course, as Sly sustains, it’s great sport to trash him and the horse he rode in on now — and about all I’ve got to say is that he wasn’t really a good fit at all. Still, guess we’ll never know, will we? Not saying that I’m not shickled titless that we finally got Mullen, but I wonder if we’ll ever come to any agreement at all on how it might have worked out for him had (a) Foley ever jerked a knot in his butt, and (b) he had gotten the message regarding how his personality was screwing things up.

    Oh well. Whatever is, is, and whatever isn’t, ain’t. I’m just glad we’re not wandering in the dessert anymore!

    • Nobody can turn a phrase like you, 6, “shickled titless”-I love it. For me, Mac’s big zero of a personality was not a deal breaker(Alabama and New England fans don’t seem to mind it, as long as they’re winning). The constantly poor execution on Offense, however, was truly painful to watch, and unacceptable. It really does feel like we are no longer wandering in the dessert, tracking whipped cream everywhere.

  5. Really 6? I was for him when he was hired but by the end of the 1st year i could see thru him like he was glass. He wasnt a very good coach plain and simple. Regarding the article, when McElwain was here, the East was so bad they wrote about it, it wasnt saying much that we won the east, in fact there was only 1 real good team in the west and that was Al..The FSU and AL losses showed us how weak we were! If McElwain was at UF now with his recruits this past year he would have been 4-7! Someone mentioned how he started with Muschamps defense that carried him and that was definitely so. Our worst defense in over a decade was the last, under Shannon!
    Now to show Im no homer and fair in my analysis, I love Mullen but under him we have regressed in the 2ndary(like that, clever huh) . The D-line this past season was probably the best since 2008 but all this soft coverage and letting WR’s run open in the middle of the field is bad and we have lost the title of DBU. Because of that our D was just a little better than average this past year. If you saw the TN tail whippin of the Ravens yesterday you saw how the corner position was supposed to be played; there was a cat on there who repeatedly knocked the ball away just as a WR was catching it. Thats how our CB’s used to play and how its done under DBU! Remember Urban’s and Muschamps CB’s?, thats why Burrow carvered up our 2ndary this year!

    • Really. But I don’t have a dog in that fight anyway, and just call ’em as I see ’em. Funny you should mention those East titles — somebody said at the time (I think it was Dewayne, now aka BSCE), “That’s like winning a trophy for tallest midget”. That was about the funniest line I had heard in a long time, and more or less perfectly summed it up.

      • 6, that might have been me. Since we’re STILL revisiting McElwain: As soon as I saw that “flip flop” picture of him getting off the plan for the first time, I knew we were in trouble (this is a repeat statement, AGAIN). The image stayed true. McElwain was not a big time College program manager…period! I just believe the Ticket Office worker AD had no “discernment” during the interview process. I will never understand the Zook hire. That’s all I needed to know about his people selection skills.

    • The schematic solution for less than talented DB’s is zone coverage, which works well enough if DL pressure gives the QB and WR’s minimum time to find the seams. LSU and UGA’s OL’s were capable of giving Burrow and Fromm more than enough time to allow their receivers to beat the Gator zones. UVA did the same thing in the OB.

      The Gator CB’s are NFL caliber, but their safeties, as a group, leave a lot to be desired. It is curious how CDM’s staff has had difficulty landing talented safeties. The ones left over from Mac’s tenure have not been very talented either, so like the OL, they’ve won their starting jobs based on greater experience.

      Hopefully, the 2020 Gator recruiting class will bring in some talented safeties for a change. That will eventually permit the Gator D to play more man-to-man, which is how DBU earned its reputation in the first place.

      • You may be right but i thought stewart was a very good safety. Safetys typically are in zone but your corners on the outside must be playing man on the go routes no matter what. Henderson was certainly talented enough but he was always trailing his wr and how many times do you remember him knocking balls away? I dont remember any because he was always too far off his receiver! Wilson too. i just dont like how grantham uses his 2ndary, its NOT DBU and I dont remember him ever, even at MSU using them properly!

  6. Pat, you forgot to compare the consensus preseason predictions versus actual end of season records and conference standings to arrive at who exceeded expectations the most. One coach also won the conference COY award. One coach is paid 50% more in salary than the other so shouldn’t we expect that one to be 50% better? One coach should also be credited with pushing and getting the momentum started with facility improvements (probably resulted in his personal demise with the new AD when plans were changed and delayed).

  7. ”The point of all this is to explore why it feels so different after two years of Dan Mullen.”
    -Pat Dooley.
    And you nailed it with ”THE OFFENSE,” Pat. Take away a few home hits by Perine and Pierce, and the run game was nonexistent all season (Orange Bowl not included). But STILL, Trask and the receivers gave us flashbacks to what real ”Florida Football” looks like, zinging it around the park with ”a little pitch and catch” (as the HBC says). That alone won me over to Coach Dan Mullen. Franks had a rough time here, no doubt, even with Dan as the O.C. & Head Coach. But Trask came into the game at Lexington, and made the downfield passing game a thing of beauty again. So, BEAT UGA, and the rest will follow! Go Gators!

    • Totally agree GI! There were several differences benefiting CDM over Mac, as Pat pointed out, but the one that took him way over the top with Gator Nation was the return of the Gator passing game after a 9 1/4 seasons absence. To think that it took an injury to Franks to force CDM to take that Rembrandt out of his closet!