A welcome change: Mullen gives Gators new hope

University of Florida head football coach Dan Mullen does the Gator Chomp with Dick Vitale, the legendary basketball commentator, during a basketball game at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

Soooo, um, my friends are really ga-ga right now. They don’t want to call it “love” yet, but he’s all they can talk about.

He’s soooo funny. Does impressions. And he seems to know how to say the right thing at the right moment. I know he’s coming out of a long-term relationship, but he is so into this one. Totally.

You know he is just what they needed. They were tired of being talked down to and ignored. They want to be happy, but there are different levels of happiness. They want to feel like they are special.

Like it’s a two-way street and he doesn’t just want to hang around with his friends all the time.

Of course, it’s early in this relationship. He hasn’t forgotten anyone’s birthday or, you know, like, lost a game.

Dan Mullen is, of course, 0-0 as the Florida head football coach even as he piles up wins. Wins in recruiting, wins in perception, wins in the fan base.

The Gator Nation has taken to him because he has taken to them unlike any coach since Steve Spurrier did when he walked in the door figuratively waving orange and blue pom-poms.

And his “can-do and I need you to do it” approach is just what Florida fans were pining for.

As Mullen made a quick tour of the state this week — appearances that were open to all Gator fans without cost — you wouldn’t think this is a fan base coming off an embarrassing season based on the sizes of the crowds.

Perhaps it is because they are learning something about their new coach, that he isn’t a carpetbagger or today’s new flavor or working only for the guy who signs his paycheck.

He’s one of them.

He’s working for them.

That’s why there seems to be a bit of a pep to the step of UF football fans and athletes being recruited by UF as well as the people who work in the University Athletic Association offices.

It hasn’t been this fun to go to work in a long time.

This is not meant to bash former coaches at Florida. Everyone has their own style, their own set of rules (however archaic) and their own personalities.

And, as we mentioned, it’s easier to be smitten with a head coach who has yet to lose a game.

They can’t trust him to the marrow yet, because he hasn’t put his work on display in games that matter. Nobody knows what the future holds for Mullen. It’s just nice to know that his gaze is fixed in only that direction.

There is no looking back, no complaining about what has been done wrong in the past. Just this — how can it be better?

Florida and athletic director Scott Stricklin made a smart decision in moving Mullen’s tour up to February instead of late spring (strike while the iron is hot) and opening them up to anyone wearing Orange and Blue.

Because they — Gators fans, players and coaches — need to be all in this together and never has that been more important.

Perhaps that is why it feels like this is the most cohesive the Gator Nation has been since Spurrier had his famous New Year’s Eve news conference to accept the job in 1989.

Think about the first years of the coaches who followed.

• Ron Zook had no chance to be universally accepted. He was succeeding the legend and told us repeatedly in his first presser that he was not Steve Spurrier. Nay, nay. That’s not what anyone wanted to hear.

• Nobody knew for sure what to think of Urban Meyer. He had no SEC experience and no ties to the program. One of the first things he did was kick the team out of the locker room. And he was hardly outgoing. Obviously, the Gator Nation grew to love the championships before the nasty breakup.

• Will Muschamp is as good a guy as you’ll ever be around, but not a popular hire outside of all of his Oak Hall buddies. He walked into a giant mess of entitlement and had to clean it up with an industrial-sized mop. He brought in restrictive-access rules and wasn’t until he went 4-8 that he opened some practices.

• And then came Jim McElwain, who almost seemed to have a disdain for the most vocal parts of the fan base and circled the wagons almost immediately.

Mullen gets the Gators because he has been one. He gets how to be an SEC head coach because he has been one. He gets how important it is to include the fans in the process by opening some practices and answering their questions because, well, it’s the right thing to do.

As we all are very aware, it always comes down to winning. The guy who says he’d take 8-4 with an entertaining offense is the same guy leaving anonymous posts in November wondering if Florida hired the right guy.

And we’re a long way from the wins and losses that go on a head coach’s permanent record.

But at least it feels like momentum has shifted.

It feels like one nation again.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.


  1. It’s certainly a ”positive vibe”, Pat. And I can believe in Coach Mullen, as the Dan Mullen of ’05-’08 did some amazing things at U.F. on offense. And although I may be a dying breed, ”old school”, a Spurrier disciple for example (fun-n-gun), I do believe Coach Dan Mullen can revitalize the anemic offenses of the Gator Football past (since ’09 if we’re honest). Go Gators!

  2. Pat, you still don’t get Muschamp’s complete lack of understanding as to how to create, run and maintain a potent offensive attack. He never had it, he never will. You seem to be unable to say that in public. It is in fora like this one where observers without agendas can speak to the truth.

    Coach Mullen also understands that he, the program, needs vibrant fan support. The circle of love that it creates is a very powerful dynamic. (See 1 John 4). His citing to the Danny W. autograph to one Timmy Tebow, who at the time was a young boy, was very touching, and the audience was in awe of how strong an influence fan interface can be.

  3. I can appreciate the press and players having a different response to coaches than fans. As a fan, I csn tell you that I was genuinely excited by the hire of Urban Meyer. You write as if he were in the same level as McElwain, in terms of being an unknown. But we beat virtually no one in rushing to get McElwain while every school with a vacancy wanted Meyer. I watched a bit of Utah his last year and was giddy as i saw the play calling and creativity. Now…ultimately I learned to hate him. But after the listless years of Zook, feeling like the Gators had slipped to hoping for an Outback Bowl invite while cringing at his every word and movement, Meyer brought as much excitement then as I feel now. I’m hoping for the same results on the field without the weird stuff off of it.

    • Right on about the Urban hire. He had so much success with Bowling Green and Utah that any school would have hired him in a heartbeat. UF stole him from Notre Dame. Urban Meyer did great for UF except his last year…..let’s be honest and give him the credit due, whether we like him now or not.

      • Right On! Meyer gave us championships in 06 and 08 when most people didn’t think the “spread offense” would work in the SEC. I truly believe Meyer would still be at UF if he would have vouched for Cam Newton in the laptop incident. Although Johnathan Brantley was talented, we all see how Cam turned out. Glad we have Mullen to bring back the excitement in the Swamp!

      • jasper. The last two years under Meyer were bad. His offenses with the now Boston College head coach as the OC were almost as bad as the offenses under Muschamp and McElwain. And Meyer then left and left the roster very void of talent that Muschamp at least built back up on the defensive side of the ball and with which allowed McElwain to survive for almost three years with those defensive players. His luck ran out when most of those players left after McElwain’s second year. I think Mullen will be a better head coach than even Meyer and will be around a lot longer. He is all Gator. Meyer never was. Muschamp never was because he played for Georgia. McElwain was never anything Gator. Nice to have a head coach who understands what it means to be the UF head coach and represents it well in public and with the press, something Muschamp and McElwain has no clue about. And to quote Ron Zook, I am looking forward to the Gators “getting better and better” under Mullen and his excellent coaching staff. They get it, period.

  4. Amen Brother Dooley! It’s been a long time coming and I am thrilled to my orange and blue core to have a great feeling about the direction of Gator football.

    Come on Coach Dan – let’s blow the doors off the SEC again!

    Can I get a halleluiah?!

  5. Zookie had earned the contempt of Gator fans by failing miserably in his tenure as defensive coordinator, and it wasn’t just the fans who thought he sucked; Spurrier demoted Zookie due to the erratic and inconsistent play of his unit. Therefore, most of us were shocked when Failure Ghost selected this failed coordinator to be our head coach because we had already seen he couldn’t handle being defensive coordinator. We suspected we would see at best an erratic inconsistent team, which is exactly what we saw from this clueless nut.

    If we had some hope that this boob who has proven incompetent in the past might surprise us, we were then thrown further into doubt when he was introduced as our head coach and in a national televised press conference delivered an incoherent and scatter-brained speech that sounded like some over-stimulated 12 year old who had just eaten a pound of sugar. He did not in any way seem like a man capable of running a major college football program, but instead a ridiculous fool, which is what he turned out to be.

    And it wasn’t just here. The Zookie had a second chance at another school, where he also sucked and also got fired. Were illinois fans spoiled, looking for another Spurrier? Or could it be that Zoookie sucked and is not a competent head coach? But no. He was nice to Pat, so that proves he was a great head coach.

    The ultimate irony is that when Failure Ghost decided to fire Zook, he then leaked stuff to the Gainesville Sun revealing what an unstable psycho Zook had been, doing things like going down to Fraternity Row and threatening a bunch of frat guys and challenging them to a fist fight. Hardly the behavior you would expect from an adult, and yet of course only spoiled Gator fans would fail to embrace such a sterling and masterful coaching guru as the all powerful ZOOOOOOOOKKKKKKK!!!

  6. Looks like UGA will be in the national Championship Playoffs again assuming they beat Bama in the SEC championship game. Anyone seen their out of conference schedule? Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee State, Massachusetts, and Geogia Tech all home games. Mullen’s team will have more experienced depth in his second year and will have at least 2 experienced QB’s to really be in contention from that point going forward.

  7. Different coach, same rainbows and unicorns. Until toe meets leather. Just sayin. It undeniable that “Coach Boom” had everyone all stirred up and ready to run through a wall, until toe met leather. McElwain was a brilliant offensive mind that won 2 nc at Bama then turned around a stagnant mid level program in two years. He was a genius. Until toe met leather. Even ol Zooker has the fan base in a frenzy with his high energy and cheerleading. Until toe met leather. But I’m sure I’ll get comments telling me “Mullen is different”. Right. We will see when toe meets leather.

    • Completely agree… plus, the SEC fully belongs to Bama and UGA, the two media darlings that are sucking up all the oxygen (and blue chip recruits).

      That said, Mullen is the right coach for us and will immediately improve the program. Let’s hope unreasonable expectations don’t run him out of town in a couple of years. We don’t need to become the next Tennessee.

      • Tim. The expectation is to beat every team on the Gators football schedule; and that includes Tennessee, Georgia, and FSU for sure. That expectation will never change for the head coach of the Florida Gators football team. The expectation is to compete for and win the SEC title and to compete for and win national titles. Every year. If you cannot deal with that expectation, you should not take the head ball coach job at the University of Florida. Stay at Mississippi State. Mullen did not. He understands the expectation, and he has the experience and knowledge to accomplish the goals and expectations for the UF football program. And he will be around a long time doing just that. Go Gators.

      • Dude: For a Gator you sure do love you some Bammer, some Leg Humper and some Semenole. Get a grip and get to the real business for which you locked yourself in your mother’s basement; you know it isn’t to comment on football message boards.

    • Lt, sorry, if you cannot see that Mullen is different already, you need new perception glasses. They way he goes about the business of being the head coach of UF is night and day different than McElwain and Muschamp. And no way Georgia walks all over a Florida team coached by Mullen and staff. That game will be a nail chewer next October.

  8. Finally after 17 years, a head coach who understands the importance of building good will with the fan base and media. This must be an ongoing effort, and be coupled with speaking truthfully and setting realistic expectations.

    Pat, your continued efforts to polish the image of failed Gator head coaches is as pathetic as their respective tenures. Zook had every chance to maintain the program, yet his incompetence drove the program from excellence to mediocrity. Muschamp had every chance to restore the program, yet his incompetence on offense kept the program mired in mediocrity. These people did not have to overcome decades of mediocrity as Coach Spurrier faced. The decisions to hire Zook and Muschamp, and their performance decided their respective fates, not popularity with or acceptance by fans.

  9. Everyone, and I mean everyone who had any knowledge of Florida football knew Zook was going to fail. He is a great Special Teams coach. But give him any more responsibility than that and he will fail every time.

  10. I really do not think Muschamp was afraid of the expectations for the football team by Gator Nation. He simply did not have the experience and knowledge it takes at the time to meet them. I fully believe that McElwain was totally engulfed in fear of those expectations, almost from day one. And he also lacked the experience and knowledge to run a top notch football program that UF is. Mullen is not afraid of expectations either. He has already embraced them with enthusiasm and effort. But he has also already shown that he fully has the experience and knowledge needed to, not only run a top football program like Florida, he is already exhibiting that knowledge already in relationship to how he is running the program already, recruiting already, hiring top shelf assistants, and working hard to build everything he needs to win championships at Florida. All is good with Mullen now at the helm, I believe. I know my expectations are a lot higher for the football team now that Mullen is the head coach. My expectations for the team when Muschamp and McElwain were at the helm was for the team to once in a while get a first down on offense or not jump offsides 50 percent of the time. I accepted 55 percent of the time, kind of. I doubt Mullen will have such low standards of operation. I know he does not. And I will not either. Go Gators.

  11. Let’s all continue to support Coach Mullen in all his efforts to put the Gators’ football program back on top. It’s not going to be a small task but I believe he can get us there eventually. As a fan base, let’s respect others even if they failed in their attempts to right the ship that we call, “Gator Nation.” They are part of our illustrious history and hopefully will remain proud that they too are Gators forever! Go Gators!

  12. The best thing that happened to this program was Foley leaving. He was 1-3 hiring head coaches at a top-tier school. He always wanted “his guy” and wanted to make a big splash to show how smart he was. When called to the carpet he points to girls softball and ⚽️. I love the direction we’re going with these 2. Go Gators!

  13. What a quad after HBC: (1) Zook, met him in person at a Pensacola rally, liked him on a personal level, had already been fired by HBC, but felt no TOTAL program manager in him; (2) Meyer, a no brainer hire, no matter what the news paper people say, his X Utah President turned him to us, but then the unexplainable downfall (again the local news paper people will not expose what really happen), we know it wasn’t a brain attack. (3) Musschamp, a Zook II type hire and no matter the love Pat shows for him, the results speak for themselves, again not a TOTAL program manager (4) MacElwain, Zook III type hire, no real research and the guy was not a TOTAL program manager. All brought to you by the discernment of a ticket office worker. Too bad all these years were wasted. Could you image if we had had the discernment to have hired a Saban. Meyer talked about making UF the USC of the east coast, it would have happened with a quality, researched hire. BUT no, our AD had to follow up the stupid failure pattern of Alabama before they hired Saban.

    Dan Mullen is a very safe hire who will bring TOTAL Program Management back to a professional level. I feel 8-9 wins per year and maybe some championships (GA is going to be a BIG problem). Stricklin made a very safe management decision to hire a guy he new could handle our TOTAL program. Yes, Pat, the Gator fan base is ready to catch fire again!