In the quest for his first big win as the head coach at Florida, Dan Mullen seems to be executing an innovative and thorough game plan.
He’s making all the right calls.
It started with moving up his spring speaking tour to before the start of spring drills. Along with Gainesville, he’s already made trips to Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando to connect with Gator fans and energize the base.
He’s brought many former UF players back to the program to explain the Gator standard to the current players.
And he’s become a fixture on campus. He’s visited fraternities and sororities. He showed up at the dance marathon. He’s randomly popped in and out of classrooms to speak to students. He’s played dodgeball with students at the rec center. He recently went on a morning run with members of ROTC.
He’s been spreading his energy and enthusiasm all over campus, all over Gator Nation.
Mullen’s longtime goal, of course, is to let fans and students know they are part of this process to restore Florida football to a championship program, which it was when Mullen left to become the head coach at Mississippi State after the 2008 national championship season.
His immediate goal is this: get the fans and students enthused and energized so they will fill up The Swamp for Saturday’s Orange & Blue Game and recreate that championship atmosphere.
If he does that, or even just come close, it will be Mullen’s first big win as UF’s head football coach.
He’s done all he can to make it happen. Now it’s up to the students and fans.
Mullen is calling them out to break the unofficial spring game record for attendance, which is somewhere between 60,000-65,000 during Urban Meyer’s tenure.
“We want a lot more than that,” Mullen said. “We’ll be there. We’ll be going hard. We’ll be giving relentless effort. The question is who else in the Gator Nation is going to be giving relentless effort on Saturday? That’s their challenge.”
A huge crowd would be big for the program, the players and for recruiting. Numerous elite recruits will be in attendance Saturday, and Mullen wants to show them what The Swamp is all about, and what it will be like in the fall.
“If you have all these people out there, as a player, you’re going to play harder,” Mullen said. “You feel the energy from the stadium around you. It lifts up your level of play.
“Secondly, whether it’s this coming weekend or it’s every weekend in the fall, we’re going to have some of the best players in America coming to visit and see what game day is like in The Swamp.
“We want to make sure when they walk out of here, whether it is our spring game or whoever it is we are playing, when you walk into The Swamp it is the most electric atmosphere in college football. And these young players say: ‘That’s where I want to be.’ ”
Based on the vibe they’ve been getting on campus the past few weeks, the players are expecting their fellow students to show up in a big way Saturday.
The buildup has been like no other spring game, senior tight end C’yontai Lewis said.
“Walking around campus, everybody’s talking about the spring game and how big it’s supposed to be this year,” he said. “It’s supposed to be real big.
“It’s way more exciting than my past years about the spring game.”
Mullen’s energy has been infectious on campus, junior defensive end Jabari Zuniga said.
“He definitely has a high energy,” he said. “He’s going out to all the frat houses and stuff trying to get everybody to come out, so it’s a very high energy.
“(The students) just seem motivated to come out and cheer us on.”
Mullen seems to have re-energized the students and the fan base. How much might be reflected by how many seats are filled in the stadium Saturday.
With the fans back, the Gators hope to start showing Saturday they are on the way back under Mullen and the new staff.
“It’s really important because I know we probably let down a lot of fans last year,” sophomore cornerback Marco Wilson said. “So, we want to go out here and just show them the new Florida Gators and the new staff and the new everything that we have and just get them excited for the season coming up.”
What: Orange & Blue Game
When: 3 p.m.
Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Tickets: Free admission
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 850-AM, 98.1-FM, 103.7-FM
SPRING GAME INFO
All parking on campus Saturday will be open and available starting at 8 a.m., which is consistent with the time that lots open on a fall game day.
Public parking lots are limited around the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. All lots that are not reserved are available on a first-come, first-served basis. As always, parking on the grass and sidewalks is not permitted and any vehicles doing so are at risk of being towed.
• Public parking lots: Flavet Field, Fraternity Row, Law School, Percy Beard Track, Reitz Union garage, Commuter parking lot on Gale Lemerand Drive
• Free shuttle buses: Starting at 12:30 p.m. from the commuter parking lot on Gale Lemerand Drive. Lacrosse and softball fans fREE shuttle starts at 1 p.m. from the UF Cultural Plaza parking lot (across the street from Southwest Rec Center by the parking garage)
• Beginning at 12 p.m. Saturday, West University Avenue will be closed between Gale Lemerand Drive and NW 17th Street. West University Avenue will remain closed until up to two hours after the conclusion of the game. Fans with parking passes to enter the O’Connell Center parking lot will be able to access those areas from the west on University Avenue.
• In an effort to tighten security around the stadium, starting 2.5 hours prior to kickoff, no vehicular traffic will be allowed on Lemerand Drive between University Avenue and Stadium Road. The closure will remain in effect until the end of the game.