The Back Nine: UF’s Mullen pushing right buttons

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FILE — Florida Gators head coach Dan Mullen pats Florida Gators defensive lineman Antonneous Clayton on the head after the Orange and Blue spring football game. [Lauren Bacho/Gainesville Sun]

The Back Nine comes at you after a long weekend in Rainesville with the realization there is only one more weekend in that softball press box before it is renovated. Please, can I swing the first sledgehammer?

10. So Florida football had this Gator Grill Out on Saturday and I can’t believe I was not invited with my talents for turning chicken into heaven. But it seems like it was a huge success and we will see if it pays off down the road with commitments. My first response was — why was this not happening before? But if you remember, that was the question a lot of the time with Urban Meyer. Why did nobody think of the Gator Walk? Why did the team not sing the alma mater with the band after wins? Sometimes, the most obvious ideas need to be implemented. I just know this — Dan Mullen keeps pushing the right buttons. And he still is unbeaten as Florida’s football coach. There is a lot of thinking outside the box going on instead of just complaining about what other people have. That’s a good thing. And on a weekend with plenty of rain, it was beautiful while the recruits were enjoying their day. I always wonder how much weather plays into a young man’s decision. Probably not very much.

11. Things did not go well in Starkville for the Gator baseball team. Seriously, the best thing that happened was Arkansas losing so the Gators would be outright regular-season champs. Weekends like this happen, especially when you are facing a hungry team that really needs a series win and you really don’t. It makes you realize how special the streak was that Florida had of 16 straight conference series wins. And despite getting swept, Florida is still No. 1 in the D1Baseball poll. That shows amazingly broad thinking rather than the shallow thinking that usually goes into the polls of so many other sports (lose, drop, lose, drop). Florida is 11-4 against the other SEC teams in the poll. The Gators won the SEC, which is the best conference. There is no other obvious top team and most baseball people still believe Florida is the best team. Don’t forget, they were playing without Brady Singer, who had a tight hamstring.

12. But there is no question the SEC Tournament takes on a little more importance for the Gators, just in terms of getting their edge back. Bad weekends are going to happen, but they cannot happen once we get to NCAA play or your season is over. I’m not saying Florida has to win the SEC Tournament, but it needs to pitch better than it did at Mississippi State. Florida’s ERA in the three games was 10.50. Most alarming was that set-up man Jordan Butler and closer Michael Byrne gave up 10 earned runs in two games. Gator fans are hoping that was an aberration. Strange things do happen in Starkville. Tim Tebow threw a pair of pick-sixes in his senior year to the same defender.

13. If there has been a pattern to the work done by Tim Walton and pitching coach Jennifer Rocha, it’s that every year a senior who was already really good becomes almost unhittable. Just recently, we’ve seen it with Lauren Haeger and Delanie Gourley and now we are seeing it with Aleshia Ocasio. Her no-hitter Sunday night after waiting around for seven hours waiting to play was a work of art. Especially when you consider the home plate ump wasn’t giving a whole lot, as Ohio State’s pitcher Shelby McCombs walked 11 in the game. Ocasio’s strikeout-to-walk ratio is now just shy of 10-to-1, which is ridiculous. We all know how good Kelly Barnhill is and her ratio is a little better than 4-to-1.

14. But the Gators are going to need to bring their pudding snacks and Twizzlers for the Super Regional against Texas A&M. The Aggies can smack it around the park and hit .435 in their regional in College Station. Remember that Florida swept A&M in three games here and did so in convincing fashion, winning by a combined score of 23-4. In those three games, Florida only allowed six hits and struck out 29. But that was way back at the end of March when we were more into hoops than anything else. The Gators are hoping the Super Regionals are as predictable as the regionals, where all 16 seeded teams advanced. I’m not sure that’s good for the sport, but the selection committee must be beaming.

15. Ho hum, right. Florida won another GateHouse Media SEC All-Sports Award, huh? I think a lot of fans take it for granted, but it is amazing the dominance UF has displayed when it comes to being the Everything School. You know what amazes me? LSU, with all of its resources and facilities and bragaddocio comes in at a smooth 10th of 14 schools. That said, a tip of the cap to the seasons that just ended in lacrosse, women’s golf and men’s tennis. Tremendous effort by all three teams to make it deep into the NCAAs.

16. I would be remiss not to mention the passing last week of Mike Slive, the former SEC commissioner. I said this on Twitter, but it bears repeating. Slive had the ability to make everyone he met feel like they were really special and an important part of the conference no matter who you were. I walked away from every conversation feeling better about myself and there are not very many people in the world who can make you feel that way. We shared the pain of prostate cancer and talked a lot about family. People say he was always the smartest man in the room. I always thought he was the best man in the room.

17. The Tweet of the Week comes from Jim Weber and, no, I don’t know him either but I follow him on Twitter because he is really into college football — “Me: You’ve now spent 8 hours of your Saturday watching royal wedding coverage. I feel like you finally understand what fall Saturdays are like for college football fans… Wife: It must be amazing to have it EVERY WEEK. Me: It’s glorious…….” Exactly.

18. Sometimes Sirius gives a group or an individual a channel and you think that’s great because you like that group or individual but then you listen to it for a few songs and realize you only like the hits. That ever happen to you? I’m not naming names. Fortunately, I have this playlist:

• “Not Too Late” by Moon Taxi.

• “Always Love” by Nada Surf.

• “Pink Lemonade” by James Bay.

• “Hurricane” by Laine Hardy.

• And for an old one, “Dear Mr. Fantasy” by Traffic.

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

9 COMMENTS

  1. There is a hard-edged, vocal, persistently pessimistic minority population of Gator “fans” who already are all over Mullen for not gaining a bunch of 4* and 5* commitments. I agree with you that Coach Mullen is pushing all the right buttons. As for recruiting, he’s methodically building a high impact class. One corrective memory, though, it was Steve Spurrier years ago who had his Florida teams singing the Alma mater after games in The Swamp and Urban who gave it new life. But why would anyone have thought Georgia alumnus Will Muschamp would so honor the University of Florida Alma Mater? In contrast Mullen almost seems as though he graduated from UF. It’s refreshing to this old Gator and alumnus and, I believe, a major reason for our new coach’s popularity with the vast majority of Gators.

    • Excellent comments, Clyde. I don’t understand though why “fans” would be all over Mullen for not bringing in a bunch of 4* and 5* recruits. That’s exactly what he did! No, not the 5*s—but they’ll start coming too.
      There are more 4* than anything else, and the 3* are still “elite” level players. In fact, I think the class average is 3.83, which rounds to 4.0.

      • I absolutely agree with your general statements Clyde and Gator-6. Muschamp and Mac (to a lesser degree) suffered from the inability to fill positions of need. They both had issues at QB and OL especially — although Mac had started to fix the OL situation. Mullen came in and immediately started filling critical need spots with just a few weeks to rescue the first class and he is continuing to do so in his second class. It is true he has not landed a 5 star (yet) and the overall average is not at Meyer or even Muschamp levels yet — but it will get there.

        With that said, 3.83 is NOT 4.0. Quality goes up exponentially, not linearly, as star ratings go up. There is a massive difference between 3.83 and 4.0. For example, last year OSU had the 2nd ranked class (Rivals) and they picked up three 5*, eighteen 4*, and five 3* for an average of 3.92. That’s a class that Gator fans would kill for. 3.90+ are the kind of classes teams get when then are competing for NCs year in and year out.

        • I was curious so I checked the Rivals final averages through the Muschamp, Mac, and Mullen’s single recruiting classes.
          2011 (Muschamp): 3.58
          2012: 3.68
          2013: 3.59
          2014: 3.58
          2015 (Mac): 3.29
          2016: 3.36
          2017: 3.61
          2018 (Mullen): 3.78

  2. I think there is big value in a coach connecting with the fan base. The “he’s one of us” feel matters. It matters most when things don’t well. A coach who frets a loss because he’s worried about his job (Kozo, Muschump, MacElfail) isn’t sympathetic (just pathetic). A coach who grieves a loss the way fans to (it’s a loss!) gets much more wiggle room. Pat’s comment about Dan Mullen seeming like an alum is spot on. This guy really IS a Gator. And that devotion/caring/enthusiasm can’t be faked. Coach Mullen is the real thing.

    • “The “he’s one of us” feel matters.” I agree wholeheartedly with that. It’s good to have a coach again who believes in the team as much as we fans do. That’s one of the things that endeared SOS so much to the fans.

  3. What I see is Mullen willing to try some new lost cost high upside things while being cautious and disciplined. An over bearing grand strategy..well I hope we fans don’t try to get one installed. Discipline will be tested…gator fans love the big things but not the little ones..myself included. Anyway by discipline plus common sense risks we can get the football team to be as good as the rest of our student athletic programs.

    I don’t say it enough but these kids in places like women s softball.gymnstics swimming baseball golf etc are the true elite gators. Of course the tebows and emmitts etc are too..but this status is earned by discipline and intelligent risks. I know Doug dickey had the faster backfield . But it was a non strategy by Spurrier that got us the championship. Doug Johnson had a better arm but Danny wins the game. He just knew his players and gave them good risks to take. It was not the fun n gun…it was Danny getting up after numerous late hits that was the difference maker. True discipline broke the spirit of fsu that year. They knew they couldn’t break him.
    This gets replayed in other sports here all the time. We may not see it and don’t appreciate it but I promise you it’s happening and I tip my hat to all the gator athlete’s

  4. The State of Mississippi, where Gator teams in almost all sports go to roll over and play dead. What does Mary Wise know that the rest of the UF coaching staff doesn’t? What does it take to win in Mississippi?