The Florida Gators know what their new coach, Dan Mullen, is going to get when he arrives in Gainesville — a young team with some talent that wants to work, wants to be coached, wants to be successful.
“It’s Florida,” sophomore middle linebacker David Reese said after Saturday’s loss to Florida State. “We’re going to be back. We’re the Gators and we’re going to get somebody to come in and be great for us.”
Mullen will be inheriting a team that is coming off a 4-7 season that was defined by multiple injuries, suspensions and more offensive ineptness.
On the positive side, it was an opportunity for many young players, including numerous true freshmen, to play significant roles and gain valuable experience.
By the end of the season, the Gators had only two senior starters, one on offense (wide receiver Brandon Powell) and one on defense (cornerback Duke Dawson), so most of the starters and many of the backups will be returning.
Mullen will have experienced talent to work with at all position groups.
“The new coach has to come in here and just get us in position to win,” sophomore wide receiver Josh Hammond said. “I think that will be the biggest thing. I think guys here are ready to play. Everybody came here to Florida so that they can play. The biggest thing is just putting us in the right position for us to be able to make those plays that we know we can make.
“The majority of our offense is going to come back, a majority of the defense is going to come back. So we’re a young team, we’ve got a lot to grow on, and this offseason I think our mentality is just going to be to grind.”
Interim head coach Randy Shannon said the new coach is stepping into a good situation.
“This is a talented team,” Shannon said. “It’s a very talented team when you look at this young talent. You have an opportunity to have this young talented football team, and the sky is the limit. There are some things that you have to add on, like every year you add on some additions, which is depth.
“But you have a very talented skill set here as far as the defensive backs and running backs. You’ve got young defensive linemen, the linebackers are all coming back. You’ve got two tight ends coming back. And you’ve got your offensive line coming back. It’s a talented team and whoever inherits this team is going to be really excited about it.”
The biggest issue facing Mullen will be the offense in general and the poor play at quarterback in particular.
The offense made little or no progress over the course of the season, and redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks struggled throughout. His final performance was his worst — a four-turnover game against Florida State that led to 28 points for the Seminoles in Saturday’s 38-22 loss.
Franks seemed undaunted by his performance, saying he will continue to strive to get better in the offense
“It’s very motivating,” he said. “It’s obviously not the way you want to end it. The guys fought hard, man, and we didn’t send them out the right way. A big part of that was me, the turnovers. I wish I could go back, but you can’t, That’s not my personality. I’m never going to look back.
“I’m always looking at how I can get better in everything in life. Not just in football, but everything in life, just trying to get better. Just look forward. You can’t go back. I’m looking forward to improving.”
Until Mullen officially takes over the program, Shannon and the rest of the coaching staff will remain in place, recruiting and making sure the players take care of their academics.
“Our job is to make sure the guys are doing all the right things on and off the field,” Shannon said. “Academics is a really big key, and that’s our job. We’re not going to slack off just because the season is over with.”
The players say they are hoping Shannon and other members of the staff are retained, but there are no guarantees there, of course.
“I wish all our defensive staff could stay,” Reese said. “We love those guys. We played hard for those guys and you know they’ve been doing a great job of putting us in the right position to win games. From the defensive standpoint, I feel like we have been in a lot of games.
“Just know that those guys mean more to us than football does. Those guys have been father figures to us. Those guys, they’re great recruiters. They do what they do to win. They put us in the right position. They teach us about life and things that really matter.”
NOTE: Redshirt sophomore tight end Kalif Jackson announced on Twitter on Sunday that he is going to transfer to another school.