UF players responding to Mullen’s positive energy

Florida coach Dan Mullen pats Florida defensive lineman Antonneous Clayton on the head after the Orange and Blue game in April. Mullen seems to have energized everybody — players, fans, administrators, even sororities and fraternities — with his winning background and positive attitude and approach. [Lauren Bacho/Staff photographer]

With all the player suspensions, mounting injuries and losses, and a head coach whose mood seemed to darken by the week, the Florida football program wore a definite frown last fall.

Six months and a coaching change later, an energetic smile seems to have returned.

“The whole vibe is different,” junior wide receiver Freddie Swain said. “We see smiles now. We joke around with the coaches. We just have fun throughout the locker room. Team meetings, working out, we just have fun now. It’s always better when you’re having fun. It’s a positive atmosphere. It’s something we can thrive in.”

Coaches who take over a losing football team usually come in saying they need to change the culture. It’s something Mullen has made a priority since the day he arrived on campus in November.

But in this case, Mullen isn’t so much changing a culture as he is reviving one. He’s trying to bring back the one he helped Urban Meyer establish at UF during a six-year span that saw the Gators win two national championships and two SEC titles.

Mullen always talks about the Gator Standard, about competing for championships and being a champion on and off the field in everything you do.

The players already seem to be getting it, embracing it.

“A lot has changed, to be honest,” senior defensive tackle Khairi Clark said. “Coach Mullen is more on us. He’s a down-to-earth guy, he’s going to keep it real with us. He’s not going to sugarcoat anything. He’s going to tell us to the point of how we are and what we need to do and how we need to be as a team to win.

“I feel like it’s a whole different energy. Everybody is more fired up, especially with all the new coaches we’ve got.”

Mullen seems to have energized everybody — players, fans, administrators, even sororities and fraternities — with his winning background and positive attitude and approach.

It was evident during Mullen’s spring speaking tour and during the spring and the spring game itself, where the fans produced maybe the biggest and loudest Gator Walk since Meyer first established it before the 2005 season.

And it was for a spring game.

Mullen’s positive energy has been contagious.

“It trickles down from Coach Mullen a lot because we’re all about positivity,” Clark said. “Everybody wants to be great. They brought the man here for us to win football games. I feel like he’s doing that to the best of his ability so far.”

There have been a lot of changes since Mullen took over the program. Changes in attitude, changes in approach, changes in philosophy.

Most will agree that the most significant change has come in the weight room, where new strength and conditioning coordinator Nick Savage has breathed fire and life into a program that had become lazy and lethargic under the last coaching regime.

“Way different,” Swain said. “Everybody is getting it. Everybody is coming out with a sweat. Everybody’s tired. Everybody’s just getting it. The vibe is different. We have fun now. We actually are getting in real work. It’s just all-around better in there now.”

Savage has made it tough on the players, pushing them to the limit. But they’ve bought in, Clark said.

“He’s teaching us the values of being a team, being hyped up, working together, working hard, getting what you want,” Clark said. “Everything we do is pretty hard. We’ve got to stick together as a team and motivate each other. I feel like that’s working out to our benefit.”

Swain said only a few were benefiting from the weight program the previous two years under Mike Kent.

“Yeah, it was too relaxed. We weren’t really getting pushed how we were supposed to,” Swain said. “Now, every day it’s the same thing: Coach Savage before the workout is going to be in the locker room, yelling loud. He’s going to holler and let you know it’s work time. That’s what it is. We like to be pushed. The part that will push a player to make him be great is a great support system. With these coaches, it’s impeccable. They do the best job.”

Junior middle linebacker David Reese said the players are embracing Savage and his physically and mentally demanding approach.

“He has a great plan for us and he doesn’t want us to be mediocre,” Reese said. “So, as long as we push it and give him our all, we’ll be OK.”

It’s apparent that the players have confidence in their new coaches and where they plan to lead them.

Mullen and his staff have already created a new culture (or revived the old one, if you prefer).

And there apparently is no culture shock among the players.

“I feel like we’ve given great effort,” Reese said. “We’ve been open to whatever we’re going to have to do to win games.

“There’s a lot more energy, definitely. We feel as a team we have to have energy and try to sustain it as long as possible through the season. I feel like that’s what great teams have. They don’t ever fall off.”


  1. Exactly why we brought Mullen home, like we should have to begin with. As noted, this is not so much a culture change, but a culture restoration. Now to translate it all to winning on the field and championships. It’s only a matter of time.

    Know this is the dry period of time we all tend to characterize as “fluff” articles, but this one has meaning. Good job, Robbie….thanks.

  2. Got to say once more, I was preaching over and over a couple years ago on this board about the need for a better strength and conditioning coach/program, back when we were having all the goofy injuries and sub-par individual performances. The best thing that Mullen has brought to this team is just that. Cant’ wait to see the results in the fall. Maybe even the beleaguered the O-line might really step up. Plus with Davis and Scarlett back… oh baby! Brings back memories of the old John L Williams and Neal Anderson duo.. (lastly, really hoping to see Trask this time around, at least until the kid is ready…)

  3. Clearly, teeth were not the only thing McElwain was mismanaging while he was the HC at Florida. My question is, how could a coach mentored by Saban be so unorganized and also not prioritize a strong player S&C/motivational program as a head coach?

    • It’s a matter of personality, I can say c sufficient medical and psychological certainty. That is, his liabilities were not apparent under a program such as Alabama, but when he stepped up to head coach level, at an SEC school, they became very apparent. Not to say that he is crazy or anything, but the thing is, you can never outrun your personality.

  4. The same stuff was said when Muschamp and McElwain were hired. …new energy, enthusiasm, blah, blah, blah… I remember the program was “broken” when Meyer left.
    So there’s nothing new here except the hope that Mullen is different. We won’t know the answer for, at least, a couple of seasons. Personally, I don’t think Mullen is up to the task. I think he’s similar to our current President, an egomaniac that isn’t close to what he thinks he is. But I could be wrong.

    • Ok; lowest unemployment in 44 years. Lower taxes for Americans (I suppose Mike Winter loves to pay taxes); potential peace-enabling talks with one of the most isolated and dangerous regimes in the past century. And you would have been happier with a continuation of the Bush-Clinton crime syndicate? The only egomaniac is Bill Clinton when he said that “I think the norms have really changed in terms of, what you can do to somebody against their will”. You are only successful when you surround yourself with positive people which is what Mullen understands. Not sure that’s really egotistical…is it? Lame post man; poor logic and a reach at best. You better be worried about your .500 coach and whether he’s turning the team over to a spoiled, selfish child in Francois. Tough guy drug dealer wanna be. Real leader you got there. He’s 0-1 without Dalvin the security blanket. Blackman deserves to be QB with the bravery he took the field with last year behind that OL which is only going to be worse this year. Go Gators!

    • Dan Mullen is a proven winner. The fact is we have not been the same team since he left. Tebow’s senior year was not what the rest of his career was. We wont know until the team hits the field, but I am optimistic for the first time in years.

  5. For this team it’s also about what not to do. These guys can’t waste time on bad behavior and bad habits. They can’t just assume they can out-positive the competition who is working hard as well. This is a thorough challenge. I like the determined approach but there is a long fight ahead IMO.

  6. I see what your saying we don’t know what’s gonna happen or how Mullen is gonna turn out but I will say this there is something different this time around Mullen isn’t like Muschamp or McElwain he’s not new he’s a experienced head coach and made Mississippi state a good football program and will probably go down as there best head coach yet I mean he almost beat Alabama last year with a average recruiting ranking in the mid 20s. We can’t even come close to beating them.its just hard for me to see him not do good with players that are a lot better but i don’t know, we won’t figure out till the season starts

  7. After reading some of our players comments it makes me wonder what the hell did McElwain do?
    Talk about ripping us off, dude had a better job than a legal license to steal. He was way over his head as a head coach at a major SEC school. What was Foley thinking?