Whether you’re too young to remember or have simply forgotten over time, there is a Gator standard, and it is a high one.
Coach Dan Mullen talks about it all the time. Now, he’s here to remind everyone exactly what it is.
It’s playing for, and winning, championships. Not being content just reaching Atlanta.
It’s playing winning football in all three phases. Not relying on one (defense) to keep the Gators in games.
It’s scoring points and playing with confidence, with a swagger. Not playing cautious to avoid losing.
It’s having a top-five recruiting class every year. Not scrambling at the end to sneak into the Top 20.
It’s embracing tradition and high expectations.
It’s being one of college football’s elite programs.
It’s winning national championships, something the Gators did twice when Mullen was here before as the offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer.
“We want to get it back that way of being the premier team in the country,” Mullen said. “We just have to get everyone here caught up.”
The Florida standard, the Gator brand, has taken quite a beating over the last eight seasons. A lot of damage has been done. Now, the restoration begins.
The question is, how long is this going to take?
Will this be a slow process or a quick turnaround?
Ask the players, and they’ll tell you it’s the latter. The Gators expected to be back now. This season.
“Most definitely,” senior defensive end/outside linebacker Cece Jefferson said. “This team is extremely capable of winning right now. It you can do it right now, why wait? That’s something we talk about every day.”
Junior linebacker David Reese said the feeling among the players is they will be returning to the SEC Championship Game in December, where the Gators advanced as the SEC East champion in 2015 and 2016.
“Definitely,” he said. “We’ve got the talent. That’s the expectation.”
Those are high expectations — which is all part of the Gator standard.
Some, maybe most, might say the expectations the players are putting on themselves are not realistic, that they’re way too high.
The Gators are coming off a miserable 4-7 season that saw Jim McElwain forced out, and there are still nagging question marks at quarterback and on the offensive line. There also are concerns about depth at linebacker and cornerback.
And, this is a team that will start the season unranked in both major polls.
All that aside, though, there have been mostly positive vibes pulsing through the program since Mullen and his staff arrived.
Mullen seems to have brought a lot of positive energy back into the program, and a little bit of that swagger that was here when he left for Mississippi State after the Gators won the national title in 2008.
There has been a lot of tough love going around — especially in Nick Savage’s strength and conditioning program — but the players seem to have embraced it with the thought it will help them rebound this season under the new staff.
“It’s easy to buy in when you go 4-7,” senior offensive tackle Martez Ivey said. “(The new staff) came along and it’s their way or the highway. You’re either in or you’re out. That’s just how the program is run and if you don’t want to be here, you can leave. You either work or you don’t work out.”
The Gators have been putting in the work since January. Now, they expect to start winning again this fall — and living up to the Gator standard Mullen is always talking about.
Mullen isn’t doing anything to temper any of the enthusiasm heading into the season. He expects this team to be successful, too.
“Trust me, I want to win with this year’s team,” he said. “I expect to compete for a championship with this year’s team. But also I want to build a program over the long-term that’s a consistent winner and consistently competing for championships.
“That consistency really defines the program. And when you’re consistent, you’re going to have an opportunity to go win that championship. Not just compete for it, you’re going to have the opportunity to win that championship.”
All this positive talk about competing for championships and restoring the Gator standard has generated a lot of excitement around the program and throughout Gator Nation.
But it’s just talk at this point. Starting Sept. 1, the Gators have to start proving it on the field.
It’s a message Mullen has been hammering home to his players since the very first day of preseason camp.
“Everyone talks about they should — I should lose weight, I should get up and run, I should study an extra 10 minutes, I should eat healthier,” he said. “There are a lot of shoulds out there. When it becomes a must, you’re going to succeed.
“And I talk about it. We should be a great team this year. We should. But when everybody within our locker room changes it to we must be a great team and has a desperate attitude and mindset towards it, that’s when we’ll become a great team.
“We have talented football players. We have a really good coaching staff. We should be a great team. But the mindset can’t be we should, it’s we must.”