Dan Mullen knows a thing or two about second-year bounces in college football.
He’s experienced one everywhere he’s been, starting at Bowling Green, moving on to Utah, then to Florida and again at Mississippi State.
So, will another one be coming in his second year as the head football coach at Florida?
“I don’t know, we’ll see,” Mullen said Monday. “I think our guys are probably better understanding what’s going out on the field. It should be a lot easier going out to practice than it was this time last year when nobody really knew what to expect.
“I think they know what to expect. I don’t know about the jump from one year to the next. We’ll take a jump if we work harder. If we do what we did last year, then we can’t expect to be better than we were last year.
“If that’s all we’ve done, then we can’t expect to be any better than we were last year. That’s the minimum. So it’s really what everybody does above and beyond that. That is going to determine your success.”
Mullen’s teams have a track record of second-year bounces.
In his first stint at UF as Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator, the Gators went from 9-3 in 2005 to winning the national championship in 2006. Before that, there were big jumps at Bowling Green and Utah in year two.
At Mississippi State, the Bulldogs went 9-4 in his second year as the head coach after going 5-7 in his first.
Mullen and his staff will start finding out if the trend has a chance to continue over the next month, as the Gators go through spring drills, starting at today’s open practice and concluding with the spring game April 13.
“Hopefully, we’ve made some good physical gains, a little bigger, a little faster, a little stronger during the offseason program,” Mullen said. “Get back out and get back to work.
“I know we had a good year last year. But, obviously, we want to be better. If we want to be better, we’ve got to work harder, we’ve got to practice a little bit harder, we’ve got to practice better, we’ve got to perform at a little bit higher level, and that’s everybody. We had unbelievable fan support last year from the Gator Nation. We need even more this year.
“You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse. Never stay the same. We’re always striving to push ourselves to improve in every aspect of the program and in everything we do. That’s our challenge.”
Mullen is stressing that the competition is going to be wide open at every position this spring, including quarterback, where junior Feleipe Franks is going to have to fend off Emory Jones, Kyle Trask and true freshman Jalon Jones to retain his starting role.
“I would hope a guy like (Franks) expects to be the starter,” Mullen said. “But he better know he’s got to compete to make sure he keeps that job because there’s other guys that want to compete to go take that job from him.
“Nothing gets handed to you. I think guys understand that. I think they want it (that way). I wouldn’t want a quarterback that wouldn’t want it that way, that doesn’t want to be pushed every day to compete to be his best.”
Mullen said now that he has an experienced quarterback and skill players, it should allow him to open up the playbook more in the second year. How much will be determined over the course of the spring and in preseason camp.
“There’s more you can do,” Mullen said. “But we’re going to do what our guys do well. It’s a brand new team this year. We’ve still got to learn what this team is going to be about.
“There better be a lot more carryover. They know how to practice, they know what we expect from them. They also have an idea within the scheme. There will be a lot of young faces out there, guys in new roles that maybe haven’t been in that part of a lead role before.”
Mullen said this spring is going to be important for the young players, especially the members of last year’s recruiting class who are being counted on to have bigger roles in 2019.
“This is a huge time for guys that are entering their second season,” Mullen said. “You should see huge jumps for players going into their second season. They’ve been through it a little bit. They know what to expect, they’ve adjusted a little bit to the speed of the college game.
“You’re not a rookie anymore. You know what the practice tempo’s like. You know what the speed of the college game is like. You should know our offensive and defensive scheme. Now let’s go see what you can do.”