In the immediate aftermath of Florida’s 45-0 win over UT-Martin, and in UF’s season-opening victory over Miami, the Gators — in particular quarterback Feleipe Franks and head coach Dan Mullen — have harped on the result rather than the process.
“We have two wins under our belt,” Franks said. “So I’m happy with that, and I’m pleased that we’ve won.”
It’s a nice gesture, sure — but as the program and fans alike understand, simply being complacent with a win isn’t the “Gator Standard”, as Mullen has noted frequently since taking over the program.
With each game — win or lose — the Gators expect to identify several key areas of improvement.
Whether it’s with Franks, whose progression under Mullen and coach Brian Johnson is well-documented, or the inexperienced offensive line — the Gators are constantly searching for the next adjustment, the areas to clean up and ways to improve.
“We have a long way to go. But it’s interesting, the first game was kind of such a unique, special game and you come off it, but cleaned a little bit of things up. We have a lot to clean up off of this game,” Mullen said at the conclusion of Florida’s win over UT-Martin. “We have to take some big steps forward before next week, we get into conference. You have to understand human nature, which is these guys are 18- to 22-years-old, it’s hard to peak and motivate yourself. The big challenge is, are we giving maximum effort every single day.”
There’s a distinction from the past in Florida’s motivation process, as the emphasis each week under Mullen has been centered around the team’s miscues from the week prior rather than a full-blown breakdown of the ensuing opponent.
The reasoning is simple: improve to a point where the opposition’s scheme, game-plan and personnel ultimately won’t matter on Saturday.
“Mark (Stoops) has done a great job of building that (Kentucky) program up. You can see they’ve built a great foundation. They have depth. They have experience. They play a very physical style of football, both offensively and defensively on the lines of scrimmage,” Mullen said. “You’re in an instant gratification society right now, it’s like, ‘hey, you gave him a chance to have a plan, implement a plan and now they’re reaping the rewards of that, of what they’re doing’. So it’s going to be a huge test for us going up there.”
What seems like an aside from Mullen may actually be a reflection on the current state of college football. A coach is supposed to transcend a program, although history shows it hardly works as planned. Instead, as Stoops’ tenure in Lexington has shown, an investment in the program’s infrastructure, in addition to establishing a culture and identity over several seasons, ultimately pays greater dividends.
It’s a statement worth remembering in relation to the Gators — for now, a win will appease the masses, but the long-term goal for Florida’s football program is internal improvement while establishing a sustainable identity.
Each practice, film session and workout should be a step toward the latter for the Gators; for a win may define a program on the outside, but it’s the meticulousness and inward focus that more often than not separates a legitimate contender from a brief flash in the pan.
A trip to Lexington, while a potentially season-defining moment, shouldn’t be the driving force for Florida. If it is, it’s a sign the Gators themselves have yet to align their mindset with the program’s internal expectations.
“I think the sense of urgency with the players (has improved). I think we’ve had a great attitude so far this year with the guys. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to coach them on the little details. When I talked about the margin-of-error strengths, if you want to be really special and have a great team. Those are the things that we constantly talk about,” Mullen said. “I don’t have to come in and be a cheerleader to motivate our guys. They’re coming in to work out, they’re ready to go, everybody is getting ready to go, meetings, great attitude going out to practice, ready to work. It is the most minute of details of what you’re doing, and whether it’s a practice, whether it’s a walk through, whether it’s a film study — just that ability to focus and make sure I’m exact on every single detail is huge.”
Who: No. 9 Florida (2-0) vs. Kentucky (2-0)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Lexington, Ky.
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850