Only a few days after the Florida Gators celebrated their big win over Michigan in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and a 10-win season, coach Dan Mullen set the early tone for the 2019 season.
In the first team meeting of the year, Mullen delivered a strong and clear message to his players: it’s easier to go from four wins to 10 wins than it is going to be from 10 to 11. Taking that next step means having to push harder and work harder than you did for that 10-win season that just concluded.
“Our first team meeting in early January, when the team was born, that was the message,” Mullen said. “If you thought what we did last year was good enough, then don’t expect us to be any better.”
The message apparently came through loud and clear to the players. They accepted the challenge and went right to work on trying to make themselves a better team than they were in Mullen’s first season.
Now, almost 11 months later, the sweat and strain put in during the offseason is evident: the No. 8 Gators are 9-2 and in a position to make that step from a 10-win team to an 11-win one. It’s starts with Florida State tonight in The Swamp.
“It’s just another season under Coach Mullen and his staff,” quarterback Kyle Trask said. “When he came in last year, it was pretty much a complete culture change just to get us all on board with what he preaches, and I think we all did that last year.
“That was the foundation, and now we’re just building levels on top of that. Our plan is just to keep that going this season and with the years continuing after this.”
It’s part of Mullen’s plan for the program, and the players apparently have bought in, just like they have in other aspects of what has been a rapid building process.
Mullen delivered the message about taking the next step, and the Gators responded.
“We just knew we had to work a lot harder than we did the year before,” senior wide receiver Josh Hammond said. “We knew that nothing was going to be given to us. We knew that we were going to have to earn it each and every day in the offseason and training camp and spring ball to get to the position that we’re in now.
“Because it was easier to go from four wins to 10 wins than it is to go from 10 to 11. We definitely have a bigger target on our back, guys want to beat us every week now. We’ve been able to come out and execute, play at a high level when we needed to and hopefully we can win these last two ball games and put us in position to have an 11-win season.”
Even though this year’s team has yet to achieve the 10 wins that last year’s did, the Gators, so far, have been a better team than a year ago. More efficient, more consistent, more productive on offense, especially in the passing game. Stout on defense. No emotional or physical letdowns (or losses) following defeats. And no blowout losses. UF played toe-to-toe with teams (LSU and Georgia) that are now in the top five in the nation.
So, on the field, the Gators have improved. Now, they have a chance to validate it by closing out the season with wins over FSU and in the bowl game that would put UF at that 11-win mark.
Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, Mullen said it’s been obvious to him that the players have embraced the message he sent them in that early January meeting.
“Really good. I think you can see that,” Mullen said. “I think we had a great offseason working hard. I think guys believing they can win. You look at the adversities we’ve had to face this year, with injuries and other things. You look at how guys have bought in to what we’re doing. And bought in and believed in that and really the confidence they have and the expectations they have to go win games.
“There’s a lot of guys on our sideline who expect to win the games. I don’t know that that was the case the year before. They were hoping to win the games. I thought it would be good to get a team in this offseason that said, ‘Hey, we’re going to put in the work so we can have the opportunity to be better.’ ”