Florida’s Mullen is just getting started

Florida football coach Dan Mullen returns to Gator Gatherings. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

Dan Mullen was business on the top — a sweet gray suit — and a party at the bottom — even sweeter blue and white Jordans. He talked fast and enthusiastically, even hanging out with the media for a bit before heading over to the Indoor Practice Facility to give a “Go Gators” talk to boosters.

“It has been a crazy day,” said the first-year Florida coach.

As all National Signing Days are. You could have 15 of them spread out over six months and there would be late nights and empty Tums containers scattered around the football offices at any school.

It’s stressful even when the decisions are limited by numbers caused by this new system.

The new guy did pretty well for having two months on the job. But here’s the thing — he understands that it wasn’t good enough.

Oh, it was about the best you could hope for in a transition year. But the thing I took away more than anything from a news conference that included helicopter stories is that Mullen understands that, well, let me paraphrase:

Heckuva class for having only two months in the most hostile recruiting environment. Hopefully, it’s the lowest rated class he ever has. Because as well as the Gators closed Wednesday, Mullen said in so many words, wait until you see what can be done with a full year of recruiting.

“We have to get ourselves to be one of the top classes in the country,” Mullen said. “Our expectations are to be able to sign one of the best classes in the country.”

This one isn’t bad for starters although nobody knows for sure how it will turn out. You can go back and pick apart the transition classes of any former Gator coach (think Ray Graves signed any four-stars in 1960?) after the fact.

Go back and look at the first classes of the last three UF coaches and you will notice that more than half of the players were basically non-factors during their careers as Gators.

Mullen said he went at it a little differently.

Instead of padding the class with high risks, he was willing to go to camp with fewer than the allotted 85 scholarships.

“You just take whoever you can take,” Mullen said, “there can be problems.”

Of course, as we know, signing day was made for rationalizations and everybody is always happy with their class.

It’s just that nobody is as happy as Florida’s biggest rival in the division.

Georgia could have spent the last month in the Bahamas and still probably had the top class. Instead, well, it felt very Alabama-ish.

There is no question the Bulldogs are the big winners of the first split signing periods. Florida still has catching up to do, but the distance doesn’t look as far as it could have been.

It should hardly be surprising that Georgia killed it. Kirby Smart has more momentum than a flood. The combination of being one play away from winning a national title and still having opportunities for early playing time were a lethal combination for Georgia.

Smart is also on his third recruiting cycle (technically his fourth if you count this one as a double) so he has had three years to build this class.

Nobody with a brain can argue that there is another sheriff in town.

But the ability of Mullen and his staff to pull off an excellent class despite being hamstrung by an abbreviated window because of when he was hired is still impressive.

Especially because all of that momentum that Georgia has was non-existent in Gainesville for much of the fall.

Instead, it was player suspensions, 4-7 and a series of noon games.

Mullen not only had to plug leaks, he had to patch them.

The Gator brand was damaged when he arrived, as much by the fact that UF is on its fourth head coach this decade as anything.

Mullen had a lot to overcome.

He did just fine.

“I don’t jump up and down too much on the front end,” he said.

If he wanted to, at least he had the shoes for it.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.


  1. For the first time in what feels like forever, I have the feeling that we’re going to be alright going forward. No OJT needed with Dan, he’s a seasoned HBC that has already lived inside Gator Nation and his hard work then got us 2 natty champ banners. He’s been totally impressive since arrival and has Gator Nation all revved up!

      • Word, tunaboat. The more distance from the coach search the better I feel that we got the best long term coach for this team. Got to love the positive attitude and work ethic. Dan seems to be doing all the right things. Got enough solid 4 stars to keep the talent level from dropping further. Spending time with the media. Not laboring through a booster talk; actually wanting to be there. Revamping strength and conditioning. Getting a young QB with skill set that matches his spread. Poking fun at rivals (UGA squirrel reference). Recognizing that none of this will matter if the players don’t buy in. It’s like he’s hitting a checklist.

  2. Quality over quantity. While we missed on one 5* and not considered by a few other in-state 5*s, we pulled together a solid base of 4*s.

    We also must look at ourselves as a mediocre program based on our past performance over the last seven or so years. If Coach Mullens wins by coaching up our current players, the elites will return. I believe he will do this pver the next couple of years.


    • And that’s the whole point right there, Ed. The right 4*’s coming in + the players already on hand under new coaching = Winning + Not Being Afraid of Anybody. “If you build it they will come”.

      Let’s not forget either that the 3*s coming and already here are above average athletes too, so the mix is good.

      Great post.

      • Boy CO, I usually agree with you on virtually everything, but on-the-field we’ve been just that. How ’bout if I say, “middle of the pack SEC”? That more or less describes it for me, anyway….definitely not where we were used to being, for sure. We all know the reasons for that, not worth going over again, but I for one believe we’ll be back to elite within 3 years.

  3. I have friends ready to jump off a bridge bc it wasn’t the best class in Florida’s history and bc of Ga’s class. I think Coach Mullen and his staff pulled in a great class. In perspective, maybe even awesome. We go 4-7, mediocre offense for the 50th year in a row, player suspensions which were repeated on TV every game we played, a malcontent coach who didn’t want to coach our team and made it public, plus a new coaching staff with 45-60 days to get things together, and we pull in a top 15/20 class? I can’t think of a year with so many obstacles to recruiting. This was an excellent result , especially given these extreme circumstances to overcome.

    • No doubt. I see a lot of fans lamenting the fact that Miami and FSU has higher ranked classes. Yeah, no kidding! FSU is one season removed from playing in a national semi-final, and Miami (whose coach is a heck of a recruiter) finally had a breakout year. Of course they finished with higher ranked classes! The Gators are so far removed from a meaningful season that we can’t expect to have a top 5 recruiting class right out of the gate. What Mullen did under these circumstances is remarkable.

    • That’s a great argument, ”mkfgator”. And I would only add to it a distant memory. Way, way back in the day, when Coach Spurrier was the H.B.C. at U.F. He once said (I’m paraphrasing of course):
      ”It seems all the recruiting experts keep giving Georgia the more highly ranked classes, but we Gators just KEEP BEATING THEIR BUTTS in the game!” Point is, it’s on the field that matters; the battles are won on the field! GO GATORS!

  4. Not a “great” transition class, but a ‘good” one none-the-less. A very good start imo, although we missed out ona few guys that we needed, I’m sure Mullen will have the recruiting ball rolling full force next season. I knew Silvera was trolling us, Frerer was trending Ohio State heavily the last 48 hours before NSD so he was a stretch, and the only real surprise was Boykin flipping to ND as it was reported he committed to our coaches in the second visit weekend on his OV. So basically, in simple terms, we lost one guy, but we still closed very well. Langham had been trending UF the last 24 hours or so, so that wasn’t as big a surprise as some think.

    We ended up about #13 on ESPN with 19 players, no 5*’s, but we were still top in Star Rating Power, which shows a lot of quality. Our class was pretty balanced and we got an elite QB and some excellent WR’s, and several elite transfers too.

    Good job to the coaches.

    • Very rational summary, Todd. And thanks, Pat, for the same.

      Every one of us has a different perspective, regardless of consensus level at any given time. Likewise, each of us has a different way of allowing emotions to influence logic, and vice versa. All said and done though, I think most of us will look at this transition class as a job well done by a new coaching staff, and that if anybody is going to bring SEC and National Championships back to the Swamp, it’s going to be this crew.

      BTW, great journalism here while covering this, I didn’t go anywhere else except to peek at 247Sports and Rivals now and then.

  5. Just a question. Mullen mentioned that he did not use all of the scholarships available. He did not want to take a guy just to have another body. Do you think he is looking at Master degree transfers. Not talking about QB’s, but maybe DL or OL?

  6. You judge each recruiting class 3 years down the road. It’s a combination of recruiting, and then coaching and developing players. Recruiting players, the elite players, has only been a bit of a problem here at Florida as of late, due to facility issues. Coaching issues have run rampant since 2010. I love the “relentless effort” phrase Coach Mullen uses. Well, there was relentless effort under Coach Muschamp, too. I saw effort under McElwain for two seasons. The bottom line: wins, losses, and championships. That will define the coach, and the recruiting classes. As a head coach, he’s won games, but no championships. As a recruiting class, they’ve not won anything. The silver lining to all this: there are football players already here, on the offensive side of the ball, who can provide a powerful running game. Call it Muschamp 2.0. But yet, once again, we wait to see if there is any assemblance of a passing game developed to create balance. We’ll see if the new guys can add to what is here, and provide an offensive spark to what has been lacking. So now, once again, we wait to see if the Football Program can come together, in all kinds of weather.

    • There will be a passing game this year, and a much more consistent offensive effort. My recollection of Mullen, though, is that he has a tendency to get very tight in big games and play extremely conservative football, so I am interested to see what he does in big game situations in terms of play-calling.

    • “We wait to see….”. Absolutely, Tommy. The conditions are set now to shape the battlefield in our favor, but it’s up to the units in the action ahead to make it happen based on understanding of the commander’s plan(s) and intent, and individual effort based on skills learned in training. Basic US Army small unit operations, in other words–in this instance, of course, we’re referring to offense, defense, and special teams. The tactical objective of course being to beat each team we play by using a tailored plan for each, with the strategic objective of winning championships at a high level.

      I didn’t see any particular “relentless effort” though under McElwain….if anything there was a consistent lack of a sense of urgency or hustle. Throw in some luck too at times. Last year’s Kentucky game was a poignant example, even though we managed to win somehow.

  7. I’m going to temper my concern over Dawg Scum “killing it” by reminding myself that just a few years ago Kevin Sumlin was the “It Guy” in recruiting – winning every press conference and every tweet. How’d that work out?

    The part where we have a cottage industry declaring winners and losers and ratings about freakin’ teenagers is hysterical. The big boys scouting for NFL teams can’t get it right most of the time in the draft. But folks are gripping about the “ratings” of recruiting classes? Please stop. Where you end is more important than where you start. Player development is at least as important as talent – and probably more so. Coach ’em up, Dan. Coach ’em up.

    • Great post. It is all about developing these players, and you are dead on about how ridiculous the rankings really are in the end. Anyone who had the time could make a list a mile long of players who came in with tons of hype and did nothing, or a list of walk-ons and lesser hyped players who did great things.

      • Agree with both of you, spot on guys. Three parts of the equation after you get ’em onboard…..coaching, coaching, and coaching. Add in offensive and defensive coordination, but it’s still the same.

        I think Kirby Smart will be more durable at UGA than Kevin Sumlin was at TAMU, but that’s mainly because Georgia made the commitment a couple-three years ago while A&M just did. Sumlin is actually a good coach, but something was wrong in that program over in College Station that went beyond coaching. Everybody wants to blame it on that jackass quarterback Manzeil graduating, but it was bigger than that….trust me, I live in Texas and follow those guys pretty closely since this is Big-12 territory and I’m one of the few SEC guys out here (self declared Gator-in-Residence at Ft Hood). Just to throw it in, Tenn will be coming back too now that they’ve straightened out the internal dysfunction and have Phil Fulmer as AD + a pretty shit hot coach. Which just means that the East is going to come back alive all over in the next few years–good for everybody concerned, especially us.

        But back to the main point, the difference between a 3, 4, or 5* doesn’t depend on what they did before they got here so much as it does what you do with them once they’re here. So now we wait and see……

        • Gator-6, I lived in Texas back in the late 70s (Earl Campbell was playing for UT). One of the problems for A&M is they will ALWAYS be the Little Brother in that State. Being in the SEC now doesn’t protect them from UT’s long shadow. That inferiority complex (even when UT is down) creates a deeply embedded neuroces that’s hard to overcome. As you point out, Sumlin could not overcome that flaw/dysfunction. Being an outsider (late comer) in the SEC doesn’t make it better for them. Jimbo thinks he’s walking into a similar situation he enjoyed in Fla. (FSU on mostly equal footing with the State Flagship University) (thanks to decades of work by Bobby Bowden). What he’s going to find is A&M is a true Little Brother and the sledding is going to be a LOT tougher in the SEC grind than the basketball conference he just left.

          • Very true, Mark. After 2012, I figured that could be reversed….but then the two schools dropping their annual game didn’t help the perception at all. That NEVER should have happened, but even had they kept playing and TAMU had beaten the hell out of UT every year, guess what? The perception would still be there anyway.

            I think Jimbo will do well at A&M….hated the way Bowden was pushed out and how he came in, but I’ve always believed he is a fine coach just the same. As you pointed out, however, it won’t be soon. And, looking at how UT recruited this year, it may be even longer. Plus that, given the salary he got, those Aggies are going to expect major results on Day One…..as you know, those guys are every bit as rabid as Gator fans, and they’re all addicted to Lone Star beer!

    • Agreed 100%. Obviously you need talented players, but often there is a fine line between a 3* and a 4*. These ratings are subjective and are arrived at in great part during football camps I suspect. This is NOT to say that we shouldn’t shoot for 5*…I am not trying to justify a low ranked class….but simply that 3 or 4 star players can win championships. You may have to work harder at it than a team with all 5* players but it can be done.

      So I agree with you and I’d say that the great majority of the issue is coaching. You need great players…but more importantly, you need great coaching. And not just X’s and O’s but mental and physical and intellectual development. What we’ve been missing for the past 8-9 years is a great coach who builds and leads a great program. Football is a coaches game….and I feel pretty good right now about our new coaching staff. Is it April 14 yet????

  8. I am a Gator to the core, and have been for 60+ years. I have seen splendid years and then there is 1979, 0-10-1. HOWEVER. I now have the gut feeling that Coach Mullen is on the main track to building the strong Gator team that will be the standard for the South East Conference for many years. We had to get through the Foley years of sorry coaches that he brought to us. Urban Meyers was a hire of the president that came to us from Utah. Coach Mullen is he best hire that we have had since Steve Spurrior. and he landed with his feet on the ground with a Gator background and lots of solid experience with a strong SEC team, Mississippi State. He put together a strong bunch of recruits. Young guys that are recruited are scatter brained and subject to strange decisions so if we had some last minute drop outs like Boykin that is to be expected. So—–with that level of success you have to be a complete sore head to find fault with the Gator futures. Go Gators. I can hardly wait for next football season. Bulldogs, look out, you are Gator Baits.

  9. Kirby Smart is the best thing that’s happened for Florida football in years. By raising the bar in the East, and transforming our long-time rival from a group of mentally weak, self-sabotaging slobs into a ruthless pack of vicious attack Dawgs, he has now forced us to get better, and that is on the field and off the field.

    He helped for our AD to flush the toilet and send Mac swirling to his well-deserved doom. While Mac was busy recruiting broken down back up quarterbacks from losing teams and blaming the QB play for his ineptitude, Smart started a true freshman and won the SEC. Oppps. Looks like a competent coach can win even with a 19 year old kid right out of high-school.

    UGA will be very hard to beat, and that is a good thing. It will drive our players, coaches and AD to work harder, get better, and achieve their best selves. Thank you, Kirby Smart, for challenging UF to once more reach for greatness!

  10. Todd, I am surprised, especially if you are the Todd from Quincy, that you would pay any attention whatsoever to “trends”. You know even better than I do that a kid and his family/advisors, sit down and make a single decision on what school to attend. A bunch of “Analysts” spread around the country in their darkened home offices in front of a computer and a cell phone have no clue what is happening in the privacy of these kid’s homes and schools. “75%” trend is meaningless. It’s a binary decision. 0 or 100%. We never had any of these kids to “miss” on. A commitment made during an Official Visit is often an emotional one made in the excitement of the moment to coaches hard selling a program, only for the kid to have buyer’s remorse within 24 hours. Mullen and staff came into this late and took a shot on some kids already leaning towards other programs. Though if you want to call “missing” on a shot in the dark “missing” then you would be accurate.

  11. I think folks are a little to harsh on Mac. I am certainly happier with Mullen, but keep in mind that Mac lost ten players in the charge card scandal. He lost a top recruit wide receiver with a heart problem. I think we lost another wide receiver with a heart problem. Also, if I am correct, the player at the center of the scandal was one of our top recruits. Maybe Mac was negligent in scrutinizing the character of these players, but we have a history of this, going way back. Whatever the reason for this, I hope that we can fix that. Reicht had the same problem at Georgia. I hope that between now and the first game next year none of our players have criminal problems or scooter injuries or steroid issues.

    • Howard: seriously?? McElwain has no business being the head coach of a major college football program. Zero. Zip. Nada. Complete failure in every aspect of the coaching business. His hole will take a couple of yeas to dig out of.

    • As the saying goes, though, “the buck stops here”. “Hear” being “there”, ie, the head coach. And you have to admit that he produced lousy results on the main, especially in light of the self hype coming in.

      I’ll still give you an “A” for being a man of mercy, Howard. We could use a little more of that here.

  12. I have a bunch of questions, and have had for some time, why JF couldn’t get his act together on a football coach. You know the sport–the one that pays the bills, the one where 90,000 come out and pay high prices for a ticket, the one that matters to a lot of people. Why did supposedly he run off SOS? The truth here is long overdue. SOS was happy here, just not with JF. Why did he not see Zook for what he was? He was a defensive coach and not very good at that.That brings me back to SOS. He was ready to come back at the end of Zook’s tenure, having gotten the pros out of his system. JF didn’t want him back. SOS would have come with the asking. Never mind a winning program, they just didn’t get along. Meyer was forced on him, by Machen. That wasn’t his hire. Why didn’t he hire Mullen when Meyer pulled his fiasco the first time? I believe Mullen would have come then. They didn’t get along, it was reported. Well what a wonderful reason to hire another defensive guru with no clue to even hire a decent offensive coordinator. SO then we suffered 4 years under champ. I would have fired champ after the LSU game his first year. We looked like children playing pros. And now Mac. Oh yes, a Sabanite–he’ll get the job done. Colorado State is a long shot from the SEC. I knew we had made a mistake after I saw his first presser. He was a joke. He never had any fire in his gut except to get after Taylor, a 19 yo who made a mistake. He could have handled that one privately. I personally am glad both of them are gone. 8 years of suffering is enough for anyone. I believe that DM will take us to the promised land, just a matter of when.

    • Given complex questions, I look to simple answers. Foley wasn’t very good at hiring football coaches. Probably an ego thing. Look at what happened with Donovan. When Donovan became more famous than “The Best Athletic Director in the Country”, he decided to look elsewhere, twice. Same with Spurrier.

  13. I think Mullen did very well under the circumstances. You can bury your head in the sand & be delusional enough to think UF is not a mediocre program, but reality says something different. UF has finished in the top ten once, only once, since 2009. There have been two losing seasons recently, including last year. UF’s offense has been, overall, the worst of any power five team for nearly a decade, starting with Meyer’s last year.
    So, given these facts, Mullen did quite well, with a couple of exceptions. One is that the self proclaimed “DBU” couldn’t snare a single CB in a year when Florida was loaded with them. I’ll tell more later after the warden leaves.

  14. Some of you all act like Urban Meyer was a bad thing for Florida football. I don’t blame him for the last few seasons. We had grown men coaching those teams and they failed. Urban won two national titles and recruited some of the best players in Florida history. I’ll take SEC and National championships any day , even if I knew the next few yeas would be mediocre. Now I wouldn’t want Meyer as my next door neighbor. Nor would I believe anything that came out of his mouth. But you don’t have to like him to acknowledge the guy is a hell of a coach and re-asserted our dominance as a football power for about 4-5 years.

    • Damn straight–we often push the “hate” button too quickly, when a lesser emotion would describe our feelings much better. I don’t begrudge Meyer anything, really–he disappointed me is all. I think, however, we could all agree that the man is one helluva football coach, and I’m glad he was a Gator for as long as he was. Good point mkf.

      • Meyer left in the most lying and duplicitous manner, and then had the onions to negatively recruit against the “broken program” that HE broke on his way out the door. Yeah I hate his f’in guts and would not walk across the street to take a leak on him if he was on fire.

        One of my favorite memories since he left was the picture of him alone in a golf cart choking down a slice of defeat pizza (if you can call the shite Papa John’s sells pizza) under the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium after Michigan State beat T-osu in the Big 12 (they teach us to count at UF) championship game three or so years ago. To me that was f’in PRICELESS! Could not happen to a more deserving p-o-s.

        If they EVER put that MFer’s name up there in the R-o-H with Spurrier’s and other true Gators, I will be perp-walked by UPD when they catch me smearing it with shite.

        Rant over…

        • Cool rant. I liked it.

          My favorite official Urbie quote…

          “But what I didn’t want to have happen, and I made this clear to Jeremy (Foley), if I am able to go coach, I want to coach at one place, the University of Florida. It would be a travesty, it would be ridiculous to all of a sudden come back and get the feeling back, get the health back, feel good again and then all of a sudden go throw some other colors on my shirt and go coach? I don’t want to do that. I have too much love for this University and these players and for what we’ve built.
          Urban Meyer

          • Yeah, I seem to remember a Dooley columns about Meyer waxing poetic about how he “gets” Gainesville now (at that particular time) and never wanted to leave. What a lying p-o-s. And were I a T-osu fan (pardon me while I spit because I just threw up in my mouth) I wouldn’t get too fond of him, because the only school for which he has gone on the record as calling his “dream job” is Notre Dame. If Kelly ever is shown the door, I would not put past the j-o named after a pope to become the head Domer.

            F him. My two favorite teams are the Gators and whomever is coached by that slimy p-o-s..

  15. FSU rankings were 4, 3, 3, 6, over the last 4 years and they went 7-6?? They went from 13-1 to 7-6… Great classes are a good thing? But no guarantee, how many of these 4-5 star kids peak in High School? I am inclined to agree with Coach Mullen, the “Right” Players are huge, and the coaching and development…Coach Boom had classes of 11, 3, 3, and 9, of course we know he couldn’t coach (except defense), and we know where he ended up … and we KNOW what kind of talent the Zooker left… I have been a Gator fan for over 50 years… I am as excited over Coach Mullen as I was over SOS and Coach Meyer… he WILL right the ship!!! If not for Foley I believe he would have been here sooner! One last thing, if Petit-Frere and Boykin don’t jump ship at the last minute? This would have been a top 10 class…I am excited about the future, and I believe we DO have a coach that is happy to be a Gator, NOT just stating it for the camera’s….

  16. Lets not expect miracles by Coach Mullen, just yet. A championship team like 08 had two really good groups of upperclassmen, one with tebow and one with the pouncy twins. then you have to develop them, pray the injury bug doesn’t bite, you need a painful loss and ultimately a decision to be a team, not just a group of nfl prospects. the underclassmen help with special teams and plug holes.
    The bad news first. the last two classes together, probably not enough. 2 lost to heart problems, 4 to the credit card scandal, and one class is just mullen’s first and one class is meant to play a different defense and a different offense. so it could be a while. the upperclassmen hitting the field are all built for a different approach and includes mac’s first year class. most of the competition in the SEC east is established.
    The better news, maybe, is that before we declare Georgia champion of anything lets see if they cross the threshold of being a team, right now they are like a lot of other Georgia Teams, loaded with nfl talent but not yet a team, maybe so maybe never. Muschamp had a good second year too; it doesn’t guarantee things will go well. the Vols will need more time than we will, South Carolina, Vandy, Missouri, and Kentucky don’t have the branding of a sustained top program. The best news is we are set to recruit 2 top classes – so given time, patience, and with the upgrade at coaching, including assistants, we should be real good fairly early in the decade of the 2020s. Nick Saban will slow down eventually, the top coach in the west will be jimbo in a few years and he never faced a well functioning gator program. Its going to be fun.

    • It sure is going to be fun, mveal. And you’re right about the rest, too. If we finish at 9-4 next year, including a decent bowl win, well…..I won’t be disappointed, I’ll just put it that way. Some people will, of course, but I’m not one of them for all the reasons you articulated and then some. I expect us to crack double digits in 2019 and then as you said, in the early part of the next decade (only two years away, y’all) we take off and never look back. Good insights, bud.

  17. Pat: Great summary. Biggest image I have is that we now have a competent Program Manager HC in charge, who knows what to do and who to hire, etc. Looking ahead, recruiting would be enhanced next season with an unexpected win against GA and or knock off UT, FSU, UK, LSU with a little style. I know, a duh dream, but do-able.

    • I’m willing to bet, dave, that they’ll be too tired after training and practice that they’ll be too tired to get into trouble. But there’s always one or two, it seems. Anybody remember Richard Skelly from the early 60’s? Very talented athlete, great runner, one of the best Ray Graves ever had. And what did he do? One night he thought it would be fun to chop the tail off of the Alligator in the school pond, and that was that, gone in a flash. What a waste of human potential, not to mention the poor Gator.