The coach will be looking around at the stadium he once called home. So strange, this feeling, standing on the opposite side of where you once tried to guide the players you are now coaching against.
Everything seems so familiar, except that it’s not yours anymore.
Dan Mullen will experience it Saturday. Doug Dickey experienced it 48 years ago.
How Dickey got to Florida from Tennessee is a column of its own. That Florida played Tennessee in the Gator Bowl in Dickey’s last game as the Vols’ coach seems like something from a “Ballers” script.
But on Oct. 24, 1970, Douglas Adair Dickey took his Gator football team to Knoxville to face the team he had left in a lurch.
“It’s a little bit of disconcerting because you go in the visitors’ dressing room, come out of a different gate, different side of the field,” Dickey said. “The thing that makes it uncomfortable is there’s a whole lot of people around. The guys working in the stadium, the security guys, the field guys, they were all people I knew.
“They all want to say hello and they’re being very nice and courteous and you just can’t ignore those good relationships.”
Mullen will be dealing with some of the same feelings Saturday, although he said Mississippi State has switched locker rooms so he’ll be back in familiar surroundings.
But he also needs to know this — the team he left will be playing at a different level because he left. That much hasn’t changed in 48 years.
“It was obvious their attitude for the game was much more intense than ours,” said Carlos Alvarez. Alvarez was a junior receiver on that Gator team that returned to Dickey’s former (and now current) home.
“They threw oranges at us as we came onto the field,” Alvarez said. “I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe because we grow oranges in Florida.”
To say things didn’t go well for Florida that day would be an understatement. Florida came in with a 5-1 record, but Dickey had left behind a powerful team, on its way to an 11-1 record and ranked No. 11 at the time.
At UF, Dickey was trying to change the offensive philosophy of a team that was less than thrilled that he was hired in the first place. The players wanted Gene Ellenson, the longtime defensive coordinator, to replace Ray Graves. They at least wanted to be consulted.
Instead, UF had already worked out a deal with Dickey — a P.K. Yonge grad and former UF quarterback — prior to the bowl game.
“It was a weird set of circumstances,” Alvarez said.
Imagine how weird it was for the head coach wearing orange and blue.
“You get on the field to warm up and here are all these players you recruited and they’re on the other team,” Dickey said. “The guys playing for you aren’t the guys you recruited.
“The biggest problem I had was I didn’t have as many players as the other guy. We had lost a lot of seniors.”
Well, he did have a guy who ended up in the NFL Hall of Fame and UF’s Ring of Honor. Legend has it that senior Jack Youngblood may have inflamed the situation in the pregame when he stood on a bench and waggled his rear at the Tennessee students.
“I was being stupid probably,” Youngblood said. “At least I wasn’t kneeling.”
Did I mention that the final score was 38-7 Tennessee?
“I remember thinking, ‘We just beat these guys, didn’t we?’ ” Youngblood said. “Is this a setup?
“They had those damn tear-away jerseys. Robert Harrell sent me a picture a while back. I smacked the quarterback (Bobby Scott) right in the chest and ripped the whole front of his jersey off. Harrell made the tackle and I’m standing there holding his number. And I remember thinking after the game, ‘Do these people know any other song?’ ”
Now it’s Mullen’s opportunity to go home again, to face players he recruited and say hello to the people he worked with. The Florida coach mentioned throughout the summer he thought he might be the first coach to ever have to do this, to go back and face his old team.
He mentioned Monday that “Tubs” had done it. Tommy Tuberville did play Ole Miss the season after jumping ship to Auburn, but it wasn’t a road game.
Still, us old-timers knew this would not be a first.
“Some of the fans gave me a standing ovation when we left the field,” Dickey said. “Of course, they won the game. I guess that’s why they did.
“Coach Mullen will find that there are some distractions going on to the field and warming up. It’s a strange feeling. He’ll enjoy it. It’s not that strenuous a thing.”
Unless, of course, you lose 38-7.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.