Different ‘Dog house awaits Mullen

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Florida quarterback Tim Tebow greets Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen at midfield following the Gators' 29-19 win against Mississippi State in Starkville on Oct. 24, 2009. [Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun]

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 pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

11 COMMENTS

  1. That was a dark time for Florida football, the way Stephen C. O’Connell and some big-money cronies pulled the rug out from under Ray Graves’ coaching career. A highly touted Florida team in 1968, riddled by injuries, came in well below expectations. The UF president’s desire to change head coaches forced out the best coach at the time in UF history at age 51. A red hit young coach at Tennessee, Dickey probably damaged his homecoming by being perceived as undermining Graves and then trying to create an option offense with players skilled in pro-style schemes. It didn’t turn out well.

  2. Well, the 2 things I took away from this story, #1. ”Jack Youngblood” is still the MAN! #2.”Tear-away jerseys” once enabled local kids (like me in the 70’s) to jump the wall after the game, and run around and collect ”Gator jersey” parts (I once got a part of Chris Collinsworth’s #21 jersey). If you were brave enough, you could ask the players’ for their wristbands. Most time they’d just pat ya’ on the head, like we were puppies. Good times! Too bad they don’t let kids mix it up with their ”Gator heros” anymore. Go Gators!

  3. I’m not too sure of just what my take away from this article is supposed to be, Florida and Gator history notwithstanding. Maybe I’ll need another cup of coffee first, as fascinating as the nexus of Graves-Dickey-Mullen really is.

    Right now I think I’m supposed to believe that Mullen is somehow a villain and the Gators don’t stand a chance on Saturday. Yeah, a little more caffeine ought to do the trick.

  4. I don’t see the difference between Dickey playing Tennessee, or Muschamp coaching against Georgia, or even Spurrier coaching South Carolina against Florida! Mullen coached at Mississippi State. Big deal! Go to Starkville and play your best and win! Go in with a killer attitude and dominant demeanor. One thing Mullen can do as a head coach for Florida that Spurrier could not accomplish……win in Starkville. Hey coach, want to accomplish something big?

  5. Wouldn’t this be the perfect occasion to write a column on why it took so long to bring Coach Mullen home? Or will that only come when the AD Emeritus finally decides to clean out his office and allow the new AD to do his job without someone looking over his shoulder?

    I’m sure there’s a great story there but we won’t hear about it from this paper until Foley or Mullen has moved on. And I hope Mullen is in Gainesville for a very very long time.

    What a pleasure it is having a competent head coach that doesn’t make you want to close your eyes and cover your ears when he’s interviewed pre, during or post game.

    • I would love to see Mullin retire at Florida and have his name on the ring of honor. I think he can be that guy, we the fans may need to give him the time to rebuild the program, to get it back to the days of Coach Spurrier and when Mullin was the OC.

  6. “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.”

    Years ago, I visited a college basketball stadium or arena (whatever it’s called) and saw the home and visitor’s locker rooms. The home team’s digs were large colorful rooms with common space for pep talks and celebrations, brightly lit, huge locker stalls and with ego boosting personalization built in, well furnished with mahogany, stainless steel, and pricey finishes, flat screen TVs everywhere….well you get the picture. On the other hand, the Visitor’s locker room was cramped, dim, and plain with lockers about the size you would find in a high school hallway. It will be interesting to know if the visitor’s locker room has any semblance to what it looks like for the home team last year. I highly doubt it. Sure all the home team colors will be gone but what about the size, material finishes, TV’s, and lighting in the room? Maybe things have changed and leagues rules have mandated better standards for the visiting team’s locker room. If the media is allowed in see the locker rooms, can we get a picture of what it looks like now?

  7. If Mullen was facing his old coaching staff as well as his old players the parallels would be stronger but I’m sure Mississippi State is going to have a little more fan and player umph. Also they are going to want to play better after losing to Kentucky.
    I never got the hatred gator fans had for dickey. I always thought graves wanted to retire. He never tried to coach again that I knew of. Dickey was a good choice. The teams were good but of course never won the sec championship so they brought in pell etc.
    Point is that the Gators are demanding. St some point everyone at Mississippi State must realize they have a high risk of losing their coach in any sport if they are successful and this can’t be the shock Tennessee felt when dickey left since ut is and was a higher status program.

  8. My take away is expect the unexpected and don’t let the media or anyone fool you into believing this game is about you the coach. If you fall for that narrative, you surely will leave there completely embarrassed and on a lopped sided loss. Hopefully, Coach can mentally prepare his players for, 1) the adrenaline flatline present from the Tennn win, and 2) be able to counter the obvious motivation the bulldogs will have after a big loss to Kentucky and an opportunity to square things with the Coach that left them for another team. A team playing for a cause is almost impossible to beat. Gators will have to understand all of this and fight for something greater…The pride of Gator Nation! Go Gators!

  9. Gators win 26-17 it’s not about Cow Bells and Jackie Sherryl Casterating Bulls. It’s about these group of young men playing with relentless effort and following the lead of General Mullen. Captain Frank’s will continue to improve with his aerial assault. While Dr. Grantham will continue to build a Dominating front wall. That breaks the opponents will and gives opposing teams and fan bases. Nightmares from hearing and seeing the Gator Chomp. The Greatest Tradition in all of the land.

  10. Coach had “Rocky Top” piped in to Gator practices last week to get the team ready for the continuous playing of this at Vol games. Hope this week he had the sound of cowbells ringing. He’s heard them for 9 years, but this time they will be ringing them when the Gators have the ball, and they don’t always stop when the center gets over the ball, which is a rule in the SEC regarding artificial noise makers. It’s one of those things that while a bit annoying, make college football such a blast vs. the NFL (No Fun League!).