Mullen still searching for leaders

Florida coach Dan Mullen at practice searching for Alpha Dogs. (Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun)

The theme of the day at Dan Mullen’s weekly briefing for the media boys and girls was Dogs. Not the Bulldogs he used to coach or the Bulldogs up north he wants so badly to beat, but the Dogs he needs to take Florida to a different level.

The ones he really didn’t have last year.

We’re speaking of Alpha Dogs, which may feel like an overused cliche but certainly makes ears perk up when they are mentioned by a head coach.

He wants some.

As many as he can fit onto the team bus.

He just doesn’t have any yet.

Mullen continues to look for those Dogs, but a lot of it needs to happen organically. You can’t force a guy to be a leader, make him be the guy who does everything the right way and pulls the most stubborn players with him.

“You don’t win two national championships in three years (without them),” Mullen said. “I mean, trust me, we had a lot of talent. But there were some Alpha Dogs that were making sure that the level of play was at an extremely high level.

“There were a bunch on those teams.”

He rattled off a handful of names of players at Florida, at Mississippi State, at Utah.

The ultimate one being Tim Tebow, right?

“Dak Prescott’s probably the best I’ve ever seen,” Mullen said of the Dallas Cowboys quarterback who played for him in Starkville.

Better than Tebow, considered the ultimate leader by so many fans?

“Oh yeah. I mean, Dak, to me, was the best I’ve ever seen at it,” he said. “But, I’ve seen — there’s been a ton. You know, you go back … You know when you have them.”

And when you don’t.

Because you’ve seen those guys standing up on benches waving towels or getting the crowd fired up before a kickoff only to miss an assignment and give up a big play.

Being an Alpha Dog represents more than getting excited. It’s about doing it right. Not being a phony dog.

“The problem when you have phony Alpha Dog-type people, eventually you’re gonna get exposed,” Mullen said. “The difference goes to guys that are trying and then guys that are phony and trying to sort those two. That can be a very fine line that you’re looking at, like, right (hands together) there, like, I’m trying, yes, but that was kinda phony. That’s the fine line that you always have to manage.”

This all may sound confusing to you, but at the same time you get it.

How many teams have you seen underachieve because there wasn’t a person (this applies to women’s teams as much as men’s) to grab the team by the collective ear and drag it to another level?

For example, take last season’s Florida basketball team. Please. (Sorry for those bus tire tracks, guys).

An Alpha Dog has a simple job. Lead by example. Lead with words. Lead with everything you do.

It doesn’t matter what sport we are talking about. You have to have Alpha Dogs. The more the better. It doesn’t have to be a singular job.

So Mullen is searching, desperately seeking another set of Pouncey twins or an Alex Smith or a Fletcher Cox or a Prescott or a Major Wright.

And yet, he won 10 games last year without one.

“Yeah. In my mind, a great one, I don’t know if we had a guy that was,” Mullen said. “It’s hard in year one in the program. You hope you have one. Probably the best one last year was Martez Ivey. If I had to pick one, I’d go with Martez.”

Ivey is gone to the NFL.

The wait for the next one to show up is ongoing. The funny thing is, we’ve talked to a lot of players since the end of last season who acted like they were Alphas. But the coaches know the real thing and the real thing is still a work in progress.

“We have a bunch who really could,” Mullen said. “We potentially have some. None that are at the level of being, the ONES. We don’t have a Fletcher Cox or a Dak Prescott or Pouncey brothers.”

What he does have are a bunch of young players who need leading.

There is no application to fill out, no job interview.

And the head coach will know when the job is taken.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at


  1. They were talking about this quote a lot on the Finebaum show yesterday. It is vital. The coaches can only do so much. The players need their teammates to push them, teach them, get them to play the right way. I believe one of the reasons Bama has weathered all the coaching changes so well is that they have built this culture where they have players who teach the new guys “the system” and hold them accountable as well as the coaches.

    Hopefully some guys will emerge. One thing that holds a lot of guys back is that to step into that role takes sacrifice– the Alpha Dog will not be “just one of the guys.” The role comes with respect, but also usually some resentment and some distance. There will always be guys looking to challenge you. It’s harder to be a leader than a follower, and it can be a little lonely for those guys. For that reason, even some players who have the charisma and presence to be Alpha Dogs will decline the role, preferring to be in the pack and not the leader.

    By some accounts, we have players already the others look up to, so the only questions is whether they will ultimately step forward and be willing to have their team mates hate them a little in exchange for making those teammates, the team, and themselves better. A little hate now is a small price to pay for all the love that will come later when they realize what those Alphas did for them.

  2. I’m curious as to what level Dak grabbed his team by the ear and brought them to that makes him better than Tebow. Last I checked, Tebow grabbed his team by the ear and dragged them to a national title. Maybe Dak was just the only one on the team at the time, while Tebow had others around him like the Pounceys and Spikes.

    • There are different types of leaders. They can be fearlessness, physical, emotional, and spiritual (and probably other traits that doesn’t come to mind at the moment). Some have can lead with more than one trait. A team needs them all so multiple teammates fill different leadership roles.

        • I’d love for coach Mullen to elaborate more on how he sees Dak better than Tebow. Quite honestly, in my over 60 years as a football fan Ive never seen a college player than lifted his team to greater heights than Tebow did. In each game you could see when tebow lifted his game the other players followed. He had a gift for getting his teammates to put out that extra 10% when they were giving all. You could see how they got inspired by him and raised their game, especially the defense. (I repeatedly said back then and still say that I loved it when Tim got hit. He would start each game tentative , like he was thinking too much and then he would get hit and after that he would just act and react and play so much better. I often said the coach should have assigned a burly lineman just to go slap Tim right before every game so he could surge from the start.) . I’ve never seen such a dominating defense as that 2008 team. You could see when Tebow surged so did the defense, especially when he would mow down some opposing defender when he ran. Our defense would come out after that and just mow down the opposing offense. Tim would roam the sideline firing up the players. He won the Heisman for his ability to carry his team and nearly won it twice. So yea, I’d really like to hear the coach elaborate on that. I read the news and I never read that Dak was this great leader, yet I definitely read that about Tim.

    • One glaring flaw for Tebow, i you can call it that, is that he was not very devoted to summer workouts, taking one and sometimes two missionary trips instead of staying and leading his team. Not judging him for those choices, but Dak was there sweating all summer long, working, leading and not sending the message through his actions that summer workouts weren’t important.

      • I don’t know if it was the missionary trips. It certainly wan’t a sign from Tim that he thought little of summer workouts. It showed he thought more of his spiritual workouts. Dak didn’t hit me as a kid who was as much of a raw raw type, an emotional , sometimes tearful leader. He was more business like in his demeanor. Tim puts his heart on his sleeve and doesn’t hide it from the world. He was an outstanding leader, but I could see how MSU’s players at the time might have been more motivated by a more businesslike, serious style of leadership.

  3. Nice article Pat. “An alpha dog has a simple job. Lead by example. Lead by words. Lead by everything you do.” GREAT DEFINITION! A leader is someone who makes others great and has little interest in recognition of his own stature. Such a definition doesn’t make alpha dogs out of a particular personality type. It certainly excludes the big mouth so called “alpha dogs” who point to themselves.
    The GATORS have had many through the years. Tebow might be the best. But Danny Wuerffel might have been his equal. If example and words and preparation are the true definition of Alpha dog, then no one has exceeded him. Go Gators!

  4. Candidly, I think CDM might be reluctant to heap too much praise on Tebow because he already gets more credit for the NC’s than CDM. Whereas, CDM gets loads of credit for developing Prescott as a player and a leader. I agree that it may also be that Prescott was the sole Alpha, or at least head and shoulders above the others, as well as the Pouncey twins and Spikes being on-board too. I also think that Jaws really nailed it when he said that the Alpha cannot be one of the guys and has to be willing to be outside of the “in-crowd”. The best leaders, especially in the military know this, and are willing to challenge the team.

  5. Back in my day, in a land far, far away from the Gator Nation’s Home Base, in elementary school, there was a system where alphas gained much responsibility being patrol scouts, i.e., the street crossing guards of the day and those who helped the younger kids be safe. (Yep, at least a half century!)

    No, not a hall monitor with Snoopy and his Sopwith Camel machine gun checking hall passes, but 5th and 6th graders who helped the younger ones to cross the intersections and get home safely from school.

    There was a captain, lieutenant (not Dan), and a Sergeant leading the others.

    The reward was a weekend summer field trip to D.C. Plane ride and hotel included!

    I went in 1973. They had just begun constructing a subway system and DC was a mess! But we visited all the places you visit when you go to DC, and it was very cool.

    So you can imagine the jealousy and resentment if you weren’t a patrol scout and wanted to be one.

    Can that desire help you to achieve what it took to replace them and become one, when the scouts went on to junior high?

    Same goes with college dorms and frats. It takes a tremendous resolve to be an R.A. or a frat dad and not conform to the Animal House mentality, especially among the freshmen.

    So who wouldn’t be thrilled to see Frank’s lead this team to offensive numbers we have been slobbering for and being the team leader, the alpha male, the QB position tends to, or is expected to produce?

    We can always look back and name the Tebow’s, Zak’s, Wuerffel’s and Spurrier’s, but it is on the current players to join those names without trying to be them. Find your own voice of leadership and embrace it.

    As for CDM’s comments and comparisons between Tim and Dak, it’s apples to oranges and only meant to emphasize different programs under different influences and how they achieved their respective successes.

    I am certain we will see true leaders emerge in this program, beginning with the Miami game, and I trust one of them will be Franks.

  6. great article, and great comments! put a star by this one for dooley, really good info. CDM might be messaging a little to the team, in that prescott may be a better choice for this group as a role model than tebow. dont misunderstand me, the record tim has, for me you cant argue with it. give me tebow on my team. yet the nfl does not agree with me, and i just dont see why, other than some nonfootball things in todays hyperpolitical world. or im not the sharpest tool in the shed, or both, or who knows. still, the larger point on leadership is absolutely huge.
    you look back at all of the guys on mount rushgatormore, they all brought something extra with them, all were different, but the way things work, if you have something extra, that’s where the rewards, the leadership, the leap from good to great comes from. we aren’t going to know until we see it, on the field, when its needed. do i believe that is going to happen this year? odds are against it, because if you aren’t sure the answer is usually no. still, in time, imo the program will produce another rushgatormore player, and not that far off. in the meantime, we will be better and i look for a group of leaders so to speak that make their teammates stay at a high level of constant mental intensity and then in time someone will move forward in the leadership category from there.