Florida's Mullen, like Spurrier, has been successful with two-quarterback systems

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
Florida coach Dan Mullen knows a thing or two about using two quarterbacks in a game. He had Chris Leak (12) and Tim Tebow in 2006.

Florida coach Dan Mullen is no stranger to a two-quarterback system, nor is the Gators football program. 

Mullen plans to play a pair of signal callers this season in Anthony Richardson and Emory Jones, who has been used in a backup role the past two years. Instead of coming off the bench, Jones is now on the other side of the coin as the starter. 

“He’s going to get put in situations we haven’t seen him have to handle,” Mullen said of Jones in preseason camp. “Everyone’s favorite player on the team is the backup quarterback, right? I mean, everyone loves the backup quarterback. So I think that is such a big deal, now all the extra responsibilities you haven’t had to handle.”

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Jones accounted for 197 yards (133 passing) and a touchdown pass in the 35-14 win over FAU last Saturday, while Richardson totaled 200 yards (160 rushing) and had the play of the game with a 73-yard TD run. Richardson’s explosive plays Saturday gave him a higher grade than Jones, who threw two interceptions, according to Mullen.

Mullen said he understands the enthusiasm for Richardson, who carried the ball seven times. 

“He made some great plays. Hey, I was here in ’06 and there was enthusiasm, huge enthusiasm for Tim Tebow and he played about six, seven plays a game. But those six, seven plays are a lot of enthusiasm. So yeah, I’ve seen it before and understand it,” Mullen said.

Tim Tebow and Chris Leak in 2006

In his stint with the Gators as offensive coordinator, Mullen used Tebow and Chris Leak throughout Florida’s national championship season in 2006.

He also had quarterbacks split time at Mississippi State, playing Tyson Lee and Chris Relf in 2009, Relf and Tyler Russell in 2011, and Russell and Dak Prescott in 2013. 

In each of those four seasons, Mullen had an upperclassman and a young quarterback sharing reps, and both players were utilized in different ways. 

In his first year with the Bulldogs, Mullen followed his formula with Leak and Tebow. Leak and Lee were senior starters and handled the majority of the passing duties. Tebow and Relf made their contributions in the run game, but also made some plays through the air. Their numbers from 2006 and 2009 are almost identical. 

Tebow had 89 rushes for 496 yards and 8 touchdowns, while completing 22 of 33 pass attempts for 358 yards and 5 touchdowns. Relf had 76 rushes for 500 yards and 2 touchdowns, while completing 22 of 41 pass attempts for 283 yards and 5 touchdowns.

“The real two quarterback system, you probably gotta go ask Coach [Steve] Spurrier. He was rolling them through by play in there. That to me is more of a two-quarterback system,” Mullen said. “The other way we did it, with Chris and Tim, Tim had his package of plays that he did really well and it was kind of this group. It wasn’t like he was going in to run the same offense. 

“He was going to run a special package of plays when he was a freshman. ... I guess there's a lot of different ways you can go about it. You can do the Coach Spurrier play where you rotate them by play. That I guess would be a real true two-quarterback system.”

Steve Spurrier's quarterback system

Spurrier used two quarterbacks several times during his coaching career at UF. He had the tandems of Terry Dean and Danny Wuerffel, Doug Johnson and Noah Brindise, Johnson and Jesse Palmer, and Palmer and Rex Grossman. 

Spurrier famously alternated Johnson and Brindise nearly every play to upset No. 1 Florida State in 1997. In other seasons, he would rotate quarterbacks every few series or every few games. 

“If you have two players that are pretty close ability-wise and one of them’s having a bad day, there’s nothing wrong with putting the other one in there,” Spurrier said. “In fact, the last championship we won here when I was coaching in 2000, Rex Grossman played in four SEC wins and Jesse Palmer played in the other four! And everybody said, ‘You gotta have a great quarterback.’ Well, we had two. 

“And Rex, some days he’d act like he was lost out there and other days he was fantastic. Jesse would come in, and I think Jesse sprained his ankle real bad (against Georgia) and then Rex did very well. So we had two quarterbacks who were instrumental in that last SEC Championship that our team won in 2000.” 

Mullen was the wide receivers coach at Columbia when Spurrier beat FSU with Johnson and Brindise. Mullen remembers being intrigued by his two-quarterback system and how Spurrier managed the rotation. 

“As a young coach, you’re sitting there saying, ‘I wonder what’s behind it all.’ And it's a really unique deal. I mean, there's a lot you can get out of it,” Mullen said. “Now, it can affect the rhythm of your team and it can affect the rhythm of the players, so one of the most important things is that the guys know what the plan is. … And if you do like an alternating thing, I think it’s a somewhat useful deal to be able to talk to the quarterback.

“What we did on Saturday (was) the development of the two-quarterback system. I mean, Anthony’s never really played much in games so to get him out there to get him experience, kind of like we used to do with Emory — throw him in. And then last year you had kind of more of the other one, where Emory would have maybe a couple of packages of plays that we put in for him for a game. So there’s different ways you can do it.”

A Jones, Richardson rotation?

Mullen said Richardson knows the offense, but lacks the game reps and experience Jones has. Both are dual-threat quarterbacks and will be used in similar ways within the system, unlike Leak and Tebow. 

The rotation of Jones and Richardson could change from week to week, Jones said, but Mullen will tell them the game plan beforehand. 

“That's like my little brother,” Jones said of Richardson. “I’m just helping him out and trying to be there for him and just trying to help him out all I can. And every time he’s in the game, I’m there motivating him and talking to him on the sideline, just making sure he stays locked in, just making sure he stays ready.

“It’s totally different when you’re in there and have to come back out there and be locked in every play. I’ve been on the other side of it, just coming in and only being in for a couple plays to change the pace of the game. And I mean, me coming out and coming back, it doesn't really faze me that much. I already knew it was going to happen, so I just go with the flow of the game. …  However Coach Mullen plans the game plan, we’re just going to roll with it every week.”

Up next

Who: No. 9 Florida (1-0) vs. South Florida (0-1)

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa

TV: ABC

Radio: AM-850, 103.7-FM, 98.1-FM