UF football: Mullen says Gators focused on fixing mistakes — including his own

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun

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In the aftermath of the team’s 24-point victory over rival Tennessee, Florida football coach Dan Mullen is fixated on correcting the mistakes, though he’d prefer the term “areas of improvement” when it comes to the Gators' shortcomings on the field. 

Mullen, speaking with the media Monday as the team prepares to hit the road for Lexington, Kentucky, to face the undefeated Wildcats, said he’s seen the No. 9 Gators gradually cut back on the errors, and he’s not just talking about the faults of Florida’s players — the blunders of the head coach are fair game, too. 

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“You want to be a great team, you've got to play great all the time, and I saw that. Certainly saw a decrease in mental errors this week from the week before, even though there's still plenty of them to go around. I even met with the team this morning. I pointed out my mental error in the course of the game in stuff that happens,” Mullen said. “We've got to be better.”

Florida coach Dan Mullen gets ready to throw his visor after a frustrating moment during Saturday's game against Tennessee at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Especially — no disrespect to the University of South Florida — as the Gators face their first true road test. 

The Gators had a sizable contingent of fans attend the team’s 42-20 victory over the Bulls on Sept. 11, eliminating the Bulls’ home field advantage. 

On Saturday at Kroger Field, the blue in the stands won’t be for the Gators, and Mullen knows it. 

The team’s preparation will account for what’s expected to be a hostile environment in Lexington for the opposition. 

“As we continue to work, continue to eliminate those (errors), it's important, especially now, when you're going on the road in a hostile environment. It will be different,” he said. “Crowd noise, everything going on, it will be a little different preparation this week, and extra elements that you have to add within our attention to detail."

Players’ mistakes are easier to spot on film than those of a coach on the sideline, and as a result they typically face less public scrutiny than a numbered, easily identifiable student-athlete. Mullen, aware of how much public discourse surrounds the team’s athletes, said he doesn’t typically discuss individual mistakes publicly, instead preferring to use broad terms when highlighting areas of improvement. 

So, when it came to his own mistakes, Mullen is taking the same approach, saying those conversations will remain within the walls of the Florida football program. 

“I don't throw people under the bus, even myself,” he said. “You guys know that, I'm not throwing myself under the bus, even when exactly what it is.”

Gators owning mistakes, then eliminating them

Although Mullen did detail one aspect of the game where he takes the blame for one of Florida’s in-game flaws; on the Gators’ first drive on offense of the second quarter, UF went three-and-out, but Mullen hesitated over whether or not to have Jeremy Crawshaw punt it away or have the offense stay on the field and attempt to gain a first down on 4th-and-3 from Florida’s 36-yard-line.

“You want me to throw myself under the bus, I'll give you an easy one. Usually anytime we have a delay of game (penalty), I put that a lot on me. So, we had to delay a game on special teams, I think our punt team had a delay of game. Right, so that's a lot on me,” Mullen said. “I got to figure out what we're doing to get the team on the field, make sure the decision’s called, the play’s called, get the offense off, get the punt team on and get the ball punted. I think we had a delay of game on special teams, so that’s definitely on me. And you can’t do that, so, I mean, everybody’s got to look and own it.”

And Mullen takes no issue doing just that — owning it. 

Self-reflecting, Mullen acknowledges the penalty on special teams may have been caused by his initial indecisiveness with the play-call. 

“I'm an aggressive guy, so sometimes I'm thinking, ‘do I really want to go for this, in this situation?’, and then think realistically and say ‘That’d be a really dumb move,’” Mullen said, “and by that time I took maybe three seconds too long to do that.”

By now, Mullen, the SEC’s second-longest tenured head coach, has come to realize the difference between contenders and pretenders is how the team approaches its flaws from week to week. 

If the Gators want to keep improving in the interim, they can’t run from the issues UF has put on film through four games. 

“I think that's part of everything with the team, is always you self-evaluate, OK,” Mullen said. “Embrace what we do well and continue to build on it, but let's eliminate mistakes.”

Up next

Who: No. 9 Florida (3-1, 1-1 SEC) vs. No. 23 Kentucky (4-0, 2-0)

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Where: Kroger Field, Lexington, Ky.

TV: ESPN

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850