Coaching changes for Florida Gators won't matter if Dan Mullen stays the same | David Whitley
If you’re a Gator fan and believe in the phrase, “A fish rots from the head down,” you aren’t very happy today.
Florida football just lopped off a couple of major parts, but the head remains. Will that stop the big fish from rotting?
A lot people don’t think so. The Gators could get rid of everybody from the defensive coordinator to the assistant waterboy. It won’t matter as long as Dan Mullen is still the head coach.
I’d like to assure them that won’t be the case. That getting rid of Todd Grantham and John Hevesy will bring rainbows and unicorns back to the program, or at least keep it from ever again finishing just ahead of Vanderbilt in the SEC East.
Fact is, nobody knows. I have my doubts, but I hold to the belief Mullen deserves a chance to put out the dumpster fire he’s largely responsible for.
'We weren't where we needed to be':Florida football coach Dan Mullen confident he can fix Gators
It might work if he can learn from his mistakes. For what it’s worth, he didn’t even try to spin the situation.
“To sit there and say everything’s been fixed within the program, I can’t say that,” Mullen said Monday.
As luck and COVID protocols would have it, it was the first in-person media conference since the preseason. Unlike recent Zoom performances, he wasn’t defensive or snappish.
It was almost as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Mullen brought Grantham with him from Mississippi State. He and Hevesy go back two decades.
It couldn’t have been easy knowing he had to fire them, but the weight of evidence became unbearable in the Saturday night massacre at South Carolina.
“We’re not better than we were at the beginning of the year,” Mullen said. “In fact, we’re worse.”
He admitted he can be too loyal, which we can take as a tacit admission he screwed up when he didn’t cut Grantham loose after last season’s defensive disaster. Mullen also didn’t position himself as a hapless bystander to it all.
“I’m the one that’s responsible. I’m the head coach,” he said. “I bear all of it. It’s on my shoulders. I’m responsible for this program.”
For the first time in a while, Mullen didn’t get in front of a microphone and make things worse. It was a baby step, but perhaps it was a start.
Feel free to be skeptical. It’s not what Mullen says that matters, it’s what he does with his new lease on coaching life.
It goes without saying he has to find two cracker-jack coordinators. But I’ll say it anyway. He has to find two cracker-jack coordinators.
Note to Mullen: If Will Muschamp calls and recommends Charlie Weis, hang up the phone.
Programs rarely flourish after they have this big of a reboot. Sure, Alabama loses a major-cog coordinator every year. But the new guy is basically remodeling a mansion.
Mullen’s next hires are in for a total rebuild. Mullen can’t Weis this up.
By the same token, it won’t matter what changes Mullen makes if he doesn’t change himself. He can’t carry himself like a burned-out, buck-passing grump. He can't think he's always the smartest guy in the room.
He has to become the coach he portrayed himself to be at his introductory news conference. That guy talked about relentless effort. That guy said he totally understood what it takes to win at Florida.
That guy started 29-6 at Florida. Yes, he did it largely with Jim McElwain’s leftovers, which brings up Job One.
Whatever Mullen’s doing wrong in recruiting, he needs to get right. Cracker-jack coordinators can help, but it’s ultimately on the head coach to solve that problem.
“There are a lot of problems,” Mullen said. “I’m pretty confident in myself. I’ve won a lot of football games as a head coach, won championships.
“Everybody has problems. The key is having solutions.”
So, is keeping Mullen the ultimate solution to what’s ailing Florida?
Like it or not, the fish had changed but the head remains the same. If Mullen doesn’t change, things will really get rotten around here.
— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at email@example.com. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley