Florida football coach Dan Mullen confident he can fix Gators: 'We weren't where we needed to be'

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
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Florida coach Dan Mullen shook up his staff Sunday, firing a pair of longtime assistants in defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and offensive line coach John Hevesy. 

It was a decision that had been weighing on Mullen, he said Monday, as both units regressed in October. He planned to make changes at the end of the season, but Saturday’s 40-17 loss at South Carolina forced his hand. 

“Those guys are both friends of mine. I have a lot of respect for them. But my responsibility as the head coach is to do what I feel is best for the Florida Gators. And that comes above it all,” Mullen said. “I think Todd’s an excellent, excellent football coach and there’s times that we’ve played great defense. We just haven’t done it consistently. We’re one of the top rushing teams in the country — we just haven’t been consistent with John and the offensive line. 

“We weren't where we needed to be. … Looking at where we’re at right now, we’re not better than we were earlier in the year. In fact, we’re worse than we were earlier in the year. At that point, I looked and I said we’ve got to make some changes with what we’re doing and where we’re at.”

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Florida head coach Dan Mullen, left, talks with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham before the game at South Florida at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on Sept. 11. Mullen fired Grantham and offensive line coach John Hevesy on Sunday. Mullen explained his decision Monday.

Christian Robinson takes over as defensive play-caller over Wesley McGriff, Paul Pasqualoni, Tyson Summer

Mullen has three staff members with defensive coordinator experience in secondary coach Wesley McGriff, quality control assistant Tyson Summers and special assistant to the head coach Paul Pasqualoni, the Detroit Lions DC in 2018-19. But Mullen opted to give defensive play-calling duties to linebackers coach Christian Robinson, who played for Grantham at Georgia and has worked under him for the last five years at UF and Mississippi State (2017). 

Pasqualoni has been elevated to an on-field role for the rest of the season, while graduate assistant Mike Sollenne will coach the offensive line. 

“It’s a great opportunity for Christian Robinson, a really good young coach, to go call a game for the first time,” Mullen said. “I think I’m fortunate on the defensive side of the ball to have a guy like Paul Pasqualoni, who’s one of the most respected coaches in football, that can move from my special assistant person, who’s with me and I lean on an awful lot, to an on-the-field spot. And to really help out, especially a young guy like Christian, in that role moving forward. 

“Mike Sollenne gets an opportunity. I think he’s a good young coach working with guys. Great opportunity for him on the O-line, and I’m going to spend a lot of time with him and the O-line to make sure we’re getting the work done we need there.”

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What 

Mullen will be looking for a new offensive line coach for the first time in his coaching career, but hired six different defensive coordinators or co-DCs during his nine years at Mississippi State. 

Mullen discussed the criteria he’ll have for both hires.  

“I’m going to go get somebody that's going to fit on our staff, that’s going to get our players to play at an extremely high level, that’s going to be a great fit for our staff, for our players and for the program and for the University of Florida,” Mullen said of the defensive coordinator opening. 

“I think what is most important is to get the best (offensive line) coach who can do both recruiting as well as coaching and developing our players. It has to fit what we expect at the University of Florida. We’re going to search hard and get the right people for this program.”

Mullen said he has started looking for replacements, but doesn’t plan on naming his new assistants until after the regular season. He plans to spend the latter part of each week interviewing coaches. 

“This is Florida. So there’s a long list of people that want any job they can get at the University of Florida in any aspect,” Mullen said when asked if he’s confident that top candidates will be interested given the current state of the program. 

Mullen was widely criticized for keeping Grantham last season and also not pulling the plug after the loss at LSU. However, Mullen’s patience and support of his embattled DC is something he can sell to his successor. 

“If you know me as a person, I'm a pretty loyal person. I'm not going to jump to any conclusion. The first sign of trouble, I'm not going to abandon ship on anything. I'm going to look at everything. Honestly, probably a knock sometimes,” Mullen said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Todd. I think Todd is an excellent football coach. I think he is a really good coach and that’s why I stuck with him for all that time. I have no regrets about sticking with him and I wouldn’t change it. 

“At this time, I feel like we just need to go in a different direction than where we are right now. So, I think anyone that comes to work for me will know, most people that work for me will tell you that I’m a good person to work for and I’m a very loyal person. People enjoy working for me. Probably why people have stuck around a long time, too.”

Up next

Who: Samford (4-5) vs. Florida (4-5)

When: 12 p.m. Saturday

Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

Online: SEC Network+/ESPN+

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

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