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SEC football: 'You have to look and be able to check your own ego in everything that’s going on,' Mullen says

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
UF linebackers coach Christian Robinson will call the defense beginning with Saturday’s game against Samford. Longtime Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni, who, at 72, had been Dan Mullen’s special assistant, will take an on-the-field role for the remainder of the season.

After parting ways with Todd Grantham, Florida coach Dan Mullen tabbed linebackers coach Christian Robinson as his interim defensive coordinator for the remainder of this season. 

Mullen had a few options on his staff for the role, but decided to assign play-calling duties to Robinson based on his experience and knowledge with the system. He played linebacker for Grantham at Georgia and has worked under him for the last five years at UF and Mississippi State (2017).

 “I think one thing is he’s been with the defense, I mean he’s been with me a long time. I think he knows the defense, he knows our defense inside-out really well,” Mullen said Wednesday on the SEC coaches teleconference. “We’re not going to make wholesale changes to our defense at this point. We’re going to try to be similar, but he’s going to put a little of his personality on it. 

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“I think he’s a really sharp, bright up-and-coming coach, so give him the opportunity to go call plays and bring some energy and excitement to the defense. I’m real excited to go and watch them play on Saturday.”

The noon matchup against Samford will be the first time calling a game for Robinson, 31. His youth doesn’t bother Mullen, who was 32 years old when he became the offensive coordinator at UF in 2005. 

“I think I was probably close to a similar age coming to Florida to be offensive coordinator when I came here,” Mullen said. “That youth and his ability to relate to players of what they’re doing … I think he does a real good job of that.

“I’ve met with our defense about rallying around him. Buy into it and create the excitement. I know he’s going to bring energy and he’s going to be excited for the opportunity — and I need them to match that energy with him.”

Gators redshirt senior defensive end Zachary Carter has known Robinson since he was a graduate assistant at Ole Miss in 2015. Carter has enjoyed watching Robinson's rise up the coaching ranks. 

“I’ve seen him keep excelling as a coach and he’s a great guy, a great person to be around and I’m excited for this opportunity for him," Carter said. "We love Coach Robinson and I’m excited to see what he can do for us and help lead us.”

Robinson has made a strong first impression in practice this week, according to junior linebacker Mohamoud Diabate. 

“He’s bringing tremendous energy, juice, encouragement to the players. He’s bringing a different aspect of coaching that’s really helping us. We appreciate that," Diabate said of Robinson. "The younger guys are coming up to me after practice like, ‘Yeah, we like Rob.’ So everybody’s buying into what Coach Rob’s doing.

"Everybody is ready to go to work for him. There’s not a doubt. We’ve always been like that behind Coach Rob, just him being a guy who really cares about you and makes players play like that for him.”

Dan Mullen experienced in hiring DCs

When it comes to coaching searches, this isn’t Mullen’s first rodeo. 

He hired six different defensive coordinators or co-DCs during his nine years at Mississippi State. Two of them went on to become head coaches in Georgia Tech’s Geoff Collins and Miami’s Manny Diaz. 

 “Any time you’re hiring a coach, it’s finding a guy that fits, that’s going to hold players accountable, that’s going to be sound in what they do, that’s going to have the energy to players playing at the level we expect them to play at and that’s going to fit in with the staff. I think all of those things are really important,” Mullen said.

“We’ve been very fortunate, some great defensive coordinators throughout the years. Two of them are now currently Power 5 head coaches. So I think as other people see that too, it makes it a pretty attractive job. Being able to come not just to Florida, but the opportunity to work here looking at what has happened and the development of coaches and what it’s led to in their futures and their careers."

Mullen was asked Wednesday what’s the challenge of self-assessing his program and being open to all options when things aren’t working. 

“I think the biggest one is this. You have to look and be able to check your own ego in everything that’s going on,” Mullen said. “To fix the problems, you need to know why they’re not working. If not you're just throwing darts at the board. 

“So you really want to evaluate what’s going on and look and say, ‘Even though I’ve done it this way for a long time, it’s not currently working. Why is it not working? OK, this is the reason, this is the why. Then what is the why to fix why it's not working?’ And then you go and figure out how to do that and you make your changes and you get better.”

Anthony Richardson’s status promising 

Mullen provided an update Wednesday on Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson, who did not play at South Carolina. 

He cleared concussion protocols for the game, but was sidelined after hurting his knee while dancing at the team hotel. However, his injury status appears promising for Saturday against Samford. 

“He practiced (Tuesday) in somewhat of a limited capacity. He practiced,” Mullen said. “So we feel good he’ll be cleared to play on Saturday.”

An average of 20-30 Gators missed practice each day last week with the flu. Mullen still had players out sick for the first two days of practice this week. 

“We've continued to have good practices with our guys. Had a great week of practice so far. We still had a bunch of guys miss Monday and a couple less miss yesterday,” Mullen said. “Hopefully we try to get some more people out there for practice (Wednesday).”