Florida players appreciate Mullen's competitiveness as he tries to right ship

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
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The relentless effort that Dan Mullen demands from his team was nowhere to be found in Florida’s 40-17 loss at South Carolina last Saturday. 

The Gators were also dominated at the line of scrimmage for the third consecutive game. 

“I was really disappointed with our effort and our physicality on Saturday. Not our attitude,” Mullen said. “I thought we had an excellent week of practice. I thought the energy was fine. I thought it was really good. I thought our mental approach to the game was good. The biggest challenge for us right now is we gotta figure out how the Monday to Friday team shows up Saturday. They’re not matched.”

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Mullen determined the root of those problems were defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and running game coordinator John Hevesy, both of whom were fired Sunday. Mullen’s search for an offensive line coach will be a first in his 13-year head coaching career, but he has plenty of experience finding defensive coordinators. 

Mullen hired a total of six DCs in nine years at Mississippi State, including Geoff Collins and Manny Diaz. Both are now head coaches at Georgia Tech and Miami, respectively, after helping lead the Bulldogs to their only nine-win seasons under Mullen (2010, ’14, ’15). 

“What I’m pretty confident in is finding the solution,” Mullen said. “It’s never as good as it seems, never as bad as it seems. I could have said that about this season up until Saturday. I think I really could have. Over the last couple years and everybody’s like, ‘Wow.’ Maybe we weren’t quite as good as we thought. We found a way to (win games) before this weekend. I’m disappointed. I apologize. That’s not what the Gator Nation expects.

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“Before this last Saturday, in the previous seven one-score games, we’re 1-6. In the ones before that we were 6-1. Was it that great? Or, was it we’re just finding a way to polish things off and win. Now all of a sudden, we’re making mistakes that cost us. So I don't know that it’s maybe to the extremes. But I think that’s the challenge for me and that’s what I'm excited about. … My responsibility is to get this program where it needs to be. All my energy needs to go into that.”

It remains to be seen whether Mullen can fix the problems in Gainesville, but his willingness to make in-season staff changes — especially given his history with Hevesy — shows he’s serious about righting the ship.

Last week, former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel suggested that Mullen would take a chance on the NFL and was tired of being at Florida. Two of his current players don’t get that impression.

Gators voice support for Dan Mullen

“From the jump, Coach Mullen, he’s always given us his all,” defensive end Zachary Carter said. “The main thing I love about Coach Mullen is the competitiveness he brings every day. He doesn’t shy away from it. He’s a true competitor, and I can honestly say that. You can ask anybody. I know if you come to Florida, you’re going to get that from Coach Mullen.”

Florida defensive lineman Zachary Carter greets head coach Dan Mullen as they enter the stadium during Gator Walk before the football game against Tennessee at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Sept. 25.

Following the loss to Georgia, Mullen used a tug-of-war metaphor to describe this season. The Gators have played well at times, he said, but when the rope starts slipping away, “we kind of let a lot of it go.”

Mullen then added, “I will say something about me: I don’t drop the rope. I'm not gonna let you even rip it out of my hand. You can drag me around by my face if you want, but I’m going to squeeze it and not let it go. I’m not going to let any inch of that rope go.” 

Florida running back Dameon Pierce, left, said this week the Gators have confidence in coach Dan Mullen and support him.

That’s not coachspeak, according to Florida running back Dameon Pierce. He was asked Monday night what makes Mullen suited for his job. 

“Coach Mullen, he’s really competitive. He’s a fiery guy. He’s got an attitude about him. That’s one thing I like about him. Coach Mullen’s just like us,” Pierce said. “One thing that makes Coach Mullen special, I believe if he was in shape (laughs) and he was allowed to do it, he would put these pads on and go to war with us. Go to war right alongside us out there and play right with us and get his nose in the ballgame. 

“He’s that competitive and he’s that kind of guy. He loves football. He’s knowledgeable about it. He tried to put us in position to win and sometimes things don’t work out the way you want it to. You just gotta go back to the drawing board sometimes and start from square one. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Saturday

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

When: 12 p.m. 

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

Online: SEC Network+/ESPN+

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

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