It is finally over. No coaching era with any team is truly over until the replacement is in place. The hiring of Dan Mullen officially begins the next chapter of Florida Gator football. We now turn the page. I believe I speak for many Gator fans when I say through decades of following the Gators, 2017 was the worst season I have endured as a fan. It began with the gut punch of nine suspended players for a premeditated crime spree and spiraled downward from there. Injuries, offensive ineptitude yet again, then came the public meltdown of one Jim McElwain. What followed that was brutal in virtually every way. You had to know it would be which is one of the reasons why I argued against running Mac off if at all possible. It was not possible.
The Florida football coaching job is a pressure cooker. That is not unique to Florida, there are several such positions throughout the college football landscape, but the number is limited and Florida challenges for the pinnacle of that group. There are coaches who lack both the ability to do the job well enough and to handle the pressure, like Ron Zook. There are coaches who can take the heat but not succeed in the job like Will Muschamp. Then there are those who are capable of getting the job done but unable to withstand the stress associated with the position at Florida, like Urban Meyer. It is possible that McElwain fits into that latter description, but we will never know because the first tide of discontent from the Gator Nation sent him tumbling head over heels under the wave leaving him to surface spitting water and beach sand in every direction. And then he just wanted out of the water. Quite frankly, Mac lacked the testicular fortitude to take control of his staff and ignore social media well enough to focus completely on the task at hand. It led to his demise.
Which brings me to the coaching search and results. There has been so much misinformation about the Chip Kelly saga that it is difficult to know what really happened there. When everyone I trust here was saying Kelly was going to be the guy, I couldn’t get past Steve Spurrier saying live on the radio that our next coach was still coaching and would not be announced until after the regular season was finished. I don’t think Spurrier would lie and I doubt he was completely out of the loop. Which means that it is entirely possible that Florida signed the exact coach they wanted all along. At this point that is mostly irrelevant. What is worth noting is how well the Gator athletic department handled this process. All one needs for comparison is a glance at the dysfunction in Knoxville TN.
And so, Gator Nation, your new head coach is none other than Dan Mullen. We know Mullen. He has walked these hallowed halls before. And, he was quite successful here. That didn’t keep him from being the target of fan vitriol. I have finally come to accept that nobody will ever be exempt from that malady. Which is, in my mind, one of the best things about this hire. As much as some love to declare that this fan base is no worse than any other, the last five coaches have said differently, and I’ll take their word for it since they would know. It is not easy to be the head coach at Florida. Or Alabama. Or Ohio State. Or USC. Or the Dallas Cowboys for that matter. Coaching at the top level is never easy. Dan Mullen knows EXACTLY what he is getting into and he is walking directly into the storm willingly and eagerly. That says an awful lot about the man.
What should we expect from our new coach? The early evidence is quite encouraging. Notice how swiftly and efficiently he has begun the process of building his staff. There is no hesitation here. Mullen knows what and who he wants and has set about making it happen immediately. The one aspect that I feel he provides in quantity will be organization. I expect this to be a program run as efficiently as the Urban Meyer program but I believe Mullen will retain better control of the attitudes and behavior of his players which was a huge part of Meyer’s undoing. Meyer came in talking a great game about how he would gladly play an undisciplined roster with a roster of less talented but disciplined players. After a few years, the discipline thing slipped away from him. I do not see that happening with Dan Mullen. I hope I am correct.
Which brings me to biggest variable not coach related. The roster. There are holes in the Gator roster now just like there were holes in the roster when Mac took over. But, just like then, there is also a good bit of talent. One huge difference here is that Mullen inherits a very talented group of commitments. If he can hold onto most of them, and close with some elite players that were seriously considering Florida before the implosion this can be a formidable roster in 2018. If Mullen can keep Matt Corral in the fold, he will certainly inherit more options at quarterback than Mac found when he arrived.
One of the first situations Mullen will have to deal with will be the determination of the futures of the suspended players. I highly doubt that all nine will be back, but I expect Mullen to accept some of them back onto the team if they say the right things when he meets with them. If the ones I expect to make it back actually return, Mullen’s first team at Florida could be extremely talented. Of course, he will also need to sit down with each of the current players that are eligible to leave early. Often, in these circumstances, nearly every player that can leave does. That might not be the case here if Mullen can sell his vision to some of these guys.
Whether the turnaround is in 2018 or 2019 I have little doubt that the ineptitude Gator fans have been forced to witness for so long now is finally at an end. Mullen has proven over a long period of time that he can win games and field a well prepared coach. There is no way to know yet if Mullen can win championships with the talent he can lure to Florida, but I would bet a lot of PD’s money that we won’t see any four-win seasons with Dan at the helm. And here’s the thing, I don’t see Dan looking to move on if he is successful at Florida. Mullen is the same age Spurrier was when he took over the Gators. I can see him being here for a dozen years as well. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that kind of stability again in Gainesville? And don’t you just love the sound of that page fluttering over to reveal the next chapter?