There was some sentiment at the end of the 2017 season that if the Florida Gators were able to finish with a 5-7 record that they should apply for a waiver to get to a bowl game. They had a high enough APR score to make it but did the University of Florida really want to sneak in a back door to bowl season? Bowl games are supposed to be rewards for a good season and Florida didn’t have one in 2017.
The culture change hit Gainesville in full force.
He may not publically admit it but Dan Mullen wasn’t interested in a bowl game. He had to assemble a coaching staff, catch up in recruiting and playing in a meaningless bowl game that his new team snuck into through a loophole wasn’t part of the championship culture he wanted to create.
Savage started the transformation and Mullen and the coaching staff continued it with the start off spring practice. The Gators, at times last season seemingly lifeless, were lauded for their effort both on the field and in the weight room. That effort has continued even through the doldrums of spring practice when the shine wears off your helmet and your practice jersey starts smelling like sweat even before practice.
That effort isn’t enough anymore. It’s the last week of spring practice. The spring game is just days away and Mullen is asking for more from his team now.
“The biggest thing we need to get out of them this week is the effort. It’s not that they’re not giving effort. It’s them understanding how much effort they can give,” Mullen said. “Our guys are going hard, I don’t know how much they’re straining. There’s a big difference between going hard and straining. Between guys thinking they’re going hard and that absolute strain to give everything you possibly have. If we can learn to do that better this week I’d say it’s been a pretty successful spring for us overall.”
Savage spoke of this earlier in the spring. There was a social media outpour from the players about a “Valentines Day Massacre” workout. When asked about what that workout entailed Savage said it’s about “emptying the bucket, meaning he wants to take guys to their mental limit, where they think they’ve given it all and then show them that their body is stronger than the mind and they have more to give. It was a success.
He saw the guys strain and he knew they were buying in and getting better.
Mullen has seen it at times, but he wants it to be more consistent with it, using this example.
“You’ve got to be in a B gap, and we’re putting over 600 pounds doubling you, right, and you’ve got two choices,” Mullen said. “You can just pop a vein in your neck straining so hard to not get moved out of that B gap, or you can kind of get knocked out of it.”
There are only three practices left before the spring game. Then the team will once again be turned over to Savage for the building phase of his program. They’ll need to count on each other, as well. With limitations on where and when they can meet with the coaching staff it will be on the team to ensure that they keep progressing and show up to summer camp ready.
“Our first practice in August needs to look like the first practice after Thursday’s practice, because of the window that we have. There can’t be that drop-off in the Summer,” he said. “So all the work that our guys are going to have to put in in the summer are going to be critical to our success. Because all of the steps we’ve taken forward, we can’t take any steps back.”