Well that was an interesting week, huh?
In the end, though, we got what we all needed. Even if it wasn’t what we wanted.
Oh, you think I’m talking about the coaching candidates? Not at all. I am talking about the process. After the week-long no-anesthetic colonoscopy Gator Nation endured, from knowing that Sunday night Chip Kelly agreed to be our coach, to the UCLA heist squad descending, to the Kelly demand that finally broke Stricklin’s patience, to Florida moving on and Kelly signing with the funny little powder blue program enveloped in Southern Cal’s shadow, to the skull-bowling we witnessed against FSU Saturday, we were at the end of our proverbial rope. Because now we would go after who? Scott Frost? That would take another week just to get started, and isn’t he already in agreement with Nebraska? Mike Norvell? He would take another week to get started, too. Would Willie Taggart really leave Oregon after just one year, when he clearly has his program humming, to take over the mess in Gainesville?
Regardless of who we targeted next, one thing was certain: uncertainty. How many more Chip Kelly sagas would ensue before we had our man? And by that time, would he be someone we even wanted? At a certain time on Saturday night, we all reached the same point at the bottom of the barrel. Everyone in Gator Nation wanted just one thing. And we all wanted the same one thing.
We just wanted this all to be over.
The coaching search, the uncertainty, the 2017 season, the public scrutiny, the personal misery, everything. The nightmare. Just make it end, please.
Gator Nation at its lowest point Saturday night, possibly ever, sent up the Bat Signal.
And one man answered.
Call Scott Stricklin the Caped Crusader, because he answered our call.
He made it all end.
And I don’t care what you think of the hire. I don’t care who you thought we should have hired. You’re in a place of relief right now, whether you realize it or not. You’ll sleep better tonight. Maybe for the first time in many days…or weeks.
Now, before I talk about the new face of Gator football, let me talk about the two-face of Gator football.
When The Chips Are Down
To begin with, nobody was (or should have been) overly surprised when Kelly reneged on his agreement to be the next Gators coach. Since Kelly first became a head coach at Oregon, he has lied to and back-stabbed almost every team he’s entered into agreements with, so this is certainly no outlier. Rather than say he lied, I will say he “changed his mind”, but you can draw your own conclusions. He “changed his mind” after promising to be the Tampa Bay Bucs’ new coach. He “changed his mind” about being the Cleveland Browns’ new coach. He “changed his mind” about being the Buffalo Bills’ new coach. He “changed his mind” about being the Philadelphia Eagles’ new coach. He “changed his mind” about staying the Oregon Ducks’ new coach. One might surmise that he is pathological in this sense.
He “changed his mind” (ahem) to us a lot and reneged on an agreement last Sunday to be the next Gators head coach. We gave him a 1-week window to make it final, providing right of first refusal of any better offer. He used that time to play us and UCLA back and forth to jack up what we already promised him (basically the kitchen sink), and the last demand came Thursday morning and apparently SS smelled a rat or otherwise had had enough, and told him we were through being pushed for demands. He had to take it or leave it. That’s when ESPN ran the story that we had moved on. We likely would have still accepted Kelly’s signature if it was before the deadline, but he signed with UCLA, making that hypothetical decision moot.
In the end, I believe the way this played out demonstrates that Florida dodged a big bullet. Because his continuing to ask for more and more and more, day after day, after he had already agreed to terms numerous times, went on for weeks. And I don’t believe for one minute this would not have ended when he signed the final contract. He likely would have kept trying to dictate terms to his boss throughout his employment, which is exactly what got him fired from the Eagles and the 49ers.
I think he would have been far worse to work with than Jim McElwain was, impossible to control, and quite frankly because of his arrogance and disregard for authority, coupled with the wide expanse of control he would have been given over football operations, he would still be a significant NCAA violations risk, even with our crack compliance department keeping their usual watchful eye. With the $200M Under Armour slush fund he’s about to get at UCLA, I see the same NCAA issues happening there that got him pinched for spending all that Nike money on recruiting “creativity” at Oregon.
There were loud objections from some within the Bull Gators and the UAA as to Chip Kelly’s character, and they seem to have been proven correct in their wariness.
Moving forward, most folks made no mystery early on of the fact that they had to hold our nose a bit to go all in with Chip Kelly. Once it appeared real and possible that he would coach the Gators – that this was really going to happen – visions of touchdowns danced in our heads. So it was easy to get excited about it. Super excited. I certainly was bought in and trusted our compliance team would keep his violations in check.
But a month ago, most of us wanted someone else. And now we’re going to get someone else. This probably works out best for us, and it feels like it already has.
Mullen It Over
So it’s Dan Mullen. Period. A week ago this news would’ve made me ready for a tri-state killing spree. But my response to the news will likely surprise many.
It could be a lot of things, but I bet it is my recent confines that have guided my thinking since the Mullen news broke. My kids were sick the week leading up to Thanksgiving break, and was the one to stay home with them (#CabinFever), and then the holiday week consisted of me hiding out in every nook and cranny of my house trying to escape and avoid my visiting in-laws at all costs. So I was WAYYY to glued to the inter-webs during the Chip Kelly, “He’s our new coach” explosion, and the, “He just screwed us over like a Black & Decker and we’ll never be okay again” meltdown. Sunday, however, the kids were back to normal, fit as fiddles, and the in-laws were long gone. While most of Gator Nation was showing a therapist where on the doll the Chip Kelly saga touched them, I took the kids out for a long day of bike riding and goofing in the park.
That maybe tends to change one’s perspective on this. I dunno. But the fatalistic desperation I felt after the FSU fiasco had largely melted away. So when I plugged back in to find that in whiplash fashion that was the polar opposite of the grain-by-grain slow death of the Chip Kelly drama >poof< just like that, he’s here. We have our coach, and it’s not who I thought or who I wanted. But I was strangely at peace with it. And here’s a window into why…
Dan Mullen, the Down Side of the Schwartz
Some of you might recall throughout this season I had made a point in my columns and on the forums to warn the people who were trying to destroy Mac’s tenure with noise in the system, that this Florida job may very well be toxic right now. And despite what an elite job this is in a vacuum, it will take at least one long and successful head coach and Athletics Director tenure to erase all the bad reputation UF has as an employer, as a program and especially as a fan base. Now we have had multiple connected people this week give testimony that former UF players and current college and NFL coaches all are keenly aware of how incredibly awful the online Gator fan base is. I specify “online” because I still don’t think there is a better game day crowd in all of sports than The Swamp. The Gator fans who support the team in the real world and aren’t keyboard cowboys are the best fans in the world. I truly believe that. Or, they are at least tied for the best, as it’s a pretty hard thing to quantify.
Now place yourself back on Saturday after Kelly signed with UCLA and there was not a hint of Dan Mullen on our radar. So, here we are. Kelly played us like a fiddle and I don’t think he ever intended to take our job. We were a patsy in his plan to squeeze UCLA for all he could. It’s known that he’s been targeting our two programs for some time, getting buy-in from potential assistants at both schools, and I firmly believe he never wanted our job. I believe he lied to our faces about wanting to be our coach. If he couldn’t use us to jack UCLA’s offer high enough, he’d have stayed at ESPN. We know Scott Frost doesn’t want our job. Bob Stoops? Don’t get me started. Willie Taggart? It’s been said he would jump at the job, but when we first sent feelers to him, his agent immediately leaked the news to EVERYONE. He knew it would anger Scott Stricklin to do so, and it did. That reeks of a guy who is playing our inquiry to get a contract boost from Oregon, not a guy who wants our job; if he wanted our job, they’d have kept it church mouse silent. Charlie Strong said he has no interest. Mike Norvell didn’t pass vetting, nor would Lane Kiffin or Bobby Petrino, and I bet neither would Mike Leach or Mike Gundy, or any other Mike, if they even have interest, which is unknown to me.
So…where were we, then? As another member of Gator Country said at the time, the parameter of our search targets should be one thing: Who is actually willing to accept our job?
I truly think our brand is still elite. In fact, it is quantifiable through Forbes and other measures. But our football brand is poisoned right now. No matter how strong it is, not many people will touch it any more. We needed someone with the courage – true audacity, in fact – and drive to come in here and try to win despite all the intensity of negativity that comes with the job, or might come with the job right now. And while I think that Stricklin has made the administration side a lot easier to deal with, and will continue to do so, the Kelly saga showed again that the UF boosters and UAA are nowhere near a unified team, like they are many other places. That still will take work, I would think, and I see Stricklin as the right guy to do it.
So…enter Dan Mullen.
Dan Mullen, the Up Side of the Schwartz
We know Dan Mullen probably not a guy any of us want to spend time hanging out with. Even though I have been told by many who know him that he can be a really good guy. He is just, as Stricklin said on the day Jim McElwain was fired, difficult. But he’s just the kind of “difficult” who would come in here and SILENTLY give the fans and the dissenting boosters the finger and think, “Just watch me win, and then I’ll ask ‘How ya like me now’.” To borrow from Batman, he might not be the (expletive) we deserve, but he’s the (expletive) we need.
And I’m okay with him being an…being a…let’s say, being a little like Nick Saban. Because he’s a high character guy. I know that seems to be contradictory, but it’s how I would describe Steve Spurrier, too. And Jeremy Foley. I love Spurrier, but he is kind of an (expletive). I’ve had friends like that, and I love them to death. And like a certain sketch on “Saturday Night Live” a few years back, wherein Tina Fey and Amy Poehler admitted that they were a different kind of (expletive). To quote Fey, “Yeah, she is. And so am I. And so is this one (pointing at Poehler). You know what? (Expletives) get stuff done!” And we need a head coach who is going to get stuff done! And maybe I have a personal reason for supporting someone who is moralistic and ethical and good-hearted like Dan is, but is also kind of an (expletive)…hmm…that appeals to me for no particular reason…<whistles>
If we look at the dwindling, already very small group of candidates that we would accept and who would actually take the job, Mullen definitely stands out. Yes it bothers me that he has been at MSU a long time and never won any championships, but if you take what he’s done there and adjust it to Florida-level talent, and you put him in the much lesser East, he likely would have been bringing UF to Atlanta pretty much every year since he became a head coach.
Now I consider what Stricklin must do. After the Kelly saga, the optics were terrible. They were bogus optics and I don’t personally care about optics, but frankly if we don’t get most of this committed recruiting class to sign, we will be set back another 2 years from wherever we are now. At least. But we can win the East next year and actually challenge for the SEC title this time with a pretty good coach and this signing class to add to our team on hand. Mullen is at the very least a darn good coach and he is no doubt the #2 most well-known name of all the coaches in our search, even ahead of Scott Frost. Recruits know who Alex Smith, Chris Leak, Tim Tebow and Dak Prescott are, and they know Mullen developed them. And many of them know Mullen personally because he has recruited them for MSU. Other than Chip Kelly, I don’t think we could have got a bigger name out of the real candidates in terms of recruiting this class.
As to the Richt thing. You know the Richt thing. One of the big criticisms of hiring Mullen is that we will become what Georgia was under Mark Richt. I don’t want to be UGA under Richt, either. But…goodness…being UGA under Richt – i.e., winning 9 to 11 games automatic for the people every single year – that’s a huge step up from what we have been since 2009. I’ll take that in a heartbeat right now. Whether they’ve been great, good or average, Dan’s teams every year, every week are FUNCTIONAL. He knows how to competently run a major program. We haven’t had a functional team or a competently-run program since 2008. He would bring both, and maybe that’s the prize we need to keep in our eyes. Maybe we don’t need the grand slam hire, but just settle for a big 3-run double, and then maybe in 5-10 years after the UF brand is restored and even hot again, we can get the next power hitter to knock in the homer. Or maybe Mullen will prove to have that home run power after all. From a coaching standpoint, maybe we need to jog before we can sprint. Because it seems clear that none of the sprinters want to run to Gainesville right now.
And frankly, I just looked at a picture of Mullen smiling, in his Gator gear from back in the days of national championships. And it struck me that we haven’t been any good since he left. Yeah, we had a great East title year in 2009, but the offense struggled a lot for a unit with Tebow and Coop and all those linemen and other skill players, and it was overall a clunky, dysfunctional team every week that only kept winning because of far superior talent. And after that year, our offense has been pure putrid garbage, through 4 different offensive coordinators and 3 head coaches. And I have to think that’s a narrative he can sell to these high school seniors who grew up watching his UF offense kick major behind.
And I think he is one of only maybe 2 to 4 possible candidates who could hold this recruiting class together and even make it better. His first call will be to Matt Corral. Wonder how that call might begin…
“Hi Matt. Dan. How have you been through this whole thing? Been tough, I know, and I want to thank you for staying strong and handling this in such a mature fashion. Now I have a few quick questions for you. Have you heard of Josh Harris? Alex Smith? Chris Leak? Tim Tebow? Cam Newton? Dak Prescott? Nick Fitzgerald? Yeah, I taught those guys how to play quarterback. See you in the spring.”
The ink wasn’t even dry on Mullen’s contract when Corral and other recruits started tweeting about it, and most of them were very happy, even excited about the choice. This is someone they’ve heard of. No Wikipedia search necessary this time. Some of them have met him, been recruited by him, know all about his history of success. This checks a huge coaching candidate box.
Now, my top 3 choices at the outset – Norvell, Frost and Kelly – were all off the board. Taggart, who I have come to think might be a great hire, was off the board. Some other great targets like Campbell and Fuente were never on the board. No other great targets exist. Stricklin had to not only make a great hire here, but preserve UF’s dignity. I’ve had even Gator fans I respect and who have usually been very reasonable people talk the last few days about how Stricklin incompetently botched the Kelly hiring, is a lightweight and has turned us into a national joke. That level of stupidity usually makes me want to punch fellow fans in the throat, but instead I just gave my 180-degree opposing opinion and left it at that. You do that for friends. But they obviously have been listening to the anti-Stricklin false narrative that a lot of fans have been trying to spin since he was hired (they were the same ones who vilified Foley, too…always have to have a villain to blame).
So regardless of facts and reality, UF was on the edge of being tarred and feathered by many of our own people, as well as our rivals, if Stricklin didn’t sew this thing up, and I mean yesterday!
And if Dan Mullen is the one who will say “Yes” right now, and probably the ONLY acceptable hire who will say “Yes” right now, then I say take him now, say thank you, kiss his rings (his two national title rings he won at UF), and tell everyone else to pipe down and either get behind him or get lost.
Yes, get behind him or get lost. A Curly Bill, “Well…bye.” A “Bye, Felicia.” A “Hit the road Jack, and don’t chya come back no mo’, no mo’, no mo’, no mo’!!”
We have had 5-straight head coaches get treated so badly by the Gator fans that they spoke out about it to the media. Which is absolutely unheard of in this business. One of them being Spurrier, who has almost never done or said anything remotely negative about his beloved alma mater or its fans. And our brand new head coach has spoken out about how horribly some Gator fans treated him and his family when he was the offensive coordinator at Florida, so make that 6-straight head coaches. Gator Nation needs to get a grip and realize that just because we are the best program in the country (and I think we are the absolute best, when we have a competent coach) doesn’t mean we are entitled to perfection, and it doesn’t mean we are entitled to treat our coaches with disrespect and acidic ridicule when they fail to win every game and every championship by 100 points.
With that said, we have our coach of the future. And I think he will be here a long time. He is the same age as Spurrier when he took over as head coach. It seems like he has been around forever, but Dan is pretty young still, with a lot of coaching ahead of him. This is the long-term stable championship hire we have been waiting for since Spurrier left. Maybe we should give him the fair chance to prove it.
So, Dan, come on down. You’re the next contestant on “This Is Florida For Crying Out Loud, Just Don’t Screw It Up”.
Everything is Dan-dy
To close, I wanted to frame this with one last thought. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of Dan Mullen projections, expectations, or overall level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction, there is one underlying reason the Mullen news is making me smile and should make all of you smile:
With all the firings at Power 5 programs all over the country, this coaching carousel has been busted wide open the last 3 days. And this is just the first wave. There will be more dominoes as some Power 5 coaches are lured away to other Power 5 programs, just shifting vacancies. I’m looking at you, FSU. It will be a MAD HOUSE of musical chairs for the next several weeks, and a lot of programs are going to wind up without a chair when the music stops. I’m looking at you, Tennessee.
But not us. We’re out. We’re done. We got our guy and we’re out recruiting. No more drama. No more uncertainty. No more waiting. No more reading our phones under the covers at 3:00 AM, hoping we don’t wake up or significant other, and praying there’s a positive update at 3:01. No more wondering what the recruits will think of our coach, if any are left by the time he is hired. No more ANYTHING. We are back to calm. We are heading back to normal. We are on our way back to being Florida again.
And it’s going to be a really fun journey.